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Proposed Amendments to the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure: A Brief Guide to Possible Changes in 2025
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Proposed Amendments to the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure: A Brief Guide to Possible Changes in 2025

May 24, 2024 Professional Services Industry Legal Blog

Reading Time: 11 minutes

In a significant move aimed at enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of civil litigation, the Florida Supreme Court has issued two[1] separate[2] per curiam opinions introducing substantial amendments to the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure (the “Rules”). Set to take effect on January 1, 2025, these changes are designed to streamline case management, encourage cooperation among parties, and, ultimately, expedite the resolution of civil disputes.

The Impetus for Change

The Court’s amendments respond to the recommendations of the Workgroup on Improved Resolution of Civil Cases (the “Workgroup”), which Chief Justice Canady established in 2019. The Workgroup’s primary objective was to examine existing laws, rules, and practices related to civil procedure and case management and propose changes that could enhance civil cases’ timely, cost-effective, and fair resolution.

Recognizing the need for early judicial intervention and adherence to established deadlines, the Workgroup submitted a comprehensive report proposing extensive amendments to multiple rulesets. While the Court initially declined to adopt the proposed amendments, it referred the matter to The Florida Bar’s Civil Procedure Rules Committee (the “Committee”) for further refinement and study.

The Committee’s subsequent report, which included two alternative proposals, formed the basis for the Court’s recent amendments.

Changing the Contours of Case Management

 Rule 1.200: Case Management; Pretrial Procedure

The Court has proposed a wholly rewritten Rule 1.200 to establish a more structured and proactive approach to case management. The fundamental changes include:

  1. Case Track Assignment: Within 120 days of filing, each civil case must be assigned to one of three case management tracks: streamlined, general, or complex.[3] This categorization is based on the amount of judicial attention required for resolution rather than the financial value of the case:
    • The “streamlined” track is intended for cases with limited discovery needs, well-established legal issues, and an anticipated trial length of no more than three (3) days.
    • The “general” track encompasses cases that do not meet the criteria for either streamlined or complex.
    • Complex cases proceed under Rule 1.201.
  2. Administrative Orders: The chief judge of each judicial circuit must enter an administrative order addressing specific case management requirements. Each circuit can base those requirements on local needs, resources, and available automation. Circuits also have the flexibility to require parties to file proposed case management orders or to produce automated orders.
  3. Case Management Orders: For streamlined and general cases, the court must issue a case management order specifying the projected trial period and setting deadlines for key stages of the litigation process. These deadlines must be consistent with the time standards specified in Florida Rule of General Practice and Judicial Administration 2.250(a)(1)(B) and must include: (1) service of complaints; (2) adding new parties; (3) completion of discovery; (4) resolution of motions, and (5) alternative dispute resolution. The order must also indicate that deadlines will be strictly enforced.
  4. Strict Enforcement of Deadlines: Deadlines established in case management orders will be strictly enforced unless changed by court order. Parties may submit agreed orders to extend deadlines if the extension does not affect the remaining dates in the case management order. If a trial is not reached during the scheduled period, the court must enter an order setting a new trial period as soon as practicable.
  5. Case Management Conferences: The court may set case management conferences at any time on its own notice or upon proper notice by a party. The notice must identify the specific issues to be addressed and list pending motions. During these conferences, the court may address scheduling issues and, with reasonable notice, pending motions other than those for summary judgment or those requiring evidentiary hearings.

Rule 1.201: Complex Litigation

Rule 1.201’s proposed amendments seek to refine the procedures for handling complex cases, which are now designated under the case management framework established in Rule 1.200, including:

  1. Hearing on Complex Designation: The court may, but is not required to, hold a hearing to determine whether a case should be designated as complex. This change provides flexibility in the designation process.
  2. Notification of Unnecessary Conferences or Hearings: Parties must notify the court immediately if a scheduled case management conference or hearing becomes unnecessary. This requirement promotes efficiency by avoiding unnecessary court appearances and allowing for better allocation of judicial resources.
  3. Continuances Governed by Rule 1.460: The amended rule explicitly states that motions for trial continuances in complex cases are governed by Rule 1.460, which has been substantially revised to discourage continuances and establish stricter requirements for their granting.

Emphasizing Cooperation in Discovery and Motion Practice

(NEW) Rule 1.202: Conferral Before Filing Motions

Rule 1.202 is a proposed addition to the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure, designed to encourage parties to resolve disputes without court intervention whenever possible. The two central components of this rule are:

  1. Duty to Confer: Before filing a motion, except for certain enumerated motions, such as those for injunctive relief or summary judgment, the movant must confer with the opposing party in a good-faith effort to resolve the issues raised in the motion. This requirement promotes communication and cooperation between parties, potentially reducing the need for court involvement.
  2. Certificate of Conferral: When conferral is required, the movant must file a Certificate of Conferral with the motion. The certificate must substantially follow the form provided in the rule, indicating the method of communication, the date of conferral, and whether the opposing party agrees on the resolution of all or part of the motion. If the opposing party did not respond, the certificate must describe the specific efforts made to confer.

Rule 1.280: General Provisions Governing Discovery

The proposed amendments to Rule 1.280 incorporate several significant changes aimed at aligning Florida’s discovery rules with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and, more specifically, promoting proportionality in discovery. These proposals include:

  1. Proportionality: The scope of discovery under Rule 1.280(b)(1) now includes a proportionality requirement, similar to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(1). Parties may obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged matter relevant to any party’s claim or defense and proportional to the needs of the case. Proportionality is assessed by considering factors such as the importance of the issues, the amount in controversy, the parties’ relative access to information, the parties’ resources, the importance of the discovery in resolving the issues, and whether the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit.
  2. Initial Discovery Disclosures: Rule 1.280(a) now requires parties to provide initial discovery disclosures without awaiting a discovery request unless the case is exempt under Rule 1.280(a)(2) or the court orders otherwise. These disclosures must be made within 60 days after service of the complaint or joinder and include information such as (1) the names and contact details of individuals likely to have discoverable information; (2) a description of documents and tangible things that may be used to support claims or defenses; (3) a computation of damages; and (4) any insurance agreements that may satisfy all or part of a judgment.
  3. Duty to Supplement: The amendments introduce a new provision, Rule 1.280(f), which imposes a duty on parties to promptly supplement or correct their disclosures or discovery responses if they learn that the information provided is incomplete or incorrect. This ongoing obligation ensures that parties have access to up-to-date and accurate information throughout the discovery process.
  4. Electronically Stored Information (ESI): The amendments to Rule 1.280(d) address the discovery of ESI, allowing courts to limit the frequency or extent of discovery if it is unreasonably cumulative, duplicative, or burdensome or if the burden or expense outweighs the likely benefit. This change recognizes ESI discovery’s potential challenges and costs and provides courts with additional tools to manage it effectively.

Revising the Approach to Trial and Summary Judgment

Rule 1.440: Setting Action for Trial

Rule 1.440’s proposed amendments streamline the process for setting cases for trial and align it with the case management framework established in Rules 1.200 and 1.201, including:

  1. Eliminating the “At Issue” Requirement: The amended rule eliminates the requirement that a case be “at issue” before being set for trial. This change recognizes that the readiness of a case for trial is not necessarily tied to the closure of pleadings and allows for more flexibility in scheduling.
  2. Setting Trial Period: For cases subject to Rule 1.200 (streamlined and general cases), the court must enter an order fixing the trial period not later than 45 days before the projected trial period outlined in the case management order. For cases not subject to Rule 1.200 or 1.201, the court must enter an order fixing the trial period upon finding that the action is ready for trial. The amended rule ensures that trial dates are set promptly and in accordance with the case management deadlines.
  3. Timing of Trial Period: Any order setting a trial period must schedule the trial to begin at least 30 days after the date of the court’s service of the order unless all parties agree otherwise. This requirement provides parties with sufficient notice and time to prepare for trial.

Rule 1.460: Motions to Continue Trial

As with Rule 1.200, the proposed Rule 1.460 is a complete rewrite. It expressly disfavors motions to continue trial, imposing stricter requirements for them to be granted. More specifically:

  1. Continuances Disfavored: The amended rule states that motions to continue trial are disfavored and should rarely be granted and then only upon good cause shown. This change reflects the Court’s commitment to ensuring the timely resolution of cases and discouraging unnecessary delays.
  2. Motion Requirements: A motion to continue trial must be in writing, signed by the named party requesting the continuance, and filed promptly after the appearance of good cause. The motion must expressly state the basis of the need for continuance, whether the motion is opposed, the action and specific dates that will enable the movant to be ready for trial, and the proposed date by which the case will be ready for trial. The movant must also make reasonable efforts to confer with the non-moving party or opposing counsel about the need for a continuance.
  3. Dilatory Conduct: If a continuance is granted based on the dilatory conduct of an attorney or a named party, the court may impose sanctions on the attorney, the party, or both. This provision aims to discourage intentional delays and promote the timely progress of cases.
  4. Order on Motion for Continuance: When ruling on a motion to continue, the court must state the factual basis for the ruling on the record or in a written order. An order granting a continuance must set a new trial period or a case management conference.

Rule 1.510: Summary Judgment

The proposed Rule 1.510 looks to modify the timing and procedures for summary judgment motions to align with the case management objectives of Rules 1.200 and 1.201, including:

  1. Response Deadline: The deadline for a non-movant to respond to a motion for summary judgment is now tied to the date of service of the motion rather than the hearing date. Under the amended rule, the response must be served no later than 60 days after service of the motion for summary judgment.
  2. Alignment with Case Management Deadlines: The amended rule ensures that summary judgment procedures adhere to the deadlines outlined in the case management orders required under Rules 1.200 and 1.201. This change promotes consistency and predictability in the scheduling of summary judgment proceedings.

Potential Impacts and Implications

After five years of consensus building, it’s clear that the Florida Supreme Court wants to enhance the efficiency and fairness of civil litigation in Florida. Implementing a more structured approach to case management, encouraging cooperation among parties, and emphasizing the timely resolution of issues are changes with the potential to streamline civil litigation and reduce unnecessary delays and costs.

That said, the success of these proposed amendments will depend on effective implementation by Florida’s trial courts and buy-in from tens of thousands of stakeholders in the Florida legal community who did not participate in crafting these potential changes. Judges, attorneys, and all litigants will need to adapt to these requirements and, most importantly, embrace collaboration for the proposed amendments to achieve the goals the Florida Supreme Court set out.

The proposed amendments are set to take effect January 1, 2025, at 12:01 a.m. Attorneys in good standing with the Florida Bar, lawyers not licensed to practice in Florida, and nonlawyers are permitted to file comments on the proposed changes with the Florida Supreme Court and, if desired, may separately request oral argument. All comments must be filed by August 6, 2024.

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[1] In re: Amendments to Florida Rules of Civil Procedure, Case No. SC2023-0962, 49 Fla. L. Weekly S137a (Fla. May 23, 2024).
[2] In re: Amendments to Florida Rules of Civil Procedure 1.510 and New Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.202, Case No. SC2024-0662, 49 Fla. L. Weekly S138a (Fla. May 23, 2024).
[3] Section 1.200(a), as amended, lists 18 actions, proceedings, claims, or petitions that are not subject to the revised Rule.

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