For years, practitioners in Florida have had to straddle the differences and nuances between the federal and state standard on summary judgment depending on which court had jurisdiction over their case. Come May 1, 2021, that is finally changing.
In a Supreme Court of Florida opinion issued on December 31, 2020, the Court – on its own motion – amended Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.510 (Summary Judgment). The amended rule, which becomes effective May 1, 2021, adopts the summary judgment standard articulated by the United States Supreme Court in Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986), Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242 (1986), and Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574 (1986) (together, the “federal summary judgment standard”). This change brings Florida in line with the majority of states that have already adopted the federal standard.
Under the soon-to-be outdated Florida rule on summary judgment, it was commonly understood to be more difficult to have summary judgment granted than under the federal counterpart. This was in part due to Florida courts taking a broader view of what constituted a genuine (i.e., triable) issue of material fact than the federal courts. Florida courts had long held that if any competent evidence raised the slightest doubt as to a genuine issue of material fact, then summary judgment should not be granted. By contrast, the United States Supreme Court has held that a party opposing summary judgment “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586. The United States Supreme Court has further explained that “[i]f the evidence [the party opposing summary judgment presents] is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 240-50. The differences between Florida and federal jurisprudence on summary judgment have had the practical effect over the years of making the filing, and granting, of summary judgment in federal courts more prevalent than in Florida courts.
With the amendment of Florida's summary judgment rule, however, that is sure to change. Florida practitioners and courts will undoubtedly see an uptick in the volume of summary judgment motions being filed, as Florida litigants prepare to test their cases against the amended standard. Attorneys moving for summary judgment, as well as opposing summary judgment, should familiarize themselves with the amended standard and be prepared to counsel their clients accordingly.