News Brief

Florida Supreme Court Announces the Adoption of the Federal Summary Judgment Standard in Case Handled by McDonough and Bertelsen

January 8, 2021

Sean McDonough (Partner-Orlando, FL) and Jacqueline Bertelsen (Associate-Orlando, FL) represented a client manufacturer whose driver was involved in a fatal rear-end crash. After relying on video evidence to prevail on summary judgment in the trial court, the Fifth District Court of Appeal found that the trial judge improperly weighed competing evidence under the Florida summary judgment standard and overturned the trial court’s decision. The Fifth District held that Florida’s current summary judgement standard “compelled” it to reverse, despite dashboard camera video footage refuting conflicting eyewitness testimony. As a result, the Fifth District certified a question to the Florida Supreme Court asking whether there should be an exception to Florida’s summary judgment standard when unaltered video evidence completely negates or refutes conflicting evidence. The Florida Supreme Court accepted jurisdiction and expanded the issues on appeal by directing the parties to brief whether Florida should adopt 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).
The Court issued its opinion on December 31, 2020, but declined to create an exception for video evidence citing a “deeper flaw in Florida’s existing summary judgment standard – specifically, its unreasonable definition of what constitutes a ‘genuine issue’ in need of resolution by a jury.” Instead, the Court determined that its concerns were more appropriately addressed through a prospective rule amendment expressly adopting the Federal Summary Judgment standard, which it contemporaneously released with the underlying opinion In re Amendments to Florida Rule of Civil  Procedure 1.510, No. SC20-1490 (Fla. Dec. 31, 2020). The Court ultimately upheld the Fifth District’s reversal of summary judgment without prejudice to our client’s ability to seek summary judgment under Florida’s new standard when the new rule takes effect on May 1, 2021. 
Sean and Jacqueline, who wrote all of the briefs and prepared Sean for the oral arguments, note that the Florida Supreme Court took full advantage of the circumstances in our case, which demanded that Florida jurisprudence accommodate a changing technological reality that will result in a more “just, speedy and inexpensive determination” of disputes in Florida courts.

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