The Florida Supreme Court recently issued a decision in which it adopted the summary judgment standard applicable in the federal courts (and a majority of states). Wilsonart, LLC v. Lopez, No. SC19-1336, 2020 WL 7778226 (Fla. Dec. 31, 2020).

This case involves a fatal rear-end car crash. But on appeal the legal issue became:
Should Florida 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 Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574 (1986)?

A key difference was whether Florida law should allow for the entry of final summary judgment in favor of the moving party when the movant’s evidence completely negates or refutes any conflicting evidence presented by the non-moving party in opposition to the summary judgment motion. The Florida Justice Reform Institute and the Florida Trucking Association submitted an amicus brief in support of WilsonArt.  The Court held that Florida should adopt the federal summary judgment standard, and decided to make that change through a prospective rule amendment taking effect on May 1, 2021.  See In re Amendments to Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.510, No. SC20-1490, 2020 WL 7778179 (Fla. Dec. 31, 2020).

In that order, the court noted that the new standard was more in line with the purpose of summary judgment. “We agree with the Supreme Court” that “[s]ummary judgment procedure is properly regarded not as a disfavored procedural shortcut, but rather as an integral part of [our rules] as a whole.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 327. The Supreme Court’s reasoning underlying the federal summary judgment standard is compelling: “One of the principal purposes of the summary judgment rule is to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims or defenses, and we think it should be interpreted in a way that allows it to accomplish this purpose.” Id. at 323-24. See In re Amendments to Fla. Rule of Civil Procedure 1.510., , 2020 WL 7778179, at *2.

The new rule is likely to curb forum shopping by those who would file weaker claims in Florida state courts rather than federal courts.  And the new standard should improve judicial efficiency by disposing of claims lacking factual support. After May 1, in Florida, as under the federal summary judgment rule, the moving party need only prove the absence of evidence in support of an essential element of the nonmoving party’s claim.

 

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Photo of Sean Wajert Sean Wajert

Sean P. Wajert is a partner at Shook, Hardy & Bacon LLP, and the Managing Partner of Shook’s Philadelphia office.  He concentrates his complex litigation practice on the defense of companies from a variety of industries, including the chemical, consumer product, drug and…

Sean P. Wajert is a partner at Shook, Hardy & Bacon LLP, and the Managing Partner of Shook’s Philadelphia office.  He concentrates his complex litigation practice on the defense of companies from a variety of industries, including the chemical, consumer product, drug and medical device industries.  His practice focuses on complex commercial litigation, mass tort, toxic tort and product liability litigation, and appellate work. For a decade he served as Chair of the Products Liability Group of his prior firm.  Sean also taught complex litigation issues for ten years as a Lecturer-in-Law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.