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Nearly Two Years Under Florida’s New Summary Judgment Standard: Appellate Courts Regularly Affirming Summary Judgment


May 1, 2021, the effective date of Florida’s amended summary judgment standard under Rule 1.510 (“New Rule”), turned the tide in terms of how Florida courts must adjudicate motions for summary judgment. Notably, whereas under the prior standard, “the existence of any competent evidence creating an issue of fact, however credible or incredible, substantial or trivial” giving rise to the “slightest doubt” could create a genuine dispute of material fact and preclude summary judgment, under the New Rule, the test for determining if a genuine dispute of material fact exists is whether “‘the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.’”[1]

In previously analyzing the Ten Most Significant Changes in the New Rule, we anticipated that its impact would be significant. Indeed, that prediction has been borne out as Florida courts of appeals are now regularly affirming summary judgment in instances that likely would have been subject to reversal under the old standard. The following recent cases applying Florida’s New Rule demonstrate this point.

In Mane FL Corp. v. Beckman, 355 So. 3d 418, 428‒29 (Fla. 4th DCA 2023), the Fourth District affirmed the trial court’s granting of summary judgment for the plaintiffs on their claim under Florida’s Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act. The court found that “the record evidence proved seven badges of fraud” (i.e., circumstantial evidence of intent), and, therefore, the plaintiffs established a prima facie case of fraudulent transfer that the defendant could rebut only by showing that it lacked the intent to “delay, hinder or defraud creditors.” Id. Notwithstanding that the defendant’s principal filed an affidavit to the contrary, the trial court held that the evidence was “so one-sided,” the only reasonable inference was that Nicolas and Radic (the individuals who orchestrated the fraudulent transfer) transferred the condominium unit to the defendant with the actual intent to defraud the plaintiff. See id. The court also held that the defendant’s affirmative defense of good faith was insufficient as a matter of law. See id. at 429.[2]

In Ibarra v. Ross Dress for Less, Inc., 350 So. 3d 465, 468 (Fla. 3d DCA 2022), the Third District affirmed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendant, Ross Dress for Less, Inc. (“Ross”). The court held that the plaintiff failed to demonstrate any genuine dispute of material fact, and Ross was entitled to judgment as a matter of law because its employee was off duty at the time that she ran a shopping cart into the plaintiff, and, therefore, Ross could not be held liable to plaintiff on a theory or respondeat superior. The plaintiff argued that genuine issues of material fact existed as to whether the Ross employee, who was wearing her work attire and badge, and pushing a full shopping cart at the time of the incident, was acting on behalf of Ross. See id. The court held that the plaintiff had failed to demonstrate more than a “metaphysical doubt” that a dispute of material fact existed, where the evidence showed that the Ross employee did not clock into her shift until approximately 30 minutes after the incident. Accordingly, as a matter of law, the court held that the employee could not have been operating within the scope of her employment at the time of the accident. See id.

In Smith v. Westdale Asset Management, Ltd., 353 So. 3d 108, 111 (Fla. 1st DCA 2022), a premises liability case involving a speed bump on which the plaintiff tripped and fell at the defendant’s apartment complex, the First District affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendant. Per the court, the speed bump was an open and obvious condition about which the apartment complex had no duty to warn, especially because the plaintiff was familiar with the speed bump, given that she had driven over it two dozen times when visiting her friend at the apartment complex. See id. The court also determined that the record evidence failed to establish that the speed bump was an inherently dangerous condition. See id.

In Rhymestine v. Dist. Bd. of Trs. of Miami Dade College, Florida, No. 3D22-1059, 2023 WL 2668479, at *2 (Fla. 3d DCA Mar. 29, 2023), the plaintiff claimed race discrimination and retaliation against a college. As to the discrimination claim, the trial court concluded the plaintiff did not make any showing that a similarly situated employee had received more favorable treatment; as to the retaliation claim, the trial court concluded the plaintiff failed to offer any proof he suffered an adverse employment action as a consequence of lodging his complaints about his supervisor. See id. On appeal, the Third District affirmed the trial court’s entry of summary judgment for the college, holding the trial court’s conclusion that the college met its initial burden of demonstrating the absence of any record evidence to support plaintiff’s allegations was proper, and that the plaintiff failed to offer evidence to support the required elements of his race discrimination and retaliation claims. See id. at *2.

In light of these cases, parties opposing summary judgment who cannot prove an essential element of their claim or defense such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for them must be aware of the likelihood that a trial court will grant summary judgment for the movant and that such a ruling will be upheld on appeal. Litigants should expect that this trend toward a more federalized system of summarily resolving cases will continue and plan accordingly.

If you are involved in a complex business dispute and need assistance navigating Florida’s new summary judgment standard, contact the attorneys at Rabin Kammerer Johnson at 561-659-7878.

[1] In re Amendments to Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.510, 317 So. 3d 72, 75‒76 (Fla. 2021) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)).

[2] The Fourth District also has affirmed summary judgment in a few other recent cases under the new standard.  See  Green v. Rockefeller-Silvia, No. 4D22-226, 2023 WL 2314913 (Fla. 4th DCA Mar. 1, 2023) (affirming the trial court’s granting of summary judgment in the defendant’s favor on the plaintiff’s various claims arising from the alleged failed investment in a horse, where the defendant refuted the plaintiff’s claims against him by providing evidence of non-liability and plaintiff’s only “evidence” was a statement of facts signed by the plaintiff’s attorney); Sage v. Pahlavi, No. 4D22-1566, 2023 WL 2505849 (Fla. 4th DCA Mar. 15, 2023) (affirming the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in the defendant’s favor on the plaintiffs’ claim for breach of real estate contract and failure to disclose where the record evidence established that the plaintiffs (the buyers) had sufficient notice of the defect in the real property at issue).

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