Florida Supreme Court Implements Electronic Filing and Other Rule Changes

The Florida Supreme Court, in a revised Order SC11-399 (Oct. 18, 2012) [.pdf], has adopted a host of rule changes at every court level in order to implement electronic filing and service. The centerpiece of the change to electronic filing are new Florida Rules of Judicial Administration Florida Rules of Judicial Administration 2.520 (Documents) and 2.525 (Electronic Filing). Together, these two rules govern the filing of any document that is a “court record.” Rule 2.520 is the “why,” defining electronic records, and Rule 2.525 is the “how-to”, explaining the nuts and bolts of how to file electronically. So be sure to read both very carefully.

To implement these new system-wide rules, the Court also adopted changes to the rules of civil, criminal, family, probate, small claims, and appellate procedure.

Electronic filing becomes mandatory in civil, probate, small claims, and family law divisions of the trial courts, as well as for appeals to the circuit courts in these categories of cases, on April 1, 2013, at 12:01 a.m. For criminal, traffic, and juvenile divisions of the trial courts, as well as for appeals to the circuit court in these categories of cases, the effective date is October 1, 2013 at 12:01 a.m.

The changes are generally technical, but wide-sweeping. The rules affected include Florida Rules of Appellate Procedure 9.020 (Definitions), 9.110 (Appeal Proceedings to Review Final Orders); 9.120 (Discretionary Proceedings to Review Decisions of District Courts of Appeal); 9.125 (Review of Trial Court Orders and Judgments Certified by the District Courts of Appeal as Requiring Immediate Resolution by the Supreme Court); 9.130 (Proceedings to Review Non-Final Orders and Specific Final Orders); 9.140 (Appeal Proceedings in Criminal Cases); RULE 9.141. (Review Proceedings in Collateral or Postconviction Criminal Cases); RULE 9.142. (Procedures for REview in Death Penalty Cases); RULE 9.145 (Appeal Proceedings in Juvenile Delinquency Cases); RULE 9.146. (Appeal Proceedings in Juvenile Dependency and Termination of Parental Rights Cases); RULE 9.160. (Discretionary Proceedings to Review Decisions of County Courts); 9.180 (Appeal Proceedings to Review Workers’ Compensation Cases); 9.200 (the Record); 9.210 (Briefs); 9.220 (Appendix); 9.360 (Joinder); 9.500 (Advisory Opinions to the Governor); 9.510 (advisory Opinions to Attorney General); 9.900 (forms).

I encourage every practicing attorney to read SC11-399 very carefully. The most unfortunate change, in my view, is that the Court renumbered the definition of Rendition, from 9.020(h) to 9.020(i). The new 9.020(h) could easily have been put at the end, but now practitioners must be aware to both cite to the correct new subdivision when citing the rule on rendition, and to research both the old and the new numbering system when conducting research. I don’t see why adding such confusion over an already high-confusion area of the rules was really necessary.

Small Claims, Big Procedural Concerns

Does filing a mis-labeled motion for new trial in small claims court toll rendition of a final small claims order? The Fourth DCA in Arafat v. U–Haul Center Margate, No. 4D10–1179,— So.3d —- (Fla. 4th DCA June 22, 2011) [.pdf] has said yes.

Which Rule Applies?

The Arafat decision packs in a lot of procedural analysis of the intersection of the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure, the Florida Rules of Appellate Procedure, and the Florida Small Claims Rules. After plaintiff Arafat lost her small claims case, she filed what the court described as a “rambling” motion for rehearing — erroneously titled as being served pursuant to Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.530 — “clearly authored by someone with little or no legal training.” The Court nonetheless concluded “there is no doubt that the relief she is seeking is a new trial.”

Whether the motion was filed pursuant to Civil Rule 1.530 or Small Claims Rule 7.180 makes the difference between a timely motion for rehearing and an untimely one, because while Rule 1.530 requires that a motion be served within 10 days of the judgment, Rule 7.180 requires that a motion for new trial be filed within 10 days. And Arafat, acting pro se, filed her motion within ten days but didn’t mail it until two days later. The Court held that Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.530 does not apply to small claims actions — after all, it is not one of the rules of civil procedure expressly adopted by the small claims rules. Rather, Florida Small Claims Rule 7.180 is the operative rule for requesting that a small claims judgment be reviewed by the small claims judge, and it only allows that a party may file a motion for new trial within ten days.

The Court held that Arafat’s motion was a motion for new trial under Small Claims Rule 7.180. Then it did a full-on cascading rules analysis. Looking first to Florida Small Claims Rule 7.230, which provides that appeals from Small Claims court shall be governed by the Florida Rules of Appellate Procedure, the court then applied Florida Rule of Appellate Procedure 9.010 to hold that the appellate procedure rules apply to appeals raised in circuit court. Taking the final procedural step, the Court applied the rendition rule of Florida Rule of Appellate Procedure 9.020(h) and held that rendition had been successfully tolled by Arafat’s motion.

Certiorari Review

The Court took jurisdiction over this procedural morass, by the way, by exerting certiorari jurisdiction, explaining “a petition for certiorari is the proper vehicle to challenge an order of the circuit court dismissing an appeal as untimely.” Thus, the Court granted the petition and directed that the circuit court consider Arafat’s appeal on the merits.