Appeals 101: Why Rendition Matters

Rendition is a critical concept in Florida appeals, but not everyone understands its importance. The Fourth District this week in Guy v. Plaza Home Mortgage, Inc., No. 4D17-3335 (April 25, 2018) [.pdf] chided the Broward County Clerk’s foreclosure department for backdating final judgments when entering them on the Court docket. The decision offers a good reminder of the importance of rendition in appellate practice, and the reasons it matters.

Rendered Before Entered?

The case came to the court in an unusual procedural posture — a pro se appellant moved the court to correct the record because while the summary judgment hearing was held at 1:30 pm, the judgement’s electronic stamp “indicates that it was filed with the Broward County Clerk…at 8:35 a.m., nearly five hours hours earlier.”

The Broward Clerk explained that when the clerk’s office received the order from chambers, often a day or more after it was signed, its practice was to scan the item — which added a time and date stamp — then change the date but not the time to the date the order was signed by the Court. The result in this case is an order that appears to be rendered prior to being signed. And the result in general is that the real time docket on the date of signature does not show the order, and may not for several days. Then the order will all of a sudden “appear” that the item was added to the docket on the date the order was signed, whether or not the clerk’s office processed it on that day.

Why Rendition Matters

Let’s start with the definition of rendition: “An order is rendered when a signed, written order is filed with the clerk of the lower tribunal.” Fla. R. App. P. 9.020(i). Rendition can sometimes be tolled, such as when “there has been filed in the lower tribunal an authorized and timely motion for new trial, for rehearing” and a few other specific types of motions. When such a motion has been filed, the order is not considered rendered “until the filing of a signed, written order disposing of the last of such motions.” Id.

The problem, as the Fourth District explained, is that “[t]he time for appeal runs from the date of rendition, not the date the judgment is signed.” See Fla. R. App. P. 9.110(b). “By backdating the electronic filing stamp, the clerk changes the rendition date, possibly to the prejudice of an appellant.”

The Court pointed out that in this case, “appellant’s appellate rights were not affected,” and so the Court denied the motion to correct the record. The Court concluded “We nevertheless disapprove of the this practice as it is inconsistent with the appellate rules.”

How Backdating Rendition Affects Appellate Rights

Kudos to the Fourth District for calling out this potentially prejudicial practice. The time for appeal starts running from the date of rendition, and a backdated docket entry can unexpectedly shorten the time for appeal. We’ve seen a clerk wait 25 days to enter a final order on the docket, and then send the backdated rendered order by mail, leaving the attorney with no time to even discuss appeal with the client. The clerk’s docket is supposed even the playing field and allow all to know when an order is rendered and therefore appealable. Backdating leaves a party without notice and potentially deprives the party of the right to appeal.

The Takeaway on Rendition

When you’re not sure if an order has been rendered, it’s never a bad move to calendar your deadlines based on the date of signature, and regularly check the docket until you are sure of a rendition date. While a premature appeal can be subject to dismissal, if the order is rendered before the appellate court catches that an appeal was prematurely filed, “the premature notice of appeal shall be considered effective to vest jurisdiction in the court to review the final order.” See Fla. R. App. P. 9.110(l).

About Appeals 101

This post is part of our continuing Appeals 101 series. Click the link to find all of our posts on the basics of litigating an appeal.

Appeals 101: How do I initiate my Florida civil appeal?

The Second District Court of Appeals’ Clerk’s Office is in Lakeland, FL. But you don’t have to visit — you can file your filing fee by mail or online!

Timing of Your Notice of Appeal

In a standard civil case in Florida, one initiates an appeal by (1) filing a notice of appeal and (2) paying the filing fee.  This applies to appeals from both final (see Fla. R. App. P. 9.110) and non-final (see Fla. R. App. P. 9.130(b)) orders.  You have 30 days from the date your ordered is rendered to file your notice (stay tuned for an upcoming Appeals 101 post on what “rendered” means for appellate purposes).

Format of Your Notice of Appeal

The notice is a simple document — it does not contain argument, and it does not have to tell the court why you are appealing. Rather, it contains only basic contents — just enough to let the Court know what you are appealing and by what authority. Specifically, the notice must contain a caption, the name of the court to which the appeal is taken, the date of rendition, and the nature of the order to be reviewed. It is also critical to attach a copy of the order on appeal to the notice. The rules actually contain a sample notice to follow [.pdf].

Filing and Fees for Your Notice of Appeal

So how, and where, do you accomplish these filings?  You go to the court that issued the order you want to appeal (sometimes referred to as the “trial court” or the “lower tribunal”).  That is where you will file your notice of appeal.  As far as fees, you’ll have to pay a fee both to that court, and to the appellate court.  These days, both your notice of appeal and your filing fees to the courts can be paid online.

An example:  You are appealing to the district court of appeal a final order of the circuit court.  You must file your notice of appeal with the circuit court clerk, along with a $100 filing fee.  You may also have to pay other small handling fees, such as a $2 “certification” fee, or credit card fees.  Your notice of appeal will be sent to the district court of appeal.  Upon receipt of the notice, the district court will assign your case a new number, and will often issue an order or notice stating that its filing fee has not been paid.  You then must pay the district court an additional $300. Note that this procedure doesn’t really match up with the rules — before electronic filing, you were supposed to send your check to the circuit court clerk for both filing fees, but the rules haven’t caught up with technology, and the District Court does not take issue with you paying your filing fees after it assigns a case number, so long as you do it quickly. At that point, your appeal is fully initiated.

Filing a Notice of Appeal of a County Court Decision

The process is generally the same for appealing county court orders to the circuit courts, although the amounts of the fees vary slightly.

Filing a Notice of Cross-Appeal

And if someone else has filed a notice of appeal already and you want to file a cross-appeal, you’ll have to pay the appellate court $295.

For more information, look to the rules for final appeals and non-final appeals, and check out some of our other blog posts at flabarappellate.org.

What Happens if My Notice of Appeal is Late?

Be careful, because failing to file the notice of appeal on time will result in dismissal of your appeal for lack of jurisdiction.  A late notice of appeal is not something that can be fixed.  And while the courts are somewhat forgiving if you merely file in the wrong court or don’t pay the filing fee right away, they can still dismiss your appeal before you even get a chance to argue the merits if you don’t straighten out those defects fast.

Don’t Mess Around With Your Notice of Appeal

The rules of appellate procedure can be complicated and intimidating, but we’re here to help. Because the 30 day deadline comes fast, call our office for a consultation at 813-778-5161 if you are thinking of filing an appeal. Day 31 is too late. Count wrong, and it can be too late. Misunderstand rendition, and it can be too late. In fact, because understanding rendition can be tricky — and because your appeal can sometimes be stronger if you file a timely and authorized motion for rehearing, which has a shorter deadline — we recommend you contact appellate counsel within a day or two of learning of the order you want to appeal.

About Appeals 101

This post is part of our continuing Appeals 101 series. Click the link to find all of our posts on the basics of litigating an appeal.

Magistrates, Reconsideration, and Writs, Oh My!

Every once in a while a case comes along that is just a treasure trove of procedural goodness. It’s even nicer when you happen to know the prevailing party, and know the rules as applied helped the good guys. The case is Seigler v. Bell, Case No. 5D14-642 (Fla. 5th DCA Sept. 19, 2014)[.pdf]. The underlying dispute is a complicated child custody battle between a Mother and Grandmother. While there is no need to go into the nitty gritty of the underlying facts of the dispute, the decision today provides great insight into several issues of broad application: (a) The role of magistrates in proceedings before a trial court, (b) the important differences between rehearing and reconsideration at the trial court level, and (c) jurisdiction over writs of certiorari and mandamus. Let’s unpack each in turn.

Magistrates and Finality

The opinion lays out in detail the legal and procedural effect of an issue being heard by a magistrate. Most importantly:

While a magistrate’s report is more than a mere recommendation, it is not a final judgment, as magistrates lack the authority to enter final judgments….Even when no exceptions are filed, the trial court is “duty bound to examine and consider the evidence for itself and to make a judicial determination as to whether[,] under the law and facts[,] the court is justified in entering the judgment recommended” by the magistrate…. Merely “approving” the magistrate’s report is not sufficient to effect an appealable final judgment.

Slip. Op. at 7-8, citations omitted. In this case, both parties did file exceptions, and the trial court ruled on them, but the effect of that ruling was not a final judgment. The trial court rejected one party’s exceptions and accepted some of the other party’s exceptions, but the resulting order on the recommendation merely stated “the Report … is hereby modified….” Because the trial court “modified” the magistrate’s report but did not enter judgment, the order modifying the report (“the Modification Order”) was not a final order.

Rehearing v. Reconsideration

Whether the Modification Order was a final order is important in this case, because it is determinative of the next issue the appellate court decided — whether the Grandmother’s “Motion for Rehearing or Reconsideration” (the “Reconsideration Motion”) was timely and authorized. The Mother’s Petition sought review of the trial court’s order granting the Motion for Rehearing or Reconsideration. The Reconsideration Motion was filed 12 days after the trial court entered its order modifying the magistrate’s report and recommendation. If the Modification Order had been a final judgment, then it would be subject to a Rule 1.530 motion for rehearing. But then the Reconsideration Order would have been untimely, because at the time Rule 1.530 required that a motion for rehearing be served no later than 10 days after entry of judgment. (The rule was since amended to allow 15 days for service of a motion for rehearing).

The Court held that since the Modification Order was not a final order, the trial court had the inherent power to reconsider its interlocutory order at any time. Op. at 9. The court explained:

Motions for rehearing and motions for reconsideration are two distinct motions and, though they are often confused, they do not overlap. Motions for “rehearing” pursuant to Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.530 apply only to final judgments and “those orders that partake of the character of a final judgment, i.e., orders that complete the judicial labor on a portion of the cause.” Motions for “reconsideration” apply to nonfinal, interlocutory orders, and are based on a trial court’s “inherent authority to reconsider and, if deemed appropriate, alter or retract any of its nonfinal rulings prior to entry of the final judgment or order terminating an action . . . .” … Nomenclature does not control, and motions for either “rehearing” or “reconsideration” aimed at final judgments shall be treated as rule 1.530 motions for rehearing, while motions aimed at nonfinal orders shall
be treated as motions for reconsideration.

Op. at 9-10, citations omitted. The Court also emphasized that the trial court had the power to sua sponte reconsider its own interlocutory orders. Op. at 10.

Certiorari, Mandamus, and Appealable Non-Final Orders

Because the Court had the power to reconsider its interlocutory order, the next question it considered was whether the order granting reconsideration in the Grandmother’s favor (“the Reconsideration Order”) was an appealable order. The Court didn’t even look at whether the Reconsideration Order was a final order, because it left open further proceedings and still did not take on the tenor of a judgment of the Court.

The Court considered but rejected the argument that the Reconsideration Order could be classified as an appealable nonfinal order under Rule 9.130(a)(3)(C)(iii), which allows for immediate appeal of orders determining the right to child custody in family law matters. It is not clear whether the Mother made this argument, but the Court did the right thing in considering it in any event, because Rule 9.040(c) allows that “if a party seeks an improper remedy, the cause shall be treated as if the proper remedy had been sought.” Fla. R. App. P. 9.040(c). However, the Court concluded that the order does not determine the right to custody, but “merely indicates that more evidence will be considered before the trial court determines Mother’s motion to revoke the prior temporary custody order.” Op. at 10. It’s a decision to take more evidence, not a determination of custody, and therefore not an appealable interlocutory order.

The court also considered whether the Mother’s Petition entitled her to the relief requested, certiorari or mandamus relief. Both certioari and mandamus are extraordinary appellate remedies, because they allow the appellate court to step in and rule on the propriety of an interlocutory order. The Court dismissed the Petition for Writ of Certiorari for lack of jurisdiction and denied the Petition for Writ of Mandamus.

The Mother argued in favor of certiorari review because, based on her view that the Rehearing Motion was untimely, the trial court was without jurisdiction to entertain it. The Court set out the standard test for certiorari relief:

“To obtain relief by way of a writ of certiorari, a petitioner must establish: 1) a departure from the essential requirements of the law, 2) a resulting material injury for the remainder of the trial, and 3) the lack of an adequate remedy on appeal.”… The second and third prongs of this three-part standard of review are often combined into the concept of “irreparable harm,” and they are jurisdictional.

Applying this test — and its prior procedural analysis that the trial court had the power to reconsider the Modification Order and enter the Reconsideration Order — the Court found that the Reconsideration Order neither departed from the essential requirements of law or caused irreparable harm. The Court therefore held that it lacked jurisdiction to grant the requested certiorari relief.

The request for mandamus relief likely asked the Court to order the trial court to enter final judgment on the Modification Order. As the Court explained:

“Mandamus is a common law remedy used to enforce an established legal right by compelling a person in an official capacity to perform an indisputable ministerial duty required by law.” … “To state a cause of action for mandamus, a party must allege a clear legal right to performance of the act requested, an indisputable legal duty, and the lack of an adequate remedy at law.”

Op. at 11 (citations omitted). In this case, because the trial court had the power to reconsider its own interlocutory order, the Mother could not prove she was entitled to compel the trial court to enforce an established legal right to entry of judgment in her favor. The Court therefore denied the petition for writ of mandamus.

Kudos

Congratulations again to my friend Vicki Levin Eskin of Levy & Associates, P.A. for her appellate win! Vicki represents the Grandmother in this case pro bono, to boot (that means free, folks).

Full Disclosure: I assisted Vicki pro bono in responding to the appellate motion for rehearing or rehearing en banc filed by the other side. I am pleased to report that the court denied rehearing today, so the decision is now final.