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.

Man with a cart full of money to pay for the family law appeal

Appeals 101: How do I Pay my Family Law Appeal Attorney’s Fees?

Family law cases are oftentimes stressful, lengthy, and expensive ordeals that can extend through trial court into the appellate courts.  But the legislature recognizes that such cases are unique, and thus it provides an avenue for seeking some relief from the cost of attorney’s fees for these cases. As part of our continuing Appeals 101 series, here’s the scoop on getting your ex to pay for your family law appeal attorney’s fees — whether you are appealing an equitable distribution, a child custody order, or any other issue related to your marriage dissolution or custody dispute.

Man with a cart full of money to pay for the family law appeal

It can feel like you need a cart full of money to pay for your family law appeal. You may be able to get your ex to cover those costs.

The basis for attorney’s fees in family law appeals

Section 61.16, Florida Statutes, allows a party to ask a court to force the other side to “pay a reasonable amount for attorney’s fees” in some family law cases.  The purpose of the statute “is to ensure that both parties will have a similar ability to obtain competent legal counsel.”  Rosen v. Rosen, 696 So. 2d 697, 699 (Fla. 1997).  “[I]t is not necessary that one spouse be completely unable to pay attorney’s fees for the trial court to require the other spouse to pay those fees.”  Id.

Section 61.16 also applies on appeal.  The statute states “In determining whether to make attorney’s fees and costs awards at the appellate level, the court shall primarily consider the relative financial resources of the parties, unless an appellate party’s cause is deemed to be frivolous.”  However, the court may also consider what are known as the Rosen factors (for the case from whence they came):  “the scope and history of the litigation; the duration of the litigation; the merits of the respective positions; whether litigation is brought or maintained primarily to harass (or whether a defense is raised mainly to frustrate or stall); and the existence and course of prior or pending litigation.”  Rosen v. Rosen, 696 So. 2d 697, 700 (Fla. 1997).

Can I seek attorney’s fees before the appeal is over, or do I have to wait?

Another way family law fees are different is that, rather than having no choice but to wait until the end of the appeal to seek fees, there is a limited avenue for a party to seek fee assistance during the appeal.  Florida Rule of Appellate Procedure 9.600(c)(1) says the trial court has continuing jurisdiction while an appeal is ongoing to enter orders awarding “temporary attorneys’ fees and costs reasonably necessary to prosecute or defend an appeal, or other awards necessary to protect the welfare and rights of any party pending appeal.”  This means that a party can ask the trial court for assistance from the other side to pay for fees as they are being incurred for the appeal.  In practice this procedure can sometimes be problematic, especially when the trial court does not have sufficient time to rule on such a request while the appeal is pending.  See Kasm v. Lynnel, 975 So. 2d 560 (Fla. 2d DCA 2008).

No matter the family law case, or whether a party has sought temporary fees with the trial court, the party that seeks an award of fees for the appeal should timely file a motion for fees with the appellate court under Florida Rule of Appellate Procedure 9.400(b).  Failure to do so may result in waiver of any ability to claim those fees later.  See Rados v. Rados, 791 So. 2d 1130, 1131-32 (Fla. 2d DCA 2001) (“A trial court cannot award appellate attorney’s fees unless the appellate court has authorized such an award.”).  A motion under rule 9.400(b) must be filed no later than the time for service of the reply brief.

How long will I have to wait for an award of attorney’s fees?

Don’t be surprised if the appellate court decides not to ultimately decide your entitlement to fees, instead sending your motion to the trial court.  Unlike trial courts, appellate courts are simply do not have the capability to take evidence.  Evidence may be necessary to determine the parties’ relative financial positions and the other factors discussed above.  Consequently, the appellate court often relies on the trial court to take such evidence and make those determinations for it.  Rados v. Rados, 791 So. 2d 1130 (Fla. 2d DCA 2001) (identifying the many ways that one appellate court handles such motions).

Most importantly, once an appeal is over, the trial court can only consider appellate fees with permission from the appellate court, usually based on a ruling on a timely-filed 9.400(b) motion.  Even if you would otherwise deserve your fees on appeal under the statute or the Rosen factors, the trial court does not have the power to award them for your appellate efforts if the appellate court does not order it to do so. If you are in, or suspect you will be, in a family law appeal, contact us and we can help ensure that any rights you have to fees are properly raised and preserved.

 

5th District Court of Appeal

Fifth District to Allow Parties to Appear Remotely at Oral Argument

The Fifth District Court of Appeal has put in place a pilot program allowing attorneys and parties to appear at Oral Argument remotely.  The limited program is the first of its kind in Florida.

5th District Court of Appeal Oral Argument

You will be able to avoid a visit to Florida’s 5th District Court of Appeal under the pilot program launching June 5, 2018.

The details of the new program

Starting on June 5, 2018, the Fifth District will allow parties set for Oral Argument to appear either in person at its Daytona Beach courthouse, or remotely from the Marion County Courthouse in Ocala.  The details are set forth in Administrative Order No. AO5D18-01 [.pdf].  In brief,

  • Participation is completely voluntary, and either one or both sides may participate.
  • Any technological problem on the day of argument will result in switching to standard teleconference.
  • Remote oral arguments will be placed first on the daily docket.
  • Courtroom decorum rules apply at the remote location, so no flip flops!

How to sign up

To participate, a party must file a “Notice of Remote Argument,” copied to the opposing party, and send an email to the Fifth District’s clerk.  These must be filed and sent no later than seven days before the scheduled oral argument.  No order will issue – the remote argument is deemed granted upon the Marshal replying with a confirmation email.

Is this the future?

Probably, but it’s not all positive.

There are many benefits to the application of technology to the judiciary–see some of our past articles on e-filingelectronic access, and other technology changes for some examples.  Travel for oral argument is not an insignificant burden on parties and attorneys, both in time and money.  Removing that barrier will allow parties freedom and a more academic determination as to whether to pursue oral argument.

But there is certainly something to be said about appearing before the courts in person.  The parties only have a few precious minutes of face time with the court, and anyone who has used videoconferencing on their own knows that it is possible for something to be lost in translation.  The question will be whether remote appearances can adequately provide the same level of familiarity and experience.  Only time will tell, and the answer will probably not be determined until long after June 5.