Service by and On Pro Se Litigants

The Florida state appellate courts handle thousands of pro se appeals annually.  How do the new e-service rules affect service by and on litigants who are not represented by an attorney?

Florida Rule of Judicial Administration 2.516(c) [.pdf] has an answer to that question, and it’s pretty straight forward. If the pro se litigant chooses to send and receive by e-mail, the pro se litigant need only serve an e-mail designation notice. That is, the party should serve a notice on the opposing attorney (or if the opponent is not represented, the litigant) stating which primary and up to two secondary e-mail addresses at which they want to receive service, and follow up by filing that notice with the court. From then on, the pro se litigant will receive documents in the case by e-mail, and will also be requires to send them by e-mail if the other side is represented by an attorney or is pro se but has sent a designation. If the pro se litigant would rather stick to fax, mail, or hand delivery, just don’t serve an e-mail designation. Any pro se litigant who has not served a designation must serve and be served as set out in Fla. R. Jud. Admin. 2.516(b)(2).

Bonus: Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.080 states that in civil trial matters, all service should be made in accordance with Fla. R. Jud. Admin. 2.516. So the answer to how do you serve a pro se litigant is the same in the civil trial context and in appeals.

Caution: This post only applies to service of court documents. What about filing? That will have to be the subject of a different blog post. Whatever you read here, be sure to check the rules and do your own investigation. This blog is not legal advice, and the rules are constantly changing.

New Issues a No Go on Rehearing

The Fourth DCA recently issued an opinion on rehearing in which it reiterated a pretty basic, but nonetheless important point: If you didn’t raise an issue in your initial brief, you can’t raise it for the first time on a motion for rehearing before the appellate court. See Philip Morris USA, Inc. v. Naugle, No. 4D10-1607 (Dec. 12, 2012) [.pdf]. The lesson, of course, is that if it is important enough to argue it all, an issue must go in your initial brief. Remember, Rule 9.330 requires that a party seeking rehearing point out “with particularity the points that…the court has overlooked or misapprehended in its decision.” The court cannot misapprehend or overlook that which a party never argued to begin with!

Rehearing: A Comparison of 9.330 and 1.530

The First District Court of Appeal recently explained the different standards for rehearing at the appellate level versus the trial level under the Florida rules, and it’s an important distinction for both trial and appellate practitioners to keep in mind. The take home lesson: Your last chance at issue preservation is a motion for rehearing, particularly for cases decided at early stages.

The case is Fitchner v. Lifesouth Community Blood Centers, Inc., ___ So.3d ___, No. 1D10–2019 (Fla. 1st DCA April 13, 2012) [.pdf]. Against the background of a complicated procedural history, the Court sets out a terrific discussion of the rehearing standards. The Fitchners sought to amend their complaint after an appellate remand dismissing their complaint, and the trial court denied their motion. With new counsel, they moved the trial court for rehearing, making a new and (as the trial court admitted) “meritorious” argument as to why the amended complaint should be allowed. The trial court nonetheless denied the motion because the argument was being raised for the first time, and had not been “overlooked” or “misapprehended.”

The First DCA ruled the Fitchners had not waived their argument. The Court started its analysis, as we all should, with the text of the rules, in this case a comparison of the text of the appellate rehearing rule, Rule 9.330(a), with the trial-level rule, Rule 1.530(a). The Appellate Rule requires that the movant:

“state with particularity the points of law or fact that, in the opinion of the movant, the court has overlooked or misapprehended in its decision, and shall not present issues not previously raised in the proceeding .”

The Civil Procedure rule, by contrast, states:

“[o]n a motion for rehearing of matters heard without a jury, including summary judgments, the court may open the judgment if one has been entered, take additional testimony, and enter a new judgment.”

Reading these rules side-by-side, the Court concluded:

“It is clear from a comparison of the text of these two rules that the standard to be applied in trial courts is much broader than the one that applies on appeal. Rule 1.530 is not limited to a mistake the court has made. To the contrary, rehearing may be granted in an appropriate case to prevent an injustice that would be caused by an error or omission by one of the lawyers.”

Trial practitioners should beware, however: Just because the trial court has the power to consider a newly raised issue on a motion for rehearing made pursuant to Rule 1.530, does not mean it is required to do so. It is still best to raise every issue in your original motion. But the trial court did have the power to consider the new argument raised, and as a result the new issue was preserved for appellate review. The Court went on to reverse the dismissal based upon the legal argument raised and rejected in the Fitchners’ motion for rehearing.

As an aside, the decision also contains helpful analysis of the law of the case doctrine. More on law of the case in a future post.