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!
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.
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.
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.