30 Days Means 30 Days When It Comes To Proposals For Settlement

(1917) Going-Going-Gone!. United States, 1917. [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2002695576/.

Since 2016, the Second and Fifth Districts have been in conflict as to whether a motion for extension of time to respond to a proposal for settlement (PFS) under section 768.79, Florida Statutes, and Florida Rules of Civil Procedure 1.090  and 1.442 [.pdf] will toll the time to respond while the motion remains pending.  The Supreme Court in  Koppel v. Ochoa [.pdf] has now settled the conflict, holding that no motion will toll time for responding to a PFS.

The Conflict between the Second and Fifth Districts.

In 1997, the Fifth District in Goldy v. Corbett Crane Services held that a motion to enlarge time to respond to a proposal for settlement tolled the responsive period until the motion could be heard.  The court noted that there was no prejudice by applying this rule, because the offerror “always has the power to withdraw the offer at any time before acceptance if the [offeror’s] position changes.”

In 2016’s Ochoa v. Koppel [.pdf], the Second District considered a situation where a party accepted a proposal for settlement after 30 days had lapsed, but where a motion for extension of time had been filed before the 30-day mark and had not yet been heard.  The trial court enforced the settlement.  On appeal, the Second District reversed.  The court held that while a party may seek and obtain an extension of time to respond to a proposal for settlement under rule 1.090, that the motion itself did not create any tolling effect.  The Second District certified conflict with Goldy.

The Supreme Court agrees with the Second, disapproves the Fifth.

The Supreme Court took review of the conflict between Ochoa and Goldy to consider “whether the filing of a motion under Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.090 to enlarge the time to accept a proposal for settlement automatically tolls the 30-day deadline for accepting the proposal until the motion is decided.”  Koppel v. Ochoa.  It conducted a strict analysis of section 768.79; Rule 1.442 and Rule 1.090, refusing to consider or apply other rules because, it held, neither rule 1.090; nor 1.442; were ambiguous so the rules of construction were inapplicable.

Ultimately, the court recognized that both sides had valid concerns about abuse of the process that might support the logic of a tolling rule, but that the rules simply did not allow tolling.  It approved the Second District’s decision.

This decision impacts anyone with a PFS in a pending case in any Florida court, as well as anyone filing any extension of time in the trial court.

The Supreme Court took special care to rule that its decision would apply both prospectively and retroactively.  Thus, anyone with a pending PFS issue in the Fifth DCA that has relied on Goldy should take special note–you may have already lost your right to accept a proposal for settlement if more than 30 days has passed without a court order granting an extension.

The Supreme Court’s main ruling was also rather broad, and likely intentionally so.  It expressly stated Rules 1.090 and 1.442 do not, and did not, provide for tolling of the time periods by the filing of a motion for extension and are applicable to this and all other cases.”  Thus, no motion for extension of time will ever toll time in the trial court, whether it involves a PFS or a completely different proceeding (unless the rule specific to your proceeding provides for it).

These are dangerous traps for the unwary, both trial attorneys who are accustomed to trial judges allowing tolling as a matter of course, and for appellate practitioners in trial courts because they are accustomed to working with the Florida Rules of Appellate Procedure (which do provide for tolling on most motions on appeal, see rule 9.300.  Don’t get caught by this new trap!  If you have any concerns about how this new decision may impact your trial court case, give us a call and we can help.

Full disclosure: Jared Krukar was involved in the litigation of this case at the Second District Court of Appeal level.

4th District Shortens Allowable Extensions for Reply Briefs and Criminal Appeals

The Fourth District Court of Appeal has shortened the allowable time period for agreed extensions of time: Effective May 1, 2018, parties will only be allowed to agree to 90 days for an initial or answer brief, and 15 days for a reply brief. The Court has also shortened the agreed extension period for criminal appeals significantly, once again applying the same standards to criminal and state appeals.

The new order, AO 2018-1 [.pdf], keeps the amount of time of an agreed extension for the initial brief at 90 days (which in 2016 came down from the original 120 days), but shortens the reply brief stipulation time from 30 days to 15. See AO 2016-1 [.pdf]. When the Fourth District first allowed agreed enlargements in 2011, the time periods were much larger: 120 days for initial or answer, and 60 days for reply. In 2016, the Court changed the rules to keep the 120/60 for criminal, but shorten it to 90/30 for civil. The new Order applies to both civil and criminal cases, and once again aligns the timing for both. Now, however, the time for a reply brief is even shorter, and the rule is 90/15 for all.

Be on the lookout, as we will soon be offering our readers a handy download to keep all of the different rules straight! The download is ready! Click here to sign up for our email newsletter and receive a link to download our guide.

Fifth District Changes Procedures for Extensions of Time

The Fifth District Court of Appeal has twice modified its rules regarding extensions of time in less than a month, reducing the availability of stipulated extensions and placing additional burdens on all attorneys seeking an extension for their clients.

Agreed Extensions of Time for Filing Briefs

Since 2013, the Fifth District has allowed parties to file a “notice” in lieu of a “motion” to obtain limited extensions of time for briefs in criminal and civil appeals, with certain exceptions.  The original administrative order authorized as much as 90 days for initial or answer briefs, and 60 days for reply briefs.

But in an amended order effective March 2, 2018, the amount of time available is now limited to 60 days for initial or answer briefs, and 30 days for reply briefs.

New Notice Requirements for Extensions

The Fifth District did not stop there.  In its March 27, 2018 Administrative Order A05D18-02, the Fifth District mandated that every extension request filed by an attorney must be accompanied by a certification that the attorney has provided a copy of the motion or notice to his/her clients.  This applies to all cases before the Court, and not just those that allow for the “notice” procedure discussed above.

The administrative order notes that it does not “require the client’s signature or consent,” nor does the certification have to include the client’s name, address, or signature.  According to the order, the attorney will comply with the order by certifying “by a statement included in the signed certificate of service on the motion or notice filed with this Court, that counsel has that day provided a copy of the motion or agreed notice to his/her client(s) via U.S. Mail, e-mail, or by hand delivery.”

The order does warn, however, that noncompliance with this requirement may result in the denial of any request for extension of time, whether by notice or motion.

What it Means to You

Given these added restrictions, we deduce that the Fifth District must perceive there has been some abuse of its extension procedures that require stricter regulation.  The new rules appear designed to increase attorney oversight by both the Court and clients.  Unfortunately, for those attorneys who do not abuse the process, these new rules will make seeking an extension slightly more difficult, and it will reduce the number of limited extensions available.  It remains to be seen whether other districts will adopt similar rules.

There is a strong likelihood that many who do not specialize in appellate practice will be caught off-guard by this new rule, and thus will have a motion or notice for extension denied or stricken.  We watch for rule changes like this because appeals are what we do.  Let us help you navigate the intricacies of the specific rules for each of the appellate courts in Florida to avoid getting caught in any procedural traps such as the ones created by these new rule changes in the Fifth District.

A final note — if you want a blast from the past, check out the article Jared wrote back in 2014 for the HCBA Lawyer on the issue of stipulated extensions of time when the concept was still brand new!

UPDATE: We’ve created a handy guide to help you keep the different courts’ rules straight. Click here to sign up for our newsletter and get a link to download the guide!