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Weird, Wild Stuff: Nine Proposed Appellate Rule Changes You May Want to Weigh In On

The Appellate Court Rules Committee published its Notice of its proposed rule amendments in this month’s The Florida Bar News.  They are proposing a number of changes to no less than 32 different appellate rules.  You can read all of them here.

Here’s what we think about some of these proposals…

We had gut reactions to a few of these, and thought we’d share some of the more interesting ones with you.

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If you have any comments on these proposed rule amendments, get them in before August 1, 2019!

  • Amending rule 9.045 to require all appellate documents to be filed in “Arial 14-point or Bookman Old Style 14-point font.”
    • Bookman?  Where did Bookman come from?  Our stuck-in-our-ways reaction is “what’s wrong with Times New Roman?”  Well, a quick Google search shows that many consider Bookman a superior font.  But those same searches name a number of fonts that are an improvement upon Times New Roman (like Garamond, this author’s personal fave outside of the courts).  And also, other studies suggest there’s a difference in readability between serif and non-serif fonts.  So why keep both a serif and a non-serif font rather than just mandate the use of the single best font?
    • We’re curious to see what the ACRC was looking at when they settled on Bookman–and that will be a super-nerdy conversation that we won’t bore you with here, but feel free to give us a call if you’re curious!
  • Amending rule 9.145 to eliminate the requirement that transcripts in juvenile delinquency cases use only a child’s initials, to avoid confusion.
    • Will transcripts in the record be filed under seal, or redacted in some way, to maintain protection for the child?  Is there a corresponding amendment to Florida Rule of Judicial Administration 2.420 (minimizing the filing of sensitive information) to ensure this privacy?
  • Amending rule 9.170 to clarify that orders denying entitlement to attorneys’ fees and costs are appealable in probate and guardianship cases.
    • Before, the rule suggested only orders awarding fees were appealable.  This is obviously an important clarification if you practice these types of appeals.
  • Amending rule 9.225 to allow argument in a notice of supplemental authority.
    • Whoa.  We see this being used as a tool for parties to effectively file supplemental briefs.  We can also see this being abused for that purpose unless the rule is also amended to limit what can be filed as supplemental authority.  Many judges have personally indicated they do not like notices of supplemental authority that identify old cases, but the rule does not say that explicitly.  A party could potentially go find any relevant case and use it to rectify errors or omissions in its briefs.  Perhaps the new amendment should be accompanied by an amendment limiting notices of supplemental authority to authorities that are created after the date of the last brief of the party that files it.
  • Amending rule 9.300 to do away with the required separate request to toll time in the Florida Supreme Court.
    • Good riddance.  This requirement had no useful purpose.  It only served to increase attorney labor (and thus client costs), reduce judicial economy, and serve as a procedural trap for the unwary.
  • Creates Rule 9.332, providing a procedure for en banc proceedings in circuit court.
    • I’ve not ever had a matter that required such proceedings, but this amendment having been brought to our attention, it seems a really good idea.  We cannot see how the current rule 9.331 could ever be properly applied in a circuit court.  Our thoughts are with the unfortunate souls that have had to figure out how to use rule 9.331 in the circuit court to-date.
  • Amending rule 9.370 to create word limitations (instead of page limitations) on briefs.
    • This follows the federal practice.  We will take word limits over page limits in a heartbeat.
  • Amending rule 9.440 to create limited appearances for appellate proceedings.
    • This may be in response to the Fifth District’s Administrative Order AO5D15-01, Re: Continuances of Oral Argument.  Therein, the Fifth District effectively states that every attorney that appears on a brief, and every attorney in the firm of an attorney that appears on a brief, can be held responsible to appear for oral argument.  If you haven’t read that order and you ever appear on cases in the Fifth District, well, just go read the order.
  • Amending Rule 9.800 to further permit citation to online resources and to eliminate required citation to Florida Law Weekly.
    • Honestly, most Florida appellate courts have been more than forgiving about missing FLW citations for many years now–a logical shift and perhaps tacit recognition that there’s no longer a reason for an FLW cite.  Judicial opinions can be accessed online from any number of free sources, and FLW is (a) a cost-based service (b) not available to everyone, and (c) not the most elegant of interfaces to use (online or in print).  This is a worthwhile amendment that reflects the changing times.

More amendments?  YES!

These proposed amendments follow the extensive amendments that went into effect on January 1, 2019, which we’ve covered extensively.  See, e.g., Almost Every Florida Appellate Rule Changes on New Years’ Day 2019Now You Can Appeal Two More Types of Nonfinal Orders.  If you haven’t checked those amendments out, make sure you do!

What do you think?  Let us know, and let the ACRC know!

So what do you think of these proposed amendments?  Agree/Disagree?  Are there any others you would want us to address?  Let us know.  And even more importantly, send any comments to Thomas D. Hall, Incoming Chair of the Appellate Court Rules Committee, at thall@bishopmills.com, and to Bar attorney liaison, Hether Telfer, at htelfer@floridabar.org.

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.

 

Florida Court’s Jurisdiction Over Out-of-State Party in Domestic Violence Cases

Florida courts may only act if they have personal jurisdiction over the defendant, even in the case of alleged domestic violence. Having family in Florida, visiting Florida on vacation in the past, and sending a spouse and children to visit family in Florida are insufficient contacts to confer personal jurisdiction.  Youssef v. Zaitouni, Case No. 2D17-926 (Fla. 2d DCA Feb. 14, 2018) [.pdf].

When is there personal jurisdiction over an out-of-state resident?

Husband, an Ohio resident, moved through counsel to vacate an injunction entered against him in Florida after his estranged Wife moved to Florida and sought and obtained a domestic violence injunction (DVI) against him.  Husband argued that Florida did not have personal jurisdiction over him because he did not have sufficient contacts with Florida under Florida’s long arm statute, Section 48.193.  The trial court found that family members residing in Florida and past visits were sufficient contacts with Florida to confer jurisdiction.  In the alternative, the trial court invoked its “emergency jurisdiction over the minor children” under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, Sections 61.501-542, Fla. Stat.  (UCCJEA).

The Second District Court of Appeal yesterday reversed the refusal to vacate the injunction, and remanded for dismissal for lack of jurisdiction.  First, the court held that the contacts were not sufficient to confer personal jurisdiction under the long arm statute.  Second, the court found that the UCCJEA governed custody proceedings, and did not create an independent basis for the trial court to exercise personal jurisdiction.

What does this mean for parties seeking domestic violence protection against an out-of-state spouse or alleged abuser?

For the accused party, we recommend you contact a family law attorney right away to discuss your options and determine whether a motion to quash is appropriate in your case.  If you appear in court or respond to the petition without a lawyer, you will likely waive this important defense.

For those seeking protection, we recommend you be prepared to demonstrate the accused’s contacts with the state of Florida.  If you cannot, you should consider instead seeking an injunction in the accused’s home state, and then having that injunction domesticated and enforced in Florida.

But please don’t take legal advice from a blog post.  These cases are complicated, and it is best to consult an attorney with experience in these matters to get advice specific to your unique circumstances.

Dineen Wasylik and Jared Krukar of DPW Legal represented the winning party on appeal. DPW Legal focuses on assisting parties in navigating complicated procedural issue, both on appeal, and by supporting trial counsel.

Many thanks to the trial counsel in this case, Felicia Williams of Father’s Rights Law, P.A.  who did an excellent job of preserving her client’s rights to appeal and to be heard in the proper jurisdiction.  Check out Felicia’s video on what to do if you are served with a domestic violence injunction.