Supreme Court Again Amends Preservation Requirements of Rehearing Rule

The Florida Supreme Court has once again amended the language of Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.530 and Florida Family Law Rules of Procedure 12.530 — this time, to state that “to preserve for appeal a challenge to the failure of the trial court to make required findings of fact, a party must raise that issue in a motion for rehearing under this rule.” See In re Amendments to Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.530 and Florida Family Law Rule of Procedure 12.630, No. SC2022-0756 (April 27, 2023) [.pdf] (bolding indicates new language).

This language regarding “required findings of fact” replaces language stating that the motion is required “To preserve for appeal a challenge to the sufficiency of a trial court’s findings in the final judgment.” (emphasis added). The Court explains that “This change makes both rules applicable to all orders, not just final judgments, and makes clear that the rules apply only when a judge is required to make specific findings of fact and not when a party seeks to make other challenges to a trial court’s order.” Id. at 2.

The statement that it makes the rules “applicable to all orders” is somewhat unfortunate wording, in that it could be read to infer that a 1.530 motion is requried after every order if findings of fact are at issue. But a Rule 1.530 or 12.530 motion is still a motion directed only to jury verdicts and judgments, according to the unchanged portion of the rule. This means that if there is an interlocutory order that is missing findings of fact, even if you raise the issue in an interlocutory motion for reconsideration, that may not be sufficient to preserve the issue for appeal. Rather, the rule should be read to mean that a post-verdict or post-judgment motion for Rehearing must address insufficient findings of fact, whether those findings are found in the final judgment itself or in an interlocutlory order, in order to preserve the issue for appeal.

This unfortunate wording also opens the door for possible waiver of the right to appeal altogether. What if the order that does not have a proper finding of fact is non-final but still directly appealable pursuant to Rule 9.130? This change and the Supreme Court’s implementing “all orders” language could be read to state that you must file a motion for rehearing in order to preserve a challenge to the findings in that non-final order. Yet, a Rule 1.530/12.530 only acts to toll the time for appeal if it is “authorized and timely.” And there is a plethora of case law that states that a motion for reconsideration directed at a non-final order does not toll the time for appeal. For example, as the Fifth District has explained:

A motion for reconsideration does not toll the time to file an appeal from a non-final order. See Caufield v. Cantele, 837 So.2d 371, 376, n. 3 (Fla. 2002). The reason, of course, is that motions addressed to non-final orders are not “authorized” within the meaning of Rule 9.020(h), Florida Rules of Appellate Procedure, and thus do not postpone rendition.

Agere Sys. Inc. v. All Am. Crating, Inc., 931 So. 2d 244, 244 (Fla. 5th DCA 2006).

Given the mixed messages here, I recommend two courses of action:

(1) Make sure any post-judgment or post-verdict motion for rehearing addresses all required factual findings you may want to challenge on appeal, not just those missing from a final order or judgment.
(2) If the order you wish to appeal is an appealable non-final order — which is fairly common in post-dissolution family court cases, in particular — you should both file a motion for rehearing within 15 days of the entry of the to-be-challenged order, and file a timely notice of appeal within 30 days of entry of the order. Do not assume that the motion for rehearing will toll the time for appeal. You can then ask the appellate court to relinquish jurisdiction to the trial court to rule on the rehearing motion. This will ensure that you don’t lose jurisdiction for the appeal while awaiting the trial court’s reconsideration decision.

By focusing on the failure to make findings rather than the sufficiency of the findings, a fair reading of the change in language is that it actually narrows the rehearing requirements to situations where a court has made no findings at all. Still, with preservation at stake, until the contours of the new rule are expounded by appellate court decisions, it is best practice to bring any issues with the sufficiency of findings in a ruling to the trial court’s attention on reconsideration or rehearing. And because those motions need to be brought quickly, we recommend contacting appellate counsel as soon as you know you have an order you may want to appeal. To contact us, just call 813-778-5161 or use this form to request a consultation.

Appeals 101:  When Can you Seek Rehearing in a State Court Appeal?

Needle in a Haystack

Determining whether there is an issue that warrants rehearing when you aren’t the lawyer who wrote the appeal briefs is like looking for a needle in a haystack.

We often get calls from litigants who have just found out they’ve lost their appeal and want to seek rehearing from the appellate court. Either they handled their appeal on their own, pro se (which we never recommend, but if you plan to do so, the Florida Bar Appellate Section has some great resources here), or else they utilized counsel but now that they’ve lost, they would like a second opinion.

And our answer is the same:  without even looking at your case, I can tell you that the chance of a motion for rehearing being granted is very low, and the likely result of my analysis of your case will be that you do not have a basis for rehearing.  How can I say that without even looking at your case, you ask? Well, it comes down to the rules.  Florida Rule of Appellate Procedure 9.330 governs appellate rehearing, and sets very strict rules about when you can even bring a rehearing motion. The rules even require any lawyer filing such a motion to swear on their bar license that the motion is justified.  So while we are happy to take on a “peace of mind” review of your case to determine whether rehearing is even available, you have to understand that it rarely is.

You have to act quickly

. A motion for rehearing may be filed within 15 days of the District Court’s decision.  Fla. R. App. P. 9.330(a).  Fifteen days is not a lot of time to analyze the entire case file (opinion, all three briefs, and record) and determine whether there are grounds for rehearing, so if your goal is to hire a new lawyer to take a look at the issues, you have to move quickly.  I recommend hiring someone certainly within a week of the decision, if not sooner, so that person has the chance.  Anyone who says they can do a motion for rehearing without thoroughly analyzing all of the prior briefing does not understand motions for rehearing.

You have to meet a high standard

  There are two flavors of Rule 9.330 motion:  Rehearing and Clarification.  As the rule states, a motion for rehearing “shall 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.”  So basically, you have to walk a tightrope:  You can’t raise a new issue, but you also can’t just reargue what you said before.  Instead, you have to really find a place where the appellate court in its review truly overlooked or misunderstood something.  If you do just re-argue what you said before, you can be sanctioned.  As one court has explained, a motion for rehearing is not “a last resort to persuade th[e] court to change its mind, or to express …displeasure with th[e] court’s conclusion.”  Lawyers Title Ins Group v. Reitzes, 631 So.2d 1100, 1101 (Fla. 4th DCA 1993) (issuing order to show cause why lawyer should not be sanctioned for merely re-arguing the same things in a motion for rehearing).  Such motions should very rarely be filed.

Similarly, a motion for clarification “shall state with particularity the points of law or fact in the court’s decision that, in the opinion of the movant, are in need of clarification”. Fla. R. App. P. 9.330.  But clarification is only useful if something is unclear or confusing in the written opinion, which is rare.  I’ve filed exactly one motion for clarification in my career, and it was, in fact, granted.  I have never been more proud to have 2 words deleted from an opinion that I still lost.  But that just goes to show how rarely these motions should be filed and how even rarer it is to grant them.

In my entire career, I’ve filed only a handful of rehearing motions, and only a few of those were granted. That I’ve had any granted is a great track record, but all it shows is that I don’t file motions for rehearing that break the rule and re-argue what was said before or raise entirely new issues.

Should you bother with a Motion for Rehearing?

  Rehearing is rarely appropriate to request, and even more rarely granted.  It is perfectly reasonable to get an unfavorable decision from the District Court of Appeal, and decide there is nothing more to be done, without further analysis: the odds are stacked against you.  When we represent a client throughout the appeal, we include in our services an analysis of rehearing issues, and make a recommendation as to whether rehearing is appropriate (spoiler alert: the answer is usually no).  When we were not the appellate counsel all along, it’s much harder: to decide whether rehearing is appropriate, one has to read not just the opinion, but the briefs showing what was argued, the cases cited in the briefs, and even the record to understand what happened in the trial court.  That takes time!  We are always happy to analyze a file and look for the tiny nugget of gold that would allow us to file a supported motion for rehearing—for us it’s a fun challenge.  But we charge a fee to do so, because to do it right generally takes several hours of time. And we want to be very upfront that the process is like looking for a needle in a haystack, and the answer will more likely than not be “sorry, we don’t advise seeking rehearing.”

Still not deterred?  If you have gotten a decision from the appellate court and want to hire us to determine whether rehearing is appropriate, feel free to schedule an intake consult.  Be sure to give us your case number and full contact information so we can run a conflicts check.

Photo courtesy of Flickr User Michael Gil Used under a CC 2.0 license