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Administrative Order managing civil cases becomes effective April 30

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Circuit chief judges will be issuing local orders

Chief Justice Charles CanadyFollowing March 9 and April 13 changes to Supreme Court Administrative Order SC20-23, which is the comprehensive order governing Florida trial court operations during the COVID-19 pandemic, circuit chief judges are developing local administrative orders to expedite the resolution of outstanding civil cases.

Those orders, which will become effective April 30, will require the review of all civil cases and sorting them into categories that will determine how they will be handled.

Chief Justice Charles Canady, at the Bar President Dori Foster-Morales’ March 30 Zoom town hall meeting for Bar members, said he had and was developing administrative orders for aggressive management of civil cases.

“People are going to have to understand that when they come to court…they need to be ready to go. If they’re not ready to do that, then they probably shouldn’t be filing a complaint…. That’s with a high level of generality,” Canady said at the meeting.

AOSC20-23, under the revisions, requires circuit chief judges to set out orders to have each judge sort his or her cases into three categories: complex as designated by Rule of Civil Procedure 1.201; streamlined, which may involve few parties or complex issues, few pretrial motions, have limited discovery and documentary evidence, and expect to take less than two days to try; and general civil cases, which are all others that are not complex or streamlined.

Complex cases, under the orders, will be handled according to Rule 1.201.

In streamlined and general cases, the presiding judge will issue a case management order “that at a minimum specifies the deadlines for service of complaints, service under extensions, and adding new parties and the deadlines by which: fact and expert discovery shall be completed; all objections to pleadings and pretrial motions shall be resolved; and mediation shall have occurred. The case management order shall also specify the projected date of trial; indicate that the deadlines established in the order will be strictly enforced by the court; indicate that a firm trial date will be ordered by the presiding judge when the case is at issue pursuant to Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.440; and address any other matters required by the chief judge.”

If the streamlined or general civil case is subject to dismissal for lack of prosecution, the judge will only issue a case management order if he or she determines the case should remain active. The management order must be issued within 30 days of that determination.

If the case is subject to a statutory stay or moratorium preventing prosecution and filed on or after April 30, the management order will be filed within 45 days of the moratorium ending or within 30 days, whichever is later.

For cases filed before April 30 and subject to the stay or moratorium, the management order must be filed by December 31, within 45 days after the stay or moratorium ends, or within 30 days of the last defendant being served, whichever is later.

For cases not affected by stays or moratoriums, those filed after April 30 will have such management orders filed within 30 days of service on the last of the named defendants. On cases filed before April 30, the management orders will be filed 30 days after service of the last-named defendant or by May 28, whichever is later and should set a schedule for discovery, pretrial motions, and a trial date if that has not been done.

The orders will set deadlines for affected case matters and “shall be differentiated based on whether the civil case is streamlined or general and shall be consistent with the standards specified in Florida Rule of General Practice and Judicial Administration 2.250(a)(1)(B) for the completion of civil cases.”

Any circuit that was already setting up a written civil case management system when the revised order was issued can continue to use that system.

All the circuit written case management protocols must be submitted to the Workgroup on the Improved Resolution of Civil Cases and also remind judges to comply with Florida Rule of General Practice and Judicial Administration 2.545(a), (b), and (c). Those sections instruct judges to take charge of cases quickly and manage them to conclude the litigation as reasonably as possible.

Chief judges are encouraged to, as practical, use alternative facilities and reassign judges and court staff to conduct as many jury trials as possible.

The court order also reminds lawyers that under Rule 2.545(a), they have an obligation “to conclude litigation as soon as it is reasonably and justly possible to do so, and that the pandemic alone is not a basis for a lawyer’s failure to prepare a case for trial or otherwise actively manage a case.”

The full text of SCAO20-23, which is frequently updated, can be found on the Supreme Court’s website.

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