County court appeals will soon be heard by the DCAs
Court officials are preparing for more jurisdiction changes that take effect January 1, when most appeals from county court will be heard by district courts of appeal.
Recommended by the Supreme Court and approved by the Legislature, the pending changes are part of broader reforms that at the beginning of this year expanded county court jurisdiction from $15,000 for cases in controversy to $30,000. (The jurisdiction increases again to $50,000 in 2023.) Small claims rose to $8,000.
Beginning January 1, all parties appealing certain county court decisions will have those appeals heard in district courts of appeal.
Appeals of county court decisions pending before circuit courts and subject to the jurisdiction change will be transferred automatically to the appropriate district court of appeal, according to Paul Flemming, a spokesman for the Office of State Courts Administrator.
After the New Year, parties appealing certain county court decisions will have those filings go to the district courts, Flemming said.
OSCA is offering more details at the website, www.flcourts.org/Know-Your-Court.
The changes will also be discussed Wednesday, December 16, at a noon “Lunch and Learn” on www.LegalFuel.com, sponsored by LegalFuel: The Practice Resource Center of The Florida Bar.
The seminar will be led by Mary Beth Kuenzel, clerk of the court for the Second District Court of Appeal, and Tom Hall, former clerk of the Florida Supreme Court, a founding board member of the Florida Courts E-Filing Authority, and president and CEO of TLH Consulting Group. Detailed information about how the change will be seen in the E-Filing Portal will be discussed.
The session is approved for a full credit for attendees and the program will be recorded and available after the event.
Earlier this year, lawmakers passed legislation that redirected certain appeals of decisions that have been heard in circuit court. Signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis, the legislation was part of the Supreme Court’s 2020 legislative agenda.
Provisions of the legislation broadly eliminate circuit court authority to hear appeals from county courts in civil and criminal matters, but there are exceptions. Circuit courts retain jurisdiction to hear appeals for certain administrative decisions and certain decisions entered in noncriminal infraction and other cases.
Lawmakers repealed a statute giving jurisdiction to circuit courts to hear appeals of judgements in misdemeanor cases.
According to a legislative staff analysis of SB 1392, the changes:
• Broadly eliminate the authority of the circuit courts to hear appeals from county courts in civil and criminal cases. Circuit courts, however, retain jurisdiction to hear appeals from final administrative orders of local code enforcement boards and to hear appeals and review other matters as expressly provided by law. By operation of Article V, s. 4(b)(1) of the State Constitution, the district courts of appeal will have jurisdiction on appeals from final orders of county courts in civil and criminal cases by default.
• Allow county courts to certify important questions to a district court of appeal only in a final judgement that is appealable to a circuit court.
• Allow a district court of appeal to review any order or judgement of a county court which is certified by the county court to be of great public importance.
• Allow a district court of appeal to review any order or judgement of a county court which is certified by the county court.
• Repeal a statute that gives jurisdiction to circuit courts to hear appeals of judgments in misdemeanor cases.
Much of the reforms originated with the Judicial Management Council’s Workgroup on Appellate Review of County Court Decisions. They were designed to eliminate conflicts that arose because of differences in the ways county court appeals are managed.
While a circuit appellate ruling is binding of all county court judges in that circuit, it is not binding on another circuit panel or judge hearing an appeal on the same issue in that or any other circuit. Consequently, there are intra- and inter-circuit conflicting decisions.
The work group found, among other things, that Florida is one of only five states that has trial court judges handling appellate as well as trial court duties. Two other states have appellate divisions in their trial courts, but judges sit there permanently or semi-permanently and focus solely on appeals.
Twenty-four counties always use three-judge panels to hear county court appeals, 31 counties do not use three-judge panels, one uses three-judge panels if requested, and in 11 counties some appeals are heard by a single judge and some by three-judge panels.
Only nine circuits publish all or some appellate decisions on circuit websites and some opinions are published by Florida Law Weekly.