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Court amends more rules in its efforts to streamline civil case management

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The changes are focused on adhering to deadlines established early based on the complexity of the case

Supreme CourtIn its ongoing quest to “promote the fair and timely resolution of civil cases,” the Supreme Court has amended the Rules of Civil Procedure to create a framework for active case management with a focus on adhering to deadlines established early based on the complexity of the case.

Acting May 23 in Case No. SC2023-0962, in a per curiam opinion, the court said the amendments also provide room for customization by circuit, given the varying levels of volume, resources, and automation available.

“Our amendments also alter discovery by requiring certain initial disclosures, by imposing a duty to supplement, and by requiring that discovery be proportional to the needs of the case,” the court said.

The Florida Bar’s Civil Procedure Rules Committee filed a report with two alternative proposals to codify active case management in the Rules of Civil Procedure. The court adopted a combination of the committee’s two alternatives with modifications based on the 55 comments filed in the case, the position of the committee’s minority, and an earlier proposal submitted by the Workgroup on Improved Resolution of Civil Cases, according to the opinion.

In 2022, the Workgroup on the Improved Resolution of Civil Cases submitted a final report to the court, proposing amendments to the Florida Rules of General Practice and Judicial Administration and multiple other rule sets, aimed at promoting the timely resolution of civil cases through effective case management. The amendments provided for court case management of civil cases with early judicial intervention, adherence to established deadlines, and reporting of case management data. Because the court said additional refinements were needed, justices made a series of phased referrals for the “refinement and study of the workgroup’s proposals,” including this one to the Civil Procedure Rules Committee.

To “codify” active case management, the court amended Rules of Civil Procedure 1.200 (Case Management; Pretrial Procedure), 1.201 (Complex Litigation), 1.280 (General Provisions Governing Discovery), 1.440 (Setting Action for Trial), and 1.460 (Motions to Continue Trial).

The court entirely rewrote Rule 1.200 to provide that each civil case must be assigned to one of three case management tracks (complex, general, or streamlined) within 120 days. Under rewritten Rule 1.200, the chief judge of each circuit is required to enter an administrative order addressing certain case management requirements.

“This approach allows each circuit to customize the process that works best for that circuit given the varying levels of volume, resources, and available automation,” the court said. “A circuit is free to require parties to file proposed case management orders, or a circuit may produce automated case management orders, among other possible customizations.”

Rewritten Rule 1.200 provides that “[i]n streamlined and general cases, the court must issue a case management order that specifies the projected or actual trial period based on the case track assignment, consistent with administrative orders entered by the chief judge of the circuit.” The deadlines in the case management order must be “differentiated based on whether the case is streamlined or general” and “consistent with the time standards specified in Florida Rule of General Practice and Judicial Administration 2.250(a)(1)(B),” and the order must include at least eight specified deadlines.

Rewritten Rule 1.200 includes a detailed procedure for modifying the deadlines set forth in case management orders. It states that deadlines in case management orders “must be strictly enforced unless changed by court order.” But, the court said it allows parties to “submit an agreed order to extend a deadline if the extension does not affect the ability to comply with the remaining dates in the case management order” and further explains that parties’ requests for modifications of actual trial periods are governed by Rule 1.460. And “[i]f a trial is not reached during the trial period set by court order, the court must enter an order setting a new trial period that is as soon as practicable, given the needs of the case and resources of the court.”

Rule 1.200 also includes new provisions regarding case management conferences and pretrial conferences. A “court may set case management conferences at any time on its own notice or on proper notice by a party.” But “[i]f noticed by a party, the notice itself must identify the specific issues to be addressed during the case management conference and must also provide a list of all pending motions.” The court may address any scheduling issues at a case management conference and may, on reasonable notice to the parties, address any pending motions other than motions for summary judgment and motions requiring evidentiary hearings, according to the opinion.

Complex cases will proceed under Rule 1.201, which the justices amended to provide that a trial court may (but is not required to) hold a hearing to determine whether a case should be designated as complex. The court also amended Rule 1.201 to provide that that the parties must notify the court immediately if a case management conference or hearing time becomes unnecessary and to expressly state that motions for trial continuances are governed by Rule 1.460.

For Rule 1.280, the court incorporated into the scope of discovery subdivision the proportionality language of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(1). Rule 1.280 was further amended to require certain initial discovery disclosures “within 60 days after the service of the complaint or joinder, unless a different time is set by court order.” The amendments to Rule 1.280 also impose a duty to supplement discovery.

The court said the amendments to Rule 1.440 eliminate the “at issue” requirement and instead provide that “[t]he failure of the pleadings to be closed will not preclude the court from setting a case for trial.” Rule 1.440 also requires the court to enter an order fixing the trial period 45 days before any projected trial period in a case management order.

“Finally, the Court rewrites rule 1.460 entirely to provide that ‘[m]otions to continue trial are disfavored and should rarely be granted and then only upon good cause shown,’” the court said. Rewritten rule 1.460 also sets forth requirements for what must be included in a motion for a trial continuance and explains that, “[i]f a continuance is granted based on the dilatory conduct of an attorney or named party, the court may impose sanctions.”

Because the amendments are substantially different than either alternative submitted by the Civil Procedure Rules Committee, the court gave interested persons until August 6 to file comments.

Justice Jorge Labarga concurred in part and dissented in part, with an opinion saying while he supports the majority’s decision to amend the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure, “in the absence of input from The Florida Bar’s Civil Procedure Rules Committee, I dissent to incorporating the proportionality language of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(1) into rule 1.280(c), ‘Scope of Discovery’” and instead would refer the issue of proportionality to the rules committee for its consideration and commentary before including Federal proportionality language.

The amendments become effective January 1, 2025.

 

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