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Supreme Court changes rule on valuing civil cases

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SupremeCourt-seal-150x150The Supreme Court has modified the civil procedure form requiring lawyers to give an amount in controversy in civil cases and instead substituted six categories with ranges of values from less than $8,000 to more than $100,000.

The court made the change on August 13 after considering comments on amendments made last November to Florida Rule of Civil Procedure Form 1.997 (Civil Cover Sheet). The court had asked for an amount to be specified when civil claims were filed to allow better information to be collected in small claims and civil cases and to evaluate future needs for county judgeships after the Legislature increased the jurisdiction of county courts from $15,000 to $30,000, effective January 1, 2020. (It’s scheduled to rise to $50,000 on January 1, 2023.)

Legislation making that change also required the Office of the State Courts Administrator to report on its impacts by February 1, 2021.

Some lawyers, including personal injury plaintiff attorneys, argued requiring an amount on the form violated a 1975 law, F.S. §786.042, which bars attorneys from claiming a specific amount of general damages in a personal injury or wrongful death case.

Other criticisms included that an amount could be used by the opposing party for “tactical reasons” and clients might be confused and even file a malpractice claim if the eventual award in a case was less that specified in the complaint.

Lawyers also said there was a problem because if lawyers failed to give an amount while electronically filing a case, then the court system’s statewide e-filing portal would reject the filing and it would never reach the clerk of the appropriate court.

The court received seven comments and one supplemental comment, including one from the Civil Procedure Rules Committee, and the committee also responded to the other comments. The court agreed with amendments suggested by the committee.

“First, the Court amends section II (Amount of Claim) of the form to replace the dollar sign and space where the estimated dollar amount of the claim is to be inserted with six claim amount range options, from ‘$8,000 or less’ to ‘over $100,000.00,’” the opinion said. “Two new sentences also are added to section II of the form explaining that ‘The estimated amount of the claim is requested for data collection and clerical processing purposes only. The amount of the claim shall not be used for any other purpose.’ Similar explanatory language is added to the instructions to section II of the form.”

The categories are $8,000 or less, $8,001 to $30,000, $30,001 to $50,000, $50,001 to $75,000, $75,001 to $100,000, and more than $100,000.

The court also added “Real property/Mortgage foreclosure” in county civil case types in Section III (Type of Case) in the form and instructions. That case type includes ‘“all matters involving claims up to $30,000 relating to the possession, title, or boundaries of real property’ and ‘[a]ll matters involving foreclosures or sales of real property up to $30,000, including foreclosures associated with condominium associations or condominium units.’”

The court additionally amended Section III to add residential evictions and nonresidential evictions as subcategories in county civil eviction filings. That change had been requested by the Housing Umbrella Group, a coalition of lawyers that represent tenants in evictions, to better allow tracking of residential evictions.

The amendments were effective immediately. The unanimous per curiam opinion in In re: Amendments to the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure, Florida Small Claims Rules, and Florida Rules of Appellate Procedure — Jurisdiction, Case No. SC19-1354, can be found at on the Supreme Court website.

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