January 13, 2019
As we enter a new decade and look back over the past one, we can not help but think about how fast technology has evolved and how it has changed our world view. An example of such an evolution is the Apple iPhone. On June 29, 2007, the iPhone was released and over the years this one piece of equipment has almost changed every aspect of our business and personal lives. Technology has changed health care, and now it is in the process of changing the legal industry. Technology has transformed the way attorneys practice law, in the area of research. Now, the Florida Supreme Court is considering a considerable change of whether the State should adopt the standard for summary judgment used in the last 35 years in Federal Courts.
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986)
The federal standard for summary of judgement was explained in Celotex Corp. In Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986), the court ruled that the plain language of Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure mandates that an entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party’s case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. In such a situation, there can be “no genuine issue as to any material fact,” since a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party’s case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial. The moving party is “entitled to a judgment as a of matter of law” because the nonmoving party has failed to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of its case with respect to which it has the burden of proof. The Court further explained that the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure have for almost 50 years authorized motions for summary judgment upon proper showings of the lack of a genuine, triable issue of material fact. Summary judgment procedure is properly regarded not as a disfavored procedural shortcut, but rather as an integral part of the Federal Rules as a whole, which are designed “to secure the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of every action.”
Matarese v. Leesburg Elks Club, 171 So 2d 606 (Fla. 2d DCA 1965)
The Florida standard for summary judgement is outlined in Matarese v. Leesburg Elks Club, 171 So 2d 606 (Fla. 2d DCA 1965). The Court held that a summary judgment is proper only when it is firmly established that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Rule 1.36 Fla. R. Civ. Pro. A party moving for a summary judgment has the burden of establishing by a record that is adequate for decision of the legal question presented that there is no triable issue of material fact; and he has the burden even as to issues upon which the opposing party would have the trial burden. And the moving party’s papers are carefully scrutinized, while the opposing party’s papers, if any, are treated with considerable indulgence. If the moving party fails to shoulder his burden the motion should be denied, even though the opposing party has presented no evidentiary materials. This stringent standard against the moving party has long been the Florida standard for summary judgment. However due to Lopez v. Wilsonhart, LLC, 275 So 3d 831 (Fla. 5th DCA 2019), this standard may change for the moving party.
Lopez v. Wilsonhart, LLC, 275 So 3d 831 (Fla. 5th DCA 2019),
Under current Florida law, a motion for summary judgment can only be granted if the moving party can show the court that there is not genuine issue of material fact. The courts further explained, if the record reflects even the possibility of a material issue of fact, or if different inferences can be drawn reasonably from the facts, that doubt must be resolved against the moving party and summary judgment must be denied. Doe v. N. Okaloosa Med. Cir., Inc., 802 So.2d 1202, 1203 (Fla. 1st DCA 2002). The issue grappling the court, is should there be an exception to the present summary judgment standard that are applied by state courts in Florida that would allow for the entry of final summary judgment in favor of the moving party when the movant’s video evidence completely negates or refutes any conflicting evidence presented by the non-moving party? This question was presented by the appellate court in Lopez v. Wilsonhart, LLC, 275 So 3d 831 (Fla. 5th DCA 2019), when the trial court was presented with video recording of the incident but was also presented with contradictory eyewitness testimony of the same incident.
In Lopez, the Court struggled with this convergence of technology and the law. The Estate of Jon Lopez appealed the trial court’s entry of final summary judgment in favor of Wilsonhart, LLC and Samuel Rosario. The appellate court reversed the trial court’s order granting final summary judgment in favor of Wilsonhart, LLC, stating although there was video recording of the accident, which corroborated Mr. Rosario’s deposition testimony, there was conflicting evidence that created a genuine issue of material fact.
This case arose out of an automobile accident between Jon Lopez and Samuel Roserio that occurred on January 17, 2017 on a six-lane highway towards an intersection in Osceola County, Florida. Mr. Roserio was driving a freightliner when Mr. Lopez crashed into the rear of the freightliner. Mr. Lopez died as a result of the injuries he sustained from the collision. Mr. Rosario testified that, at the time of the accident, he was driving in the center lane, when he began decelerating as he approached the intersection. It was at this point that he felt an impact to the rear of his freightliner. In addition to Mr. Rosario’s deposition testimony, the freightliner was equipped with a dash camcorder, which recorded the events leading up to the accident and the accident and corroborated Mr. Rosario’s testimony. Counsel for Wilsonhart, LLC filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that because Mr. Lopez rear-ended the freightliner, he is presumed negligent under Florida law and the sole cause of the accident. However, counsel for the Estate of Lopez presented conflicting evidence through independent eyewitness testimony, who testified that the freightliner suddenly switched from the left lane to the center lane. In addition to the eyewitness testimony, an affidavit by its expert was presented to the Court, which concluded that that part of the freightliner was in the right lane of the eastbound side at the time of the collusion.
Based on the dashcam video evidence the trial court concluded that the video evidence “blatantly contradicts the eyewitness testimony and the opinion of plaintiff’s expert.” The appellate court reversed the trial courts ruling stating in part, by [the trial court] finding that the video evidence completely negated both the independent eyewitness testimony as well as the Estate’s expert’s opinion, the trial court improperly weighed competing evidence on material facts.
The appellate court certified the following question to the Florida Supreme Court: should there be an exception to the present summary judgment standard that is applied by state courts in Florida that would allow for the entry of final summary judgment in favor of the moving party when the movant’s video evidence completely negates or refutes any conflicting evidence presented by the non-moving party in opposition to the summary judgment motion and there is no evidence or suggestion that the videotape evidence has been altered or doctored?
On October 15, 2019, the Supreme Court of Florida accepted jurisdiction of Lopez, 275 So. 3d 831 (Fla 5th DCA 2019). In addition to accepting jurisdiction of the case, the Court also presented the question of whether Florida should adopt the summary judgment standard articulated by the United States Supreme Court in Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 242 (1986), Anderson v. Liberty Lobby Inc., 477 U.S. 242 (1986), and Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp.
Accordingly, if the Florida Supreme Court should rule affirmatively on the following certified question, this will drastically change the Florida standard for summary judgment.
As always, we will continue to keep you advised regarding any pertinent legislative changes. Should you have any questions regarding the above, do not hesitate to contact the undersigned.
Very truly yours,
JOHN BOND ATKINSON