One of the biggest complaints people have with civil disputes is the time it takes to resolve. Florida courts have a new litigation rules and system to speed things up and keep cases from stalling. Thanks to a Florida Supreme Court order, there are now specific deadlines for steps in a case to be completed. Differentiated Case Management (DCM) keeps the ball rolling, and cases reach a faster resolution. Before enacting this process, cases could sit inactive for many months before the court took any action to nudge it forward.
It may look and feel like these cases under this new system are more costly, but they aren’t. Whereas before clients had more time to accumulate the funds necessary for litigation expenses, with this new system the litigation process moves more quickly and so now there is activity on the file weekly or monthly.
The benefit is this puts a damages award into your hands in less than 24 months, rather than the previous 4-5 years. Large corporations and petitioners will find the benefits of a faster-paced case outweighs the short timeframe of legal fee expenditures.
Effective case management requires an attorney to be up-to-date on old and new Florida law regarding civil litigation. Here is how the new differentiated case management rules will impact your case.
Administrative Order AOSC20-23
During the Covid-19 pandemic, the Supreme Court issued emergency measures for Florida trial court procedures. Those practices helped speed the process of case handling.
The Nineteenth Judicial Circuit Court’s Administrative Order 2021-05 specifies that DCM cases include all cases in the civil divisions of circuit or county courts. The only exception is small claims cases and those subject to the summary procedure.
The first directive requires all judges to follow Florida Rule of General Practice and Judicial Administration 2-545(a), (b), and (e). This requires judges to conclude litigation as quickly as reasonably possible. To ensure this process, the judge must take control of the case early and apply a firm continuance policy.
Continuances may be granted only for good cause. Attorneys are also required to conclude litigation as quickly as possible. They cannot use the pandemic as an excuse for not handling cases effectively.
The Supreme Court’s Workgroup on Improved Resolution of Civil Cases spent time reviewing Florida’s Rules of the Court and court practices. Their goal was to find a way to speed up the court resolution process.
New directives came into place due to the pandemic’s temporary orders and Workgroup findings. Those directives were implemented in all Circuit and County courts in Florida. All civil cases must follow Differential Case Management (DCM).
Civil litigation involves non-criminal cases. This includes property disputes, breach of contract disputes, commercial disputes, business disputes, and more. The resolution or award of damages is usually monetary compensation.
In criminal cases, strict time management ensures a defendant receives a speedy trial. Civil cases did not have these time restraints. Most judges did not establish a trial date at the beginning of a civil dispute.
This practice allows cases to drag out with the court. Without oversight, counsel determines dates for completion of discovery. Parties cannot settle or proceed to trial until discovery is complete.
Under Differentiated Case Management rules, the court establishes a trial date at the onset of the lawsuit. How soon the trial is set depends on the complexity of the case.
There is less flexibility in postponing trial dates. This gets your case to trial faster, but you need an attorney specializing in civil litigation to keep up with this fast-paced process.
Development of Differentiated Case Management
The Florida Trial Court Statistical Reference Guide shows that in 2021-2022 Florida had 146,534 civil court filings. This heavy caseload causes delays in closing cases. The proposals for change were met with opposition and underwent review by Florida Bar committees for suggestions on the guidelines. The result is a case management system that closely aligns with Florida’s federal court procedures, resulting in new Florida litigation rules.
Courts and litigants will enjoy the changes to civil procedures, case management, and Florida court rules. Requirements include sorting cases into three tracks based on complexity.
Determining Case Level
The presiding judge in each case needs to identify the case level, which determines the trial date.
Complex cases are actions designated by court order as complex under the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure 1.201. They involve complex legal issues and are likely to have the following:
- Numerous pre-trial motions
- Management of several separately represented parties
- Coordination of pending actions in one or more courts
- Management of a large number of witnesses
- Management of a large amount of evidence
- Substantial time to complete the trial
- Any other factors deemed relevant
Streamlined cases are cases that are not being contested and are not entitled to a jury trial, or the parties are not requesting a jury trial. All cases are to be streamlined unless a presiding judge finds otherwise.
General cases are all other civil cases that do not fit the above two categories.
Florida’s New Litigation Rules & Case Designation Timelines
When handling a case that falls within the category of general or streamlined, the case needs to issue a case management plan that includes a minimum of the following:
- Deadline for service of complaints
- Deadline for service under extensions
- Deadline for adding new parties
- Deadline for completion of fact and expert discovery
- Deadline for objections to pleadings
- Deadline to resolve all pre-trial motions
- Deadline for completing mediation
- Trial date projection
- Indication regarding strict enforcement of deadlines by the court
- Indication of the firm trial date when the case is an issue under Florida Rules of Civil Procedure 1.440, Setting Action for Trial
When filing a civil lawsuit, the initiating party must serve a case management plan and order with the summons and complaint. The Plaintiff must submit the case management plan to the judge for approval within 30 days after the service of process on the last defendant.
The court can determine a projected trial date by setting deadlines for each step in the proceedings. This is within 12 months of filing the complaint on streamlined cases and 18 months for general cases.
When a case falls under the complex guidelines of the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure 1.201, a trial is scheduled within 24 months of the original filing.
The dates are strictly enforced. Procrastination techniques of dragging out discovery or counsel being unavailable no longer constitute good cause for change.
Florida Rules of Civil Procedure 1.200 state that reasonable notice is to be given for a case management conference. It requires a 20-day notice for a pre-trial conference. If a party fails to attend, the court may:
- Dismiss the action
- Limit proof or witnesses
- Strike the pleadings
- Take any other action it deems appropriate
The parties must agree to deadlines for handling the case using model time frames. The parties submit the proposed case management plan to the judge for approval. Following approval, everyone must adhere to the deadlines; changes can only occur with the judge’s approval.
If a party fails to meet the deadline requirements, they may receive sanctions by the court, the other party may be awarded attorney fees, pleadings may be struck, or a dismissal of the action entered.
Mandating initial discovery disclosures and automatic supplementation results in a faster, more effective process. Under the original Florida litigation rules, parties did not need to disclose information unless prompted through affirmative discovery.
Florida Rules of Civil Procedure 1.280 General Provisions Governing Discovery, amended February 1, 2023, allows parties to obtain discovery that is not privileged in any manner. This includes books, documents, and other items. Discovery includes indemnity agreements, electronically stored information, trial preparation materials, experts, and more.
This rule does not require parties to supplement a discovery response with any information they obtain after an initial disclosure. It does state that parties cannot take steps to delay the other party’s discovery.
While the new Florida litigation rules force everyone in legal services to move more efficiently, they reduce the previous flexibility of adjusting the case timetable. The new DCM rules require attorneys and every trial court, judge, clerk, and support staff to juggle cases quickly.
Differentiated Case Management changes will have a growing period while everyone adjusts to the new time restraints. The results will be positive.
Differential Case Management Help
You’re not alone if your mind is going in circles trying to understand the new rules. At Boyer Law Firm, we are on top of the changes under Florida’s new Differentiated Case Management rules. We’ll be sharing more updates as the Florida litigation rules change.