By Debra P. Klauber, Esq.
THE COVID-19 WORKGROUP RECOMMENDS “BEST PRACTICES”
The Supreme Court Memorandum and the Best Practices Guidelines can be found at: https://www.floridasupremecourt.org/content/download/635269/7217957/05-11-2020-Best-Practices-Guidelines.pdf
By Administrative Order (20-23, Amendment 1), the Florida Supreme Court has required the trial courts to conduct essential and critical proceedings in a way that minimizes the risk of COVID-19 to all, and has required all non-essential and non-critical court proceedings to use electronic means unless a judge determines that there is an exception that applies. In addition, the Florida Supreme Court, through its Workgroup on the Continuity of Court Operations and Proceedings During and After COVID-19 has released guidelines and logistical considerations to assist the Florida courts in facilitating remote court proceedings. The 17-member COVID 19 Workgroup is charged with developing recommendations for a phased return to full court operations following the guidance of public health and government authorities. In these Best Practices, the Workgroup first sets forth recommendations for the courts, by including issues of which the trial courts should be mindful, guidelines for how to plan for, notice, start and hold remote proceedings, and logistical recommendations for hosting meetings and obtaining evidence and materials in advance. Next, the Best Practices provide tips directly to pro se litigants, reminding them that even though proceedings are being held remotely, they are court proceedings and all rules and standards still apply. Additionally, the Workgroup makes specific recommendations for managing evidence and handling witnesses in remote hearings in family and civil cases, including a recommendation that local administrative orders should establish procedures for filing and managing exhibits and taking witness testimony. Finally, the Workgroup has provided links to other resources that may assist with remote hearings and proceedings.
DISCOVERY RULING DENYING A MOTION TO COMPEL DEPOSITIONS “WITHOUT EXPLANATION” WARRANTED CERTIORARI REVIEW.
The petitioners in a declaratory judgment action sought to depose 18 individuals and the respondents (and counter-petitioners) sought a protective order. In advance of the hearing, the petitioners provided the court with a proffer which identified each of the individuals and summarized the relevant testimony sought. The respondents, on the other hand, sought a protective order based on the cost of the depositions and the financial impact on their business if these employees and customers were required to appear for deposition. The trial court denied, without prejudice, the motion to compel the depositions. However, where the trial court did not set forth any findings, and the ruling was not based on specific findings of immateriality or good cause, the appellate court found that certiorari review was proper. Taking issue with the “blanket denial” of the discovery (and contemporaneous entry of a protective order), the appellate court accepted review and quashed the order since there was no showing rebutting the materiality of the witnesses.
A MOTION TO TAX COSTS DOES NOT HAVE TO BE VERIFIED OR ACCOMPANIED BY AFFIDAVIT.
In this case, the trial court denied the motion to tax costs because it was not verified. Because there is “no requirement” that a motion to tax costs include verification or an affidavit, the appellate court reversed for further proceedings. The motion, which set forth the types of costs, categories, and amounts, was sufficient to justify a hearing on the amount of costs, at which evidence could be presented. The appellate court reaffirmed that a claim for costs does not need to be included in the pleadings, and that a motion for costs does not have to be accompanied by a supporting affidavit.
WHEN MULTIPLE CASES ARE CONSOLIDATED, THE TRIAL COURT MUST CONSIDER THEM SEPARATELY WHEN DETERMINING WHICH PARTY PREVAILED WITH RESPECT TO CLAIMS FOR ATTORNEYS’ FEES.
Multiple cases which arose out of construction contracts were consolidated by the court. The trial court heard motions for fees and costs filed by each of the parties and ultimately concluded that there was one party who was the prevailing party on all significant issues. But the appellate court held that the trial court erred by considering all three cases together for the purpose of awarding fees, noting that the consolidation of the cases “does not change the nature of each individual case or the rights of each party.” The matter was remanded so that the trial court could determine who was the prevailing party on the significant issues contained in each case.