Florida Rule of Judicial Administration 2.250(a)(1) enumerates the time standards of a civil matter from the filing of a complaint to final disposition. Specifically, the Florida Supreme Court suggests that a jury case should be concluded within 18 months of the filing of a complaint, 12 months for a bench trial, and 95 days for a small claim matter. As practitioners, we know that rarely does a case (actually litigated) resolve within those time frames. However, there has been a trend over the last few years in county court matters to dispose of claims and deny amendment of pleadings based on the length of time a case has been pending. In fact, county court judges have not been shy in voicing their displeasure over the age of a case. While attorneys and judges should be sympathetic to the need to conclude court matters, that desire should not be trumped by a party’s right to litigate or defend its case.
On April 30, 2020, the Broward County Circuit Court, acting in its appellate capacity, recognized this principle when it determined that the county court abused its discretion in denying GEICO’s request to amend its affirmative defenses, in part, based on the length of time the action had been pending. See GEICO General Ins. Co. v. Hollywood Diagnostics Ctr., Inc., CACE19-10199 (Fla. 17th Cir. Ct. May 1, 2020). The Circuit Court noted that Florida Rules of Civil Procedure demands a court freely permit amendment when justice so requires—even an ore tenus motion for leave to amend to assert an affirmative defense made at or before a hearing on a motion for summary judgment. The Circuit Court rejected the county court’s decision to deny amendment “because ‘the age of the case…it’s set for trial… gone past the pre-trial, and [there’s] a stipulation.” Id. at *3. The appellate court reversed the trial court's final judgment and recognized that a party has a right to defend a case—even if the lawsuit lasts beyond timing requirements described in the Rules of Judicial Administration. The appeal has been remanded to county court to allow the amendment of the affirmative defense.
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