John Foster and Alessandra Manes co-authored the below article detailing the summary judgment process in domestic violence cases:
Introduction. Under §741.30(1)(a), Florida Statutes, a person who is either a victim of domestic violence or who has reasonable cause to believe that he or she is in imminent danger of becoming a victim of any act of domestic violence, may file a sworn petition for an injunction for protection against domestic violence. For many domestic violence cases, particularly those in which an ex parte temporary injunction is issued, the final hearing may occur within 15 days. See §741.30(5)(c), Florida Statutes. The relevant rule for summary judgment requires that the movant must serve his or her motion for summary judgment at least 20 days before the time fixed for the hearing on said motion and must also serve at that time any summary judgment evidence on which the movant relies that has not already been filed with the court. Fla. Fam. Law R. 12.510(c). Thus, the summary judgment process is not available for many domestic violence cases due to the time constraints of such cases; however, for some domestic violence cases in which extensions or continuances are granted, there may be sufficient time to file and serve a motion for summary judgment. For these cases the question becomes, “Is the summary judgment procedure appropriate in domestic violence cases?”
Discussion. The Florida Family Law Rules of Procedure expressly apply to all actions concerning family law matters, including injunctions for protection against domestic violence. Fla. Fam. Law R. P. 12.010(a)(1). Rule 12.510 specifically governs summary judgment proceedings in family law matters. Fla. Fam. Law R. 12.510. Rule 12.510(c) states, in pertinent part: “The judgment sought shall be rendered immediately if the pleadings and summary judgment evidence on file show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Fla. Fam. Law R.12.510(c). Thus, under the relevant rules, it would appear that, for domestic violence cases in which extensions or continuances are allowed and a motion and summary judgment evidence are timely filed and served, the summary judgment procedure is an appropriate method for resolving the case.
Some may argue that the parties of a domestic violence case must be accorded an evidentiary hearing and that, therefore, summary judgment in a domestic violence case fails to comport with due process. There are a number of cases that address the issue of due process within the context of domestic violence cases. See e.g., Johns v. Johns, 101 So.3d 377 (Fla. 1st DCA 2012); Furry v. Von Arb Rickles, 68 So.3d 389 (Fla. 1st DCA 2011); Semple v. Semple, 763 So.2d 484 (Fla. 4th DCA 2000). Such cases, however, are inapposite. More specifically, these cases do not involve the summary judgment process. Instead, they typically involve evidentiary hearings that were conducted by the lower courts in a deficient manner. See Johns, 101 So.3d at 378 (“[the appellee] was allowed to testify and present witnesses, but [the appellant] was not provided the opportunity to testify about the allegations in the petition or present witnesses.”); Furry, 68 So.3d at 390 (“…the court began the hearing by informing the parties that they had a limited amount of time to present their cases. The court then conducted all questioning of the parties and virtually all questioning of the other witnesses that testified.” Also, the court did not allow the parties’ counsel to present relevant evidence or to conduct relevant direct/cross examinations.); Semple, 763 So.2d at 486 (“…the trial court rendered its decision…before appellant’s counsel ever had the opportunity to cross-examine appellee.” And, then, after the lower court gave appellant an opportunity to cross-examine appellee, the court cut said examination short.).
In cases in which a party moves for summary judgment, the movant must timely file and serve any summary judgment evidence that the movant relies upon that has not already been filed with the court. The adverse party then has the opportunity to timely file and serve any summary judgment evidence on which he or she relies to oppose the issuance of summary judgment. Fla. Fam. Law R. 12.510(c). As articulated by the Florida Supreme Court:
A movant for summary judgment has the initial burden of demonstrating the nonexistence of any genuine issue of material fact. But once he tenders competent evidence to support his motion, the opposing party must come forward with counterevidence sufficient to reveal a genuine issue. It is not enough for the opposing party merely to assert that an issue does exist.
After the parties have timely filed their respective summary judgment evidence, the domestic violence court should then hold a hearing, during which the arguments of the parties will be heard and the court will determine whether the movant demonstrated the nonexistence of any genuine issue of material fact or whether the adverse party has sustained his or her burden of producing counterevidence sufficient to reveal a genuine issue.
This procedure comports with due process. Carmona v. Wal-Mart Stores, East, LP, 81 So.3d 461 (Fla. 2d DCA 2011). In Carmona, the lower court issued a summary judgment against the appellants. On appeal, the appellants asserted that they were denied due process at the summary judgment hearing. The appellate court affirmed the lower court’s summary judgment, finding that the appellants’ right to procedural due process had not been violated because the appellants had been given notice of the summary judgment hearing and had a full and fair chance to argue their case. Id. at 462. The Second DCA in Carmona specifically explained:
Here, the [appellants] were afforded both proper notice and a meaningful opportunity to be heard….
…the hearing was conducted in a fair manner appropriate to the nature of the proceeding. Each party spoke for a comparable amount of time during the thirty
minute hearing. Each party was allowed more than one opportunity to argue its position, and both did so. The judge asked [the appellant] questions to help guide his argument and even explained the procedural and legal aspects of the case to him. …
Id. at 464.
Generally, in civil actions, each party is entitled to his or her day in court. As Carmona reflects, that “day in court” may appropriately be a summary judgment hearing rather than a trial where the summary judgment procedural rule is followed, and both parties are afforded proper notice and a meaningful opportunity to be heard. There is no good reason to create an exception for domestic violence actions where proper notice can be and is given and the parties are given a reasonable opportunity to be heard. And, where the pleadings and summary judgment evidence on file show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law, then summary judgment must be entered under Fla. Fam. Law R. P. 12.510.
Contact us if you have any questions about the summary judgment process in domestic violence cases.