Florida Legislature Makes Welcome Changes to Appellate Jurisdiction

  • June 24, 2020
  • /   Jennifer Dixon
  • /   Articles,Coronavirus COVID-19 Task Force,Litigation & Trial Practice
gavel in courtroom

By: Jennifer Dixon

Effective January 1, 2021, circuit courts will no longer have jurisdiction over civil and criminal appeals from county courts. On June 20, 2020, Governor DeSantis signed into law Senate Bill 1392, which, among other things, significantly modifies appellate jurisdiction in Florida’s state courts.

The most consequential change is that jurisdiction over county court civil and criminal appeals will rest exclusively with the district courts of appeal. Circuit courts will continue to have jurisdiction over appeals from final administrative orders of local government code enforcement boards and other reviews and appeals as may be expressly provided by law.

With respect to the narrow line of cases that remain appealable to the circuit court, the legislation still allows a county court to elect to certify a question to the district court of appeal if the issue is of great public importance or if the issue will affect the uniform administrative of justice. Should the district court elect to answer the question, the entire appeal would effectively skip the circuit court and be determined by the district court.  

The changes are likely to be welcome news for appellate practitioners, many of whom have long lamented that circuit courts are not administratively equipped to operate in an appellate capacity, and as a result, are inefficient at reaching decisions on the merits. Further, the lack of published precedent of circuit courts acting in their appellate capacity made it difficult to predict outcomes and threatened stare decisis. It remains to be seen whether opinions arising from county appeals will merit publication by the Southern Reporter, but certainly the district courts have the capacity to do so where appropriate.

The new legislation is likely to result in amendments to the Florida Rules of Appellate Procedure, which must be approved by the Florida Supreme Court.

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