The current $15,000 jurisdictional limit was established in 1992.
By Ryan Mittauer, JBA Commercial Litigation Committee Vice Chair
Legislation that was considered in the Florida House and Senate would have brought significant changes to the civil court system by shifting thousands of cases to the county courts.
Although the proposed legislation failed during the last legislative session, the issues and concerns raised are likely to persist for future bills proposing changes to jurisdictional limits.
Currently, the monetary jurisdictional limit for Florida’s county civil courts is $15,000.
Since 1980, the Legislature has adjusted county courts’ limit three times.
Most recently, in 1992, the Legislature increased the limit from $10,000 to $15,000. Adjusted for inflation, the $15,000 jurisdictional limit established in 1992 would be more than $27,000 today.
Florida House Bill 7061 was the most recent attempt to modify Florida’s jurisdictional limits and would have increased the jurisdictional monetary limit for claims in county civil courts from $15,000 to $50,000.
The initial bill was passed by the House on March 5. The Senate later amended the bill to reduce the proposed jurisdictional limit from $50,000 to $25,000.
The Senate further amended the bill to require appeals on county judgments above $15,000 to be sent directly to the applicable district court of appeal rather than the traditional circuit court panel of judges.
The amended bill returned to the House, which later passed a second version of the bill readopting the $50,000 limit. Ultimately, the Senate did not vote on the revised bill before the close of the 2018 legislative session.
Increasing the jurisdictional limits for county courts likely would reduce the circuit civil court caseload, as smaller commercial disputes and debt collection cases would be shifted to lower courts.
According to the Revenue Estimating Conference of the Office of Economic & Demographic Research, an increase in Florida’s county court jurisdictional limit to $50,000 would result in as many as 25,000 cases being shifted to lower courts in the first year alone.
However, critics of HB 7061 raised concerns with the likelihood of more cases returning to the circuit courts on appeal.
With few exceptions, most decisions from county courts currently proceed on appeal to appellate panels of one to three circuit court judges. Further, critics argue circuit courts are not equipped to handle an increase in appeals.
Unlike judges sitting on the district court of appeals, many circuit judges do not have law clerks or other resources to handle a significant increase in appellate litigation.
Finally, opponents point to inconsistencies in the appellate procedures throughout Florida’s circuit courts as well as the less predictable body of circuit court appellate decisions as compared to the district courts of appeal.
Currently, it is unknown whether any proposals will be introduced during the 2019 legislative session to modify Florida’s jurisdictional limits.
Ryan Mittauer is an attorney with Liles Gavin P.A. focusing on business and commercial litigation.
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