PBCBA BAR BULLETINS pbcba_bulletin_February 2019 - Page 8

APPELLATE PRACTICE C o r n e r Circuit Court Appeals of Nonfinal Orders CHRISTINE GARDNER Florida legislators engaged in efforts this past year to raise the civil jurisdictional limit for county court cases from $15,000 to $50,000. Were such a dramatic increase in the jurisdictional limit to take effect, it would not only increase the number of civil cases originating in county courts, but also the number of cases being appealed from county courts. While this initiative to raise the jurisdictional limit failed to progress into law, it shines a light on common errors in an often overlooked area of Florida’s appellate procedures—the appellate function of Florida’s circuit courts, and in particular, the appeal of nonfinal orders to the circuit courts. Circuit court appellate jurisdiction is not the same as district court appellate jurisdiction. Circuit courts, in addition to their trial court capacity, review appeals in three categories of cases: (A) “final orders of lower tribunals as provided by general law”; (B) “nonfinal orders of lower tribunals as provided by general law”; and (C) “administrative action if provided by general law.” Fla. R. App. P. 9.030(c)(1). Based on the deference to general law for each of these categories, rule 9.030(c)(1) should not be construed as an independent source of jurisdictional power. Thus, to demonstrate circuit court jurisdiction, an appellant must also cite to an applicable provision in a general law (i.e., a law of general application, as opposed to common law or a special law). See Eckert v. Bd. of Com’rs of N. Broward Hosp. Dist., 720 So. 2d 1151, 1154 n.3 (Fla. 4th DCA 1998). This is especially true with regard to nonfinal orders. A common error in circuit appeals is to appeal a nonfinal order that is listed in Florida Rule of Appellate Procedure 9.130(a)(3) without citing a general law granting the circuit court appellate jurisdiction. “The Circuit Courts do not have any general jurisdiction under the appellate rules to review nonfinal orders.” Shell v. Foulkes, 19 So. 3d 438, 440 (Fla. 4th DCA 2009). Rule 9.130(a)(3), therefore, does not apply to circuit appeals as it does to district appeals—for circuit appeals, there must be a specific provision in general law providing for its application. Fla. R. App. P. 9.130(a) (1). Without such a provision, even those types of nonfinal orders listed as appealable in rule 9.130(a)(3) are not appealable to the circuit court. Circuit court jurisdiction over appeals of nonfinal orders thus may be, in many instances, much narrower than district court jurisdiction to hear appeals of the same nonfinal orders. overlooked provision of the Fifteenth Circuit’s Administrative Order 8.101 provides that, instead of filing an agreed motion for extension of time, parties should simply file an agreed notice of extension of time. Admin. Order 8.101(Form B). Agreed notices are accepted for up to a total of 120 days for an initial or answer brief, and 60 days for a response to a petition for extraordinary writ Parties seeking to appeal nonfinal orders or reply brief. Id. Administrative Order 8.101 in the absence of a general law, however, actually sets forth, in Form B, a form for are not without options. The certiorari drafting such notices. jurisdiction of circuit courts “may [still] be sought to review nonfinal orders of Accordingly, although the civil jurisdictional lower tribunals other than as prescribed limit for county court cases remains the by rule 9.130.” Fla. R. App. P. 9.030(c) same for the moment, appellants of nonfinal (2). Additionally, rule 9.030(c)(3) grants orders should be certain to cite to specific circuit courts original jurisdiction to issue provisions in general law to support their extraordinary writs, such as “mandamus, jurisdictional arguments, and read closely prohibition, quo warranto, common law all local rules and administrative orders certiorari, and habeas corpus, and all writs governing circuit appeals. necessary to the complete exercise of the courts’ jurisdiction.” These two provisions do not contain a general law requirement. Even if a circuit court appellant believes that they are appealing a final order, it is important that the appellant carefully evaluate whether they have actually obtained a final order. This is a common error. The requirements for what constitutes a final order are the same in circuit appeals as in district appeals. Namely, an order merely granting a motion to dismiss or a motion for summary judgment is generally insufficient. There must be actual language entering judgment or dismissing the complaint. See Paulino v. BJ’s Wholesale Club, Inc., 106 So. 3d 985, 987 (Fla. 4th DCA 2013). Appellants should therefore take the time to consider, before filing a notice of appeal to the circuit court, whether they have obtained a final order. Regardless of whether the order being appealed to the circuit court is nonfinal or final, appellants and appellees alike should take care to review the circuit court’s administrative orders and/or local rules regarding extensions of time. The Fifteenth Circuit, similarly to the Fourth District Court of Appeal, has instituted a modified system for extensions of time to the appellate briefing schedule. An often- PBCBA BAR BULLETIN 8 1 Effort to Increase County Court Civil Jurisdiction Comes Up Short, The Florida Bar News (April 1, 2018, https://www.floridabar.org/news/tfb-news/?durl=%2F- DIVCOM%2FJN%2Fjnnews01.nsf%2FArticles%2F4F3EF83A- 5F95933E85258251004E45A6).