Summary Review of Court Systems -
Structure of Civil Courts
The Florida courts consists of the Florida Supreme Court, five district courts of appeal, 20 circuit courts, and 67 county courts, as well as small claims courts. The Florida Supreme Court opinions are binding precedent on all the state’s lower courts. The five District Courts of Appeal (“DCA”) in Florida are located respectively in Tallahassee (the 1st DCA), Lakeland (the 2nd DCA), Miami (3rd DCA), West Palm Beach (the 4th DCA) and Daytona Beach (the 5th DCA). Each DCA has specific geographically proximate counties assigned and appeals from trial courts flow to the DCA to which the county is assigned. Appeals from each DCA are made to the Florida Supreme Court.
Florida is home to three Federal District Courts. The Middle District’s geographic area is roughly a diagonal stripe of counties running from Jacksonville in the northeast to Ft. Myers in the southwest. The Middle District includes Jacksonville, Daytona, Orlando, Tampa, and Ft. Myers. Florida counties in the Middle District include of Baker, Bradford, Brevard, Charlotte, Citrus, Clay, Collier, Columbia, DeSoto, Duval, Flagler, Glades, Hamilton, Hardee, Hendry, Hernando, Hillsborough, Lake, Lee, Manatee, Marion, Nassau, Orange, Osceola, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, Putnam, St. Johns, Sarasota, Seminole, Sumter, Suwannee, Union, and Volusia.
The Northern District includes the counties northwest of the Middle District’s diagonal stripe of counties. The Northern District includes Tallahassee, Gainesville, and Pensacola. Florida counties in the Northern District include Bay, Calhoun, Dixie, Franklin, Gadsden, Gilchrist, Gulf, Holmes, Jackson, Jefferson, Lafayette, Levy, Liberty, Madison, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, Taylor, Wakulla, Walton, and Washington.
The Southern District includes Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Fort Pierce, Key West, and West Palm Beach. The Florida counties in the Southern District include Broward, Dade, Highlands, Indian River, Martin, Monroe, Okeechobee, Palm Beach, and St. Lucie.
Florida federal court decisions are appealed to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.
Basis of Jurisdiction
Civil cases in which the amount in controversy is generally alleged to be in excess of $30,000, exclusive of attorneys’ fees and costs, are filed in Circuit Court. If the amount in controversy is less than $30,000, then the County Court ($8,000 to $30,000) or the Small Claims Court (less than $8,000) has jurisdiction.
The Circuit Court also have jurisdiction over causes of action for declaratory judgments; requests for injunctions to prevent persons or entities from acting in a manner that is asserted to be unlawful; tax disputes; actions to determine the title and boundaries of real property; controversies involving the estates of decedents, minors, and persons adjudicated as incapacitated; cases relating to juveniles; and criminal prosecutions for all felonies.
Florida restructured its specialized Business Courts in 2019. The Business Court is limited to matters involving $500,000 in controversy dealing with the following specifically identified types of controversies:
- Claims arising from U.C.C. related transactions;
- Claims arising from the purchases and sales of businesses or the assets of a business, including contract disputes and business torts;
- Claims involving the sale of goods or services by or to business enterprises;
- Claims involving non-consumer bank or brokerage accounts, including loan, deposit, cash management, and investment accounts;
- Claims arising from the purchase or sale of commercial real or personal property or security interests therein;
- Claims related to surety bonds;
- Franchisee/franchisor relationships and liabilities;
- Malpractice claims of non-medical professionals in connection with rendering services to a business enterprise;
- Insurance coverage disputes, bad faith suits, and third party indemnity actions against insurers arising under policies issued to businesses, such as claims arising under a commercial general liability policy or commercial property policy; and
- Other complex disputes of a commercial nature, excluding certain specifically identified types of claims. Cases eligible under this category normally have four or more parties, multiple claims and defenses, third party, cross or counterclaims, complex factual or legal issues, or other unusual features. The Court may accept commercial foreclosure and landlord-tenant cases if the case meets amount in controversy requirements and if the case has a complex nature that differentiates it from ordinary foreclosure and landlord-tenant disputes;
- Actions relating to the internal affairs or governance, dissolution or liquidation rights obligations between or among owners (shareholders, partners, members), or liability or indemnity of managers (officers, directors, managers, trustees, or members or partners functioning as managers) of corporations, partnerships, limited partnerships, limited liability companies or partnerships, professional associations, business trusts, joint ventures or other business enterprises;
- Actions relating to trade secrets and non-compete agreements;
- Intellectual property claims;
- Actions relating to securities or relating to or arising under the state securities laws or antitrust statutes;
- Shareholder derivative actions and class actions involving claims that are subject to Business Court, pursuant to this Order; and
- Actions relating to corporate trust affairs or director and officer liability.
Emphasizing the importance placed on the $500,000 threshold, a plaintiff’s complaint must allege an actual amount in controversy, as opposed to generally alleging damages in excess of $500,000. Business Courts are currently only presiding in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, and Orlando.
All civil disputes filed in Circuit Court or Business Court must be mediated before trial. However, mediators are retained privately by the parties with rare exceptions. Mediations in Florida are completely confidential, with a few limited exceptions. Agreements in mediation must be reduced to writing and signed by the parties. The written mediation agreement will be enforced as a contract.
For More Information:
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- International Law and Corporate Transactions Business Guides
- Labor & Employment
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- Professional Liability
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- Workers' Compensation