Complex Business Litigation in South Florida

A Simple Guide To Complex Business Litigation In South Florida

In our last article, we talked about what to expect when someone sues your business in Florida. This week, the business and commercial litigation attorneys here at Capital Partners Law are tackling a slightly different topic. Specifically, we’ve decided to share some insight into how certain courts have addressed business clashes that once took years to resolve.

It has been almost two decades since Florida’s 11th Judicial Circuit – which includes Miami-Dade County – created the separate section within the court’s civil division. This section is devoted solely to “complex business litigation” and helps create a predictable structure for cases that previously took years to work their way through the court system.  And with good reason, according to Gill Freeman, the first judge to preside in that forum.

In a Florida Bar News article, Ms. Freeman said some of the matters sent to the fledgling division “had been languishing on the general civil docket for 15 years.” She also noted that many such cases – including those involving alleged construction defects and mechanics liens – generally involved several different parties and claims.

“If you had motions for summary judgment, it would take a day, and if the case was going to go to trial, it was three to four weeks, and what that does to a regular civil calendar is just wreak havoc,” Freeman, who has since retired, told the Bar. “Some of these cases were so big, nobody wanted to try them.”

Faced with similar burdens, several courts throughout Florida – including the 17th Judicial Circuit in Broward County – have followed suit by creating divisions fully or partially devoted to complex business litigation.

What Is Complex Business Litigation?

In Florida, complex litigation or a “complex action,” is legally defined as a matter that will probably:

  1. Involve complicated legal or case management issues; and
  2. Require extensive judicial management to expedite the action, keep costs reasonable, or promote judicial efficiency.

More specifically, a case may be classified as complex litigation based on any or all of the following factors:

  1. There are numerous pretrial motions raising difficult or unique legal issues, or legal issues that are inextricably linked that will be time-consuming to resolve;
  2. It requires coordination of a large number of separately represented parties;
  3. It has to be coordinated with related actions pending in one or more courts in other counties, states, or countries, or in a federal court;
  4. It requires pretrial management of a large number of witnesses or a substantial amount of documentary evidence;
  5. It will take a lot of time to resolve the matter through trial;
  6. It requires the coordination of a large number of experts, witnesses, attorneys, or exhibits at trial;
  7. It requires a significant amount of court supervision after a judgment has been issued;
  8. Other relevant factors identified by the court or one or more litigants.

In this context, it is important to note that the 17th Circuit’s Complex Litigation Unit presides over business cases and those involving other torts. Accordingly, it relies strictly on the parameters above to determine which cases it will hear. On the other hand, the 11th Circuit’s Complex Business Litigation Division uses additional criteria in the classification of relevant matters.  In particular, it defines a “complex business case” as one with “complex legal and case management issues requiring extensive judicial management in order to expedite the case, to promote effective decision making by the Court, counsel and parties, and to keep costs reasonable.”

What Types Of Business Cases Are Considered For Complex Litigation?

The 11th Circuit’s Complex Business Litigation Division (Miami-Dade County)

As long as the matter meets the criteria detailed above and the amount sought tops $750,000.00, the types of cases heard in the 11th Circuit’s Complex Business Litigation Division include but are not limited to: certain breach of contract actions, and business tort actions. Claims for breach of fiduciary duty, fraud, misrepresentation, unfair competition, and so on, are examples of the latter.

Judges presiding in this division also hear cases based on claims arising under the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC); as well as lawsuits involving the purchase, sale, or restructuring of a business, or the purchase or sale of the stock, assets, or liabilities of a business, as well as litigation stemming from a franchisee/franchisor relationship and associated liabilities.

With some exceptions, the judges presiding in this division do not hear matters concerning occupational health or safety, environmental claims not associated with the sale or disposition of a business or coverage dispute, matters in eminent domain, nor employment law cases. Cases involving an administrative agency, tax, zoning, or other appeal; and matters that must be heard in some other court or court division as per applicable statute or other law are also excluded. So are cases that are appropriately transferred out of the Complex Business Litigation Section.

The 17th Circuit’s Complex Litigation Unit (Broward County)

A 2013 Administrative Order stipulates which types of business disputes can be sent to the 17th Circuit’s Complex Litigation Unit for adjudication. As per the Order, the disputed amount must top $100,000.00, in some cases, and $150,000 in others. That being said, the judges presiding in this division will hear cases in which:

  • the disputed amount exceeds $150,000.00 and involves a UCC-related transaction;
  • the disputed amount exceeds $150,000.00 and stems from the purchase and/or sale of a business or the assets of a business (Examples include contract disputes, commercial landlord-tenant claims, and business torts.);
  • the amount in controversy is more than $150,000.00 and involves non-consumer bank or brokerage accounts. These include loan, deposit, cash management, and investment accounts;
  • the amount in controversy is more than $100,000.00 and is related to trade secrets; or
  • the disputed amount is more than $100,000.00 and involves an intellectual property claim.

In this context, it is important to note that these are not the only business matters that can be heard in this forum. You should also be aware that the Circuit Civil Administrative Judge may reject the reassignment of a case to this division if it doesn’t meet the requirements detailed in the Administrative Order.

Complex Business Litigation Processes

The Complex Business Litigation Division in the 11th Circuit and the Complex Litigation Unit in the 17th Circuit rely on Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.201 to govern the processes for hearing complex business litigation cases. The former also uses its own rules called the Complex Business Litigation Rules.

The rules apply to all relevant lawsuits unless an order issued by the presiding Circuit Judge supersedes them in “any particular action.”  You should also be aware that the Complex Business Litigation (CBL) Rules are intended to be used in conjunction with, not instead of, the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure. That said, the CBL Rules and orders entered in a case govern all applicable deadlines.

Case Management In Complex Business Litigation

Because effective case management is an essential aspect of successful Complex Business Litigation, all parties are expected to participate in it from the beginning. Specifically, the parties are expected to follow any Case Management Orders (“CMO”) issued by the presiding judge. These orders will detail a specific case plan, including all relevant deadlines for the case.

In accordance with Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.200(a), judges hearing complex business litigation cases are tasked with issuing orders along with detailed instructions scheduling some or all of the following:

  • Initial Case Management Conference
  • Scheduling Case Management Conference
  • Interim Conferences (if necessary)
  • Final Case Management Conference/Final Pretrial Conferences

Here is a brief overview of what to expect at each step:

The Initial Case Management Conference – will be scheduled in accordance with either the CBL Rules or applicable Florida Rules of Civil Procedure, depending on where the matter is being heard.

This is the point at which the court and the parties will go over matters including, but not limited to, deadlines for the exchange of information obtained through discovery, deadlines for filing of certain motions, length of trial, trial date, and other relevant matters as prescribed by relevant rules.

An initial case management report shall be filed with and provided to the court no later than five business days prior to the ICMC.

The Scheduling Case Management Conference – this is the meeting where the parties finalize the schedule and case management plan for the case, based on the information they have gathered to this point.  

This is also the meeting during which a firm trial date will be set in accordance with FL. R. Civ. P 1.201. A discovery and mediation schedule will also be finalized at this conference. Parties should be prepared to discuss issues including but not limited to:

  • the status of discovery exchanges
  • anticipated legal fees
  • the selection of a mediator
  • scheduling of future witness depositions (especially experts)

Parties are expected to file a scheduling case management report no later than five business days prior to the SCMC. Any changes to the tentative dates included in the ICMC must be highlighted and the grounds for changing the dates must be included in the report and addressed with the court at the SCMC.

The final case management/pre-trial conference –will be held in accordance with applicable rules, depending on the forum in which the matter is heard. In either case, the general purpose of the meeting is to share any information that will ensure the trial proceeds in an efficient and effective manner.

Settlement Or Trial In Complex Business Litigation

If a matter being heard in the 11th Circuit’s Complex Business Litigation Division is settled prior to trial, all attorneys or unrepresented parties of record must be notified in writing within two (2) business days of the settlement. They must also let the court know which party will prepare and present the judgment, dismissal, or stipulation of dismissal, and the date when such filing(s) will be delivered to the court. Parties must submit the order of dismissal for execution by the court within 30 days or seek an extension which shall include specific facts justifying the extension and a new proposed deadline for dismissal.

If the matter remains unsettled, parties should expect to go to trial on their trial date and prepare accordingly.

To learn more or speak with a knowledgeable Florida Business Attorney, contact Capital Partners Law today:

This article is provided by Capital Partners Law for informational purposes only. It is not intended as legal advice and does not form the basis for an attorney-client relationship. If you need legal advice, please contact Capital Partners Law or another licensed attorney.