In re In re Amendments to the Fla. Family Law Rules Procedure

Citation132 So.3d 1114
Decision Date16 January 2014
Docket NumberSC12–2030.,Nos. SC12–2007,s. SC12–2007
PartiesIn re AMENDMENTS TO the FLORIDA RULES OF JUDICIAL ADMINISTRATION. In re Amendments to the Florida Family Law Rules of Procedure.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Florida

132 So.3d 1114

In re AMENDMENTS TO the FLORIDA RULES OF JUDICIAL ADMINISTRATION.
In re Amendments to the Florida Family Law Rules of Procedure.

Nos. SC12–2007, SC12–2030.

Supreme Court of Florida.

Jan. 16, 2014.


Original Proceedings—Florida Rules of Judicial Administration and Florida Family Law Rules of Procedure.

[132 So.3d 1115]


Nikki Ann Clark, Vice–Chair, Steering Committee on Families and Children in the Court, Tallahassee, FL, for Petitioner.

Jon Berkley Morgan, Chair, Rules of Judicial Administration Committee, Kissimmee, FL; Alexandra V. Rieman, Past Chair, Rules of Judicial Administration Committee, Fort Lauderdale, FL; Mary Lou Miller Wagstaff, Chair, Family Law Rules Committee, Largo, FL; Lori Caldwell–Carr, Past Chair, Family Law Rules Committee, Maitland, FL; Matthew B. Capstraw, Past Chair, Family Law Rules Committee, Longwood, FL; John F. Harkness, Jr., Executive Director, The Florida Bar; Ellen J. Sloyer, Rules Liaison, Family Law Rules Committee, The Florida Bar; Jodi Jennings, Bar Staff Liaison, The Florida Bar, Tallahassee, FL; Carin M. Porras, Chair, Family Law Section, The Florida Bar, Ft. Lauderdale, FL; and Reuben A. Doupé of Klaus Doupé, Naples, FL, Responding with comments.


PER CURIAM.

We have for consideration two separate petitions to amend the Florida Rules of Court, filed by the Florida Supreme Court's Steering Committee on Families and Children in the Court (Steering Committee).1 In the first petition, case number SC12–2007, the Steering Committee proposes amendments to Florida Rule of Judicial Administration 2.545(d) (Case Management; Related Cases). In the second petition, case number SC12–2030, the Steering Committee proposes five new Florida Family Law Rules of Procedure. The Steering Committee's proposals in these petitions advance the important goal of effectively implementing the unified family court model to ensure that all parties, attorneys, and judges in a family case receive proper notice of other related family cases. These proposals also outline new procedures for assigning related family cases to a single judge unless impractical and for coordinating related family cases assigned to different judges.

In adopting the Steering Committee's proposals, we continue to express our strong support for the general guiding principles and characteristics of the model family court espoused in In re Report of the Commission on Family Courts (Family Courts I), 588 So.2d 586 (Fla.1991); In re Report of the Commission on Family Courts (Family Courts II), 633 So.2d 14 (Fla.1994); In re Report of the Commission on Family Courts (Family Courts III), 646 So.2d 178 (Fla.1994); and In re Report of the Family Court Steering Committee (Family Courts IV), 794 So.2d 518 (Fla.2001). As we stated when the Court unanimously endorsed the recommendations of the Steering Committee in Family Courts IV:

Having reviewed the Committee's recommendations, we strongly endorse the guiding principles and characteristics of the model family court developed therein and we reaffirm our commitment to the principles we espoused in In re Report of Commission on Family Courts, 588 So.2d 586, 587 (Fla.1991)( Family Courts I ) and Family Courts II. In so doing, our goal continues to be the creation of “a fully integrated, comprehensive approach to handling all cases involving children and families,” Family Courts II, 633 So.2d at 17, while at the same time resolving family disputes in a fair, timely, efficient, and cost-effective manner. We also stress the importance of embracing methods of resolving disputes that do not cause additional emotional harm to the children and families who are required to interact with the judicial system.

[132 So.3d 1116]

794 So.2d at 519–20. With the Steering Committee's assistance, the amendments adopted by the Court here address remaining impediments to the effective implementation of the unified family court model and further this Court's goal of ensuring that cases involving families and children are managed in an efficient manner that serves the best interests of the parties.


BACKGROUND

The Steering Committee's petitions represent years of work to implement the unified family court model and to overcome impediments to its operation. Beginning in 1994, this Court established the Steering Committee to support and assist the Court in developing and fully implementing the family court concept in Florida, and we directed the Steering Committee to, among other things, develop recommendations on the characteristics of a model family court, including organization, policy, procedures, staffing, resources, and linkages to the community to assist children and families involved in litigation. See Family Courts II, 633 So.2d at 18–19. The Court considered the Steering Committee's recommendations in Family Courts IV.

As is relevant here, the Steering Committee recommended that the Court adopt a rule of judicial administration to require judges assigned to different cases involving the same family to confer, as well as to coordinate pending litigation to maximize judicial efforts, prevent inconsistent court orders, and avoid multiple court appearances by the parties on the same issues. Family Courts IV, 794 So.2d at 526. Because the Steering Committee did not submit a specific rule proposal, the Court referred the matter back to the Steering Committee to develop appropriate standards. Id. As the Court stated at that time:

Coordination of cases is critical. Indeed, in 1991, the Commission on Family Courts noted that there is “no justification to have situations such as have been presented to the commission which indicate that families were required to appear before one judge in a dissolution proceeding that included determination of custody of the children and at the same time to have a hearing before another judge concerning the juvenile dependency of one of the children including the determination of the custody of that child.” Family Courts I, 588 So.2d at 588.

Because a specific rule has not been submitted, we refer this important matter back to the Family Court Steering Committee for the development of appropriate standards to be followed when there are multiple court appearances in different cases by the parties on the same issue. Some specific aspects the Committee should consider are whether there should be notice to the parties when cross-over cases are identified before consolidation or coordination occurs and whether the confidentiality requirements in chapter 39 (regarding dependency cases) will restrict the ability of the court to coordinate these cases.

Of course, if all cases involving the same family are identified and assigned to a single judge, many of these problems of coordination and confidentiality will be eliminated. As the Committee's commentary observes:

Automatic transfer avoids any complaint about ex parte communication between the judges. See Chaddick v. Monopoli, 714 So.2d 1007 (Fla.1998) (judges must allow parties to be present during conference on interstate jurisdiction). It also avoids any dispute over the chief judges' authority to resolve these issues. Because of the

[132 So.3d 1117]

broad jurisdiction of our circuit courts, which includes jurisdiction over all of the types of cases listed above, coordination of cases, and more particularly assignment to one circuit court judge, can be accomplished—provided that the technology and necessary staff is in place to identify the related cases.

Id. (emphasis added).


Consistent with our direction in Family Courts IV, the Steering Committee developed standards to handle related family cases, and in 2005 the Court adopted amendments to Florida Rule of Judicial Administration 2.085 (Time Standards for Trial and Appellate Courts), creating a new subdivision (d) (Related Cases). This new subdivision set forth a procedure for the petitioner in a family case to file a Notice of Related Cases if such cases are known or reasonably ascertainable. See In re Amends. to Fla. Rules of Jud. Admin. (Two–Year Cycle), 915 So.2d 157, 160 (Fla.2005). Rule 2.085 was later renamed and renumbered as Florida Rule of Judicial Administration 2.545 (Case Management). See In re Amends. to Fla. Rules of Jud. Admin.—Reorganization of the Rules, 939 So.2d 966, 967 (Fla.2006).

When the Steering Committee was reauthorized for a subsequent two-year term in 2006, the Committee was charged with, among other requests, examining existing court rules that impact the implementation of the unified family court model. The Steering Committee was also asked to develop and recommend additional rules, suggest the repeal of rules, and propose amendments to existing rules as may be needed to enhance the implementation of the unified family court model. See In re Steering Comm. on Families & Children in the Court, Fla. Admin. Order No. AOSC06–30 (August 30, 2006).

Ultimately, in its 2006–2008 End of Term Report, the Steering Committee identified nine impediments to the successful implementation of the unified family court model. As is relevant here, Impediment 3 pertained to Rule of Judicial Administration 2.545(d) and the Notice of Related Cases. The Steering Committee recommended in Impediment 3 that “in order to develop the most effective and efficient notice rule, the broader operational issues involved in handling related cases should first be further studied.” Fla. Supreme Court's Steering Comm. on Families & Children in the Court, Report of the 2006–2008 Families & Children in the Court Steering Comm., at 52 (2008).

Over the next two years, the Steering Committee was charged with prioritizing, studying, and recommending resolutions to the nine impediments it had identified, including Impediment 3. See In re Steering Comm. on Families & Children in the Court, Fla. Admin. Order No. AOSC08–97 (Dec. 22, 2008). In 2010, the Committee was specifically directed to:

Examine rule 2.545(d), Florida Rules of Judicial Administration, which requires the petitioner in...

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