In re Standard Jury Instructions—Contract & Business Cases
|06 June 2013
|116 So.3d 284
|In re STANDARD JURY INSTRUCTIONS—CONTRACT AND BUSINESS CASES.
|Florida Supreme Court
Original Proceeding—Supreme Court Committee on Standard Jury Instructions—Contract and Business Cases.
Honorable Jonathan D. Gerber, Committee Chair, and Manuel Farach, Committee Vice–Chair, West Palm Beach, FL; and Brian F. Spector, Committee Vice–Chair, Miami, FL, for Petitioner.
[116 So.3d 285]
This matter is before the Court upon the report, recommendation and proposal of the Supreme Court Committee on Standard Jury Instructions—Contract and Business Cases and a printed book of instructions prepared by the Committee for use when appropriate in civil cases. We have jurisdiction. Seeart. V, § 2(a), Fla. Const. This Court generally approves the theory and technique of instructing juries with regard to the applicable law as recommended by the Committee and embodied in the proposed instructions when applicable. Accordingly, this Court authorizes and directs the publication and use of these instructions, but without prejudice to the rights of any litigant objecting to the use of any of these approved forms.
In 1962, this Court established the Supreme Court Committee on Standard Jury Instructions as a committee of this Court to study and develop a program for standard jury instructions. By 1964, this Committee had determined that for the initial effort, the work and plan should be limited and directed to the preparation and publication of standard instructions for use in the trial of only negligence-type cases. In January 1967, this Committee had completed all work except the final editorial work on Florida Standard Jury Instructions. On April 19, 1967, this Court entered its final approval and authorized the publication of those instructions. The Supreme Court Committee on Standard Jury Instructions continues in existence and from time to time files new proposed instructions and amendments to instructions.
The lawyers and judges in Florida have found the existing Standard Jury Instructions, although limited to certain case types, to be beneficial to the administration of justice. With this predicate, since at least 1999, the Committee on Standard Jury Instructions has from time to time explored the possibility of expanding the work of the group to include instructions for other types of cases. As of July 2006, the existing committee had been unable to move forward and had terminated all efforts to proceed in that direction.
On September 15, 2006, then Chief Justice R. Fred Lewis entered Administrative Order AOSC6–47 which created the Supreme Court Committee on Standard Jury Instructions—Contract and Business Cases (Committee). The Committee was established because “[t]here is a need for an additional standing committee to address standard jury instructions in contract and business litigation....” In re Supreme Court Committee on Standard Jury Instructions—Contract and Business Cases, AOSC06–47, at 2 (Sept. 15, 2006). The Committee was charged with performing the following tasks:
1. Organize a committee structure for perpetual operation to include leadership, rotation of membership, selection of members, an operational plan for submission of proposed instructions to the Florida Supreme Court for approval, and any other item necessary for the just and proper operations of the Committee.
2. Study and examine Florida law with regard to the principles of contract law and principles of law involved in business litigation that could properly be placed in uniform standardized jury instruction form. Based on this study and examination, develop, prepare, and propose to the Florida Supreme Court for approval uniform standard jury instructions for use in contract and business litigation in Florida. The Committee shall develop, prepare, and propose uniform standard jury instructions to include
[116 So.3d 286]
both the jury process and the law to be applied in the decision process.
3. The Committee is authorized to coordinate and liaison with any other group, jury instruction or otherwise, as may be necessary and proper to accomplish the work required. The Committee is also authorized to seek expanded authority from the Florida Supreme Court as may be necessary to accomplish its mission.
4. The Committee shall have perpetual existence and shall meet at regular intervals to continue its review of the law and any existing standard jury instructions and supervise the proper maintenance and amendments of the jury instructions approved for use in Florida to conform with current applicable law.
5. Coordinate and participate, as necessary, in the process of printing and publication of the approved standard jury instructions.
6. The Committee shall have the goal of submitting a preliminary complete set of standard jury instructions for approval by September 1, 2007, or earlier as the work proceeds, and thereafter continue work to expand upon and refine Florida standard jury instructions in contract and business litigation.
Id. at 2–3. Judge Thomas B. Smith, then Circuit Court Judge of the Ninth Judicial Circuit was appointed to serve as Chair of the Committee.1 The Committee was composed of trial and appellate attorneys throughout the State of Florida, judges of the various circuit and district courts of appeal, and individuals with specific expertise and experience in this subject.
After six years of dedicated and tireless efforts, on September 11, 2012, this Contract and Business group filed its report with the Court proposing a complete, stand-alone set of jury instructions for contract and business cases. The book of instructions filed by the Committee is Appendix A. The Committee explained that it surveyed other states that had previously drafted standard jury instructions in contract and business cases. The goal was to identify a state possessing instructions which could serve as a form template for drafting a similar set of instructions, but all based on Florida law. This group ultimately concluded that California possessed a form (not substance) to follow, and received permission from the Judicial Council of California to use its instructions as a model form only for drafting a set of instructions for use in Florida based on substantive Florida law. The Committee further explained that it proceeded with its work as follows:
The committee divided into six subcommittees, researched and drafted proposed instructions which followed Florida law. Upon completion of the subcommittees' work, the full committee met to review and revise each proposed instruction for accuracy and conformity with Florida law. To improve juror understanding, the committee has used ‘plain English’ terminology wherever possible without altering the instructions' substantive meaning.
In addition, this group received permission from the Florida Supreme Court Committee on Standard Jury Instructions in Civil
[116 So.3d 287]
Cases to duplicate the “How to Use This Book” section as well as Sections 100, 200, 300, 600, 700, and 800 for use in the Contract and Business Cases book. Accordingly, these business and contract-specific instructions are limited to Sections 400 and 500 of the proposed instructions. The Committee published its proposals for comment in The Florida Bar News on July 1, 2011, December 15, 2011, and April 1, 2012.2 The Committee received two comments, each directed to a proposed instruction on the affirmative defense of promissory estoppel. Based upon the comments, the Committee withheld that proposed instruction for further study. The Committee unanimously recommended that the Court authorize for publication and use the instructions as proposed.
This Court has always recognized that the initial determination of the substantive law applicable in all cases must be made by the trial judge and it would be inappropriate for this Court, at this time, and without a case or controversy before us, to adjudicate all legal principles embodied in these recommended instructions as correctly setting forth the substantive law applicable in any particular case. An approval of jury instruction forms by this Court does not relieve a trial judge of the responsibility under Florida law to properly and correctly instruct the jury in each case as it arises. This approval is not intended nor should it be construed as an intrusion into that responsibility of the trial judges. This Court is confident that these forms of instructions, as recommended by the Committee, state as accurately and correctly as a group of experienced lawyers and judges could state the substantive law of Florida in language understandable by jurors.
After full consideration, we authorize, approve and direct that the Standard Jury Instructions—Contract and Business Cases be published and distributed for use as applicable in Florida. The instructions under Sections 100, 300, and 600 are also authorized and approved. As we further discuss, we authorize and approve the instructions in Sections 200, 700, and 800 with minor modifications.
First, we modify instruction 202.2 (Explanation of the Trial Procedure) to construct the instruction consistent with the corresponding instruction in other civil cases. Under “Objections,” the instruction is modified to include the phrase “you should disregard the question and” as follows: “If I say that an objection is ‘sustained,’ that means you should disregard the question and the witness may not answer the question.”
Next, we modify Section 700—Closing Instructions, to delete the following language: “After you have decided what the facts are, you may find that some instructions do not apply. In that case, follow the instructions that do apply and use them together with the facts to reach your verdict.” This language is contrary to the original intent of the Supreme Court Committee on Standard Jury Instructions in Civil Cases, as expressed by that Committee in In Re: Standard Jury Instructions in Civil Cases—Report...
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