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Don’t File Suit in the Wrong Court, Jurisdictional Changes as of January 1

Reprinted from the April 2019 Cotney Construction Law Update

Changes in Florida state law and the Florida Rules of Procedure took effect January 1, 2020, changing where a variety of court actions are heard. Last year, county courts in Florida had jurisdiction over claims up to $15,000 and Florida’s circuit courts had jurisdiction over claims in excess of $15,000. The limit on claims that could be brought in small claims court was $5,000. For the first time in nearly 30 years, these monetary thresholds increased in Florida courts at the start of the new year.

Trent Cotney, PA
Trent Cotney, PA

Under this new law, on January 1, the jurisdictional threshold for Florida’s county courts increased to $30,000, meaning that most civil lawsuits where the amount in controversy is $30,000 or less must be filed in county court. As a result, the jurisdiction of Florida’s circuit courts increased to claims valued in excess of $30,000. In other words, in order to file a lawsuit in circuit court on or after January 1, the amount in controversy must be more than $30,000.

In layman’s terms, this change essentially means that lawsuits valued between $15k and $30k must now be filed in county court instead of in circuit court. The limit for county court will increase again on January 1, 2023, to $50,000. These changes were brought about by declining caseloads in the state’s county courts and increasingly high caseloads in the circuit courts.

The limit for small claims court also increased on January 1, 2020, from $5,000  to $8,000, which made this expedited option for resolving claims without an attorney available in more cases. However, lien rights still cannot be enforced in small claims court and must still be brought in the appropriate county or circuit court depending on the amount in controversy.

Additionally, the new law created a new appellate avenue for some county court decisions. Specifically, on January 1, 2020, county court orders or judgments with an amount in controversy greater than $15,000 could be appealed directly to Florida’s district courts of appeal, bypassing the circuit courts. County court orders or judgments of $15,000 or less will continue to be appealable only to the applicable circuit court. This provision is set to automatically repeal on January 1, 2023, though it will likely be extended if it is effective in achieving the goal of lessening the overburden currently borne by Florida’s circuit courts.

Author’s Note

The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.  Trent Cotney is Florida Bar Certified in Construction Law, General Counsel and a member of the Florida Refrigeration & Air Conditioning Contractors Association (FRACCA) and a member of RACCA. For more information, contact the author at 813-579-3278 or go to www.hvaclawyer.com.

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