Business Law 101 / Rehearings and Appeals in Eviction cases

By Albert L. Kelley, Esq.

After the Court makes its ruling, the parties have 10 days to file a “Motion for a New Trial”. This will generally not impact the eviction portion of the case, as the Tenant will likely have already been evicted before the Court even reviews the Motion. However, it may apply if the Landlord also sued for back rent.

Under the Rules of Civil Procedure, a party may ask for a rehearing if they believe the Court ruled improperly. Improperly does not mean that the Court ruled against a party; it means that the Court acted contrary to the law and the evidence. A new trial is not a right. The party requesting the new trial must provide the court with specific reasons why a new trial should be granted. The grounds would include the Court misapplying the law, newly discovered evidence or the facts being misunderstood.

The ten-day time period is a strict time limit. After ten calendar days from the day the court makes its ruling, it loses the ability to order a new trial. The Judge can simply review the Motion and if the Motion does not state sufficient grounds, the Judge may deny it summarily. In the alternative, the Judge may decide they want to hold a hearing and let the parties argue why the new trial should be granted.

In certain circumstances, the ten-day rule does not apply. If there was a mistake, inadvertence or excusable neglect, or if there is newly discovered evidence that could not have been known in time to ask for a new trial, or if there was fraud, misrepresentation or misconduct by the opposing party, or if the judgment is void, then the party may ask the Court to relieve them from the final Judgment. The party must ask for relief within a reasonable time but not more than a year after the judgment was entered.

If a party believes the Court has ruled improperly, they can also request an appeal. Appeals of judgments of the Landlord-Tenant Law are heard by the Circuit Court. To seek an appeal, the party must file a Notice of Appeal within 30 days of the Judgment being rendered. Like the ten-day limit for rehearing’s, the 30-day limit for an appeal is jurisdictional, meaning the Circuit Court cannot hear the appeal if the Notice is filed even a day late. Appeals are complex proceedings. I don’t have the room to explain appellate procedures in detail. The shorthand explanation is as follows:

Within 30 days of the rendition of the judgment, the party who wants to appeal (called the Appellant) files a Notice of Appeal (plus applicable fees) with the Clerk of Court.   The Notice must be in the specific format as recited in the Rules of Appellate Procedure. Within 50 days of the date the Notice is filed, the Clerk must prepare a copy of the file and provide an index to each party. Within 70 days of the filing of the Notice, the Appellant must file their “Initial Brief”.   The format of the Initial Brief is also set out in the Rules of Appellate Procedure and is very specific. Within 20 days of filing the Initial Brief, the opposing party (called the Appellee) must file an Answer Brief, prepared in the same manner as the Initial Brief. Within 20 days of filing the Answer Brief, the Appellant may file a Reply Brief addressing the points raised by the Appellee in the Answer Brief. Because of the highly technical format of the appellate documents, it is not recommended that the party file the appeal without the benefit of legal counsel. The Circuit Court may review the Initial Brief and determine if it has alleged grounds for reversal of the lower Court’s ruling. If not, they may simply affirm the lower Court ruling and the judgment stands. If the Circuit Court finds the Initial Brief does state a cause for reversal, the Court will review the Answer Brief to see if it shows grounds not to reverse the lower Court’s ruling. If not, the Circuit Court may summarily reverse the lower Court ruling, sending the Judgment back to the lower Court to be corrected. If either party would like to speak to the Appellate Court (called “oral argument”), it must be specifically requested when that party’s last Brief is due. After oral argument, the Circuit Court will generally take the issue under advisement and later issue a written ruling which is mailed to the parties.

Al Kelley is a Florida business law attorney located in Key West and previously taught business law, personnel law and labor law at St. Leo University. He is also the author of “Basics of Business Law” “Basics of Florida’s Small Claims Court” and “Basics of Florida’s Landlord-Tenant Law” (Absolutely Amazing e-Books). This article is being offered as a public service and is not intended to provide specific legal advice. If you have any questions about legal issues, you should confer with a licensed Florida attorney.