Don’t File Suit in the Wrong Court – Jurisdictional Changes Coming January 1
Changes in Florida state law and the Florida Rules of Procedure will be effective January 1, 2020, changing where a variety of court actions are heard. Currently, county courts in Florida have jurisdiction over claims up to $15,000 and Florida’s circuit courts have jurisdiction over claims in excess of $15,000. The limit on claims that can be brought in small claims court is currently $5,000. For the first time in nearly 30 years, these monetary thresholds will increase in Florida courts at the start of the new year.
Under this new law, on January 1, the jurisdictional threshold for Florida’s county courts will increase 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 will increase 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 will also increase on January 1, 2020, from $5,000 to $8,000, which will make 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 creates 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 can 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.