Monday, August 1, 2022

Permanent Remote Mediation Authorized By Fla. S. Ct.

This summer, the Florida Supreme Court provided permanent civil rule changes authorizing the remote conduct of certain court proceedings including mediation, appellate mediation and arbitration. The court's Workgroup on Continuity of Court Operations and Proceedings During and After COVID-19 was directed to identify whether certain proceedings, due to efficiencies beneficial to stakeholders, could continue to be conducted remotely when COVID-19 no longer presents a significant risk to public health and safety. The Workgroup determined that permanent, broader authorization for remote proceedings was warranted based on the positive outcomes and efficiencies observed during the pandemic. Beginning with Rule 1.700, Florida Rules of Civil Procedure, common to mediation and arbitration, the amended language now provides for use of communication technology (as that term is defined in Florida Rule of General Practice and Judicial Administration 2.530) authorized in mediation and arbitration by stipulation of the parties or by court order. Absent direction in the order of referral, mediation or arbitration must be conducted in person, unless the parties stipulate or the court, on its own motion or on motion by a party, otherwise orders that the proceeding be conducted by communication technology or by a combination of communication technology and in-person participation. Also of note, is that Rule 1.720 now states a party is deemed to appear at a mediation conference if physically present or, if authorized, participating through the use of communication technology. Please note under Rule 1.730, if an agreement is reached, it must be reduced to writing and signed by the parties and their counsel, by original signature, electronic signature, or facsimile and may be in counterparts. Importantly, the parties may not object to the enforceability of an agreement on the ground that communication technology was used for participation in the mediation conference if such use was authorized. Similar language is found in Rule 1.750 in regard to county court mediation. The communication technology provisions also apply to appellate mediation and are found in revised Florida Rules of Appellate Procedure 9.700, 9.720 and 9.740. These amendments become effective October 1, 2022 and recognize the sea change that took place during court closures. The shift to remote proceedings helped ease a backlog of cases by litigants being able to access hearings and alternative dispute resolution though Zoom and other available online platforms to resolve matters. See complete opinion here--