Florida Record

Monday, September 23, 2019

Florida high court turns down rule change to give leftover class action funds to low-income legal programs


By Karen Kidd | May 21, 2019

Florida Supreme Court. Front row, from left, Justice Ricky Polston, Chief Justice Charles T. Canady and Justice Jorge Labarga. Back row, from left, Justice Robert J. Luck, Justice Alan Lawson, Justice Barbara Lagoa and Justice Carlos G. Muñiz. | floridasupremecourt.org

TALLAHASSEE (Florida Record) — A proposal for class action residual award funds to be given to third parties and, possibly, to organizations to provide legal services to low-income Floridians, was recently turned down by the Florida Supreme Court.

In its four-page opinion handed down May 16, the state court declined to adopt a proposal by two committees of The Florida Bar.

Chief Justice Charles T. Canady and justices Ricky Poston, Alan Lawson, Barbara Lagoa, Robert J. Luck and Carlos G. Muñiz concurred in the opinion. Justice Jorge Labarga recused himself from the matter.

The high court handed down its opinion after considering a joint out-of-cycle report by the Florida Bar’s Civil Procedure Rules Committee and the Pro Bono Legal Services Committee proposing an amendment to the court's civil procedure rules regarding class actions. Under the proposal, class action defendants could be directed to distribute any unpaid residual funds to recipients agreed to by the parties.

Those parties could include "one or more nonprofit, tax-exempt organizations that provides civil legal services to the poor, including the Florida Bar Foundation."

Both committees and the court published the proposal for comment, according to the opinion.

"The committee did not receive any comments," the opinion ruled. "The court received one comment opposing the proposed rule as drafted. The committees filed a joint response to the comment. At the court’s request, the rules committee also filed a supplemental report addressing the court's authority to adopt the proposed rule."

The opinion thanked the two committees and the access commission for their efforts, the latter committee in particular for its work "identifying possible funding sources for nonprofit legal aid organizations" for the civil legal needs of low-income and moderate income Florida residents.

"However, after thoroughly considering the committees' joint report, the rules committee's majority and minority positions on the proposed cy pres rule, and the comment filed, and having heard oral argument, the court declines to adopt the proposed rule," the opinion noted.

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