Let’s say a money judgment has been entered against your client, and you want to prevent your opponent from executing on that judgment while your appeal is pending. In most cases, the filing of a notice of appeal does not automatically stay the judgment. See generally Fla. R. App. P. 9.310; but see Fla. R. App. P. 9.310(b)(2). So what do you have to do to obtain a stay of the money judgment? The answer to that question depends on the district in which you are located.
Florida Rule of Appellate Procedure 9.310(b) Governs Stays of Money Judgments
Florida Rule of Appellate Procedure 9.310 governs the issuance of stays pending an appeal. Rule 9.310(b)(1) provides for an automatic stay of a judgment that is “solely for the payment of money” upon the posting of a good and sufficient bond. Specifically, the rule provides:
If the order is a judgment solely for the payment of money, a party may obtain an automatic stay of execution pending review, without the necessity of a motion or order, by posting a good and sufficient bond equal to the principal amount of the judgment plus twice the statutory rate of interest on judgments on the total amount on which the party has an obligation to pay interest. Multiple parties having common liability may file a single bond satisfying the above criteria.
Fla. R. App. P. 9.310(b)(1). This rule is self-executing. Thus, if the procedure set forth in Rule 9.310(b)(1) is followed, it is not necessary to file a motion with the trial court seeking a stay of the judgment because the stay goes into effect upon the posting of the bond. Taplin v. Salamone, 422 So. 2d 92 (Fla. 4th DCA 1982).
Scope of Rule 9.310(b)(1)
By its plain language, Rule 9.310(b)(1) applies only when the judgment is “solely for the payment of money.” In other words, the rule applies when the only relief granted is for the payment of money. If the judgment grants monetary and other relief, Rule 9.310(b)(1) is inapplicable, and the party seeking the stay must file a motion to stay with the trial court in accordance with Rule 9.310(a).
Determining whether a judgment is “solely for the payment of money” is not always as simple as it sounds. For instance, appellate courts have held that the following types of judgments and orders do not fall within the scope of Rule 9.310(b)(1): an order directing the disbursement of a specific fund, Zuckerman v. Hofrichter & Quiat, P.A., 622 So. 2d 1 (Fla. 3d DCA 1993); an order directing the clerk to disburse funds held in the court registry, Wilson v. Woodward, 602 So. 2d 545 (Fla. 2d DCA 1991); an order holding a former husband in contempt for failure to make certain payments and requiring him to make payments by a certain date, Pabian v. Pabian, 469 So. 2d 189 (Fla. 4th DCA 1985); an order requiring payment of accrued child support, Grabel v. Grabel, 425 So. 2d 1220 (Fla. 3d DCA 1983); an order approving a personal representative’s recommended distribution of an estate, Dice v. Cameron, 424 So. 2d 173 (Fla. 3d DCA 1983); and a final judgment ordering a trustee to pay accumulated trust funds, Fla. Coast Bank of Pompano Beach v. Mayes, 433 So. 2d 1033 (Fla. 4th DCA 1983).
DCA Split as to Whether Rule 9.310(b)(1) Provides the Exclusive Method of Staying Money Judgment
All districts recognize that a litigant may obtain a stay of a money judgment by posting a bond in accordance with Rule 9.310(b)(1). But does that mean that the posting of a bond is the only way in which to obtain a stay of a money judgment? The short answer is that it depends on the district in which the trial court is located.
The Third and Fourth District Courts of Appeal have held that the posting of a bond in accordance with Rule 9.310(b)(1) is the exclusive method of obtaining a stay of a money judgment, and that trial courts have no discretion to stay a money judgment absent the posting of a full bond. Mellon United Nat’l Bank v. Cochran, 776 So. 2d 964 (Fla. 3d DCA 2000); Caruso v. Caruso, 932 So. 2d 457 (Fla. 4th DCA 2006).
The First and Second Districts have held that Rule 9.310(b) is not the only avenue through which to stay a money judgment. The Second District has held that the trial court has discretion to grant a stay absent a full bond, but such discretion should be used with great care. Platt v. Russek, 921 So. 2d 5 (Fla. 2d DCA 2004). However, the trial court does not have the authority to stay a judgment without imposing any conditions on the judgment debtor. Id. The First District recently held that the trial court has authority, upon a motion filed under Rule 9.310(a), to stay a money judgment on conditions other than a bond, as long as the conditions are adequate to ensure payment. Silver Beach Towers Prop. Owners Ass’n, Inc. v. Silver Beach Invs. of Destin, LC, 231 So. 3d 494 (Fla. 1st DCA 2017).
The Fifth District is the only district that has not yet weighed in on the issue. Therefore, trial courts within the Fifth District are free to choose either position.
Florida Supreme Court Declines to Weigh In On the Issue
In Silver Beach, the First District certified conflict with the decisions of the Third and Fourth Districts on this issue, but the Florida Supreme Court, in a 4-3 vote, declined to exercise jurisdiction. Justice Lewis, joined by Justices Pariente and Quince, strongly dissented from this decision. As Justice Lewis put it:
[T]oday’s decision by the Majority to not accept jurisdiction results in a state judicial system in which money judgments entered in one jurisdiction are less reliable than those entered in a bordering jurisdiction . . . . As a result, we now have a state expressly, directly, and sharply divided on an issue that is very basic and fundamental both to the proper functioning of a judicial hierarchy and to a society that leans on that hierarchy for predictability and stability. This unequal treatment threatens the ability of Floridians to be fully compensated when they seek redress in our courts and secure a judgment through due process. . . . As the highest court of this State and the one court responsible for the Rules of Appellate Procedure and the proper application, we are best equipped to interpret the plain language of our own rule. We should not contribute to the uncertainty through willful inaction.
Silver Beach Invs. of Destin, LC v. Silver Beach Towers Prop. Owners Ass’n, Inc., 223 So. 3d 997, 998-99 (Fla. 2017). The dissent also cited concerns that the decision would result in forum-shopping and increased litigation costs attributable to the need for more hearings on motions for stay in the First and Second Districts.
At least for the near future, the DCA split over staying money judgments will remain unresolved.