The claims of the Florida drivers stand or fall on the common question of whether FedEx properly classified them as independent contractors. In Florida, “[i]t is well-established that the question of an employer/employee relationship is generally a question of fact, and therefore a question for the trier of fact.” Pate v. Gilmore, 647 So. 2d 235, 236 (Fla. 1st DCA 1994). Accord Villazon v. Prudential Health Care Plan, Inc., 843 So. 2d 842, 853 (Fla. 2003) (“The existence of an agency relationship is normally one for the trier of fact to decide.”). Nevertheless, the general default rule does not always apply, and Florida courts have not hesitated to grant summary judgment on the employee/independent contractor question when the circumstances warrant. See, e.g., Miami Herald Pub. Co. v. Kendall, 88 So. 2d 276, 279 (Fla. 1956).
After all, employee/independent contractor cases are necessarily fact-intensive, and the general rule in Florida is that whether a worker is an employee is usually a question of fact. Factually speaking, Del Pilar [where an appellate court reversed a grant of summary judgment] is the closest Florida opinion we have, and we cannot say that the Florida Supreme Court would have decided that case different…. Although we recognize that Del Pilar is not binding in the Rule 56/summary judgment sense -- because federal law determines whether the evidence suffices to entitle a party to summary judgment -- it is nevertheless highly informative given that it involves the same package delivery industry and that Florida’s summary judgment standard is very similar to that of Rule 56.
Erie and its progeny have opted for vertical uniformity in diversity cases, so that with respect to substantive law a case filed in federal court will be handled in the same way as it would be in the courts of the state where the federal court sits. By ruling consistently with Del Pilar, we ensure that this case is decided in a Florida federal court as it would be in a Florida state court, and thereby discourage forum shopping as between federal and state courts in Florida and prevent the inequitable administration of the law.