(a)     Appearance. On the date and time appointed in the summons/notice to appear, the plaintiff and defendant shall appear personally or by counsel, subject to subdivision (b).

(b)     Summons/Notice to Appear; Pretrial Conference. The summons/notice to appear shall specify that the initial appearance shall be for a pretrial conference. The initial pretrial conference shall be set by the clerk not more than 50 days from the date of the filing of the action. In the event the summons/notice to appear is non-served and the return of service is filed 5 days before the pretrial conference, the pretrial conference shall be canceled by the court as to any non-served party. The plaintiff may request a new summons/notice to appear and include a new initial appearance date for the pretrial conference. The pretrial conference may be managed by nonjudicial personnel employed by or under contract with the court. Nonjudicial personnel must be subject to direct oversight by the court. A judge must be available to hear any motions or resolve any legal issues. At the pretrial conference, all of the following matters shall be considered:

(1)      The simplification of issues.

(2)      The necessity or desirability of amendments to the pleadings.

(3)      The possibility of obtaining admissions of fact and of documents that avoid unnecessary proof.

(4)      The limitations on the number of witnesses.

(5)      The possibilities of settlement.

(6)      Such other matters as the court in its discretion deems necessary.

Form 7.322 shall and form 7.323 may be used in conjunction with this rule.

(c)     Defensive Pleadings. Unless required by order of court, written pretrial motions and defensive pleadings are not necessary. If filed, copies of such pleadings shall be served on all other parties to the action at or prior to the pretrial conference or within such time as the court may designate. The filing of a motion or a defensive pleading shall not excuse the personal appearance of a party or attorney on the initial appearance date (pretrial conference).

(d)     Trial Date. The court shall set the case for trial not more than 60 days from the date of the pretrial conference. Notice of at least 10 days of the time of trial shall be given. The parties may stipulate to a shorter or longer time for setting trial with the approval of the court. This rule does not apply to actions to which chapter 51, Florida Statutes, applies.

(e)     Waiver of Appearance at Pretrial Conference. Where all parties are represented by an attorney, counsel may agree to waive personal appearance at the initial pretrial conference, if a written agreement of waiver signed by all attorneys is presented to the court prior to or at the pretrial conference. The agreement shall contain a short statement of the disputed issues of fact and law, the number of witnesses expected to testify, an estimate of the time needed to try the case, and any stipulations of fact. The court shall forthwith set the case for trial within the time prescribed by these rules.

(f)      Appearance at Mediation; Sanctions. In small claims actions, an attorney may appear on behalf of a party at mediation if the attorney has full authority to settle without further consultation. Unless otherwise ordered by the court, a nonlawyer representative may appear on behalf of a party to a small claims mediation if the representative has the party’s signed written authority to appear and has full authority to settle without further consultation. In either event, the party need not appear in person. Mediation may take place at the pretrial conference. Whoever appears for a party must have full authority to settle. Failure to comply with this subdivision may result in the imposition [of] costs and attorney fees incurred by the opposing party.

(g)     Agreement. Any agreements reached as a result of small claims mediation shall be written in the form of a stipulation. The stipulation may be entered as an order of the court.