Friday, October 5, 2012

Summary Judgment Should Not Be Entered With Reservation To Consider Defenses

In Bertha Sanchez and International Restaurants Corp. v. Soleil Builders, Inc., the Fifth District reversed the trial court's summary judgment order. The trial court  entered judgment when affirmative defenses raised by Ms. Sanchez were not considered.  The court stated:
Soleil Builders filed a Motion for Summary Final Judgment.  Several months later, the parties convened for the hearing on the Motion, which resulted in a Partial Summary Final Judgment in favor of Soleil Builders for the total amount it sought.  This judgment is the first reference to Soleil Builders’ motion as having sought only a partial summary judgment:  the court reserved jurisdiction to determine pre-judgment interest and attorney’s fees and “all issues that remain pending before the Court, including deciding the issues raised in the counterclaim filed by the SANCHEZES.”  Sanchez subsequently filed for rehearing of the Partial Summary Final Judgment, contending, among other things, that her affirmative defenses had not been considered at the hearing; Sanchez wanted her defenses heard and the counterclaims considered.  Sanchez argued that since Soleil Builders had failed to refute  her affirmative defenses or address the counterclaims, summary judgment was improper.  Shortly thereafter, Soleil Builders filed its Motion for Summary Final Judgment on Sanchez’s counterclaims.  
When the hearing was held on the second motion for summary judgment, "Soleil Builders essentially contended that the issues  raised in the affirmative defenses and counterclaims had been resolved in the Partial Summary Final Judgment when the court found in favor of Soleil Builders for the total sum it had sought. The trial court entered a Final Summary Judgment on all affirmative defenses and counterclaims without comment." The court continued:
A troubling aspect of this case is the bifurcation of the claims raised in the Complaint from those asserted in Sanchez’s affirmative defenses.  The record does not provide any clue as to how it came to pass that the court rendered only a partial summary final judgment when there was nothing in Soleil Builders’ Motion that would have restricted its Motion to only the counts of its Complaint. Nothing occurred at the summary judgment hearing that suggested that it was agreed or understood that only the claims of the Complaint would be decided and, given the interwoven nature of all of the issues in the Complaint and affirmative defenses, they all should have been decided before summary judgment was entered.  It is well settled that, “[i]n order to be entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law, the party seeking summary judgment must not only establish that no genuine issues of material fact exist as to the party's claims but must also either factually refute the affirmative defenses or establish that they are legally insufficient.” 
Finally, the court concluded:
The problem in entering the Partial  Summary Final Judgment and leaving for another day the issues raised in the affirmative defenses and counterclaims was made all the more apparent when Soleil Builders used the entry of the Partial Summary Final Judgment to successfully argue at the subsequent hearing that the affirmative defenses and counterclaims had already been decided adversely to Sanchez.  In short, the case below was a muddle and reversal is required because of the error that occurred when the trial court entered the two summary judgments without properly addressing the issues raised by the affirmative defenses and counterclaims filed by Sanchez.  Accordingly, the judgments  under review are reversed and this case is remanded for further proceedings.  


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