Evidence Required When Seeking Defensive Summary Judgment

I love it when I get to report on my own victories. Today the Fifth District reversed a trial court’s grant of summary judgment in a personal injury case, on two important grounds. From a procedural nerd standpoint, the Court correctly held that the defendants could not get summary judgment by simply quoting the plaintiff’s deposition and arguing “he doesn’t have evidence.” The Court reiterated that “[t]he lack of convincing evidence in favor of a party opposing summary judgment is not the same as conclusive evidence in favor of the party seeking summary judgment.” A defendant seeking summary judgment “cannot simply allege that the plaintiff’s evidence may not be sufficient, but must in fact present evidence “establishing a lack of liability on their part.” The Court therefore reversed the grant of summary judgment to the parties that simply argued “he doesn’t have any evidence.”

But just as important is the Court’s interpretation of the release signed by the Plaintiff. The injury arose when Plaintiff Owen Peterson attended a paintball competition and surrounding expo at Disney World. He was hit in the head at the expo, and went to the hospital for his injuries. He was cleared for paintball, and so came back and the next day signed a release so he could participate in the paintball competition, which he did. Once he got home, he realized his head injury was worse than he initially realized, and eventually sued Disney and the vendor whose item hit him in the head. Disney sought summary judgment based on the release, which stated that it applied to injuries sustained “before, during and after” participation in the Event. The court ruled:

Our analysis of this post-claim release must evaluate whether both parties knowingly gave clear and valid consideration in the Waiver. The Waiver specifically stated, “In consideration of my and/or my child or ward’s participation in the Sport Type(s) and Event referenced above and any related activities (collectively, the ‘Event’),
wherever the Event may occur, I agree to assume all risks incidental to such participation.” The Waiver further notified the “Participant” that by signing the Waiver he declared himself “physically fit” and possessing “the skill level required to participate in the Event and/or any such activities.” This language clearly focused the signatory on the paintball competition, not the vendor area. The parties further admitted that Disney did not require people accessing only the vendor area to sign the Waiver.

We reject Disney’s argument that the Waiver’s reference to injuries suffered “before, during or after such participation” included the November 8 incident. The Waiver failed to clarify that it included any incident that occurred before its signing, and thus failed to notify Peterson of a post-claim release.

The case is Peterson v. Flare Fittings, Inc., Case No. 5D13-2235 (5th DCA Oct. 9, 2015)[.pdf]. This was one of the first cases I took on when I opened the doors to DPW Legal back in 2013. As the opinion notes, Peterson opposed the case pro se, after his prior attorney withdrew on the eve of trial soon after the Defendants filed their motions for summary judgment. To turn a pro se loss into an appellate win is just sweet as can be. So pleased to have gotten such a great result for my client.

Backlogged Clerk’s Office Doesn’t (Necessarily) Thwart Appeal

If you send a notice of appeal to the trial clerk, and they don’t stamp it, is it timely? It may be in the Fifth District, if you can prove that you got it to the clerk on time.

In Ocr-EDS, Inc. v. S & S Enter., Inc., No. 5D09-4330 (March 12, 2010)[.pdf], the Appellant’s Attorney’s secretary swore that she sent the notice of appeal to the Seminole County Clerk of Court via Fedex next day delivery on November 19, and the certificate of service reflected that date as well. She testified by affidavit that she called the clerk’s office to confirm the Notice had been received, and was told it was, it would not be processed for a week, but that the correct date would be on it. A staffer in the clerk’s office testified by affidavit to the authenticity of her signature on the FedEx receipt and that she actually did receive the FedEx package on November 20, which would have been timely. But the notice was not stamped by the clerk’s office until after that date, and so the Appellee filed a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction.

What I find fascinating about this case is the difference of approach between the Fifth DCA and the Fourth in dealing with this issue of late. The Fourth DCA ruled that Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.080(e), which was added in 1984, means that the clerk’s stamp is conclusive of the date of filing of a document. Employing the tenet of statutory interpretation that like statutes should be read in pari materia, the Fifth DCA explained that the trial court has the power to correct clerical mistakes in judgements and “other parts of the record” pursuant to Rule 1.540(a). Dubbing an erroneous time stamp to be “clearly a clerical mistake,” the Court remanded for an evidentiary hearing before the trial court to allow that court the opportunity to determine whether there had been a clerical mistake, and if so, to correct the error. The Court concluded that “A rule that would deny a citizen who has timely sought an appeal his or her
right to appeal based upon a proven mistake by a clerk’s office employee is not
consistent with justice or due process.”

Keep in eye on this issue. With clerk’s offices state wide clearly backlogged, and conflict already certified, it is going to make it’s way up to the Florida Supreme Court sooner rather than later.

Update: These parties have asked the Florida Supreme Court to take up the issue. Keep an eye on Docket No. SC10-849.

Appealing Confirmation of an Arbitration Award? No Rule, No Jurisdiction

The Third District Court of Appeal held (.pdf) it has no jurisdiction to review a trial court order confirming an arbitration award. What makes the case slightly interesting is that there is a provision of the Arbitration Code, Section 682.20, Fla. Stat., that purports to specifically allow such appeals. The Court joined its sister District, however, in holding that the statute doesn’t meet the jurisdictional requirements of the Florida Constitution, which holds that review of non final orders can be made only ‘the extent provided by rules adopted by the supreme court.’ Without a Florida Rule of Appellate Procedure, there is no jurisdiction.