One of the key stages in any commercial litigation occurs when one side asks the trial court to award summary judgment. A successful motion means securing a victory without the expense and stress of a trial. Unsuccessfully defending against such a motion means the exact opposite — losing without ever even making it to trial. One key in defending against these motions is showing that there does exist at least some sort of factual dispute that requires a trial to resolve. One party to a commercial contract succeeded in persuading the 3d District Court of Appeal to throw out a summary judgment against it because it had proof of precisely such a factual dispute.
The source of this litigation was payment upon a contract. Specifically, American Construction and Repairs entered into an oral contract with JVN Holdings, Inc., and two individuals, Mark Weider and Natalie Weider, for construction services on two residential properties. The agreement called for American to receive an hourly rate for labor and receive reimbursement for all materials and third-party labor. American allegedly didn’t get paid and, as a result, sued for breach of contract.
Once the pre-trial discovery was finished in the case, American asked the trial court to issue a summary judgment in its favor. JVN and the Weiders had not disputed the amount that was due and owing under the contract, American argued, and therefore there was no factual dispute that would require a trial. On the eve of the court hearing on American’s summary judgment request, JVN and the Weiders sought court permission to amend their filings in the case to add a counterclaim against American. The trial court rejected JVN’s request due to its timing (being on the eve of the summary judgment hearing), and the court also issued a summary judgment in American’s favor.
JVN appealed and was successful. The only reason that a trial court should issue a summary judgment is if there are no potential factual disputes remaining in the case. The appeals court determined that, although Mark Weider’s deposition testimony was “not a model of clarity,” there were instances in which Weider identified disputes regarding certain amounts billed by American, as well as challenges regarding the reasonableness of some other amounts American charged.
In addition to Weider’s testimony, JVN also presented the testimony of an expert witness, Jeri Goodkin Dausey, a licensed general contractor, who also challenged the reasonableness of certain charges. These matters clearly amounted to relevant factual disputes, the court decided, and precluded an award of summary judgment at this point in the case.
JVN also should have been allowed to amend its answer in the case. The law allows parties to amend their complaints or answers unless it would prejudice the other side, the requesting party has already abused the amendment process, or amending the pleading would be futile. Since there was no evidence that JVN’s amendment would prejudice American, that JVN had abused the amendment process, or that the counterclaim JVN sought would be a hopeless cause, the trial court should have allowed the amendment.
Commercial litigation can be like a puzzle with many pieces. Complaints. Answers. Counterclaims. Summary judgments. Whether you are seeking recovery or are defending a case, Florida counsel experienced in commercial litigation can offer you numerous benefits. The skilled Florida commercial litigation attorneys at Stok Folk + Kon have a long track record of representing both plaintiffs and defendants in commercial litigation cases and helping them work toward a successful result.
Contact us online or by calling (305) 935-4440 to schedule your consultation.
More blog posts:
Offers of Judgment and Commercial Litigation in Florida, Florida Business Lawyers Blog, Dec. 4, 2015
Default Judgment Blocks Arguments About Liability in Florida Contract Dispute Case, Florida Business Lawyers Blog, Nov. 11, 2015