A summary judgment can be an important tool and a huge benefit in your commercial litigation case. A summary judgment on liability, for example, means that the court can decide the issue of liability without even having to have a full trial on that. A summary judgment in your favor, if you’re the plaintiff, means that, in addition to your not having to worry about proving liability at trial, it also keeps out any affirmative defenses the other side had if those defenses only relate to the question of liability. To do that though, you need all of the right documentation and other evidence, along with all the proper arguments, which is why it helps to have a knowledgeable Florida landlord-tenant attorney handling your case.
A recent commercial lease dispute case was a good example. The tenant and its landlord had a five-year lease. Like many commercial lease agreements, this one included a guaranty. The guaranty said that the guarantor promised “the due prompt and punctual performance of all obligations of, and the prompt payment when due.”
Problems emerged, the landlord told the tenant to vacate the space and the tenant sued the landlord for illegal self-help because, allegedly, the landlord changed the locks on the space and refused the tenant entry unless it paid rent. The landlord countersued for breach of contract and for unpaid rent. The landlord’s countersuit also named the guarantor as a party.
The landlord asked the trial court to award a summary judgment in its favor against the guarantor, which would declare that the landlord’s pleadings alone were enough to establish conclusively that the guarantor was liable. The trial court sided with the landlord and ordered the summary judgment.
However, the summary judgment did not resolve everything, and the matter went to trial. At the trial, the judge allowed the guarantor to present its affirmative defenses to the jury, even though the defenses dealt with the guarantor’s lack of liability and the judge had already made a ruling as to the guarantor’s liability.
At the trial’s end, the jury concluded that the tenant owed the landlord $200,000, but that the guarantor owed the landlord nothing.
Summary judgment ‘foreclosed’ further litigation, including affirmative defenses
The landlord appealed and was able to obtain a reversal. The appeals court, in ruling in favor of the landlord, explained that a summary judgment functions in the same way as any other final judgment. Once a court enters a judgment, whether it is a judgment on the merits made by a jury after a trial, a judgment on the merits made by a judge after a bench trial or a summary judgment entered by a judge before trial, that judgment is final. Once a final judgment has been issued, all arguments and affirmative defenses related to that part of the dispute are completely prohibited.
In this case, the guarantor’s affirmative defenses related to its lack of liability, but the judge had already issued a summary judgment declaring that the guarantor was liable. As a result of that summary judgment, all “affirmative defenses relating to liability were foreclosed from further litigation” by the guarantor. Letting the guarantor litigate these defenses was an error that harmed the landlord, and so entitled the landlord to a reversal.
Whether you find yourself in a commercial lease dispute or some other type of commercial litigation action, you need to be sure you have the right legal counsel on your side. The skilled South Florida landlord-tenant attorneys at Stok Kon + Braverman are here to help. Our attorneys have many years of experience handling commercial lease cases along with a wide array of other commercial litigation actions.
Contact us online or by calling (954) 237-1777 to schedule your consultation and find out how this firm can help you.