County Civil Court: INSURANCE – summary judgment – trial court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of insurer based on finding that there was a valid assignment of benefits from the insured to the medical provider – assignment was missing critical terms, including the name of the medical provider and the insurance company – summary judgment is improper when assignment lends itself to more than one interpretation - Final Judgment reversed.  Arnold v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Ins. Co., Appeal No. 06-0012AP-88A (Fla. 6th Cir. App. Ct. Feb. 7, 2007). 

 

IN THE CIRCUIT COURT FOR THE SIXTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT

IN AND FOR PINELLAS COUNTY, FLORIDA

APPELLATE DIVISION

 

JESSICA B. ARNOLD,

                        Appellant,

vs.                                                                                        Appeal No. 06-0012AP-88A

                                                                                            UCN522006P000012XXXXCV

STATE FARM MUTUAL AUTOMOBILE

INSURANCE COMPANY,

                        Appellee.

____________________________________/

Appeal from Pinellas County Court

 

Tyrone Zdravko, Esquire

Attorney for Appellant

 

Robert H. Oxendine, Esquire

Attorney for Appellee

 

 

ORDER AND OPINION

 

            THIS CAUSE came before the Court on appeal, filed by Jessica B. Arnold (Arnold), from the Final Judgment, entered December 25, 2005.  Upon review of the briefs, the record and being otherwise fully advised, the Court reverses the trial court’s ruling as set forth below.

The record shows that, on January 12, 2005, Arnold filed a Complaint against State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company (State Farm) seeking damages for unpaid PIP benefits claimed by Arnold as a result of injuries she sustained in an automobile accident.  State Farm filed its Answer followed by its Motion for Summary Judgment alleging that Arnold had assigned her benefits to Raveling Chiropractic Center (Raveling) and therefore lacked standing to bring suit for outstanding bills.  State Farm attached a document titled “Assignment of Benefits” (Assignment) to its Motion which was signed by Arnold and a witness.  The Assignment did not identify the medical provider nor the insurance company.  The trial court granted summary judgment finding that Arnold had executed a valid assignment of benefits to Raveling.    

            The issue before this Court is whether the trial court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of State Farm based on its finding that there was a valid assignment of benefits from Arnold to Raveling.  The Court conducts a de novo review of summary judgment.  Summary judgment can only be granted when the moving party irrefutably establishes that the nonmoving party cannot prevail.  See Hervey v. Alfonso, 650 So.2d 644, 645-46 (Fla. 2d DCA 1995).  As emphasized by the Second District Court of Appeal in Hervey, “if the record reflects the existence of any genuine issue of material fact or the possibility of any issue, or if the record raises even the slightest doubt that an issue might exist, that doubt must be resolved against the moving party and summary judgment must be denied.”  Id.  If there are no genuine issues of material fact, then the correctness of a summary judgment is reviewed as a question of law.   See Hartford Insurance Company of the Southeast v. St. Mary’s Hospital, Inc., 771 So.2d 1210, 1212 (Fla. 4th DCA 2000).

                In reviewing whether there was a valid assignment from Arnold to Raveling, the Court finds that an unqualified assignment transfers to the assignee all the interest of the assignor under the contract so that the assignee no longer can make a claim on the contract after the assignment is complete, unless authorized by the assignee.  See Livingston v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company, 774 So.2d 716, 718 (Fla. 2d DCA 2000).  An assignment of benefits is a contract that can be revoked only by mutual agreement of the parties.  See Hartford Insurance Company of the Midwest v. O’Connor, 855 So.2d 189, 191 (Fla. 5th DCA 2003).  When the words of a contract are clear and definite, they must be construed as written and can be given no other meaning.  See Institutional & Supermarket Equipment, Inc. v. C & S Refrigeration, 609 So.2d 66, 68 (Fla. 4th DCA 1992). 

            In this case, the trial court erred in entering summary judgment in favor of State Farm as the Assignment was not clear and definite, and created material issues of fact.  The Assignment was missing critical terms, including the name of the medical provider and the name of the insurance company.  The testimony of the medical provider, Dr. Raveling, also shows that he did not consider the Assignment to be “instituted” or complete without this information.  Since the Assignment lends itself to more than one interpretation and different inferences can be drawn therefrom, the Court concludes that summary judgment was improper.  See Yardum v. Scalese, 799 So.2d 382, 383 (Fla. 4th DCA 2001); see also Hervey, supra.  Therefore, it is,

            ORDERED AND ADJUDGED that the Final Judgment is reversed and this cause is remanded for action consistent with this Order and Opinion.  It is further

            ORDERED AND ADJUDGED that the Appellee’s Motion for Attorney’s Fees and Costs is denied. 

            DONE AND ORDERED in Chambers, at Clearwater, Pinellas County, Florida this ______ of February 2007.

 

                                                         ________________________________

                                                         R. TIMOTHY PETERS

                                                         Circuit Judge, Appellate Division

 

 

 

 

______________________________                        ______________________________

GEORGE M. JIROTKA                                          CYNTHIA J. NEWTON

Circuit Judge, Appellate Division                                   Circuit Judge, Appellate Division

Copies furnished to:

 

Judge Myra Scott McNary

 

Tyrone Zdravko, Esquire

3411 Palm Harbor Blvd., Suite A

Palm Harbor, FL  34683

 

Robert H. Oxendine, Esquire

14428 Bruce B. Downs Blvd.

Tampa, FL  33613