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
vs. Appeal No. 06-0012AP-88A
Appeal from Pinellas County
Tyrone Zdravko, Esquire
Attorney for Appellant
Robert H. Oxendine, Esquire
Attorney for Appellee
ORDER AND OPINION
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
(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).
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,
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.
ORDERED in Chambers, at Clearwater,
______ of February 2007.
R. TIMOTHY PETERS
Circuit Judge, Appellate Division
GEORGE M. JIROTKA CYNTHIA
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