A recent United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit case set out an extensive definition and explanation of summary judgment. Summary judgment occurs when there are “no genuine dispute[s] as to any material fact.” That is, both parties agree with all of the facts that are used to determine the case. A “material fact” is one that could affect the overall outcome of the case based on the applicable law. When summary judgments are appealed, the appeals court uses a de novo standard–they look at all the facts and apply the same standards as the lower court would. They examine the facts “in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” However, the court will not just accept unsubstantiated allegations in favor of the nonmoving party; the claims have to have some support. The nonmoving party is the party that won summary judgment in the lower court, so the moving party is the party that is contesting the summary judgment.
When examining a summary judgment on appeal, the moving party has the burden of proving that summary judgment is inappropriate. In order to do that, the moving party must show that there is some dispute regarding a material fact. The burden is somewhat light if the moving party would not have the burden if the case went to trial. Instead, the moving party would only have to show, “that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party’s case” instead of proving that the evidence may weigh in the moving party’s favor. Once the moving party has proven their burden, then the nonmoving party will take the burden and must counter the moving party’s arguments.
In the Fifth Circuit case, a homeowner alleged that Hurricane Ike caused damage to his roof that his insurance company should cover. His roof was leaking and he pointed out that the wind likely damaged his roof, causing water leaks. State Farm, his insurance company, completed an evaluation of the roof and determined that he was missing four shingles, had four damaged ridge caps and had acquired one fresh interior water spot. State Farm concluded that most of the damage that the plaintiff complained of was actually damage that could have only occurred over several years due to deterioration or faulty workmanship when the roof was installed. The State Farm insurance policy did not cover these two latter instances, but provided reimbursement for the damaged shingles, ridge caps, and the new water spot in the ceiling. State Farm awarded roughly $450.00.
The plaintiff was very unhappy with this result and conducted damage evaluations of its own, each of which concluded that the damage was considerably higher than State Farm provided. However, these damage reports did not mention how the damage was caused; they just explained how much it would cost to fix the water damage as a whole. State Farm also conducted damage evaluations that separated any damage likely caused by Hurricane Ike and damage caused by leaking over time. Their evaluations were consistent with what they already awarded the plaintiff.
Based on the various evaluations, the lower court granted summary judgment for State Farm and the Fifth Circuit affirmed that decision. The Fifth Circuit found that the plaintiff, as the moving party, could not meet his burden to override the summary judgment determination. The Court found that the evaluations as to any damage that Hurricane Ike may have caused were extremely important in this case. Since the only wind damage would have been related to the missing shingles, damaged ridge caps, and small water spot, and State Farm already paid for that, the Court found no reason to override the summary judgment.
Once summary judgment has been awarded, it is somewhat difficult to overcome on appeal.
However, The Berniard Law Firm can help you with your claim if you are fighting against a summary judgment. Call toll free 1-866-574-8005 to speak with one of our knowledgeable attorneys today.