Case No. 2D18-3149
Ronald G. Wendel, pro se. Brian J. Aungst, Jr. and Todd A. Jennings of Macfarlane Ferguson & McMullen, Clearwater, for Appellee.
NOT FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE REHEARING MOTION AND, IF FILED, DETERMINED Appeal from the Circuit Court for Pinellas County; George M. Jirotka, Judge. Ronald G. Wendel, pro se. Brian J. Aungst, Jr. and Todd A. Jennings of Macfarlane Ferguson & McMullen, Clearwater, for Appellee. KELLY, Judge.
Ronald Wendel appeals from the final summary judgment entered in favor of the Trustees of Mease Hospital, Inc., d/b/a Mease Countryside Hospital (Mease), in a premises liability action. Mr. Wendel worked as a volunteer at Mease Hospital. After he was diagnosed with Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA) he sued Mease alleging he contracted MRSA because of the hospital's negligence.
Mease moved for summary judgment arguing there was no causal connection between the alleged conduct of Mease and Mr. Wendel's MRSA infection. Specifically, Mease argued it was entitled to summary judgment because Mr. Wendel had "presented absolutely no evidence that his MRSA infection is causally connected to his volunteer work at Mease." In support of its motion, Mease cited Greene v. Flewelling, 366 So. 2d 777 (Fla. 2d DCA 1978), for the proposition that in a negligence case the plaintiff has the burden of proof and "must introduce evidence which affords a reasonable basis for the conclusion that it is more likely than not that the conduct of the defendant was a substantial factor in bringing about the result." Id. at 781 (quoting William L. Prosser, The Law of Torts 241 (4th ed. 1971)). The trial court cited Greene as the basis for granting Mease's motion for summary judgment. This was error.
In Greene, this court was reviewing the propriety of a trial court order granting a posttrial motion for judgment in accordance with a motion for directed verdict. The standard for granting such a motion is whether at the close of the evidence, "there is no evidence or reasonable inferences to support the nonmoving party's position." Id. at 779-80. The trial court granted the defendant's motion after concluding the plaintiff had not carried "his burden of demonstrating that [the defendant's] negligence was the legal cause of" his damages. Id. at 780. This is not the standard Florida trial courts apply when deciding whether to grant a defendant's motion for summary judgment on causation in a negligence case.
The Florida Supreme Court has held that on a motion for summary judgment, the party moved against has no burden to come forward with evidence unless the moving party conclusively proves the nonexistence of a genuine triable issue of fact. Holl v. Talcott, 191 So. 2d 40, 43-44 (Fla. 1966). This court has gone as far as to say that "even the slightest doubt that an issue might exist" renders summary judgment improper. Snyder v. Cheezem Dev. Corp., 373 So. 2d 719, 720 (Fla. 2d DCA 1979). While at trial Mr. Wendel would have the burden to prove a causal relationship between the hospital's alleged negligent acts and his injury, on a motion for summary judgment the burden was on Mease as the moving party to conclusively show that "no causal relationship exists and trial of it is no longer required." Visingardi v. Tirone, 193 So. 2d 601, 604-05 (Fla. 1966).
In addition to the Greene case, in moving for summary judgment, Mease, and subsequently the trial court, relied on federal district court cases in which summary judgment had been granted because of a plaintiff's failure to make an adequate showing as to an element she would have to prove at trial. Those cases were decided under the summary judgment standard applicable to federal cases. That standard does not require the moving party to conclusively negate an opposing party's claim before the burden shifts to the nonmoving party. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986). Rather, where the nonmoving party bears the burden of proof on an issue, the moving party need only point out to the court the absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case. Id. at 325. The nonmoving party must then "make a sufficient showing on an essential element of her case with respect to which she has the burden of proof." Id. at 323. This, rather than the standard articulated by the Florida Supreme Court in Holl and Visingardi, was the standard argued by Mease and adopted by the trial court.
The trial court's order granting summary judgment rested entirely on case law articulating the wrong standard for evaluating Mease's motion for summary judgment. See Byrd v. BT Foods, Inc., 948 So. 2d 921, 924 (Fla. 4th DCA 2007) (noting that federal cases based on Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 as interpreted in Celotex "are of limited precedential value in Florida summary judgment cases" because Florida courts place a higher burden on a party moving for summary judgment, requiring the moving party to show conclusively that no material issues remain for trial). Because the trial court applied the wrong legal standard in considering Mease's motion for summary judgment, we reverse the final summary judgment and remand for further proceedings. See Applegate v. Barnett Bank of Tallahassee, 377 So. 2d 1150, 1152 (Fla. 1979) (explaining that a trial court's misconception of the controlling principles of law can constitute grounds for reversal); Knight v. City of Miami, 173 So. 801, 803 (Fla. 1937) ("[A]n appellate court will reverse a judgment or decree harmful to appellant when it appears to have resulted from the judge or chancellor's misconception of the controlling principles of law applicable to the controversy."); Paul v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 68 So. 3d 979, 986 (Fla. 2d DCA 2011) (same).
The Florida Supreme Court recently accepted jurisdiction to answer a certified question in Wilsonart, LLC v. Lopez, SC19-1336, 2019 WL 5188546 (Fla. Oct. 15, 2019). In its order accepting jurisdiction it directed the parties to brief the following questions in addition to the question certified by the district court:
Should Florida adopt the summary judgment standard articulated by the United States Supreme Court in Celotex
Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986), Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242 (1986), and Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574 (1986)? If so, must Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.510 be amended to reflect any change in the summary judgment standard?Id. at *1. As these competing standards for summary judgment are at issue in this case, we adopt the questions articulated by the supreme court in Wilsonart and certify them as ones of great public importance.
Reversed and remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion; questions of great public importance certified. VILLANTI and LaROSE, JJ., Concur.