CIVIL PROCEDURE - HENLEY V. STATE FARM MUTUAL AUTO INSURANCE CO.
Henley v. State Farm Mut. Auto Ins. Co.
[Ms. 2140560, Dec. 4, 2015] __ So. 3d __ (Ala. Civ. App. 2015). A judgment as a matter of law cannot be entered against a party unless that party has been fully heard on an issue. The granting of a motion for partial summary judgment can limit the issues to be tried. Henley was injured in a collision that was indisputably the fault of the other driver, Barbour. Both drivers were insured by State Farm. Henley accepted $50,000 in settlement and released Barbour. Through different counsel, Henley later sued State Farm for underinsured motorist coverage. The circuit court entered a partial summary judgment in her favor, holding that Barbour was at fault and the only issues were causation and damages. During the trial, counsel for State Farm raised the release as a defense. Henley's counsel objected to the injection of an issue not allowed by the partial summary-judgment order, but the circuit court – a different judge from the one who had entered the partial summary-judgment order – overruled that objection and granted JML for State Farm based on the release even before Henley was allowed to testify that she did not intend for the release to apply to her underinsured motorist claim against State Farm. Both because State Farm had not objected to the limitation of issues provided in the partial summary-judgment order and because the JML was entered before Henley was allowed to testify as to her intentions in executing the release, the judgment is reversed. Judge Moore concurs in the result, emphasizing that releases "'must have effect according to their terms and the intentions of the parties thereto.'" Judge Moore's special concurrence, quoting Ala. Code 1975, § 12-21-109 (emphasis added by Judge Moore).
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