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C R Mall, Inc. v. Sears, Roebuck & Co. - 667 So. 2d 1016 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1996)

Rule:

Where a latent ambiguity exists, the issue of the correct interpretation of the agreement becomes an issue of fact which precludes summary judgment.

Facts:

Defendant C R Mall, Inc. ("Mall"), appealed from a summary final judgment entered in favor of the codefendant below, Sears Roebuck and Co. (“Sears”), in respect to Sears' cross-claim against Mall for contractual indemnification. This suit arose when Joan and William Harper sued Mall and Sears for injuries allegedly received when she was struck by an automatic sliding glass door while exiting a Sears store at the Crystal River Mall, owned by Mall. In response to the complaint by the Harpers, Mall filed a cross-claim for contractual indemnification against Sears alleging that the latter agreed "to be responsible for maintenance of the door." Sears responded by filing its own cross-claim for contractual indemnification against Mall, and both defendants moved for summary judgment on their respective cross-claims. The trial court granted Sears’ motion for summary judgment, holding that the terms of the lease were clear and unambiguous and that the exterior automatic doors were the responsibility of Mall.

Issue:

Where a contract contained a latent ambiguity in respect to the maintenance of exterior automatic doors, did the trial court err in granting Sears’ motion for summary judgment and holding that the terms of the lease were clear and unambiguous?

Answer:

Yes

Conclusion:

The Court of Appeal of Florida reversed the entry of summary judgment after determining that the contract contained a latent ambiguity in respect to the maintenance of the doors; thus, the issue of the correct interpretation precluded summary judgment. Moreover, the Court held that the trial court should have considered extrinsic evidence of the parties' intent with regard to the automatic doors. The Court agreed with Mall that the contract containseda latent ambiguity in respect to the maintenance of the exterior automatic doors. There was a legitimate question as to whether Mall was responsible for "the functions of the doors" as opposed to "anything outside the door of the premises." 

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