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Gardner v. Lewis Ford, Inc. - 1988 Tenn. App. LEXIS 767 (Ct. App. Dec. 5, 1988)

Rule:

Summary judgment is to be rendered by a trial court only when it is shown that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Tenn. R Civ. P. 56.03. In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the trial court and the court must consider the matter in the same manner as a motion for a directed verdict made at the close of the plaintiff's proof, i.e., all the evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the opponent of the motion and all legitimate conclusions of fact must be drawn in favor of the opponent. It is only when there is no disputed issue of material fact that a summary judgment should be granted by the trial court and sustained by the court of appeals.

Facts:

On February 5, 1986 Betty and Tommy Gardner negotiated with Lewis Ford, Inc. for the lease of a 1986 Ford Bronco II. In addition to the lease agreement, it was agreed between the parties that Lewis Ford would take as a trade in the Gardners' 1981 Cadillac. At that time, Betty Gardner informed Lewis Ford that the payoff on the Cadillac was approximately $ 4,100.00. Tommy Gardner, with the authorization of his wife, Betty Gardner, signed the latter’s name to the lease and gave a check for the last month's rent and taxes, title and registration fees. Subsequently, Lewis Ford assigned the lease to First Tennessee Bank. Prior to the negotiations, in November of 1985, the Gardners had been notified that the insurance on the Cadillac had lapsed and that First Tennessee would place the premium on the car and would add the amount to the note with interest if insurance was not obtained in the near future. When the lease was signed on February 11, 1986, the Gardners were aware only that an insurance premium would be added in the future. On February 13, 1986, however, a representative of Lewis Ford called Tommy Gardner and asked that an additional $ 294.75 payment, the amount of a lease payment, be made toward the lease agreement. At that time Tommy Gardner refused to pay the additional money and offered to rescind the agreement. This offer was rejected and it was decided that Lewis Ford would accept the original agreement. The premium was added on February 18, 1986. Once the premium was added, Lewis Ford insisted that the Gardners pay the excess due over $ 4,100.00. The Gardners refused, contending that the parties had agreed that Lewis Ford would pay off the Cadillac. Thereafter, a motion for summary judgment was instituted by Lewis Ford wherein the trial court instructed the Gardners either to pay on the lease or to return the Bronco to Lewis Ford. The Gardners opted to return the Bronco to Lewis Ford. The trial court declined to grant summary judgment on any other issues.

Issue:

Did the trial court err in declining to grant summary judgment on several issues in an action for breach of contract?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

On appeal, the Court of Appeals of Tennessee considered Lewis Ford's motion for summary judgment. The record revealed several issues on which there was a serious factual disagreement between the parties, thus requiring a decision on the merits. Therefore, at the time the motion was filed there was a genuine issue of material fact and the trial court correctly denied the defendant's motion for summary judgment. Next, the Court found that the trial court had not abused its discretion in failing to find that Betty Gardner sought equity with unclean hands. According to the Court, Gardner’s failure to disclose the future addition of an insurance premium to the note was a breach of the lease agreement. The Court affirmed the trial court's judgment.

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