Civil Procedure: BLOSE V. HUMANA, INC. (COA 7/26/2006)

CIVIL PROCEDURE:  SUMMARY JUDGMENT (allowing plaintiff to complete discovery)
Date Rendered:  7/26/2006

This appeal arises from summary judgment granted by Judge Martin McDonald in the Jefferson Circuit Court in favor of Humana dismissing the plaintiff’s claims and denying her request for the opportunity to conduct discovery.

The underlying claims were over harassment and discrimination allegations against Humana who defended asserting the Plaintiff, Colleen Blose, who was afflicted with cerebral palsy, had signed a settlement agreement and release upon her termination from employment.  Blose claimed it was explained to her differently and she was denied a copy of that document.

Humana quickly (39 days after the complaint had been filed) filed a motion to dismiss under CR 12, and the COA agreed with Blose that the trial court erred in considering matters outside of the record.  Humana sought summary judgment (and per Blose recognized that the trial court considered matters outside of the record in support of its motion to dismiss) and in response to that motion, Blose sought time to conduct discovery, but the circuit court did not accede to the request. Blose asserts that the court should not have granted summary judgment once she requested additional time to conduct discovery

Blose also asserted in affidavits that her supervisor never told her that the Release and Agreement contained a waiver of her right to pursue a claim against Humana: the supervisor told her that the document was nothing more than a confidentiality agreement. And, she claimed, she was never given an opportunity to read the Release and Agreement. Blose also said that she was not allowed to remove the document from Humana’s premises, was not given a copy of the document, and had no opportunity to consult with an attorney before signing it. At the termination conference, Blose maintained, her supervisor simply turned to the document’s signature page and told her to sign it after insisting that if she did not sign the document, she would not receive her last paycheck or any severance pay. Blose argued, based on her recitation of the facts, that the Release and Agreement was invalid because she was fraudulently induced to sign it. Alternatively, she argued that she signed the Release and Agreement under duress because Humana threatened to withhold her last paycheck if she failed to do so.

Relying on Smart v. Gillette Co. Long-Term Disability Plan and Finz v. Schlesinger, as well as other federal cases, Blose argues that a fact finder (either the circuit court or a jury) was required to evaluate the validity of the Release and Agreement under the totality of the circumstances to determine whether she signed it knowingly and voluntarily.

Robersom v. Lampton must be interpreted narrowly as holding that summary judgment may not properly be entered before the respondent has had an opportunity to complete discovery, rather than that a movant must to produce evidence.

Given the rapid chain of events, Blose did not have an adequate opportunity to complete discovery. Thus, the circuit court acted precipitously when it granted summary judgment before discovery reasonably could be completed.  COA vacated the SJ and remanded to the trial court.

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