Singletary v. Southeastern Freight Lines, Inc.

Decision Date13 September 1993
Docket NumberNo. 1:92-cv-1647-CAM.,1:92-cv-1647-CAM.
Citation832 F. Supp. 1552
PartiesAmojine Lander SINGLETARY, Plaintiff, v. SOUTHEASTERN FREIGHT LINES, INC., and Liberty Mutual Insurance Company, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Georgia

Bradley Miles Hannan, Kitchens Wolfson Kitchens & Smith, Valdosta, GA, for plaintiff.

Lowell Steven Fine and Mark E. Bergeson, Alembik Fine & Callner, Atlanta, GA, for defendants.


MOYE, District Judge.

This case comes before the Court upon motion for summary judgment by defendants, Southeastern Freight Lines, Inc. (Southeastern) and Liberty Mutual Insurance Company (Liberty Mutual). The defendants argue that plaintiff's personal injury claim is barred by a general release appearing on the back of a check she received, endorsed and cashed. Plaintiff opposes the motion for summary judgment.

Also before the Court is plaintiff's motion for leave to amend the complaint, which defendants oppose.


The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provide that summary judgment "shall be rendered ... when there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and ... the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). "A party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the record `together with the affidavits, if any,' which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2553, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). Adickes v. S.H. Kress and Co., 398 U.S. 144, 159-60, 90 S.Ct. 1598, 1609-10, 26 L.Ed.2d 142 (1970). United States v. Four Parcels of Real Property, 941 F.2d 1428, 1437-38 (11th Cir.1991). The movant's failure to meet this initial burden ends the inquiry and summary judgment should be denied. The non-moving party bears no burden at this juncture.

However, once the initial burden has been met the "burden shifts to the non-moving party to demonstrate that there is indeed a material issue of fact that precludes summary judgment." Clark v. Coats & Clark, Inc., 929 F.2d 604, 608 (11th. Cir.1991). At this point, "the non-moving party must go beyond the pleadings and by affidavits ... or by the `depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file,' designate `specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Russ v. International Paper Co., 943 F.2d 589, 592 (5th Cir.1991), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 112 S.Ct. 1675, 118 L.Ed.2d 393 (1992), (quoting Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324, 106 S.Ct. at 2553). Accord, Four Parcels of Real Property, 941 F.2d at 1437-38.

In determining whether the moving party has met its burden, the Court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. Adickes, 398 U.S. at 158-59. Moreover, "all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Everett v. Napper, 833 F.2d 1507, 1510 (11th Cir.1987). Thus, in order to defeat a motion for summary judgment, the non-moving party need only present evidence "from which a jury might return a verdict in his favor." Samples ex rel. Samples v. City of Atlanta, 846 F.2d 1328, 1330 (11th Cir.1988). However, denials or allegations by the non-moving party in the form of legal conclusions which are unsupported by any specific facts have no probative value, and, thus, are insufficient to create issues of material fact that would preclude summary judgment. Broadway v. City of Montgomery, 530 F.2d 657, 660 (5th Cir. 1976).1 Finally, whether facts are material is determined by the applicable substantive law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).


There is no dispute as to the operative facts. On June 6, 1990 plaintiff, Amojine Lander Singletary, was involved in a collision in Georgia between the automobile she was driving and a truck driven by an employee of defendant Southeastern. Southeastern sent plaintiff a check for the amount of $378.78. The covering letter stated: "enclosed is our check for $378.78 to cover damages to your 1982 Ford Escort in the accident cited above. This amount should compensate any direct costs resulting from the collision." The letter does not refer at all to personal injuries. The back of the check contained the following rubber-stamped provisions:

"this check is complete settlement of any and all claims of any nature against South-eastern Freight Lines and plaintiff's name incorrectly written in endorsement of payee constitutes acceptance in full of any and all claims."

The plaintiff endorsed the check and cashed it. On that same day, plaintiff paid to the automotive repair shop the precise amount of money she had received from Southeastern in full payment of the repairs to her vehicle.

Thereafter, on May 29, 1992 plaintiff filed a complaint in the Superior Court of Fulton County, Georgia against Southeastern seeking recovery for personal injuries occurring in the 1990 collision as well as against South-eastern's insurer, Liberty Mutual, under O.C.G.A. § 46-7-12. On July 2, 1992 defendants removed this case to federal court based on the diversity of citizenship of the parties.


A federal district court sitting in a diversity action is bound to apply the conflict of law rules of the forum state, Klaxon Co. v. Stentor Electric Mfg. Co., 313 U.S. 487, 61 S.Ct. 1020, 85 L.Ed. 1477 (1941), here Georgia. The choice of law rule employed in Georgia in a contract case is lex loci contractus. That is, the place of the making of the contract controls the nature, construction, and interpretation of the contract. Menendez v. Perishable Distributors, Inc., 763 F.2d 1374 (11th Cir.1985). Menendez v. Perishable Distributors, Inc., 254 Ga. 300, 301, 329 S.E.2d 149 (1985), overruled by Posey v. Medical Center-West, Inc., 257 Ga. 55, 354 S.E.2d 417 (1987) (on other grounds).2

Here, as in Menendez, it appears that Florida was the place of the making of the contract since the "last act essential to completion of the contract" occurred in Florida when plaintiff accepted the check from Southeastern. Robinson v. Ravenel Co., 411 F.Supp. 294, 297 (N.D.Ga.1976); Continental Casualty Co. v. Synalloy Corp., 667 F.Supp. 1523, 1534 (S.D.Ga.1983). Cf. Peretzman v. Borochoff, 58 Ga.App. 838, 842 (1938) ("where a note was executed in one State but not completed until accepted in another State, it is made in that other State").

The defendants characterize the release as a general release of all claims and the Court agrees that that is its tenor. The issue before this Court is whether the plaintiff may be allowed to introduce evidence to show that what purports to be a general release of all claims, including a personal injury claim, in fact was intended by both parties to be, and in fact was, a release of her property damage claim only. The plaintiff has cited Florida law in support of her contention that extrinsic evidence should be admitted to show the true intention of the parties with respect to the execution of the release. The defendants rely upon, argue and cite Georgia cases to the effect that parol evidence will not be admitted to vary the terms of an unambiguous general release.

In Menendez v. Perishable Distributors, Inc., 763 F.2d at 1374, the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit certified several questions to the Georgia Supreme Court. The second question posed by the Eleventh Circuit to the Georgia Supreme Court was:

"QUESTION TWO: Under the choice of law rules of the State of Georgia, what state's substantive law governs the admissibility of extrinsic evidence establishing the intent of the contracting parties who executed a release in the State of Florida that, by its terms, forever discharged `all ... persons, firms or corporations ... from any and all claims, demands, actions, causes of actions or suits of any kind or nature whatsoever' arising from an injury-causing accident which occurred in Georgia?"

Menendez, 763 F.2d at 1380 app. (quoting Menendez, 254 Ga. 300, 329 S.E.2d 149 (1985)). The answer of the Georgia Supreme Court was that:

"The rule of lex loci contractus controls all substantive matters, such as `the nature, construction and interpretation of contracts. Cits.' Cox v. Adams, 2 Ga. 158, 165 (1847). The rule of `lex fori controls all matters affecting only the remedy, such as rules of evidence, methods of shifting the burden of proof, and the presumptions arising from given states of fact. Cit.' Hill v. Chattanooga Railway and Light Co., 21 Ga.App. 104, 93 S.E. 1027 (1917).
The parol evidence rule `is not one merely of evidence, but is one of positive or substantive law founded upon the substantive rights of the parties.' Cit. Albany Federal Savings & Loan Assn. v. Henderson et al., 198 Ga. 116, 143, 31 S.E.2d 20 (1944); see also Dunn v. Welsh, 62 Ga. 241, 244 (1879). Likewise, contemporaneous documents are to be considered `in pari materia' with a form release `so that the intention of the parties may be ascertained and allowed to control.' Georgia Highway Express, Inc. v. United Parcel Service, Inc., 164 Ga.App. 674, 297 S.E.2d 497 (1982). Because this extrinsic evidence consisting of contemporaneous documents may be used to determine the intention of the parties, and thus their substantive rights, the law of Florida controls under the rule of lex loci contractus."

Menendez, 763 F.2d at 1381 app. (quoting Menendez, 254 Ga. 300, 329 S.E.2d 149 (1985)).

Upon receipt of the answers to its certified questions from the Supreme Court of Georgia, the Eleventh Circuit stated:

"The Georgia Court has rendered a definitive opinion, holding that both the effect of the release and the admissibility of extrinsic evidence must be determined under Florida law."

Menendez, 763 F.2d at 1378. The Court of Appeals also determined in that case:

"By st

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