Baca, a chiropractor, sued the Cobbs for fees. The Cobbs answered that at least part of the fees were unreasonable, alleging that Baca jacked up his rates just because he was providing treatment after an auto accident, even though he said he would charge what he had charged them before the accident.
Baca filed a motion for summary judgment, with a simple statement of facts (the patients asked for and received treatment, the were billed the services, and failed to pay), along with a reference to the chiropractor’s affidavit attached to his petition which said that the charges were reasonable. The patient responded with an affidavit saying the the chiropractor’s fees were unreasonable because of the price increase.
Baca objected, claiming that the Cobbs were not qualified to testify on the reasonableness of the fees.
The court granted summary judgment for the chiropractor for all the fees asked for, and the Missouri Court of Appeals reversed the summary judgment, remanding the case for a trial on the issue of reasonableness of the fees, in Baca Chiropractic v. Cobb.
Summary judgment is the conclusion of a civil lawsuit by a judge who determines that there is no issue of fact that requires a trial. The judge renders a judgment for one of the parties on the basis of a statement of facts and legal arguments. The opposing party is given the chance to question the statement of facts and legal arguments made by the party seeking summary judgment. Obviously, the frequent use of summary judgments would greatly cut down the number of trials and the amount of legal fees generated by litigation.
In collection cases, defendants often have no defenses or are unable to pay the legal fees needed for effective representation. Summary judgments are fairly common in collection cases for these reasons, especially when the defendant has filed an answer that indicates non-existent or very weak defenses.
On appeal, one Missouri appellate judge told me, eight of ten summary judgments are reversed. But summary judgments in collection cases are rarely appealed.
The Court of Appeals identified only one issue, whether the Cobbs’s affidavits raised “a genuine issue of material fact as to the reasonableness of Baca Chiropractic’s fees.” Reversing the summary judgment, the Court of Appeals gave the Cobbs a new trial. They can try to convince the trial court that Baca charged more than agreed which resulted in unreasonable fees.