Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

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After Clifford Bufford, an employee of Borbet Alabama, Inc., injured his left arm in a workplace accident, he sued seven of his co-employees claiming that his injury was the result of their willful conduct. The co-employees sought summary judgment, arguing that they were immune from suit under Alabama's Workers' Compensation Act ("the Act") because, they said, there was no evidence to support Bufford's claims. Bufford voluntarily dismissed his claims against all the defendants except the petitioner, maintenance supervisor Jeffrey Varoff. The circuit court then denied Varoff's motion for summary judgment. He petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the trial court to enter judgment in his favor on the basis of the immunity afforded by the Act. We grant the petition and issue the writ. The Supreme Court concurred there was not evidence in the trial court record that would support a finding that Varoff had engaged in willful conduct as that term was described in § 25-5-11(c). The Court held Varoff was immune from liability under § 25-5- 53. Accordingly, the trial court erred by denying Varoff's motion for summary judgment. His petition was therefore granted, and the trial court directed to vacate its order denying Varoff's motion. View "Ex parte Jeffrey Varoff." on Justia Law

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Defendant-petitioner Sunset Digital Communications, Inc. ("Sunset") sought a writ of mandamus to direct an Alabama circuit court vacate its order denying a motion to dismiss the complaint filed by plaintiffs Point Broadband, LLC ("Point Broadband"), and Point Broadband Fiber Holding, LLC ("PBFH") (collectively, "plaintiffs"). In 2018, Sunset and Sunset Fiber, LLC, entered into a "First Amended and Restated Asset Purchase Agreement" ("the APA") with PBFH, which was then known as Sunset Digital Holding, LLC. In 2021, plaintiffs filed a complaint against Sunset seeking a judgment declaring that PBFH was not liable for certain unpaid taxes and penalties; that PBFH did not owe defense or indemnity obligations to Sunset relating to those unpaid taxes; that PBFH did not owe legal fees in connection with any audits or other investigations relating to Sunset's tax liability; and that Sunset owed PBFH defense and indemnity obligations in the event a third party sought to bring a claim or attempted to collect any unpaid taxes from PBFH. Sunset moved to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b), Ala. R. Civ. P., in which it alleged, among other things, that the APA included a mandatory outbound-forum selection clause that "requires the parties to submit exclusively to the jurisdiction of the United States federal courts or the Virginia state courts located in Bristol, Virginia." In its order denying the motion to dismiss, the trial court stated, in pertinent part: "At issue is if the language ('may') creates a mandatory forum selection clause or clause that consents to jurisdiction. Language such as 'shall' or 'must' would be used in cases where the clause was to be considered mandatory. As this is a consent to jurisdiction clause and not a mandatory one, Alabama Courts have held that imperative language such as 'shall' or 'must' are required to find that the clause is a mandatory one. However, the word 'may' results in language that is much more permissive or rather a 'consent to jurisdiction' clause." Sunset argued the trial court erroneously found that the forum-selection clause in the APA was permissive rather than mandatory. Specifically, it asserted that the trial court "wholly ignored the 'exclusive jurisdiction' language of the forum selection clause." To this the Alabama Supreme Court concurred, granted the writ and directed the trial court to vacate its February 2022 order denying Sunset's motion to dismiss. View "Ex parte Sunset Digital Communications, Inc." on Justia Law

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Milton Turner died on July 25, 2018. On September 20, 2018, Mildred Williamson petitioned for letters of administration of Turner's estate in the probate court. In her petition, Williamson asserted that Turner had died intestate and that Williamson was Turner's only surviving heir. In 2019, Williamson, individually and in her capacity as the personal representative of Turner's estate, entered into a contract agreeing to sell to Matthew Drinkard and Jefferson Dolbare ("the purchasers") real property belonging to the estate for $880,650. The real-estate sales contract specified that the closing of the sale was to occur on or before May 31, 2019. On February 7, 2019, Williamson, individually and in her capacity as personal representative of Turner's estate, executed a deed conveying other real property that was part of Turner's estate to Marcus Hester. On February 13, 2019, Callway Sargent, alleging to be an heir of Turner's, filed a claim of heirship in Turner's estate. Sargent also moved for injunctive relief in which he acknowledged the February 7, 2019, deed, but asserted that Williamson had agreed to sell and had conveyed real property belonging to Turner's estate without the approval of the probate court, and requested that the probate court enjoin "Williamson from engaging in any further administration of [Turner's] estate until so ordered by [the probate court]." Williamson petitioned to have the case removed fro probate to the circuit court. From February 28, 2019, to March 18, 2019, a number of individuals came forward, all claiming to be Turner's heirs. Williamson moved to have the circuit court approve the pending property sales. Williamson and the purchasers did not close on the sale of the property that was the subject of their real-estate sales contract by May 31, 2019, as required by the contract. Some of the purported heirs petitioned the circuit court to stay or vacate the order approving the purchasers contact until matters regarding the heirs was resolved. Drinkard and Dolbare filed a motion to intervene in the proceedings regarding the administration of Turner's estate, but the circuit court denied the motion. The Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court's denial of the purchasers' motion to intervene in the administration of Turner's estate. View "Drinkard, et al. v. Perry, et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, the developer of a solar electric generation facility and the owner of the project site, appealed the dismissal of their complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief against the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources (ANR). Plaintiffs sought a ruling that two guidance documents and a plant-classification system created by ANR were unlawful and therefore could not be relied upon by ANR or the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) in determining whether to issue a certificate of public good for a proposed facility under 30 V.S.A. § 248. The civil division granted ANR’s motion to dismiss plaintiffs’ claims, concluding that the guidance documents and classification system were not rules and did not have the force of law, and that the proper forum to challenge the policies was in the PUC proceeding. Finding no reversible error in that judgment, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Otter Creek Solar, LLC, et al. v. Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, et al." on Justia Law

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A Mississippi trial court denied Watercolor Salon LLC’s motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction filed against Watercolor’s former employee Nealie Hixon. The motion was based on an employment, confidentiality, and noncompetition agreement. Because Nealie was twenty years old and thus legally a minor when she entered the agreement, the trial court held the agreement was unenforceable. On appeal, Watercolor argues its employment agreement meets the statutory exception that permits minors eighteen years or older to enter into enforceable contracts “affecting personal property.” The Mississippi Supreme Court found Watercolor's logic was flawed and stretched the statutory minor disability exception too far. "Just because an employment contract restricts an employee from taking intellectual property or covers what happens upon breach or termination does not completely change the fundamental nature of the contract. And here the fundamental nature of the contract was a noncompetition agreement that Nealie would give up her ability to work in a certain geographical area for a fixed time in exchange for continued employment at a higher hourly wage. So this employment contract was simply a contract affecting Nealie’s right to work, not her personal property. Thus, the statutory exception does not apply. And because Nealie disaffirmed the contract, it is unenforceable against her." The Court affirmed the denial of Watercolor's motion for injunctive relief, which was based solely on the unenforceable agreement. Whether Watercolor had any remaining claims against Nealie that were not based on the contract, such as the taking of trade secrets, remained to be determined on remand. View "Watercolor Salon, LLC v. Hixon" on Justia Law

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Former President Donald J. Trump brought a civil action seeking an injunction against the government after it executed a search warrant at his Mar-a-Lago residence. He argues that a court-mandated special master review process is necessary because the government’s Privilege Review Team protocols were inadequate because various seized documents are protected by the executive or attorney-client privilege because he could have declassified documents or designated them as personal rather than presidential records, and—if all that fails—because the government’s appeal was procedurally deficient. The government disagrees with each contention.   At issue on appeal is whether the district court had the power to hear the case. The Eleventh Circuit held that the district court improperly exercised equitable jurisdiction in this case. For that reason, the court vacated the September 5 order on appeal and remanded with instructions for the district court to dismiss the underlying civil action. The court explained that it cannot write a rule that allows any subject of a search warrant to block government investigations after the execution of the warrant. Nor can it write a rule that allows only former presidents to do so. Either approach would be a radical reordering of the court’s caselaw limiting the federal courts’ involvement in criminal investigations. And both would violate bedrock separation-of-powers limitations. View "Donald J. Trump v. USA" on Justia Law

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the California Department of Toxic Substances Control and the Toxic Substances Control Account (“DTSC”) brought suit under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act and state law relating to the remediation of hazardous materials alleged to be present at a site in Elmira, California. In 2013, a certificate of cancellation had been filed with the Delaware Secretary of State, cancelling the legal existence of defendant Collins & Aikman Products. The Delaware Court of Chancery granted DTSC’s petition to appoint a receiver empowered to defend claims made against Collins & Aikman. The receiver declined to file an answer to DTSC’s complaint, and the district court clerk entered default under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55(a). DTSC later moved for a default judgment.   The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s order denying insurers’ motions to intervene to defend their defunct insured in an environmental tort action, dismissed the insurers' appeal of the denial of their motions to set aside default, and remanded. Here, there was no dispute that the insurers timely sought to intervene in. Thus, whether the insureds could intervene as of right turned on whether they had an “interest” under Rule 24(a)(2). The panel held that, under Donaldson v. United States and Wilderness Soc’y v. U.S. Forest Serv,  the word “interest” must be read in a specifically legal sense, to mean a right or other advantage that the law gives one person as against another person, rather than read more broadly to refer to anything that a person wants, whether or not the law protects that desire. View "CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF TOXIC, ET AL V. CENTURY INDEMNITY COMPANY, ET AL" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the circuit court awarding $18,160,000 in attorneys' fees to Appellees, holding that the circuit court erred in its award of attorneys' fees and costs but did not err in denying Appellees' motion for contempt.On appeal, certain appellants argued that the circuit court erred in its application of the factors set forth in Chrisco v. Sun Industries, 800 S.W.2d 717 (Ark. 1990) and that they should not have to pay attorneys' fees. Other appellants argued that sovereign immunity barred the fee award. Appellees cross-appealed, arguing that the circuit court erred in denying their motion for contempt. The Supreme Court held (1) in the absence of express statutory authority, the circuit court abused its discretion in awarding a flat fifteen percent attorneys' fee award of $18.16 million in attorneys' fees and costs; and (2) the circuit court properly denied Appellees' contempt motion. View "Gibson v. Buonauito" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff alleged that a participant loan program that Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America (TIAA) offered to her retirement plan is a prohibited transaction under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). After ruling that Haley’s suit could proceed against TIAA as a nonfiduciary under ERISA, the district court certified a class of employee benefit plans whose fiduciaries contracted with TIAA to offer loans that were secured by a participant’s retirement savings. TIAA argues that the district court erred when it found that common issues predominated over individual ones without addressing the effect of ERISA’s statutory exemptions on liability classwide and without making any factual findings as to the similarities of the loans.   The Second Circuit vacated the district court’s decision holding that the predominance inquiry of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(3) requires that a district court analyze defenses, and the court did not do so here. Further, because the predominance inquiry of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(3) requires that a district court analyze defenses, and the court did not do so here, the district court did not analyze the exemptions, it also did not engage with the evidence that TIAA submitted to substantiate the purported variations among the plans. A district court cannot simply “take the plaintiff’s word that no material differences exist.” View "Haley v. TIAA" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff TransFarmations, Inc. appealed a superior court decision to uphold the Town of Amherst Planning Board's (Town) decisions to deny TransFarmations' two successive applications for a conditional use permit (CUP). In May 2019, TransFarmations requested a “Conceptual Meeting” with the Town’s planning board (Board) concerning its proposed development of an approximately 130-acre property known as the Jacobson Farm. It stated that the “development will be designed to meet many of the desired attributes the Town . . . has articulated in [its] Master Plan and [Integrated] Innovative . . . Housing Ordinance (IIHO),” including workforce housing and over-55 housing. TransFarmations subsequently submitted a CUP application under the IIHO for a planned residential development containing 64 residential units. In its challenge to the decisions, TransFarmations argued both that the decisions failed to adequately state the ground for denial and that the Board acted unreasonably because the second CUP application was materially different from the first. The trial court concluded that the Board adequately provided the reason for its first decision on the record because “the Board members discussed, in detail, their reasons for concluding that no material differences [between the first and second applications] existed.” The court also concluded that “the Board acted reasonably and lawfully in reaching [that] decision.” Accordingly, the court affirmed both of the Board’s decisions. TransFarmations contended the trial court erred in affirming the Board’s decision not to accept the second application because TransFarmations submitted that application “at the Board’s invitation and with the information the Board requested.” The New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded TransFarmations’ second application supplying the requested information was “materially different from its predecessor, thus satisfying Fisher.” Because the trial court’s decision concluding otherwise misapplied Fisher v. Dover, it was legally erroneous. Accordingly, the Court reversed the trial court’s order as to the second CUP decision and remanded. View "TransFarmations, Inc. v. Town of Amherst" on Justia Law