Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Alabama

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GASP, an Alabama nonprofit corporation, filed a petition for certiorari review by the Alabama Supreme Court to challenge a Court of Civil Appeals decision. The Court of Civil Appeals affirmed the Montgomery Circuit Court's dismissal of GASP's petition challenging a decision of the Jefferson County Board of Health ("the Board") to amend its rules under the under the Alabama Air Pollution Control Act of 1971, section 22-28-1 et seq., Ala. Code 1975 ("the Air Control Act"). The Supreme Court granted GASP's petition for a writ of certiorari in order to evaluate, among other things, whether the Court of Civil Appeals correctly concluded that the rule-making procedures of the Air Control Act preempted any other rule-making procedures potentially applicable to the Board, particularly the rule-making procedures of the Alabama Administrative Procedure Act, section 41-22-1 et seq., Ala. Code 1975 ("the AAPA"). The Supreme Court determined the Court of Civil Appeals erred in concluding that the Air Control Act preempted the administrative procedures provided in the AAPA. However, the Board was not an "agency" of the State as defined in section 41-22-3(1), Ala. Code 1975, of the AAPA, and therefore the Board was not subject to the procedural requirements of the AAPA. Thus, although the Supreme Court relied on different rationale than the Court of Civil Appeals, that court's judgment affirming the judgment of the circuit court was nevertheless affirmed. View "Ex parte GASP." on Justia Law

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William Harrington petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for certiorari review of the Court of Civil Appeals' order dismissing his appeal as untimely. In 2016, Harrington sued Big Sky Environmental, LLC, Gabriel Kim, and Clayton "Lanny" Young, seeking compensatory and punitive damages resulting from a dispute over an employment agreement. Harrington alleged breach of contract, negligence, wantonness, fraud, suppression, and deceit. Over time, Harrington added parties through amended complaints. Each new complaint was met with a motion to dismiss. Once granted, Harrington appealed, but the Court of Civil Appeals dismissed Harrington's appeal as untimely. The Supreme Court determined the trial court's January 26, 2018, order stated the parties were unclear as to whether its September 28, 2017, order was final under Rule 54(b). However, the Court found nothing in the trial court's September 28, 2017, order indicating an intent to certify that order as a final order in accordance with Rule 54(b). The trial court's January 26, 2018, order then stated its September 28, 2017 order dismissed any and all claims against Big Sky and Kim, because the court granted their Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. The trial court declared its September 28, 2017 order was final, but the trial court then dismissed Harrington's claims against Big Sky and Kim without prejudice. Without sufficient clarity, the trial court's purported certification under Rule 54(b) was invalid; therefore, the September 28, 2017, judgment was not final. "A nonfinal judgment will not support an appeal." Accordingly, although the Supreme Court agreed with the Court of Civil Appeals that this appeal was due to be dismissed, it was due to be dismissed as being from a nonfinal judgment, not because the appeal was untimely filed. For that reason, the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Civil Appeals and instructed that court to dismiss the appeal, not based on timeliness, but as being from a nonfinal judgment. View "Ex parte William T. Harrington." on Justia Law

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Ralph Eustace, Linda Eustace, and Daryl Eustace sued James Ray ("Ray") Wilbourn and his wife Karen, alleging a trespass to land and conversion of timber. The Wilbourns filed a counterclaim, seeking to establish title to the subject land and to recover in tort for intentional interference with a contractual relationship. The trial court entered a judgment in favor of the Eustaces on the trespass and conversion-of-timber claims and determined that the Eustaces were entitled to recover compensatory damages on those claims. The trial court also entered a judgment in favor of the Wilbourns on the claim asserting an intentional interference with a contractual relationship and determined that the Wilbourns were entitled to an award of compensatory damages on that claim. The Court of Civil Appeals affirmed the judgment of the trial court, without an opinion. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the Court of Civil Appeals lacked jurisdiction over the case because the appeal was taken from a nonfinal judgment. Therefore, the appellate court's judgment was reversed and the matter remanded with instructions to dismiss the appeal. View "Ex parte Ralph Eustace et al." on Justia Law

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Ella Bell, a member of the Alabama State Board of Education ("ASBE"), appealed a circuit court's dismissal of her complaint asserting claims of defamation, invasion of privacy, the tort of outrage, negligence and wantonness, and conspiracy against Cameron Smith, Advance Local Media, LLC ("ALM"), and the R Street Institute ("R Street"). In June 2017, Bell attended a special-called meeting of the ASBE concerning elementary- and secondary-education matters. Among other matters, the ASBE decided during the meeting not to renew the Alabama State Department of Education's contract with ACT Spire Solutions, which provided ACT Spire Assessments for the purpose of tracking academic progress of Alabama's public-school students in kindergarten through 12th grade. In the course of the discussion between ASBE members about that contract, Bell made some comments regarding special-education students and their effect on the aggregate test scores of public-school students throughout the state. In August, AL.com published an article written by Cameron Smith in which he addressed some of Bell's comments in the June 2017, ASBE meeting. At the conclusion of the article, AL.com included the following tagline: "Cameron Smith is a regular columnist for AL.com and vice president for the R Street Institute, a think tank in Washington, D.C." Immediately after the tagline, AL.com included the following statement: "Ella Bell's contact information may be found on the [ASBE] website" and contained an embedded link to the Web site of the ASBE. Following that statement, AL.com embedded a video of the discussion by ASBE members, which included Bell's comments that Smith addressed in the article. Bell alleged Smith made statements that he knew were false about Bell's comments in the June 2017 ASBE meeting. The Alabama Supreme Court found a fair reading of Smith's article revealed it to be an expression of opinion that did not mislead readers about the content of Bell's actual statements, it was not necessary for the circuit court to wait until the summary-judgment stage to dispose of the claims against Smith, ALM, and R Street. Therefore, the circuit court did not err in dismissing Bell's defamation suit. View "Bell v. Smith" on Justia Law

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Steven Christopher Jones ("Chris Jones") appealed a circuit court judgment entered in favor of Tammy Brewster and Jeffrey Eugene Brewster in a will contest filed by Jones concerning the will of his father, Mike Jones. Chris Jones filed his will contest in the probate court because the probate court had not admitted the will to probate and had not appointed a personal representative of Mike Jones's estate. Contemporaneously with the will-contest complaint, Chris Jones filed a motion to transfer the will contest to the circuit court. Thus, he sought to invoke the circuit court's jurisdiction pursuant to section 43-8-198, Ala. Code 1975. The probate court certified the probate-court record to the circuit court, the circuit-court clerk docketed the case, and the circuit court held a trial. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the record, however, was devoid of a transfer order from the probate court, thereby depriving the circuit court subject-matter jurisdiction. Because the probate court did not enter a transfer order in this case, "the procedural requirements of 43-8-198 were not satisfied, and, as a result, the circuit court never obtained jurisdiction over the will contest." Therefore, the judgment of the circuit court was void and would not support Chris Jones's appeal. Accordingly, the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal. View "Jones v. Brewster" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Tim Seriana sought mandamus relief to order the circuit court reverse its grant of a motion for change of venue filed by Joe Stevens, LLC. In 2015, Seriana and his wife, Karen, sued Joe Todd Stevens (and his LLC) and various fictitiously named defendants, alleging Stevens was a contractor who did business in northeast Alabama who negligently failed to barricade, cordon off, or otherwise warn pedestrians of a big ditch then excavated by Stephens. Seriana fell into the ditch, and sustained an injury. In his petition, Seriana argued the trial court erroneously transferred this case to Talladega County because, he contended, Stevens waived any objection it might have had to venue in Calhoun County when it answered the amended complaint without raising the defense of improper venue. The Alabama Supreme Court agreed, granted the writ of mandamus, and directed the trial court to vacate its motion for change of venue and transfer this case to Talladega County. View "Ex parte Tim Seriana." on Justia Law

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Merchants FoodService ("Merchants") appealed a final judgment entered by the Mobile Circuit Court following a jury verdict in a retaliatory-discharge action filed by Denny Rice. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the trial court did not err in denying a judgment as a matter of law concerning whether Rice was eligible to seek lost future earnings as a component of damages in this action. Merchants waived any right to challenge the sufficiency of the evidence to support the compensatory-damages award, and its arguments seeking to do so were not well taken. Finally, the Court's evaluation of propriety of the punitive-damages award lead it to concluded no remittitur of that award was warranted in this case. Accordingly, the trial court's order denying all of Merchants' postjudgment motions was affirmed. View "Merchants FoodService v. Rice" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Alvin and Diane Bhones sought a writ of mandamus to direct the circuit court to vacate its order setting aside a default judgment entered in their favor against Travis Peete and Beech Brook Companies, LLC. In 2015, the Bhoneses sued Beech Brook and Peete, the sole member of Beech Brook, based on their allegedly defective construction of the Bhoneses' new home. The complaint stated claims of breach of contract, breach of warranty, fraud, fraudulent misrepresentation, and negligence. The complaint was served on defendants on February 19, 2015, but they did not file an answer. On March 13, 2018, the Bhoneses moved for a default judgment. On March 21, 2018, the trial court entered a default judgment in favor of the Bhoneses. The Alabama Supreme Court found that because defendants did not present evidence to support their allegations that they had a meritorious defense and that the Bhoneses would not be unduly prejudiced if the default judgment was set aside, defendants failed to satisfy their initial burden of alleging and demonstrating the existence of all the Kirtland v. Fort Morgan Authority Sewer Service, Inc., 524 So. 2d 600 (Ala. 1988) factors. Therefore, defendants were not entitled to have the default judgment set aside and that the trial court exceeded its discretion in setting aside the default judgment. View "Ex parte Alvin Bhones and Diane Bhones." on Justia Law

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International Paper Company and three of its employees (collectively, "IPC") petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Wilcox Circuit Court to vacate its order denying IPC's motion to dismiss the underlying third-party action against it without prejudice based on improper venue. In 2015, Caterpillar Financial Services Corporation ("Caterpillar") entered into various loan and guaranty agreements with JRD Contracting, Inc. ("JRD") for the purchase of certain equipment. That equipment was to serve as collateral for the loans between Caterpillar and JRD. According to Caterpillar, JRD failed to pay the amounts due under the loan agreements, and, in September 2015 and again in December 2015, Caterpillar notified JRD of its intention to accelerate the loans and to make demand for the return of the equipment. In the summer of 2016, a JRD subsidiary, JRD Land Contracting and Land Clearing, Inc. ("JRD C&L"), signed an agreement with International Paper in which JRD C&L agreed to dispose of International Paper's waste at its Pine Hill Mill for a period of five years. In 2016, Caterpillar sued JRD at the Wilcox Circuit Court alleging a claim of detinue and seeking damages for breach of contract and breach of the guarantees. After performing work for International Paper under a waste-services agreement for eight months, JRD C&L received written notice of International Paper's intent to terminate the waste-services agreement. The equipment Caterpillar sought was used for the JRD C&L contract; in the pending Wilcox Circuit Court action, JRD filed a third-party complaint against IPC and fictitiously named defendants seeking a declaration and damages for breach of contract, promissory estoppel, fraud, work and labor done, and indemnity. When International Paper terminated that agreement, JRD alleged, it could no longer afford to pay the loans from their lenders, including Caterpillar, although they had already defaulted on some of those loans. IPC moved to dismiss the third-party complaint based on improper venue. According to IPC, the waste-services agreement contained an outbound forum-selection clause that provided that the courts of Tennessee would have jurisdiction over any disputes arising out of or relating to that agreement. IPC also challenged whether JRD or Dailey had a right to bring the third-party action because, it argued, the third-party action had nothing to do with the transactions underlying Caterpillar's lawsuit. IPC argued that, generally, outbound forum-selection clauses were enforceable in Alabama and that the third-party plaintiffs did not establish that the enforcement of the clause would be unfair or unreasonable. According to IPC, because the third-party plaintiffs failed to meet their burden, the outbound forum-selection clause should have been enforced. The Alabama Supreme Court agreed with IPC and issued the writ. View "Ex parte International Paper Company." on Justia Law

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SE Property Holdings, LLC ("SEPH") appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of Bank of Franklin ("BOF") on BOF's claim demanding specific performance of a contractual provision. In March 2005, Vision Bank, a Florida company, loaned Bama Bayou, LLC, formally known as Riverwalk, LLC ("the borrower"), $6,000,000. Multiple individuals allegedly personally guaranteed repayment of the loan ("the guarantors"). In June 2008, pursuant to a "participation agreement," Vision Bank conveyed to BOF a 25 percent interest in the loan. Vision Bank conveyed additional participation interests in the loan to other banks. The borrower and the guarantors allegedly defaulted on their obligations with respect to the loan, and in January 2009 Vision Bank filed suit against them. The borrower and the guarantors asserted counterclaims against Vision Bank and brought BOF into the action as an additional counterclaim defendant. In April 2009, Vision Bank foreclosed on a mortgage securing the loan. Vision Bank was the highest bidder at the foreclosure sale and thereafter executed foreclosure deeds in favor of BOF and the other participating banks. In 2012, Vision Bank sold its operating assets to Centennial Bank and relinquished its Florida bank charter. Vision Bank and SEPH entered into an "agreement and plan of merger," whereby Vision Bank merged "with and into" SEPH. In October 2016, the trial court entered an order setting aside the foreclosure sale and declaring the foreclosure deeds void. Among other things, BOF asserted in its cross-claim that SEPH had an obligation to repurchase BOF's participation interest in the loan. In support, BOF pointed to the participation agreement between BOF and SEPH's predecessor, Vision Bank. The court granted BOF's motion for summary judgment on its claim for specific performance based on the participation agreement. SEPH argued on appeal that the trial court erred in determining that a "proceeding" involving Vision Bank's termination of existence was "commenced," so as to invoke the contractual provision; it asserted Vision Bank's voluntary merger with SEPH was not a "proceeding." The participation agreement in this case stated that BOF's participation interest was conveyed without recourse, but the contract provision provided BOF at least some security in the form of a right to force the repurchase of its participation interest in the event of the financial deterioration of the originating bank, i.e., Vision Bank. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded the voluntary merger like the one entered into by Vision Bank and SEPH is not a "proceeding" as that term is used in the participation agreement, and reversed the trial court's judgment ordering SEPH to purchase BOF's participation interest. View "SE Property Holdings, LLC, f/k/a Vision Bank v. Bank of Franklin" on Justia Law