Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Alabama

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This case involved a dispute over the planned construction of a high-rise condominium along the Gulf of Mexico in Orange Beach, Alabama. The Perdido Dunes property shared common boundaries with property containing other beachfront condominium buildings. Phoenix East, a Condominium, was a 14-story condominium with 158 residential units located adjacent to and directly east of the Perdido Dunes property. In 2004, Hurricane Ivan effectively destroyed an 8-unit portion of Perdido Dunes. The City's zoning regulations prohibited Perdido Dunes from separating into two parcels, but the City would allow Perdido Dunes to split the PDAI (the condominium association) into two neighborhood associations governed by a master association. The ownership interest in the Master Association would comprise the unit owners of two newly created neighborhood associations, namely the Perdido Dunes Tower Condominium Owners Association, Inc. and the Perdido Dunes 2006 Condominium Owners Association, Inc. The PD Tower Association would serve as the association for Perdido Dunes Tower, a prospective 10-story, 20-unit condominium building measuring 56 feet in length that was to be developed by Perdido Dunes Tower, LLC ("Tower LLC"), on the land where the 8-unit building had been located. The City issued a building permit to Tower LLC in 2008, authorizing it to begin construction of Perdido Dunes Tower. The planned construction was interrupted in 2015, when the City notified Tower LLC of concerns relating to the width of the proposed Perdido Dunes Tower in relation to the neighboring properties, namely Phoenix East and Phoenix VIII. The City directed that Tower LLC could not begin substantial construction on the building, and the City informed Tower LLC that its building permit would be revoked. If the building permit were revoked, Tower LLC would be required to apply for a new permit under updated City building standards, which, according to the trial court's judgment being challenged on appeal, "would have required significant additional undertakings by the Tower LLC to attempt to complete the building of a compliant tower structure." To challenge the proposed Perdido Tower project, the Phoenix entities sued, arguing the consent decree that resulted between the City and the Master Association was void. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the Phoenix VIII Association lacked standing to challenge the consent decree; the Court ruled Phoenix East Association had standing, but "its challenge to the consent decree is unavailing, and the consent decree is affirmed." View "Phoenix East Association, Inc. v. Perdido Dunes Tower, LLC, et al." on Justia Law

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Daniel Donaldson appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of Country Mutual Insurance Company ("Country Mutual"). The underlying action stemmed from a November 2015 accident in which Donaldson, while working in a construction zone on the west side of Bailey Cove Road in Madison County, Alabama, was struck by a sport-utility vehicle, owned and driven by Gregory Johnston. As a result of the collision, Donaldson suffered severe injuries to one of his legs that ultimately required the amputation of the leg. Donaldson sued Johnston and Country Mutual, asserting claims of negligence and wantonness against Johnston and asserting that Country Mutual was vicariously liable for Johnston's conduct under theories of agency and respondeat superior. At the time of the underlying accident, Johnston was working as an insurance agent under an "agent's agreement" with Country Mutual and a number of other companies that were collectively referred to in that agreement as "Country Insurance and Financial Services." Country Mutual filed a motion for a summary judgment, arguing that Johnston was not its agent or employee but, instead, was an independent contractor. Country Mutual further argued that, even assuming Johnston was its employee, his actions in relation to the accident were outside the line and scope of his alleged employment. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded Donaldson failed to submit substantial evidence of the existence of a genuine issue of material fact to support its claims against Country Mutual to defeat Country Mutual's summary judgment motion. Therefore, the Court affirmed the trial court. View "Donaldson v. Country Mutual Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs David and Lisa McDaniel petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Shelby Circuit Court to vacate its order staying the proceedings against defendants Southern Craftsman Custom Homes, Inc. ("SCCH"); Jeffrey Rusert; Larry Curry, Sr.; SouthFirst Bancshares, Inc., d/b/a SouthFirst Bank ("SouthFirst"); Mari Gunnels; and Danny Keeney. At the time of this opinion, Rusert was awaiting the outcome of a federal criminal investigation against him. In 2017, the McDaniels contacted Rusert for the purpose of entering into an agreement with SCCH to build a house. According to the McDaniels, Rusert represented himself as the president of SCCH. At some point, Rusert recommended that the McDaniels speak with Gunnels, who worked for SouthFirst, to secure a loan to pay for the construction of the new house. In November 2017, with Gunnels's assistance, the McDaniels began the process of applying for a construction loan with SouthFirst. The loan closing occurred on January 26, 2018. The McDaniels executed, among other agreements, a written construction-loan agreement, a promissory note, and a construction-loan disbursement agreement. The McDaniels met with Rusert to discuss some concerns they had with the ongoing construction. During that meeting, Rusert provided the McDaniels with a credit application from a local building-supply company and asked them to execute it so that, he said, he could use the McDaniels' credit to purchase building materials and supplies. The McDaniels learned that the company refused to do business with SCCH, Rusert, and Curry because all three had purportedly failed to pay significant amounts owed the company. The McDaniels immediately contacted Gunnels and placed a "stop-payment" order on the most recent draw request from SCCH and Rusert. Thereafter, the McDaniels sued SCCH, Rusert, Curry, SouthFirst, Gunnels, and Keeney. In their complaint, the McDaniels sought damages for negligence, suppression, fraudulent misrepresentation, civil conspiracy, conversion, and the infliction of emotional distress. The McDaniels further alleged breach-of-contract claims against SouthFirst, SCCH, Rusert, and Curry, as well as a claim of breach of fiduciary duties against SouthFirst. Finally, the McDaniels sought a judgment against SouthFirst, Gunnels, and Keeney declaring the loan agreement and mortgage void. Rusert and SCCH moved to stay the civil proceedings against them pending the outcome of a federal criminal investigation against Rusert, which the trial court granted. The Alabama Supreme Court determined, however, the McDaniels established a clear legal right to relief from the trial court's order. Accordingly, the Supreme Court granted the petition for a writ of mandamus and directed the trial court to vacate its order staying the underlying case. View "Ex parte David and Lisa McDaniel." on Justia Law

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Douglas Ghee, as the personal representative of the estate of Billy Fleming, appealed a circuit court order dismissing a wrongful-death claim brought against USAble Mutual Insurance Company d/b/a Blue Advantage Administrators of Arkansas ("Blue Advantage"). Fleming presented to the emergency department complaining of constipation and abdominal pain. He would ultimately need a colectomy, but the hospital informed him Blue Advantage had decided that a lower quality of care (continued non-surgical management) was more appropriate than the higher quality of care (surgery) that Fleming's surgeon felt was appropriate. Fleming and his family had multiple conversations with agents of Blue Advantage in an unsuccessful attempt to convince the company that the higher surgery was the more appropriate course of care. Ultimately, an agent of Blue Advantage suggested to Fleming that he return to the hospital in an attempt to convince hospital personnel and physicians to perform the surgery on an emergency basis. For five days, Fleming would present to the emergency room, each time he was treated by non-surgical means, then returned home. On the evening of July 15, 2013, Fleming's condition had deteriorated such that he had to be intubated. He died after midnight of septic shock due to a perforated sigmoid colon with abundant fecal material in the peritoneal cavity. A lawsuit was filed against Blue Advantage, asserting that the combined negligence of the hospitals and clinics involved and Blue Advantage, proximately caused Fleming's death. Because the trial court determined that Ghee's allegations against Blue Advantage as stated in the original complaint were defensively preempted by ERISA, the Alabama Supreme Court found Ghee should have had the right to amend his complaint to clarify his state-law claims. Because the Court concluded that Ghee should have been afforded the right to amend his complaint, it reversed the judgment of the trial court and remanded for further proceedings. View "Ghee v. USAble Mutual Insurance Company d/b/a Blue Advantage Administrators of Arkansas" on Justia Law

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Jessie and Rickey Castleberry appealed a circuit court order dismissing their claims against Angie's List, Inc., based on a forum-selection clause in a contract between Angie's List and the Castleberrys. The Castleberrys, who are father and son, became members of Angie's List in 2014. They claim that they used their membership with Angie's List to locate a contractor, Dream Baths of Alabama, LLC ("Dream Baths"), which the Castleberrys hired to renovate a bathroom in Jessie Castleberry's house to make it handicapped accessible. According to the Castleberrys, Dream Baths was not properly licensed and poorly performed the work it contracted to do. The Alabama Supreme Court found the Castleberrys simply pointed out in the argument section of their brief that, in addition to suing Angie's List, they also sued Dream Baths. They asserted that "[t]his action pertains not only to the agreement between the Castleberrys and Angie's List, but to improper work performed upon a home located in Montgomery County, Alabama by defendant Dream Baths." The Castleberrys provided no significant discussion of the specific claims against Dream Baths and Angie's List. To the Supreme Court, it appealred that the Castleberrys' claims against Angie's List and Dream Baths were based on different categories of wrongdoing that were only tangentially related. The trial court, therefore, did not err in enforcing the forum-selection clause simply because the Castleberrys also sued Dream Baths. View "Castleberry v. Angie's List, Inc." on Justia Law

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Between 2012 and 2014, Medhost of Tennessee, Inc. ("Medhost"), sold Russell County Community Hospital, LLC, d/b/a Jack Hughston Memorial Hospital ("the taxpayer"), computer software and accompanying equipment, which Medhost contracted to install in a hospital operated by the taxpayer. The software and equipment assists the taxpayer in operating various aspects of its hospital. Medhost collected a little less than $18,000 in sales tax in connection with the transactions, which it remitted to the Alabama Department of Revenue ("the Department"). Later, the taxpayer petitioned the Department for a refund of the sales tax it had paid on the transactions with Medhost. The Department denied that request, and the taxpayer appealed to the Alabama Tax Tribunal, which reversed the Department's decision and directed the Department to grant the taxpayer's request for a refund. The Department then filed an action in the trial court requesting de novo review of the tax tribunal's decision. After a hearing, during which testimony was presented ore tenus, the trial court overturned the tax tribunal's decision and affirmed the Department's denial of the taxpayer's refund petition. The taxpayer appealed to the Court of Civil Appeals, which affirmed the trial court's judgment. The Alabama Supreme Court granted the taxpayer's petition for a writ of certiorari. Under the ore tenus rule, which the taxpayer has conceded was applicable here, "a judgment based on [ore tenus] evidence is presumed to be correct and will not be disturbed on appeal unless a consideration of the evidence and all reasonable inferences therefrom reveals that the judgment is plainly and palpably erroneous or manifestly unjust." Under that standard, the Court found the evidence sufficient to support the trial court's judgment. Accordingly, the Court of Civil Appeals correctly affirmed that judgment, and the Supreme Court affirmed its judgment. View "Ex parte Russell County Community Hospital, LLC, d/b/a Jack Hughston Memorial Hospital." on Justia Law

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Betty Hill sued Emma Armstrong and another defendant after Hill was bitten by three dogs. When Armstrong and her trial counsel failed to appear at trial at the appointed time, the trial court declared from the bench that a default would be entered against Armstrong for liability and that Hill would have an opportunity to put on evidence of damages. Approximately 13 minutes after the trial began, however, Armstrong appeared in the courtroom (her trial counsel never arrived). When the trial court noted Armstrong's appearance, it proceeded to hold a nonjury trial on the merits -- though the conditions under which evidence would be taken were never made clear. The trial court entered a judgment in favor of Hill and against Armstrong in the amount of $75,000. On appeal to the Alabama Supreme Court, Armstrong challenged the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the judgment against her. Based on its review of the applicable law and the evidence taken at trial, the Supreme Court found it clear, even under a standard of review deferential to the trial court, that the evidence presented was insufficient to support the judgment. Accordingly, it reversed the judgment of the trial court and remand the cause with instructions for the trial court to enter a judgment in favor of Armstrong. View "Armstrong v. Hill" on Justia Law

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Putnam County Memorial Hospital ("Putnam") appealed a circuit court denial of its motion to set aside a default judgment entered in favor of TruBridge, LLC ("TruBridge"), and Evident, LLC ("Evident"). In September 2015, Putnam entered into a "Master Services Agreement" with TruBridge ("the MSA agreement") and a license and support agreement with Evident ("the LSA agreement"). In the MSA agreement, TruBridge agreed to provide accounts-receivable management services for Putnam for five years. The MSA agreement provided that TruBridge would receive 5.65 percent of the "cash collections," as that term is defined in the MSA agreement, to be paid monthly, for its account and billing services. In the LSA agreement, Evident agreed to provide Putnam with Evident's electronic health-records system as well as maintenance and support for that system. According to Putnam, starting in 2016, Putnam entered into a series of agreements with Hospital Partners, Inc. ("HPI"), in which HPI agreed to manage and control the operations of the hospital and its facilities. TruBridge and Evident alleged that at that time, Putnam began entering patient information and billing services through a different computer system than the one provided by Evident pursuant to the LSA agreement and used by TruBridge for accounts receivable pursuant to the MSA agreement. When a TruBridge manager contacted Putnam to inquire about this drop in new-patient admissions into their system, Putnam claimed to have almost no new patients and that it was barely surviving. TruBridge and Evident alleged Putnam was deliberately false and that Putnam was, in fact, simply entering new patients into a different system. Putnam did not enter an appearance in the lawsuit brought by TruBridge and Evident for breach of contract. The circuit court entered a default judgment. Putnam's motion to set aside the judgment was denied. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded Putnam met its evidentiary threshold to trigger the statutory requirement the circuit court reconsider its motion to set aside and for reconsideration relating to the default judgment. Therefore, the Court reversed the circuit court and remanded for further proceedings. View "Putnam County Memorial Hospital v. TruBridge, LLC, and Evident, LLC" on Justia Law

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Chiropractic Life Center, Inc. ("CLC"), sued Kathryn Naman, alleging she failed to pay for chiropractic care she had received at CLC. The district court entered a judgment in favor of Naman, which CLC did not appeal. Naman thereafter sued CLC and its owner, Dr. Christy Agren, alleging that they had wrongfully brought the collection action against Naman. The circuit court dismissed the claim against Dr. Agren and ultimately entered a summary judgment in favor of CLC. Naman appealed. The Alabama Supreme Court determined there were undisputed facts in the record supporting CLC's argument that it had a good-faith basis for believing that Naman owed it money. Accordingly, Naman could not establish that CLC acted without probable cause in initiating the collection action. The summary judgment entered by the circuit court on Naman's malicious-prosecution claim against CLC was affirmed. View "Naman v. Chiropractic Life Center, Inc." on Justia Law

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Katerial Wiggins, individually and as the administrator of the estate of Dominic G. Turner, deceased, and as the next friend of Dominic Turner, Jr. ("D.T."), appealed the grant of summary in favor of Mobile Greyhound Park, LLP ("MGP") and Mobile Greyhound Racing, LLP ("MGR"). In 2015, a vehicle driven by Willie McMillian struck Wiggins' vehicle from behind on Interstate 10 in Mobile County. Wiggins's fiancé, Turner, and their child, D.T., were riding in the backseat of Wiggins' vehicle when the collision occurred. As a result, Turner died and Wiggins and D.T. were injured. After obtaining evidence indicating that McMillian was under the influence of alcohol, law-enforcement officers arrested McMillian. He later pleaded guilty to reckless murder and was sentenced to imprisonment for 15 years. Wiggins sued MGR and MGP alleging that on the day of the collision, MGR and MGP sold alcohol to McMillian at the dog-racing track while he was visibly intoxicated; she requested compensatory damages and punitive damages, pursuant to section 6-5-71, Ala. Code 1975 ("the Dram Shop Act"), for Turner's death and the injuries she and D.T. had sustained. MGR moved for a summary judgment in the dram-shop action and submitted evidence in support of its motion. Among other things, MGR argued that Wiggins had failed to present sufficient evidence indicating that McMillian had appeared "visibly intoxicated" while purchasing alcohol at the dog-racing track operated by MGR. MGP also moved for a summary judgment. In relevant part, MGP asserted that it was a limited partnership that owned a minority interest in MGR. MGP asserted that it was not responsible for the operation of the dog-racing track. The Alabama Supreme Court determined a genuine issue of material fact remained regarding whether McMillian appeared visibly intoxicated when purchasing alcohol from MGR on the night of the collision. The circuit court's summary judgment in favor of MGR was, therefore, reversed. To the extent that Wiggins sought to recover damages stemming from Turner's death under both the Dram Shop Act and the Wrongful Death Act, the circuit court's order granting MGR's motion to strike Wiggins's request for damages under the Wrongful Death Act was affirmed; Wiggins could recover only damages based on Turner's death under the provisions of the Dram Shop Act. Because Wiggins waived any challenge to the summary judgment in favor of MGP, the circuit court's decision in that regard was affirmed. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Wiggins v. Mobile Greyhound Park, LLP" on Justia Law