Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Alabama
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S. Mark Booth petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the the trial court to dismiss an action filed against him by the City of Guin. In 2008, Booth and the City entered into a contract entitled "Commercial Development Agreement." The agreement provided that the City would sell Booth approximately 40 acres of real property located in Marion County at a price of $5,000 per acre. Booth, in turn, promised to subdivide the property into lots for commercial development. The agreement included a provision granting the City the right to repurchase the property should Booth fail to develop the land within three years following the execution of the agreement. In 2017, the City sued Booth, asserting a claim for specific performance pursuant to the agreement's repurchase option. The City alleged Booth failed to construct at least one commercial facility on the property within three years from the effective date of the agreement. The City alleged that it had "timely tendered the purchase price to [Booth] and requested a conveyance of the real property described in the contract but [that Booth] refused to accept the tender or to make the conveyance." Booth moved to dismiss, arguing that, although he had fulfilled his obligations under the agreement by developing a hotel on the property, the City's complaint seeking to specifically enforce the repurchase of the property pursuant to its option to repurchase in Section 4.4(b) of the agreement was time-barred by the two-year statutory limitations period for such options in 35-4-76(a), Ala. Code 1975. After review, the Supreme Court granted Booth's petition as to the City's claims for specific performance, and its claims alleging fraud and breach of contact; the trial court was ordered to dismiss those claims. The Court denied Booth's petition relating to the City's rescission claim. View "Ex parte S. Mark Booth." on Justia Law

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Tyler Taylor injured his right index finger while in the line and scope of employment with Imperial Aluminum-Scottsboro, LLC ("Imperial"). The issue this case presented for the Alabama Supreme Court's review centered on whether the defendant-employer engaged in third-party spoliation of evidence that would have been essential to the plaintiff's products-liability claim against the company. After review, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court, finding Imperial culpable for negligent spoliation of evidence, and affirmed the award of compensatory damages to Taylor. The Court reversed, however, judgment relating to the award of punitive damages based on a finding of wanton conduct. View "Imperial Aluminum, LLC v. Taylor" on Justia Law

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Jerome Speegle and Anthony Hoffman, two members of Zieman Speegle, LLC, a law firm based in Mobile, petitioned for approval of dissolution of the firm. Thomas Zieman, Jr., previously a member of the law firm, appeared in the action, asserting a counterclaim against the law firm and a third-party complaint against Speegle and Hoffman. Without holding a hearing, the trial court entered a summary judgment on Zieman's counterclaim and third-party complaint in favor of the law firm, Speegle, and Hoffman. The trial court also identified the equity-holding members of the law firm and provided for the distribution of the assets of the law firm. Because the Alabama Supreme Court held the trial court should have held a hearing, it reversed the trial court's judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Zieman v. Zieman Speegle, LLC" on Justia Law

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Ronny Sanders and his employer KKE, LLC, sought to transfer a wrongful-death case filed against them in Bibb County, Alabama to Chilton County, where the automobile accident giving rise to the case occurred. KKE was a trucking company with its principal place of business in Bibb County. In 2016, Sanders, a Bibb County resident, was driving a logging truck owned by KKE eastbound on U.S. Highway 82 in Chilton County when the truck collided with a westbound vehicle being driven by Destini Davis. Davis and her three passengers, Londyn Rivers, Tarlanda Davenport, and Makiyah Davenport, were killed in the collision. After the trial court denied Sanders and KKE's motion to transfer the action from Bibb County to Chilton County, they petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus, arguing that the transfer was required by section 6-3-21.1, Ala. Code 1975, the forum non conveniens statute. The Supreme Court concluded Sanders and KKE did not establish that Chilton County was a significantly more convenient forum than Bibb County or that Bibb County's connection to the action was weak. Because they did not establish a clear legal right to the transfer they seek, Sanders and KKE were not entitled to mandamus relief. View "Ex parte KKE, LLC" on Justia Law

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Five Star Credit Union ("Five Star") attempted for over a decade to collect a debt owed by William Elliott. Five Star obtained a judgment against Elliott in 2011, but he never paid. In 2017, Five Star sought to garnish Elliott's wages by filing a process of garnishment against Elliott's employer, The Elliott Law Group, P.A. ("ELG"), a law firm under Elliott's complete control. ELG opposed the process of garnishment. Following a hearing, the trial court found that the assertions in ELG's opposition were untrue and ordered that Elliott's income from ELG be garnished. Elliott and ELG appealed. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the appellants' arguments lacked merit, and affirmed the trial court. View "Elliott Law Firm Group, P.A. v. Five Star Credit Union" on Justia Law

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Antoinette Belle, as personal representative of the estate of Edith Mitchell, deceased, sued various health-care providers that treated Mitchell while she was hospitalized in April 2009. Belle eventually reached settlements with all of those health-care providers except two physicians. The trial court entered a summary judgment against Belle and in favor of the two physicians, bringing the medical-malpractice action to a close. Belle then filed a legal-malpractice case against four attorneys and three law firms that had represented her at varying times in the medical-malpractice action, alleging they had been negligent in representing her. Belle later brought an additional claim of fraudulent concealment. The attorneys and law firms denied the allegations against them, arguing that Belle's claims were untimely and that they had no factual or legal basis. The trial court agreed and entered judgments in favor of the attorneys and law firms. Belle appealed. Finding no reversible error, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed judgment in the attorneys and law firms. View "Belle v. Goldasich, Jr., et al." on Justia Law

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Dara Myelia Reed petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the Jefferson Circuit Court to vacate its order denying Reed's motion for a change of venue and to enter an order transferring the underlying action to the Marshall Circuit Court. In 2017, a vehicle driven by Reed collided with a vehicle driven by Judy Watwood, at or near the intersection of Gilliam Springs Road Northwest and U.S. Highway 231 in Marshall County. Reed was a resident of Jefferson County; Watwood was a resident of Cullman County. In 2018, Watwood sued Reed in the Jefferson Circuit Court, alleging negligence and wantonness and seeking damages for her accident-related injuries. Reed filed a motion for a change of venue under Alabama's forum non conveniens statute, requesting that the action be transferred to Marshall County in the interest of justice. Watwood filed a response in opposition to the motion for a change of venue. Following a hearing on the matter, the circuit court denied the motion. Reed then filed this petition. The Supreme Court determined the trial court should have granted Reed’s motion, and granted her petition. View "Ex parte Reed." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Startley General Contractors, Inc. ("Startley"), and Mandy Powrzanas, appealed the denial of their renewed motion to have Jefferson Circuit Court Judge Robert Vance, Jr. recuse himself from the underlying action the plaintiffs filed against the Water Works Board of the City of Birmingham ("BWWB"), Board members, Jones Utility and Contracting Co., Inc., and Richard Jones (collectively, “defendants.”). Plaintiffs alleged the defendants conspired to violate Alabama's competitive-bid law in ways that resulted in financial harm to the plaintiffs. Plaintiffs contended that Judge Vance had received monetary contributions to his 2018 campaign for Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court from law firms and attorneys representing the defendants. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded the renewed motion to recuse did not fall under the auspices of section 12–24–3, Ala. Code 1975, because it was not based on campaign contributions in "the immediately preceding election." Moreover, “even if [section] 12–24–3 did apply, the plaintiffs failed to establish a rebuttable presumption for recusal because, in order to meet the required threshold, the plaintiffs: (1) included contributions from law firms and individuals who were not ‘parties,’ as that term is defined in 12–24–3(c), to the case; (2) aggregated campaign contributions from multiple parties in contravention to 12–24–3(b) addressing campaign contributions made by ‘a party to the judge or justice’; and (3) incorrectly assumed that ‘total campaign contributions raised during the election cycle’ refers to one-month totals for campaign contributions rather than the ordinary meaning of an ‘election cycle,’ which concerns a longer period.” The Court concluded plaintiffs did not establish that a single, actual "party" to this case gave a "substantial campaign contribution" that would give rise to the conclusion that "[a] reasonable person would perceive that [Judge Vance's] ability to carry out his ... judicial responsibilities with impartiality is impaired." View "Startley General Contractors, Inc. v. Water Works Board of the City of Birmingham et al." on Justia Law

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Trinity Property Consultants, LLC ("Trinity Property"), petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari to review the judgment of the Court of Civil Appeals holding that Trinity Property failed to meet its burden of demonstrating that Brittony Mays had been properly served in an eviction and unlawful-detainer action filed by Trinity Property pursuant to the Alabama Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act, section 35- 9A-101 et seq., Ala. Code 1975. In 2018, the District Court entered a default judgment against Mays in the eviction and unlawful-detainer action filed by Trinity Property. Mays moved the district court, pursuant to Rule 60(b)(4), Ala. R. Civ. P., to set aside the default judgment on the basis that she had not been served with the complaint in the action; that motion was denied. Mays appealed the denial of the Rule 60(b)(4) motion to the Shelby Circuit Court; that court dismissed her appeal as untimely filed. Mays moved the circuit court, pursuant to Rule 59(e), Ala. R. Civ. P., to reinstate the appeal and to stay the execution of the default judgment. Trinity Property responded with an affidavit from the process server, who averred in relevant part he posted and mailed the summons and complaint when he did not receive a response from knocking on Mays’ front door. Mays's position was that merely knocking on the door, without more, was not a "reasonable effort" at personal service. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the process server’s effort at obtaining personal service was reasonable, the alternative method of service satisfied the requirements of due process. The Court reversed judgment of the Court of Civil Appeals and remanded this case for further proceedings. View "Ex parte Trinity Property Consultants, LLC." on Justia Law

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Ronald Heining and his son, Tyler Heining, appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of Robert J. Dean, Jr., Public Works Director of the City of Anniston, and Darryl Abernathy, a supervisor in the Public Works Department, in the Heinings' action seeking damages for false arrest, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, and conspiracy. In June or July 2012, Ronald Heining discovered a sealed envelope that had been slipped underneath the door at his place of employment, B&T Supplies, which was owned by Ronald's son Tyler; B&T at the time sold janitorial supplies to the City of Anniston ("the City"). Ronald was the contact person for those sales. The envelope stated on the outside "Deliver Ben Little" and contained two or three pages of ethical violations allegedly committed by several employees of the Public Works Department, including Dean and Abernathy. Little was a councilman for the City. After reviewing the contents of the envelope, Ronald took the envelope and its contents to Councilman Little, who he claimed he did not know. Ronald and Councilman Little, in turn, took the information to Don Hoyt, the city manager, who conducted an extensive investigation into the alleged ethical violations. Councilman Little was arrested and was charged with violating the City's council-manager act; James Fluker, a Public Works employee, was a witness in that case. Sometime after Councilman Little's arrest, Fluker told Abernathy that Ronald Heining had tried to bribe him not to testify against Councilman Little. The bribery and witness-intimidation charges against the Heinings were ultimately nolle prossed. The Heinings, thereafter, sued Dean and Abernathy, asserting claims of false arrest, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, and conspiracy. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded after review that although the facts concerning Fluker's reliability and credibility were disputed, those facts had no bearing on whether police acted on its own initiative in believing a crime had been committed. The summary judgment in favor of Dean and Abernathy on the claims of false arrest, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution were affirmed. View "Heining v. Abernathy" on Justia Law