Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Alabama

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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

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C. Randall Caldwell, Jr. worked for George Woerner, who owned several businesses headquartered in Foley. In 2009, Caldwell was promoted to president of Woerner Landscape, Inc., one of those businesses. Caldwell stated that, at that time, he was a licensed attorney in good standing in Alabama even though he was not engaged in private practice. During his employment with Woerner, the BP oil spill occurred in the Gulf of Mexico. Caldwell contacted an attorney with Cunningham Bounds, LLC, a law firm in Mobile, regarding the possibility of referring Woerner's businesses to Cunningham Bounds for Cunningham Bounds to handle their claims arising out of the spill. In April 2011, the Woerner companies retained Cunningham Bounds; Cunningham Bounds executed representation agreements with each of the Woerner companies. Those agreements provided that Cunningham Bounds would be paid a contingency fee for the work. In 2014, the Woerner companies retained Sirote & Permutt, P.C. to assist Cunningham Bounds in the BP oil-spill litigation. Additionally, each of the Woerner companies sent Caldwell a letter in which they stated that Caldwell had previously assisted with a BP oil-spill claim asserted on behalf of that Woerner company; that the claim had been principally handled by Cunningham Bounds; and that at the time Caldwell provided assistance he was working as in-house counsel for one or more of the Woerner companies. Each letter went on to assert that the claim would have to be reworked "based on newly announced guidelines from appellate courts hearing BP's objections to some of the previously filed claims"; that the owners and management of the Woerner companies felt that it would be in their best interest to retain a firm with experienced tax and business attorneys to assist in the claims; that the Woerner companies wished to continue their representation by Cunningham Bounds; that they were terminating the attorney-client relationship between Caldwell and the Woerner companies; and that they were retaining Sirote to assist Cunningham Bounds in reworking the claims asserted by the Woerner companies. After receiving this letter, Caldwell contacted one of the attorneys at Cunningham Bounds and told him that it was his position that he was entitled to the referral fees discussed in the representation agreements because, he said, he had referred the Woerner companies' claims to Cunningham Bounds. Summary judgment was ultimately entered in favor of Caldwell; the Alabama Supreme Court determined the trial court erred in finding Caldwell was owed a referral fee. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Sirote & Permutt, P.C. v. Caldwell" on Justia Law

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This dispute centered on whether Keith Arnold had to reimburse his former employer, Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama, LLC ("HMMA"), for expenses HMMA incurred in moving Arnold from Kentucky to Alabama to begin employment at HMMA's manufacturing facility in Montgomery. When he started his employment, Arnold signed an agreement obligating him to reimburse HMMA for his relocation expenses if he voluntarily left his employment with HMMA within 24 months. Just 16 months after beginning his employment, Arnold resigned his position with HMMA. After Arnold refused to reimburse HMMA for the relocation expenses it had paid on his behalf, HMMA sued him in the Montgomery Circuit Court, asserting a breach-of-contract claim. HMMA obtained a summary judgment against Arnold for $67,534 in damages, but the trial court denied HMMA's request for prejudgment interest, attorney fees, and expenses. Arnold appealed the summary judgment in favor of HMMA. HMMA cross-appealed, arguing that under the terms of the reimbursement agreement, it was entitled to $11,710 for prejudgment interest and $20,293 for attorney fees and expenses. The Alabama Supreme Court affirmed summary judgment entered by the trial court to the extent it held that Arnold was liable for breach of contract and awarded HMMA $67,534. Because HMMA established it had a contractual right to additional sums beyond the $67,534 awarded by the trial court, the Supreme Court reversed that portion of the judgment denying HMMA's request for those additional sums and remand the cause for the trial court to enter a final judgment in favor of HMMA for $99,537, an amount that fully compensated HMMA under the reimbursement agreement. View "Arnold v. Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama, LLC" on Justia Law

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Valley National Bank ("VNB") petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Montgomery Circuit Court to dismiss a declaratory-judgment action filed against VNB by Jesse Blount, Wilson Blount, and William Blount. William owned a 33% interest in Alabama Utility Services, LLC ("AUS"). William also served as the president of WWJ Corporation, Inc. ("WWJ"), and WWJ managed AUS. Wilson and Jesse, William's sons, owned all the stock of WWJ. In May 2013, William transferred his 33% interest in AUS to WWJ, and WWJ then owned all of the interest in AUS. In July 2015, VNB obtained a $905,599.90 judgment against William in an action separate from the underlying action. On August 31, 2015, Asset Management Professionals, LLC, purchased from WWJ all the assets of AUS for $1,600,000. On July 17, 2018, the Blounts filed a declaratory-judgment action seeking a judgment declaring "that (a) William's transfer of his interest in AUS to WWJ was not fraudulent as to [VNB], (b) William was not the alter ego of AUS or WWJ, (c) the sale of AUS did not result in a constructive trust in favor of [VNB], and (d) the [Blounts] did not engage in a civil conspiracy." VNB responded by filing a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) and (b)(6), Ala. R. Civ. P., asserting the lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and the lack of a justiciable controversy. The parties were referred to mediation, which was unsuccessful. The Supreme Court determined that with regard to the Blounts' complaint, insofar as it sought a judgment declaring that William's transfer of his interest in AUS to WWJ was not fraudulent as to VNB and that the Blounts did not engage in a civil conspiracy, a declaratory-judgment action was inappropriate as a means of resolving those issues. Therefore, VNB had demonstrated a clear legal right to have its motion to dismiss granted as to those claims. With regard to the alter-ego claim and the constructive-trust claim, VNB did not demonstrate "a clear legal right" to have those claims dismissed. The Court therefore granted in part, and denied in part, the petition for mandamus relief. View "Ex parte Valley National Bank." on Justia Law

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In case no. 1170709, Jere Austill III appealed a circuit court judgment permitting Tyler Montana Jul Prescott to redeem certain real property under sections 40-10-82 and 40-10-83, Ala. Code 1975. Specifically, Austill argued that, through adverse possession, he had "cut off" Prescott's right to redeem the property. Because the Alabama Supreme Court concluded that, by virtue of an adverse judgment in an earlier quiet-title action, Austill was precluded by the doctrine of res judicata from claiming an interest in the property through the extinguishment of Prescott's right of redemption. Therefore, the Supreme Court affirmed that portion of the trial court's judgment that challenged in Austill's appeal. In case no. 1170730, Prescott cross-appealed the trial court's denial of his motion for an award of attorney fees under the Alabama Litigation Accountability Act ("the ALAA"). In support thereof, Prescott argued Austill asserted his argument that he cut off Prescott's right of judicial redemption without substantial justification. The Supreme Court concluded the trial court did not exceed its discretion in denying Prescott's motion, and affirmed that portion of the trial court's judgment. View "Austill III v. Prescott" on Justia Law

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The Health Care Authority for Baptist Health, an affiliate of UAB Health Systems ("the Authority"), and Simeon Penton (collectively, "Baptist Health") appealed a circuit court judgment compelling Baptist Health to disclose certain documents to Central Alabama Radiation Oncology, LLC ("CARO"), under the auspices of the Alabama Open Records Act. CARO was a Montgomery-area radiation-oncology practice; CARO provided radiation and oncology services at the Montgomery Cancer Center ("MCC"), a facility owned and operated by the Authority. The Authority and CARO executed a noncompetition agreement in May 2012. In 2017, the Authority submitted a letter of intent to file a certificate-of-need ("CON") application with the State Health Planning and Development Agency ("SHPDA"). The letter of intent indicated that the Authority sought to offer radiation-oncology services at the Prattville location of MCC. CARO alleged it then attempted to persuade the Authority to use CARO physicians for radiation-oncology services at the Prattville location of MCC but that the Authority rebuffed CARO's overtures. In February 2018, the Authority filed its CON. Then in March 2018, the Authority notified CARO of the termination of the noncompetition agreement. A dispute arose and ended up in court. Counsel for the Authority sent CARO a letter requesting that CARO dismiss its action because, the Authority asserted, CARO's review of Board minutes confirmed that the Authority had not breached the noncompetition agreement by recruiting or employing radiation oncologists to work at the Prattville location of MCC. CARO asserted that redactions in the minutes included information relating to arrangements with medical oncologists, the Medicare 340B program, and the Authority's other proposed projects in the Prattville area. Counsel for the Authority contended that the remainder of the Board minutes and other documents CARO requested were "confidential and privileged and/or not subject to production under [the ORA]." The circuit court ultimately ordered unredacted minutes to be produced. The Alabama Supreme Court determined that although the Authority allowed CARO's counsel to review the unredacted Board minutes, it steadfastly refused to provide a copy of those unredacted minutes to CARO. Thus, the Authority plainly did not sufficiently comply with the ORA with respect to the Board minutes, and the circuit court did not exceed the scope of the ORA in ordering the records disclosed. View "Health Care Authority for Baptist Health v. Central Alabama Radiation Oncology, LLC" on Justia Law

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This case stemmed from the adoption of "Baby Doe" by his adoptive mother, K.G.S., which was contested by Baby Doe's birth mother, K.R. ("the birth mother"). Details of that contested adoption were reported by the Huffington Post, a Web-based media outlet, and were also disseminated through a Facebook social-media page devoted to having Baby Doe returned to the birth mother. K.G.S. filed an action in Alabama circuit court seeking, among other things, an injunction against Facebook, Inc., and certain individuals to prohibit the dissemination of information about the contested adoption of Baby Doe. These appeals followed the entry of a preliminary injunction granting K.G.S. the relief she sought. In appeal no. 1170244, the Alabama Supreme Court concluded the preliminary injunction entered against Facebook was void for lack of personal jurisdiction; therefore, Facebook's appeal of the preliminary injunction was dismissed and the trial court was instructed to dismiss K.G.S.'s claims against Facebook. In appeal no. 1170294, the Supreme Court reversed the order entering the preliminary injunction against defendant Renee Gelin was reversed for lack of notice, and the case was remanded with instructions to the trial court to dissolve the preliminary injunction issued against Gelin. In appeal no. 1170336, the Supreme Court reversed the preliminary injunction against Kim McLeod, and remanded this case with instructions to the trial court to dissolve the preliminary injunction issued against McLeod. View "Facebook, Inc. v. K.G.S." on Justia Law

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Deutsche Bank National Trust Company ("Deutsche Bank"); MERSCORP, Inc., and Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc. (collectively, "MERS"); and CIS Financial Services, Inc. ("CIS"), petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for permission, pursuant to Rule 5, Ala. R. App. P., to appeal the trial court's denial of their motions seeking to dismiss the claims of the plaintiffs-- Walker County and Rick Allison, in his official capacity as judge of probate of Walker County (collectively, "plaintiffs")--seeking class-based relief on behalf of themselves and all other similarly situated Alabama counties and judges of probate. At issue was a particular aspect of the mortgage-securitization process. Deutsche Bank served as trustee for numerous residential mortgage-backed security ("RMBS") trusts containing mortgages for properties located in Walker County and other Alabama counties. In this case, plaintiffs initiated the underlying litigation against Deutsche Bank "seeking to recover the benefit [Deutsche Bank allegedly] received by relying on the real property recording systems of the Counties without compensating the Counties for that benefit." Plaintiffs alleged that Alabama law requires mortgage assignments to be recorded; therefore, they maintained, the MERS system used by Deutsche Bank avoided the proper recording of mortgage assignments, along with the payment of the requisite filing fees, and has resulted in lost income to county governments. The Alabama Supreme Court reversed the trial court and remanded: “We see no intent in the Code section to embrace a mandatory rule that all conveyances, which would include not only real-property conveyances but also apparently all conveyances of personal property, are required to be recorded in the probate court. Instead, 35-4-50 simply states that the probate court is where conveyances that are required by law to be filed must be filed. Section 35-4-51, in turn, is the Code section that provides for the recording of conveyances generally, and it places a duty on only the probate court to accept those filings. The arguments before us demonstrate no legal duty to record mortgage assignments.” View "Deutsche Bank National Trust Company, as trustee of any specific residential mortgage-backed security" on Justia Law

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This case was an estate-administration case that was only partially before the Alabama Supreme Court. Perry Eugene Cox, Jr. ("Cox"), appealed a judgment made final by the Shelby Circuit Court ("the trial court") under Rule 54(b), Ala. R. Civ. P. Specifically, the trial court held that Cox's counterclaim against his sisters, Jennie Jo Cox Parrish, Debra Cox McCurdy, and Shirley Cox Wise, as coexecutors of the estate of their father, Perry Eugene Cox, Sr., was time-barred by Alabama's nonclaims statute, 43-2-350, Ala. Code 1975. The trial court dismissed Cox's counterclaim and certified its judgment as final and appealable, and Cox appealed. Because the trial court exceeded its discretion in certifying its dismissal of Cox's counterclaim under Rule 54(b), the Supreme Court determined no final judgment existed and the Court lacked jurisdiction to decide this appeal. Accordingly, the appeal was dismissed. View "Cox, Jr. v. Parrish" on Justia Law

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Several former employees of Alabama Psychiatric Services, P.C. ("APS"), filed a putative class action against APS and Managed Health Care Administration, Inc. ("MHCA"), an affiliate of APS, alleging APS had not paid the former employees for unused vacation time after they lost their jobs when APS went out of business. APS and MHCA moved the circuit court to compel arbitration pursuant to arbitration agreements the plaintiffs had entered into with APS. APS and MHCA asked the circuit court to determine, as a threshold question, whether class arbitration was available in this case because the arbitration agreements at issue did not expressly mention class arbitration. The circuit court issued an order granting the motion to compel arbitration, declining to decide whether class arbitration was available, concluding that that issue was to be decided by the arbitrator. The case proceeded to arbitration. The arbitrator issued a clause-construction award ("the award"), concluding that the relevant arbitration agreements authorized class arbitration in this case. APS and MHCA sought review of the award by the circuit court, which denied the motion to vacate the arbitrator’s award. The parties then applied to the Alabama Supreme Court, which noted multiple procedural irregularities in the circuit court’s order. The issue of whether the circuit court erred regarding its order not vacating the arbitration agreement was not properly before the Supreme Court. APS and MHCA attempted to challenge that part of the order compelling arbitration in which the circuit court declined to decide the availability of class arbitration. However, to properly challenge that aspect of the earlier order, APS and MHCA should have appealed the order. APS and MHCA also argued the circuit court erred by failing to apply a de novo standard of review of the arbitrator’s award. The Supreme Court determined the circuit court did not err in this respect. The Supreme Court therefore affirmed the circuit court in denying the motion to vacate the arbitrator’s award, and dismissed appeal 1171150 as redundant. View "Alabama Psychiatric Services, P.C. v. Lazenby et al." on Justia Law