Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Alabama
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The City of Warrior ("Warrior") and the Town of Trafford ("Trafford") petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct a circuit court to vacate its order denying their motions for a summary judgment in this tort action filed by plaintiff James Griffin, as the personal representative of the estate of James R. Olvey, and to enter a summary judgment in Warrior's and Trafford's favor on the basis of immunity. A Warrior police officer saw a cehicle operated by Donald Wright run a red light. Though the officer tried to stop Wright's vehicle, Wright sped away and the officer pursued. A Trafford officer joined in pursuit. When Wright entered the interstate to avoid the police chase, the officers stopped their pursuit. Approximately three quarters of a mile from where the officers ceased their pursuit, Wright's vehicle collided head-on with a vehicle driven by Olvey in a southbound lane. Olvey died as a result of the collision. When Wright was apprehended at the collision scene, a syringe was found hanging from his right arm. Subsequent testing revealed that, at the time of the collision, he was under the influence of both marijuana and cocaine. Wright was subsequently criminally indicted in connection with Olvey's death. Griffin, as the personal representative of Olvey's estate, later sued, among others, the two officers and their respective Town employers, alleging among other things, that Olvey died as the result of the allegedly unskillful, negligent, and/or wanton conduct of the officers in pursuing Wright while carrying out duties. As to each municipality, Griffin further alleged, based on a theory of respondeat superior, that they were vicariously liable for the purported wrongful conduct of the officers. After review, the Supreme Court determined Warrior and Trafford demonstrated a clear legal right to summary judgment in their favor on the basis of immunity. Accordingly, the trial court was directed to enter a summary judgment in favor of each on Griffin's claims against them. View "Ex parte City of Warrior and Town of Trafford." on Justia Law

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Larry Lang appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of Cabela's Wholesale, LLC ("Cabela's"), in his product-liability action against Cabela's based on the alleged failure of a hunting tree stand. On November 29, 2016, Lang was starting to climb down the ladder of a hunting tree stand. A telescoping mechanism in the ladder failed, and Lang fell to the ground and was severely injured. As a result, he had limited ability to walk, incurred significant medical bills, and incurred expenses to modify his home. The Alabama Supreme Court found that under the clear language of 6-5-521(b)-(d), Ala. Code 1975, commonly known as the innocent-seller act, Cabela's was not entitled to a summary judgment on Lang's claims against Cabela's as the seller of the tree stand. Cabela's was entitled to a summary judgment, however, on Lang's claims against Cabela's as the designer and manufacturer. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment in part and reversed it in part. View "Lang v. Cabela's Wholesale, LLC." on Justia Law

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Warren Averett Companies, LLC, sought a writ of mandamus to direct a circuit court to vacate its order denying Warren Averett's motion to strike the jury demand asserted by Gerriann Fagan and to enter an order granting the motion to strike the jury demand. The underlying dispute involved a business proposition Warren Averett made to Fagan to to build a human-resources consulting practice. Fagan would wind down the operations of her company, The Prism Group; Fagan would then become a member of Warren Averett, and Warren Averett would purchase The Prism Group's equipment and furniture, assume responsibility for The Prism Group's leases; and that Warren Averett would assume The Prism Group's membership in Career Partners International, LLC. The "Standard Personal Service Agreement" ("the PSA") entered into by Fagan and Warren Averett drafted by Warren Averett included, in pertinent part, a dispute-resolution clause. Fagan resigned from Warren Averett after a salary dispute, and, on February 28, 2019, Fagan filed a demand for arbitration with the American Arbitration Association ("AAA"). The AAA determined that, under its rules, Fagan owed $300 and Warren Averett owed $1,900. The AAA also stated that any dispute regarding the filing fees should be raised before the arbitrator for a determination once all the filing requirements, including payment of the fees, had been satisfied. Warren Averett refused to pay its share of the filing fees as requested by the AAA, and the AAA closed the file in the matter. Thereafter, Fagan sued Warren Averett alleging multiple causes of action. Fagan demanded a jury trial. Warren Averett moved to dismiss the claims, and concurrently moved to compel arbitration. The Alabama Supreme Court determined Fagan did not show prejudice by the almost two-year delay between the filing of Fagan's amended complaint and the filing of Warren Averett's motion to strike the jury demand: "The trial court granted Warren Averett's motion to compel arbitration, and Fagan sought review of that decision. We reversed that decision; on remand, the trial court set a scheduling conference, and Warren Averett filed its motion to strike Fagan's jury demand. Although there was a delay between the time that Fagan demanded a jury and the time that Warren Averett sought to strike that demand, Fagan has not shown that she was prejudiced by that passage of time." Warren Averett's petition was granted and the writ issued. View "Ex parte Warren Averett Companies, LLC." on Justia Law

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The Wilcox County Board of Education ("the Board") and individual Board members were defendants in a lawsuit filed by Jane Doe. Defendants petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the Wilcox Circuit Court to grant their motion for a summary judgment on the ground that they were entitled to immunity. On November 11, 2010, Doe, at that time, was a 12th-grade student at Wilcox County Central High School, was sexually assaulted by the principal of the school, James Thomas. According to Doe, Thomas made inappropriate comments of a sexual nature to her while she was serving as an aide in the school office and later called her into his private office, closed the door, and began kissing her and touching her. Doe reported the incident, and, as a result, Thomas was arrested the following day by the Wilcox County Sheriff's Department. After his arrest, Thomas was suspended from his duties as school principal and placed on administrative leave. He was ultimately convicted of having sexual contact with a student under the age of 19 years. In 2012, Doe initiated an action against Thomas, the Board, the individual members of the Board, and other individuals identified as former Wilcox County school-system superintendents. Doe asserted negligence and wantonness claims against the Board and the Board members, contending that those defendants had had knowledge of previous instances of similar misconduct by Thomas that they had allegedly failed to properly investigate or report. Doe also asserted claims of negligent or wanton hiring, training, and/or retention of Thomas against the Board and the Board members. The Supreme Court concluded the Board and the Board members, insofar as the Board members were sued in their official capacities, are entitled to immunity from the claims asserted against them but that the Board members were not entitled to State-agent immunity from the claims asserted against them in their individual capacities. View "Ex parte Wilcox County Board of Education" on Justia Law

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Susan Hoff ("Susan") and Eliot Hoff ("Eliot") were mother and son and the purported beneficiaries under a will executed by Susan Bibb Kidd ("Kidd"), Susan's mother. Probate was initiated in 2011. In 2020, Eliot filed a "Verified Petition for Removal Pursuant to Ala. Code 12-11-41," in which he asserted, among other things, that he was an heir of Kidd and that the estate could be better administered in the circuit court. Although Eliot's signature appeared on his petition, the signature was not notarized or signed under oath. While Eliot's petition was pending, Susan filed her own verified petition for removal that was sworn to under oath and notarized. The circuit court granted Susan's removal petition. Later that same day, however, the circuit court entered an order in which it vacated its previous order granting Susan's removal petition, directed Susan to serve notice of her removal petition to all interested parties, and indicated that it would set the matter for a hearing. After reconsideration was denied, Susan appealed, and the case was transferred to the Alabama Supreme Court. The Supreme Court dismissed when Susan failed to respond to a show-cause order. In 2021, Susan moved the circuit court seeking an order removing the administration of the estate. On October 18, 2021, the circuit court entered an order dismissing Susan's removal petition without prejudice, "[f]or failure to comply with th[e] Court's Orders of November 16, 2020, June 8, 2021 and September 1, 2021." On October 21, 2021, Susan and Eliot each filed a notice of appeal to the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals; that court again transferred the appeals to the Supreme Court based on a lack of appellate jurisdiction. The Supreme Court ultimately found that because Eliot (eventually)filed a sworn removal petition that included a statement regarding his standing to bring the removal petition as an heir of Kidd and a statement that, in his opinion, the estate would be better administered in the circuit court, Eliot's removal petition satisfied the requirements of 12-11-41. Accordingly, the circuit court was required to enter an order of removal. The circuit court's order "denying" Eliot's removal petition was reversed. The Supreme Court did not reach Susan's appeal because its decision to grant Eliot's removal petition effectively awarded Susan the relief she sought. View "Hoff v. The Estate of Susan Bibb Kidd" on Justia Law

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Icylene Pearce, as the personal representative of the estate of her late husband, Dewitt Ray Pearce, appealed a judgment entered on a jury verdict in favor of the defendants in her wrongful-death action against the estate of Daniel Lea Day, deceased, and Enterprise Leasing Company-South Central, LLC ("Enterprise"). Dewitt was killed when the vehicle Day was driving collided head-on with Dewitt's vehicle. Pearce's appeal concerned the defense that Day suffered a sudden loss of consciousness before the collision. Pearce objected to the trial court's exclusion of certain evidence that she believed related to that defense, and she claimed that, even without considering that evidence, the trial court should have ordered a new trial. Finding no reversible error, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the trial court. View "Pearce v. The Estate of Daniel Lea Day, et al." on Justia Law

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Defendant-petitioner Lisa Mestas petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the circuit court to vacate its order denying her motion for a summary judgment in this wrongful-death/medical-negligence action brought by David Lee Autrey, as the personal representative of the estate of his wife, Bridgette Ann Moore, and to enter a summary judgment in Mestas's favor on the basis of State-agent immunity. In May 2017, Autrey's wife, Moore, went to the University of South Alabama Medical Center to undergo a surgery required by the prior amputation of her right leg. The surgery was performed without incident, and Moore was transferred to a hospital room for recovery. At approximately 9:30 p.m. that night, nurses found Moore unresponsive. Attempts to revive her were unsuccessful, and Moore was pronounced deceased. It was later determined that Moore died as a result of opioid-induced respiratory depression ("OIRD"). Mestas argued that, at all times relevant to Autrey's lawsuit, she was an employee of the University of South Alabama ("USA") and served as the Chief Nursing Officer ("CNO") for USA Health System, which included USA Medical Center, various clinics, and a children's hospital. According to Mestas, as the CNO, her primary responsibilities were administrative in nature and she had not provided any direct patient care since 2010. Mestas argued that because Autrey's claims against her arose from the line and scope of her employment with a State agency,2 and because she did not treat Moore, she was entitled to, among other things, State-agent immunity. The Supreme Court concluded Mestas demonstrated she was entitled to state-agent immunity, and that she had a clear right to the relief sought. The Court therefore granted her petition and issued the writ, directing the trial court to grant her summary judgment. View "Ex parte Lisa Mestas." on Justia Law

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James P. Key, Jr. appealed a circuit court order denying his motion to compel arbitration of his claims against Warren Averett, LLC, and Warren Averett Companies, LLC (collectively, "WA"). Key alleged that he was a certified public accountant who had been employed by WA for 25 years and had been a member of WA for 15 years; that he had executed a personal-services agreement ("PSA") with WA that included a noncompete clause; and that WA had sent him a letter terminating his employment. Key sought a judgment declaring "that the Non-Compete Clause and the financial penalty provision contained in the PSA is not applicable to Key and is an unlawful restraint of Key's ability to serve his clients as a professional." The Alabama Supreme Court found that whether Key's claims against WA had to be arbitrated was a threshold issue that should not have been decided by the circuit court; nor was it appropriate for the Supreme Court to settle the issue in this appeal. Accordingly, the circuit court's order was reversed, and the case was remanded for the circuit court to enter an order sending the case to arbitration for a determination of the threshold issue of arbitrability and staying proceedings in the circuit court during the pendency of the arbitration proceedings. View "Key v. Warren Averett, LLC, et al." on Justia Law

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Dahlia McKinney, M.D., a defendant in the wrongful-death/medical negligence action, petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the Jefferson Circuit Court to vacate an order compelling Dr. McKinney, ostensibly under Alabama's discovery rules, to alter the contents of a registered death certificate she prepared in connection with the death of Paydro White ("Paydro"). On December 31, 2013, Paydro sought medical treatment at the emergency department of Princeton Baptist Medical Center where he was diagnosed with possible pneumonia; he was discharged on that same date. The following afternoon, Paydro returned to the emergency department seeking follow-up care; he was formally admitted for treatment by the emergency physician on duty at that time. Later that evening, after Dr. McKinney began her evening shift, Paydro become unresponsive. Although he was initially successfully resuscitated, Paydro later died in the early morning hours of January 2, 2014. Dr. McKinney, who completed and signed Paydro's death certificate, identified the contributing causes of Paydro's death as "Pulseless electrical activity" due to "Acute Myocardial Infarction." Subsequent postmortem examinations and the autopsy of Paydro's body revealed that "the most likely cause of ... death [was] pulmonary Thromboembolism" -- a final diagnosis with which Dr. McKinney's later deposition testimony indicated she agreed. Dorothy White ("Dorothy"), Paydro's mother, was the personal representative of Paydro's estate. In that capacity, she sued numerous defendants allegedly connected with Paydro's medical treatment, including Dr. McKinney, largely arguing Paydro's death had been caused by the defendants' purported failure to timely diagnose and treat the pulmonary thromboembolism that ultimately caused Paydro's death. Dr. McKinney, who had provided no medical treatment to Paydro other than in connection with emergency resuscitation attempts, informally requested her voluntary dismissal as a defendant. In an email communication to Dr. McKinney's counsel, the estate's counsel indicated that a decision on that request would be aided by Dr. McKinney's voluntary amendment of the original cause of death indicated on Paydro's death certificate to identify his cause of death as a pulmonary thromboembolism. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded the trial court exceeded its discretion in compelling Dr. McKinney to amend the death certificate. Dr. McKinney therefore demonstrated a clear legal right to her requested relief. The trial court was ordered to vacate its order compelling Dr. McKinney to amend the cause of death on Paydro's death certificate. View "Ex parte Dahlia McKinney, M.D." on Justia Law

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The Terminix International Co., L.P., and Terminix International, Inc. (collectively, "Terminix"), and Ken Stroh, an agent and employee of Terminix, appealed court orders appointing arbitrators, which were entered in two separate actions. The first action was commenced by Dauphin Surf Club Association, Inc. ("DSC"), an incorporated condominium owners' association, and multiple members of that association who owned individual condominium units. The second action was brought by Stonegate Condominium Owners' Association, Inc. ("Stonegate"), and multiple members of that association who owned individual condominium units. In 2006 and 2007, respectively, Terminix entered into contracts with DSC and Stonegate to provide protection from termites for the properties owned by DSC and Stonegate and their members. Both of those contracts included, among other things, an arbitration clause. After disputes regarding termite damage arose between Terminix and DSC and Stonegate, the DSC and Stonegate plaintiffs each petitioned for the appointment of an arbitrator to resolve the disputes. Defendants filed motions in opposition to the petitions, asserting that, because the National Arbitration Forum ("the NAF"), which had been designated as the arbitral forum in the arbitration agreement, was no longer administering consumer arbitrations, the claims could not be arbitrated by the NAF, as the parties had expressly agreed in the arbitration agreement, and that they could not be compelled to arbitrate in a manner inconsistent with the terms of the arbitration agreement. Plaintiffs countered that the contracts containing the arbitration agreement also contained a severability clause that should have been applied; the Federal Arbitration Act ("FAA") governed the agreement; language in the agreement demonstrated Terminix's primary intent was to arbitrate disputes (and that the choice of the NAF as the arbitral forum was an ancillary matter); and that defendants should have been judicially estopped from arguing that the selection of the NAF as the arbitral forum was integral to the arbitration agreement because they had taken the position in prior judicial proceedings that the courts presiding over those proceedings were authorized to appoint substitute arbitrators under the FAA. The Alabama Supreme Court agreed that the designation of the NAF as the arbitral forum in the agreement was ancillary rather than an integral and essential part of the agreements, the trial court therefore correctly granted plaintiffs' petitions to compel arbitration under the FAA. View "The Terminix International Co., L.P., et al. v. Dauphin Surf Club Association, Inc., et al." on Justia Law