Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Alabama

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In May 2017, Jerry Tarver, Sr., sued the Utilities Board of the City of Tuskegee ("UBT") and numerous other defendants seeking damages based on alleged exposure to contaminated water purportedly caused by defendants' combined and concurring negligence. The UBT petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Macon Circuit Court to vacate its December 2017 order disqualifying UBT's retained counsel, Huie, Fernambucq & Steward, LLP (the Huie Firm) from representing it in Tarver's suit. The Supreme Court determined Tarver did not present evidence indicating that a Huie firm lawyer, in his capacity as a commissioner of the Alabama Environmental Management Commission, was a conflict of interest regarding the attorney's representation of UBT. Therefore, the attorney was not disqualified under Rule 1.11(a), Ala. R. Prof. Cond., and no disqualification could be imputed to the Huie firm. View "Ex parte Utilities Board of the City of Tuskegee." on Justia Law

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Aqua Marine Enterprises, Inc. ("AME"), and AME's chief operating officer and vice president Brent Mitchell appealed a circuit court judgment in favor of K&B Fabricators, Inc. ("K&B"), following a bench trial in a dispute alleging the usurpation of corporate opportunities in the business of fabricating storm shelters. In 2006, Mitchell began discussions with Kendall Blaxton, who owned a welding-supply company used by AME, about starting a storm-shelter-fabrication business in Alabama because Mitchell believed it would be more efficient to deal with a local shelter fabricator. Those discussions led to the formation of K&B, a closely held corporation with three shareholders, Mitchell and two brothers, Kendall and Kenneth Blaxton. From 2006 to mid 2014, all of AME's steel storm-shelter orders were fabricated by K&B. AME entered into a non-compete/non-disclosure agreement with K&B. Kendall testified that in 2009 he and his brother had a dispute about how K&B was being managed, and Kendall ended up buying out Kenneth's ownership interest in K&B. Kendall then owned 90 percent of K&B's stock and Mitchell owned 10 percent. In early 2012, Kenneth formed Compliance Construction with two others; the company was to "take advantage of business opportunties that did not involve storm-shelter fabrication." By 2014, the relationship between AME and K&B had soured, and ended with AME accusing K&B of violating the noncompetition agreement between them. AME contended the trial court erred in concluding K&B did not violate the agreement. The Alabama Supreme Court found that AME failed to demonstrate Compliance's involvement in storm-shelter fabrication constituted a violation by K&B of the noncompetition agreement. The Court affirmed a finding of liability against Mitchell and its imposition of a constructive trust upon AME; the Court also affirmed the ruling in favor of K&B on AME's allegation of breach of the noncompetition agreement. The Court reversed, however, part of the trial court's judgment awarding damages, finding the award was not based upon the profits earned by AME in its fabrication. View "Aqua Marine Enterprises, Inc. v. K&B Fabricators, Inc." on Justia Law

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Defendants collectively referred to as "Advanced Disposal" petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for mandamus relief to direct the circuit court to either join the City of Tallassee as a necessary and indispensable party, or dismiss this suit entirely. Advanced Disposal entered into an "Agreement for Acceptance and Treatment of Leachate" with the City ("the agreement") in which the City agreed to accept and treat, for a fee, leachate from Advanced Disposal's landfill. After the City accepts title to the leachate, it treats the leachate with chlorine at its stabilization pond. The City then discharges the effluent into the Tallapoosa River ("the river") pursuant to a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permit ("the NPDES permit"). The effluent mixes with the river water, which flows several miles downstream to the intake point for the Utilities Board of Tuskegee ("the utilities board"), which treats the river water with chlorine and uses other methods to prepare the water for consumption by its consumers, including the plaintiff, Jerry Tarver, Sr. In May 2017, Tarver sued Advanced Disposal, the utilities board, and fictitiously named defendants seeking monetary damages as well as injunctive relief for exposure to allegedly contaminated water that had been illegally "discharged" into the river and ultimately sold by the utilities board for consumption by its customers. Although the Supreme Court concluded the City was a necessary party to Tarver's action, it could not determine whether its joinder is feasible, insofar as the City, once joined, might object to venue in Macon County. Accordingly, the Court issued the writ of mandamus and directed the trial court to join the City as a necessary party under Rule 19(a). If the City, once joined, objects to venue, Rule 19(a) requires the trial court to dismiss it from the action and then proceed under Rule 19(b) to determine, in accordance with the stated factors, "whether in equity and good conscience the action should proceed among the parties before it, or should be dismissed, the [City] being thus regarded as indispensable." View "Ex parte Advanced Disposal Services South, LLC, et al." on Justia Law

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Appellants Beverly Burns, Michael Ashley, and Debbie Elrod appealed the denial of their will contest, admitting to probate the will of Rheba Ashley, and issuing letters testamentary to James Ashley. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the only action the probate court took with respect to James' petition to probate Rheba's will was the appointment of an administrator ad colligendum of the estate. This appointment was insufficient to initiate the general administration of the estate, thus the circuit court could not assume jurisdiction over the administration. Accordingly, the circuit court's purporting to remove the administration of Rheba's estate from the probate court and its judgment relating to the admission of Rheba's will to probate and issued letters testamentary to James, were void for lack of jurisdiction and were therefore vacated. View "Burns v. Ashley" on Justia Law

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The Town of Dauphin Island ("the Town") petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for mandamus relief from a circuit court order denying its motion for summary judgment on recreational-use grounds, and asked for entry of summary judgment in its favor on claims brought by Bobbi Rogers individually, and as next friend to her minor daughter Rebecca Hatem. Rebecca sat on a tree swing located in a Town park when she was injured by the limb on which the swing was hanging. She suffered a compound fracture to her leg. Finding that constructive knowledge of the swing's potential danger was not sufficient under the recreational use statutes to hold the Town liable for Rebecca's injury. Therefore, the Supreme Court determined the Town established a clear legal right to the relief sought, and granted the writ. The circuit court was directed to grant summary judgment in favor of the Town. View "Ex parte Town of Dauphin Island." on Justia Law

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Terri Bargsley filed a negligence and wantonness action against the Birmingham Airport Authority ("the BAA") seeking to recover damages for injuries Bargsley allegedly incurred in a fall at Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport ("the airport"), which the BAA managed and operated. The BAA filed a motion to dismiss Bargsley's tort action, claiming that it was entitled to immunity under various sections of the Alabama Code 1975. The circuit court granted the BAA's motion to dismiss in part and denied it in part. The circuit court determined that the BAA was entitled to immunity from Bargsley's negligence claim but that it was not entitled to immunity from Bargsley's wantonness claim. The BAA then petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the circuit court to vacate the portion of its order denying the BAA's motion to dismiss as to Bargsley's wantonness claim and to enter an order dismissing Bargsley's wantonness claim. Finding that the BAA demonstrated it had a clear legal right to a dismissal of Bargsley's tort action, including the wantonness claim, the Supreme Court granted the petition and issued the writ. The circuit court was ordered to grant the BAA's motion to dismiss in its entirety. View "Ex parte Birmingham Airport Authority." on Justia Law

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Dolgencorp, LLC ("Dollar General") filed a petition for a writ of mandamus requesting relief from a discovery order entered by the Tuscaloosa Circuit Court on February 8, 2017. In 2016, Daisy Pearl White Freeman was operating her vehicle in the Northwood Shopping Center in Northport, Alabama. She lost control of her vehicle, ran over the curb and onto the sidewalk, and struck Deborah Gilliam, who had just walked out of a Dollar General store located in the shopping center. Gilliam sued Dollar General, among others. As to Dollar General, the complaint stated claims of negligence and wantonness. Gilliam then filed a notice of intent to serve subpoenas on nonparties Dolgencorp of New York, Inc.; Dolgen Midwest, LLC; Dolgencorp of Texas, Inc.; Dollar General Partners; DG Louisiana, LLC; and DG Retail, LLC (collectively as "the nonparty Dollar General entities"). Dollar General filed a motion to quash the nonparty subpoenas, arguing that the nonparty subpoenas were unduly burdensome. When the trial court refused, Dollar General petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for mandamus relief from the discovery order. The Supreme Court concluded that even though the trial court modified the scope of discovery in this case, the discovery ordered was as oppressive and burdensome as the discovery requests in Ex parte Compass Bank, 686 So. 2d 1135 (Ala. 1996), and Ex parte Mobile Fixture & Equipment Co., 630 So. 2d 358 (Ala. 1993). Therefore, the burden on Dollar General to comply with that order was out of proportion to any benefit Gilliam would obtain from the requested information. Therefore, the Court concluded Dollar General established it had a clear legal right to relief from the trial court's February 2017 discovery order. View "Ex parte Dolgencorp, LLC." on Justia Law

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The estate of Ray Wendell Williams appeals a circuit court judgment ordering it to make a monthly payment of $1,000 to Williams's daughter Kimberly Loveless pursuant to a provision in Williams's will directing WTW Enterprises, Inc. ("WTW"), a trucking business operated by Williams before his death, to commence paying Loveless a monthly salary of "no less than $1,000" upon his death. The Alabama Supreme Court dismissed this appeal, finding: a party petitioned the probate court to transfer the administration of an estate to the circuit court; the probate court granted that petition and took action purporting to transfer administration of the estate to the circuit court; and the circuit court thereafter took over administration of the estate without entering an order of its own authorizing the removal. Such a transfer is improper, and the circuit court never properly acquired subject-matter jurisdiction over the administration of Williams's estate. Accordingly, all actions the circuit court purported to take in this case –– including the judgment the estate has appealed concerning the validity of the directive in Williams's will requiring WTW to pay Loveless a $1,000 monthly salary –– were void due to the lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. View "Estate of Ray Wendell Williams v. Kimberly Loveless" on Justia Law

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The petitioner, the estate of Fredrick O'Brian Elliott, deceased, by and through his personal representative, Sonya Windham ("the estate"), filed a petition for a writ of mandamus asking the Alabama Supreme Court to direct the Jefferson Circuit Court to vacate its March 7, 2018, order insofar as it denied certain requests for production of documents made by the estate. The estate filed a wrongful-death action against Baptist Health System, Inc., d/b/a Princeton Baptist Medical Center ("PBMC"), and Courtney Johnston (collectively, "the defendants") and various fictitiously named defendants. Elliott was admitted to Princeton Baptist Medical Center complaining of nausea, vomiting, and gastritis; that, as part of his treatment, Elliott "was ordered to undergo full bowel rest by having Trans-Peritoneal Nutrition (TPN) administered through a Peripherally Inserted Central Catheter (PICC Line)." Johnston, Elliott's nurse, came into Elliot's room and discarded a partially full TPN bag, "following doctor's orders," which Elliott's family questioned since Elliott had not finished his entire nutritional dose. The complaint alleged that because Johnston misread the chart and prematurely discarded the TPN bag, it started an irreversible chain reaction: Elliott became febrile, his temperature spiked, he developed an infection such that it damaged his heart, leading to cardiac arrest. Nine days after the TPN incident, Elliot died. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded the trial court erred in denying the estate's motion to compel certain information requested in interrogatories based solely on the assertions of defendants' counsel: they did not satisfy their burden of establishing that the information requested was privileged. As such, the Supreme Court granted mandamus relief and remanded the matter for further proceedings. View "Ex parte the Estate of Fredrick O'Brian Elliott, deceased, by and through his personal representative, Sonya Windham." on Justia Law

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Bert Nettles appealed summary judgment entered in favor of Rumberger, Kirk & Caldwell, P.C. ("Rumberger") and several attorneys with the firm. This case stemmed from the demise of the law firm of Haskell Slaughter Young & Rediker, LLC ("Haskell Slaughter"). Nettles and the individual defendants were all former members of Haskell Slaughter. In 2013, Haskell Slaughter was in financial distress, and members of the firm were in discussions as to what, if anything, could be done to save the firm. In December 2013, 10 lawyers, including the individual defendants, left Haskell Slaughter and joined Rumberger. Haskell Slaughter permanently closed in February 2014. In 2015, Bluebird Holdings, LLC ("Bluebird"), filed a complaint against Nettles and three other former members of Haskell Slaughter, seeking to collect on personal guarantee agreements executed by the former members. Nettles filed a third-party complaint in the Bluebird action against Rumberger and the individual defendants. Nettles sought damages from Rumberger and the individual defendants for alleged breach of fiduciary duty, fraud, conspiracy, and tortious interference with a contract. Nettles alleged that the individual defendants, in violation of fiduciary duties owed Nettles and Haskell Slaughter, conspired with each other and with Rumberger to orchestrate Rumberger's acquisition of two of Haskell Slaughter's most profitable practice groups. Nettles alleged that the loss of those practice groups "was the psychological and financial death blow to Haskell Slaughter" in that it thwarted plans for a potential firm-saving reorganization, caused the remaining members of the firm to leave, and resulted in the liquidation of Haskell Slaughter and ultimately the Bluebird action. The demise of Haskell Slaughter caused it to default on bank debt for which Nettles was a guarantor. Rumberger and the individual defendants filed a motion to dismiss Nettles's third-party complaint, arguing, among other things, that certain of Nettles's damages claims were not permissible under Rule 14, Ala. R. Civ. P. The trial court agreed and ruled that Nettles could recover only money that he may be required to pay as a result the personal guarantee agreement made the basis of the Bluebird action. As a result of that ruling, Nettles filed this suit, now before the Alabama Supreme Court. Finding no reversible error in the grant of summary judgment to the firm and individual defendants on all claims asserted, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's judgment. View "Nettles v. Rumberger, Kirk & Caldwell, P.C., et al." on Justia Law