Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Alabama

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Lamar Ragland appeals the dismissal of his bad-faith claim against State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company. Ragland sought punitive damages from State Farm based on State Farm's alleged bad-faith failure to pay and related failure to subject his claim for underinsured-motorist ("UIM") benefits to a cognitive review. State Farm moved to dismiss Ragland's claims, because Ragland had filed a separate civil action in 2014 that had not yet been resolved. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court dismissed Ragland's claim as being from a nonfinal judgment. View "Ragland v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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SSC Selma Operating Company, LLC, doing business as Warren Manor Health and Rehabilitation Center, and SavaSeniorCare Administrative Services, LLC, appealed a circuit court order denying their motion to compel arbitration of a retaliatory-discharge claim filed against them by Jackie Fikes. Fikes sued the companies, seeking to recover worker's compensation benefits pursuant to the Alabama Workers' Compensation Act, and alleging that the companies had discharged her from her employment in violation of Ala. Code 1975, sec. 25–5–11.1, solely because she had filed a claim for worker's compensation benefits. Fikes alleged that in 2013, she suffered a work-related injury when she attempted to lift a patient while working for the companies as a certified nurse assistant; that she underwent medical treatment for her work-related injury; and that she returned to work under light-duty restrictions until Spring 2014, at which time, she says, the companies wrongfully terminated her employment. Fikes requested in the complaint that the worker's compensation claim and the retaliatory-discharge claim be severed in order for the retaliatory discharge claim to be tried by a jury. The companies moved to compel arbitration of the retaliatory discharge claim pursuant to their employment-dispute resolution program ("the EDR program") under which Fikes had agreed to be bound. Fikes responded, arguing that the retaliatory-discharge claim was not covered by the EDR program. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court concluded Fikes failed to demonstrate her retaliatory-discharge claim was not covered by the EDR program. Accordingly, the Court reversed the trial court's order denying the companies' motion to compel arbitration of that claim. View "SSC Selma Operating Company, LLC v. Fikes" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Roger Firestone sued defendants Carl Weaver, Charles Tooley, L.C. Collins, Jr. ("L.C."), and Mickie Collins ("Mickie"), alleging that defendants conspired to and brutally assaulted and battered Firestone. Firestone appealed summary judgment entered in favor of Weaver, dismissing his claims as barred by an applicable statute of limitations. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court concluded that the trial court exceeded its discretion in certifying the summary judgment in favor of Weaver as final because proceedings were still pending against the other defendants, and issues in Weaver’s matter were so closely intertwined with those of the other defendants “that separate adjudication would pose an unreasonable risk of inconsistent results.” A non-final judgment would not support an appeal; therefore Firestone’s appeal was dismissed. View "Firestone v. Weaver" on Justia Law

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Yolanda Terry, a social worker employed by the Macon County Department of Human Resources ("DHR"), petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Macon Circuit Court to vacate its order denying her motion for a summary judgment based on State-agent immunity and to enter a summary judgment in her favor based on that defense. DHR assigned the case of Mildred Collins to Terry. Collins was living with her daughter Cherri Forrester (her legal guardian). Collins' grandson Ronald Person, suspected Forrester was abusing Collins. After an investigative visit, Terry concluded Collins was not in imminent danger, and no indication that legal intervention was needed to have Collins removed from Forrester's home. Collins died two days after the visit. The death certificate indicated the cause of death as "blunt force abdominal injuries with hematoma." The personal representative of Collins' estate sued Terry for failing to follow DHR policy that allowed Collins to remain in Forrester's custody. After review of the record, the Supreme Court concluded the estate failed to meet its burden of presenting substantial evidence that Terry acted beyond her authority by failing to discharge her duties, i.e., investigating the report that Collins was being abused, pursuant to DHR policy and procedures, because Terry complied with DHR policy and procedures concerning unannounced investigative visits, the need for involving law enforcement, private interviews of clients, inspections of the affected areas of a client's body, and inspections of the entire home. The Court found Terry was entitled to State-agent immunity, and granted her writ application. View "Ex parte Terry" on Justia Law

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Numerous issues of fact precluded the entry of a summary judgment in this case. Debra Foster introduced sufficient rebuttal evidence in support of her position that North American Bus Industries, Inc.'s ("NABI") stated reason for terminating Foster's employment was a pretext so as to create a genuine issue of material fact. NABI had what it referred to as a "no-fault, points-based attendance and absenteeism policy." Foster was injured on the job, diagnosed with a concussion. Foster continued to exhibit symptoms stemming from the diagnosis, and after having missed work due to ad hoc hospitalizations, NABI terminated Foster's employment, citing its absentee policy. The trial court entered an order granting NABI's motion for a summary judgment. The order offered no reasons for the decision, beyond stating that, "[a]fter reviewing all appropriate filings in this case and considering the oral arguments offered by each side at the hearing in this matter, the Court finds there exists no genuine issues of material fact." The Supreme Court reversed the trial court and remanded for further proceedings. View "Foster v. North American Bus Industries, Inc." on Justia Law

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Complete Cash Holdings, LLC ("Complete Cash"), appealed a judgment entered on a jury verdict in favor of Lola Mae Powell. This case arose out of Complete Cash's repossession of Powell's 2002 Chevrolet Avalanche truck based on a forged title-pawn agreement. Although the trial court granted Complete Cash's motions for a JML as to some of Powell's claims against Complete Cash, the trial court allowed the remainder of the claims, including Powell's claim under the FDCPA, to be submitted to the jury. The jury then returned a general verdict for Powell, awarding her compensatory damages and punitive damages. The jury's verdict was general, but it also included a special interrogatory indicating that the jury specifically found that Complete Cash was a debt collector under the FDCPA. After the trial court entered a judgment on the jury's verdict, Complete Cash, in a renewed motion for a JML, renewed its arguments that there was insufficient evidence from which to conclude that Complete Cash was a debt collector. Based on these facts, the Supreme Court concluded that Complete Cash adequately challenged Powell's FDCPA claim. Furthermore, the Court concluded that based on the jury's express finding that Complete Cash was a debt collector under the FDCPA, that the jury's award of compensatory damages was based, at least in part, on Powell's claim that Complete Cash had violated section 1692f(6). Accordingly, there was no question that the jury's verdict was based on a "bad count." Because the FDCPA does not provide for the award of punitive damages, the Court presumed the jury's verdict was based in part on Powell's claims of conversion or wantonness. "This, however, does not save the jury's verdict because we know, based on the special interrogatory, that the jury based its general verdict in part on a bad count. For this reason, we must reverse the entirety of the compensatory-damages award." Further, this reversal of the jury's compensatory-damages award mandated reversal of the punitive damages award. Therefore, the trial court's judgment had to be reversed in its entirety and the case remanded for a new trial. View "Complete Cash Holdings, LLC v. Powell" on Justia Law

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Laura Miller appeals from a summary judgment entered by the Jefferson Circuit Court ("the circuit court") in favor of the City of Birmingham ("the City"), Sandy Roberts, and Alice Crutchfield (collectively, "the City defendants"). Robert Miller, Laura's husband, was employed by the City as a firefighter. Unum Life Insurance Company of America ("Unum") issued a group life and accidental death and dismemberment policy. According to the summary of benefits, the policy included different life-insurance benefits for active employees and for retired employees. Under the policy, as an active employee, the City paid Robert's insurance premiums, thereby entitling him to a life-insurance benefit of $151,000. However, if Robert were to retire, he would be required to pay his life-insurance premiums and would be entitled to only a $50,000 life-insurance benefit. The summary of benefits specified that, in order to be eligible for a waiver of the life-insurance premiums, the insured had to "be disabled through your elimination period," which was nine months. In 2012, Robert was diagnosed with brain cancer and soon became unable to perform the duties of his job. Laura contended once the Millers learned of Robert's condition, they "sought to obtain information about [Mr. Miller's] life insurance benefit and all other benefits that might be available." The Millers did not have a copy of the policy or the summary of benefits at that time. The Millers and Ed Bluemly, Mrs. Miller's brother-in-law, met with Sandy Roberts, the assistant benefit administrator and the pension coordinator for the Jefferson County Personnel Board, and Alice Crutchfield, a personnel technician for the Jefferson County Personnel Board, to learn about the available benefits. The Millers asked for a copy of the policy, and there was a dispute over whether the Crutchfield gave the Millers a copy. The Millers ultimately sued the City for negligence with respect to the policy and collection of the benefits to which Robert was entitled. After review of this matter, the Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court's summary judgment in favor of the City insofar as the circuit court based its summary judgment in favor of the City on the City defendants' argument that the City was entitled to immunity from Laura's claim alleging wanton and reckless misrepresentation. However, the Court reversed the circuit court's summary judgment in favor of the City defendants in all other respects. The Case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Miller v. City of Birmingham et al." on Justia Law

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Andrew Barnwell appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of CLP Corporation ("CLP"). CLP owned and operated a McDonald's fast-food restaurant. In 2013, Barnwell visited the restaurant. Barnwell stated that after he entered the restaurant, he went straight to the restroom to wash his hands. Upon exiting the restroom, Barnwell alleged he slipped and fell, and complained of leg and back pain shortly thereafter. Barnwell sued CLP, asserting a claim of negligence. After a review of the facts entered in the trial court record, the Supreme Court held the circuit court erred in entering a summary judgment in favor of CLP. "CLP failed to present substantial evidence supporting its affirmative defense that the [floor's] condition that allegedly caused Barnwell to slip and fall was an open and obvious danger." View "Barnwell v. CLP Corporation" on Justia Law

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In 2004, Walter Price, Alan Goode, William Lunsford ("Lunsford"), and Cathy Lunsford (Lunsford's wife) formed Riverfront Development, LLC ("Riverfront"), with the goal of developing certain real estate located in Tuscaloosa ("the Riverwalk property"). Price and Goode each owned a one-third interest in the property, and Lunsford owned the remaining third. They took title to the Riverwalk property individually, not through Riverfront. Price and Lunsford were involved in other real-estate ventures together. In 2005, Price loaned Lunsford one million dollars for "Summit," a venture unrelated to the Riverwalk property. In October 2008, Lunsford was in default on the loan. Price made several proposals to Lunsford regarding curing Lunsford's default. In November 2008, Lunsford wrote Price a letter agreeing with Price's proposal that Price would not have to pay his current capital contribution related to the Riverwalk property in exchange for his ameliorating part of Lunsford's debt to Price on the unrelated venture. Lunsford thought his only alternative was to sell his interest the Riverwalk property. However, one month earlier, Lunsford had purchased Goode's one-third interest in the Riverwalk property. Price was unaware at that time that Lunsford had purchased Goode's interest. The record reflected that Lunsford was able to acquire other interests in Riverwalk, which lead Price to sue Lunsford under several negligence and contract theories. The Supreme Court concluded after review of the trial court record, that the evidence, on balance, may have favored Lunsford's version of events with respect to the real estate deals at issue here, but it could not be said that Price did not present a genuine issue of fact as to a scenario under which he could possibly prevail. That is, the Court found Price detailed and supplied evidence of a fraudulent scheme, the true nature of which he did not discover until years after the transaction occurred, and, therefore, the applicable statutes of limitations were tolled. The Court, therefore, reversed the judgment of the Court of Civil Appeals and remanded for further proceedings. View "Ex parte Walter B. Price" on Justia Law

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Jerry Nix appealed the entry of summary judgment which found he was an adult in need of protective services under the Adult Protective Services Act of 1976. The Franklin County Department of Human Resources ("DHR") alleged that Nix, then 78 years old, was an "adult in need of protective services." The petition claimed that Nix had not been taking his medications for diabetes and hypertension and that he had been the victim of a postal scam costing him thousands of dollars. DHR further alleged that Nix urgently required nursing-home care to protect his health and safety and that, otherwise, Nix was in immediate danger. DHR requested emergency-protective placement for Nix and that the court set a hearing to determine Nix's need for protective services. The trial court thereafter ordered DHR to provide protective services for Nix, appointed a guardian ad litem to represent Nix in the proceedings, and appointed Nix's son, Darren Nix, as conservator of Nix's estate and guardian of his person. While the Alabama Supreme Court did not question that all involved in this case desired the best for Nix, it was troubled by the "apparent lack of urgency and attention to statutory formalities in the prosecution of this petition for protective services," finding the trial court granted DHR's emergency petition on December 7, 2015; Nix was entitled to a hearing within 30 days. Seven months passed before the trial court entered the summary judgment finding Nix to be an adult in need of supervision, and fifteen months had passed since Nix was removed from his home. "It may very well be that an assisted-living facility is the appropriate and lawful protective placement for Nix, but he is still entitled to all the procedural safeguards due him under the Act, including a timely adjudication of his need for such services. Indeed, without a faithful adherence to the Act and the due process protections owed to each person protected by the Act, we risk unnecessary and wrongful deprivation of liberty and property. For those 'protected persons' dispossessed of their house and their assets, this may seem a fate far worse than a foreign-lottery postal scam." View "Nix v. Franklin County Dept. of Human Resources" on Justia Law