Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Alabama
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Dalton Teal, a defendant in a pending personal-injury action, petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Jefferson Circuit Court to vacate its partial summary judgment in favor of plaintiff Paul Thomas, pursuant to which it struck Teal's affirmative defenses of self-defense and statutory immunity. Thomas, accompanied by a friend, Brian Pallante, were at a Birmingham bar when an altercation between Pallante and Teal arose on the premises. Bar staff separated the two; Pallante and Thomas left through the front door, and Teal left through the back. Following his exit, Teal waited on a nearby bench for friends who had accompanied him. Within minutes of their exit from the bar, Pallante and Thomas again encountered Teal, and Pallante allegedly initiated another confrontation. Thomas confirmed that Teal was on his back on the ground with Pallante above him, and that Pallante was obviously "getting the better of" Teal in the struggle. Teal testified that, after having been choked for approximately 15 to 20 seconds, he realized that he was not going to be able to get up and became "afraid that they were going to kill [him]." At that point, Teal drew a pistol and fired a single shot in an effort "to get them off of [him]." Teal, who indicated that his ability to aim his weapon was affected by the fact that Pallante had "[Teal's] arm pinned down," missed Pallante, at whom Teal was apparently aiming, but the shot struck Thomas in the abdomen, seriously injuring him. The Jefferson County District Attorney declined to bring criminal charges against Teal based on the conclusion that Pallante's actions had "led to the shooting that injured [Thomas]." Thomas filed a personal-injury action against Teal and other defendants. The Alabama Supreme Court determined Teal presented substantial evidence demonstrating the existence of genuine issues of material fact regarding whether he was entitled to assert the affirmative defense of self-defense to Thomas's tort claims and whether he was entitled to statutory immunity. Therefore, the trial court erred in entering a partial summary judgment striking Teal's affirmative defenses premised on a theory of self-defense. Teal's petition was granted and a writ of mandamus issued to direct the trial court to vacate its order. View "Ex parte Dalton Teal." on Justia Law

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Alexandra Miller, a defendant in this personal-injury action, petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Madison Circuit Court to vacate its order purporting to grant plaintiff Ralph Mitchell's postjudgment motion seeking a new trial. Miller and Mitchell were involved in a motor-vehicle accident in May 2017. Mitchell sued Miller in the Madison Court, where the matter proceeded to a jury trial in January 2020. At the conclusion of the trial, the trial court granted Mitchell's motion for a judgment as a matter of law on the issue of liability; the jury subsequently returned a verdict awarding Mitchell damages totaling $22,368, the exact amount of medical expenses that Mitchell alleged at trial. The trial court entered a judgment on the jury's verdict on January 31, 2020. On February 10, 2020, Mitchell filed a timely postjudgment motion seeking a new trial on the ground that the jury's verdict allegedly erroneously failed to also include an award for "physical pain and suffering." The trial court scheduled Mitchell's motion for a hearing to be held on March 17, 2020. On March 13, 2020, the Alabama Supreme Court, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, issued an "Administrative Order Suspending All In-Person Court Proceedings for the Next Thirty Days," i.e., from March 16, 2020, through April 16, 2020. Additional orders further extended the deadline suspending in-person court proceedings. On June 11, 2020, Miller filed a response opposing Mitchell's postjudgment motion. Subsequent to the scheduled hearing, on June 18, 2020, the trial court entered an order purporting to grant Mitchell's postjudgment motion seeking a new trial. Miller moved to vacate Mitchell's motion, arguing the circuit court lacked jurisdiction to grant it. The trial court did not rule on Miller's motion, but set it for a hearing on August 11, 2020, which was more than 42 days after the entry of the June 18, 2020, order purporting to grant Mitchell's postjudgment motion. The Supreme Court concluded Miller demonstrated both that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to enter the order purporting to grant Mitchell's postjudgment motion seeking a new trial, and a corresponding clear legal right to the requested relief. View "Ex parte Alexandra Grace Miller." on Justia Law

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Cadence Bank, N.A. ("Cadence"), sued Steven Dodd Robertson and Mary Garling-Robertson, seeking to recover a debt the Robertsons allegedly owed Cadence. The circuit court ruled that Cadence's claim was barred by the statute of limitations and, thus, granted the Robertsons' motion for a summary judgment. The Alabama Supreme Court reversed, finding the Robertsons' summary-judgment motion did not establish that Cadence sought to recover only pursuant to an open-account theory subject to a three-year limitations period. The Robertsons did not assert any basis in support of their summary-judgment motion other than the statute of limitations. The matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "Cadence Bank, N.A. v. Robertson" on Justia Law

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Cobbs, Allen & Hall, Inc. ("Cobbs Allen"), and CAH Holdings, Inc. ("CAH Holdings") (collectively,"CAH"), appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of EPIC Holdings, Inc. ("EPIC"), and EPIC employee Crawford E. McInnis, with respect to CAH's claims of breach of contract and tortious interference with a prospective employment relationship. Cobbs Allen was a regional insurance and risk-management firm specializing in traditional commercial insurance, surety services, employee-benefits services, personal-insurance services, and alternative-risk financing services. CAH Holdings was a family-run business. The families, the Rices and the Densons, controlled the majority, but pertinent here, owned less than 75% of the stock in CAH Holdings. Employees who were "producers" for CAH had the opportunity to own stock in CAH Holdings, provided they met certain sales thresholds; for CAH Holdings, the equity arrangement in the company was dictated by a "Restated Restrictive Stock Transfer Agreement." For several years, McInnis and other individuals who ended up being defendants in the first lawsuit in this case, were producers for CAH, and McInnis was also a shareholder in CAH Holdings. In the fall of 2014, a dispute arose between CAH and McInnis and those other producers concerning the management of CAH. CAH alleged that McInnis and the other producers had violated restrictive covenants in their employment agreements with the aim of helping EPIC. Because of the dispute, CAH fired McInnis, allegedly "for cause," and in November 2014 McInnis went to work for EPIC, becoming the local branch manager at EPIC's Birmingham office. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court's judgment finding CAH's breach-of-contract claim against McInnis and EPIC failed because no duty not to disparage parties existed in the settlement agreement. EPIC was not vicariously liable for McInnis's alleged tortious interference because McInnis's conduct was not within the line and scope of his employment with EPIC. EPIC also was not directly liable for McInnis's alleged tortious interference because it did not ratify McInnis's conduct as it did not know about the conduct until well after it occurred. However, the Supreme Court disagreed with the circuit court's conclusion that McInnis demonstrated that he was justified as a matter of law in interfering with CAH's prospective employment relationship with Michael Mercer. Based upon the admissible evidence, an issue of fact existed as to whether McInnis gave Mercer honest advice. Therefore, the judgment of the circuit court was affirmed in part, reversed in part, and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Cobbs, Allen & Hall, Inc., and CAH Holdings, Inc. v. EPIC Holdings, Inc., and McInnis." on Justia Law

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Tutt Real Estate, LLC, doing business as Tutt Land Company ("Tutt"), petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Hale Circuit Court to vacate its July 2020 order awarding Tutt a smaller commission than it claimed it was entitled to under a real-estate contract ("the exclusive-listing agreement") that Tutt executed with Ellen Berry-Pratt, the purported conservator for the estate of Harriet Cobbs Smith. The case was purportedly removed to the circuit court from the Hale Probate Court. However, the removal was not accomplished in accordance with section 26-2-2, Ala. Code 1975, and, thus, the circuit court never acquired subject-matter jurisdiction. Therefore, the Supreme Court granted the petition and issued the writ. View "Ex parte Tutt Real Estate, LLC, d/b/a Tutt Land Company." on Justia Law

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Encompass Health Corporation, formerly known as HealthSouth Corporation ("HealthSouth"), petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the the trial court to vacate an order entered June 17, 2020, which amended a February 26, 2016 dismissing with prejudice several defendants in the underlying action, to dismiss those defendants without prejudice. The underlying action was initiated in March 2003 by Steven Nichols, a former employee of HealthSouth and a holder of HealthSouth stock; Nichols initially sued HealthSouth, Richard Scrushy, Weston Smith, William Owens, and the accounting firm Ernst & Young, alleging fraud and negligence. The action was delayed for eleven years "for a variety of reasons," during which Nichols filed several amended complaints. By his eighth amended complaint, only HealthSouth was named as a defendant. At the same time, Nichols filed a "motion to dismiss [the] individual defendants without prejudice." In that motion, Nichols "specifically reserve[d] all claims against HealthSouth ... based upon respondeat superior and vicarious liability theories." The trial court entered an order providing that the eighth amended complaint controlled, that HealthSouth was the only remaining defendant in the action, and that there were now no claims asserted against any of the other defendants named in the previously filed complaints. HealthSouth then moved to dismiss the eighth amended complaint, arguing, among other things, that "the claims asserted in that complaint were derivative in nature rather than direct and were therefore due to be dismissed" based on Nichols's failure to comply with the demand-pleading requirements of Rule 23.1, Ala. R. Civ. On this case's first trip to the Alabama Supreme Court, the Court held the claims in the eighth complaint related back to the original, and thus, were not barred by the statute of limitations. After remand and further discovery, HealthSouth again moved to dismiss, arguing that Nichols' claims were based on representations made by a former agent, and that agent was dismissed with prejudice earlier in these proceedings. In response, Nichols asked the trial court to amend its order to reflect he had specifically reserved his right to proceed against HealthSouth. HealthSouth's motion was ultimately denied, and it petitioned the Supreme Court for mandamus relief. The Supreme Court determined the trial court violated the Supreme Court's mandate when it amended a February 2016 order that dismissed the individual defendants with prejudice. Therefore, the Court concluded HealthSouth demonstrated a clear legal right to mandamus relief. View "Ex parte Encompass Health Corporation." on Justia Law

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Lawrence Taylor appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of Charles Hanks in Taylor's will contest. Taylor challenged the will of his father, Billy Lee Hite, alleging, among other things, that Hite had lacked testamentary capacity when he made the will, which did not mention Taylor. Because the Alabama Supreme Court concluded that a genuine issue of material fact existed regarding whether Hite had testamentary capacity, judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Taylor v. Hanks" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Crag Dyas and Dyas, LLC appealed a circuit court's orders disposing of some of their claims against some of the defendants below. Because those orders did not constitute a valid, final judgment that would support an appeal, the Alabama Supreme Court dismissed this appeal. View "Dyas v. Stringfellow et al." on Justia Law

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Lonas Goins was injured when a train locomotive that he was operating collided with a garbage truck at a railroad intersection. Goins sued the owner and the driver of the truck. After a five-day trial, a jury found in favor of Goins and awarded him damages. Dissatisfied with the jury's damages award, Goins appealed the judgment, arguing that the trial court committed multiple errors that warranted a new trial. Finding no reversible error, the Alabama Supreme Court rejected Goins's arguments and affirmed the judgment. View "Goins v. Advanced Disposal Services Gulf Coast, LLC" on Justia Law

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Shirley English sued Murphy Oil USA, Inc., after she slipped and fell in the restroom of a Murphy Oil gas station. Murphy Oil moved for summary judgment, but the trial court denied the motion. After a bench trial, the court entered a judgment in favor of English. The trial court made no findings of fact during the trial and instead took the matter under consideration after inviting the parties to submit briefs. One day after the briefing deadline had passed, the trial court entered a judgment in favor of English and awarded her compensatory damages in the amount of $125,000. The trial court did not make any written factual findings as a part of its judgment. It appeared from the record that Murphy Oil did not move for a new trial or for judgment as a matter of law, and it did not otherwise challenge the sufficiency of the evidence before it appealed to the Alabama Supreme Court. Murphy Oil argued on appeal that: (1) the trial court erred by denying its summary-judgment motion; (2) English offered no evidence at trial to sustain a judgment holding it liable for negligence; and (3) the trial court erred by admitting evidence of medical expenses that was unsupported by expert testimony. The Supreme Court determined none of Murphy Oil's arguments provided a ground for reversing the trial court judgment: Murphy Oil did not establish the Supreme Court should disregard the general rule against reviewing a trial court's denial of a summary- judgment motion after a trial on the merits. And its argument about the sufficiency of the evidence at trial was not properly before the Supreme Court. Finally, based on the record before it, the Supreme Court could not say that the trial court erred by admitting evidence of English's medical expenses. View "Murphy Oil, USA, Inc. v. English" on Justia Law