Justia Alabama Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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Margaret Hulgan tripped and fell at a Fourth of July celebration at a City of Guntersville-owned Civitan Park. She sued the City, and the City claimed immunity under Alabama recreational-use statutes. The trial court denied the City’s motion to dismiss, and the City appealed. Finding that the City demonstrated it had a clear legal right to immunity, and that Hulgan failed to present substantial evidence to overcome the City’s right to immunity, the Alabama Supreme Court granted the City mandamus relief, and ordered the trial court to enter summary judgment in favor of the City. View "Ex parte City of Guntersville." on Justia Law

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Family Security Credit Union ("FSCU") appealed the trial court's denial of its motions to compel arbitration in eight separate but closely related cases. Action Auto Sales ("Action Auto") was a car-financing group that financed the vehicle inventory of Pine City Auto ("Pine City"), a used-car dealership. Action Auto held titles to the vehicles in inventory, and released a title only when a vehicle was sold, and Pine City paid off a proportional amount of the inventory financing. Pine City eventually went out of business without paying off the inventory financing on some of the vehicles it had sold. Action Auto sued Pine City and the purchasers of eight vehicles who had purchased vehicles from Pine City and financed those purchases through FSCU. Action Auto sought possession of the vehicles and money damages. The purchasers each filed counterclaims and cross-claims against Action Auto and Pine City and third-party claims against FSCU, alleging negligence, wantonness, and conspiracy. The purchasers' third-party claims against FSCU were based on FSCU's alleged failure to perfect its security interest in the vehicles before financing the purchasers of the vehicles. FSCU moved for each of those third-party claims to be submitted to arbitration. The purchasers opposed the motions to compel arbitration, but they did not submit any evidence. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court concluded the trial court erred in denying FSCU's motions to compel arbitration in each of the eight cases, and remanded all for further proceedings. View "Family Security Credit Union v. Etheredge" on Justia Law

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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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Julie Gerstenecker borrowed money from her mother-in-law Janice Gerstenecker, for help in repaying her student loans. According to Janice, Janice agreed to repay Julie's student loans and Julie agreed to repay Janice by "pay[ing] [Janice] $700 a month until [Julie and Adam's child] turned one. And then the payments would rise to $1,000." Janice testified that the terms of the agreement between her and Julie were not reduced to writing. Julie testified that she had never borrowed money from Janice and that she does not recall Janice telling her that Janice would lend her money to repay her student loans. Adam Gerstenecker, Janice's son and Julie's husband, also testified at trial; his testimony supported his mother's version of the agreement. Adam and Julie would eventually divorce. Some repayments were made, but ultimately Janice sued Julie for the balance owed. The trial court found Julie breached the agreement she had with Janice. However, the Alabama Supreme Court found the trial court erred in reading an acceleration-of-payments clause into the agreement between Janice and Julie. The Supreme Court reversed the trial court's damages award and remanded this case for the trial court to determine the amount owed based on the accrued payments as of the date of the judgment and not the full amount of the outstanding loan balance. View "Gerstenecker v. Gerstenecker" 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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Three matters consolidated for review resulted from separate automobile accidents between either an Allstate or a GEICO insured with Underinsured-Motorist (UIM) coverage and allegedly underinsured tortfeasors. In each case, it was undisputed that the applicable insurance policy contained a "consent-to-settle" clause requiring the provision of notice to, and the consent of, the affected insurer prior to the insured's settlement of any claims against the alleged underinsured tortfeasors and/or a release of the tortfeasors' liability. After review of the specific facts of each case, the Alabama Supreme Court concluded that because the insurers, in following the express directives of the Court, were deprived of their contractual rights as well as the benefit of the procedures set forth in the controlling case law, the insurers demonstrated a clear legal right to their requested relief. In case no. 1150511 and 1151266, the Court directed the applicable circuit court to vacate its respective orders purporting both to "enforce" the pro tanto settlement agreements against the insurer's consent and to dismiss the tortfeasors. In case no. 1150269, the Court dismissed the petition. View "Ex parte GEICO Indemnity Company." 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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Aliant Bank, a division of USAmeribank ("Aliant"), sued various individuals and business entities involved in a failed effort to develop the Twelve Oaks subdivision in Odenville, alleging that, as a result of those defendants' conspiracy and wrongful actions, Aliant's security interest in the property upon which the Twelve Oaks subdivision was to be built had been rendered worthless. The Circuit Court ultimately entered a number of orders either dismissing Aliant's claims or entering a summary judgment in favor of the various defendants. Aliant filed three appeals. In appeal no. 1150822, the Alabama Supreme Court reversed summary judgment against Aliant: (1) on the negligence and breach-of-fiduciary duty claims asserted against the Board members in count four of Aliant's complaint; (2) on the fraudulent-misrepresentation and fraudulent-suppression claims asserted against Bobby Smith and Twelve Oaks Properties in count seven of Aliant's complaint; and (3) on the conspiracy claims asserted against Smith, Twelve Oaks Properties, Four Star Investments, Mize, and Billy Smith in count seven of Aliant's complaint. The Court affirmed summary judgment against Aliant and in favor of the various Twelve Oaks defendants in all other respects. In appeal no. 1150823, the Court reversed the summary judgments entered against Aliant on the fraudulent misrepresentation and conspiracy claims asserted against Pfil Hunt, and his management company Wrathell, Hunt & Associates, LLC, in count seven of Aliant's complaint; however, the Court affirmed those summary judgments with regard to all other claims asserted by Aliant against Hunt and WHA. Finally, in appeal no. 1150824, the Court affirmed summary judgment against Aliant and in favor of the Engineers of the South, LLC defendants on all counts. View "Aliant Bank v. Four Star Investments, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Alabama Supreme Court granted Alfa Mutual Insurance Company's petition for a writ of certiorari with respect to the issue whether University of South Alabama Medical Center Hospital's (USA) hospital lien was impaired and the amount of damages recoverable by USA from Alfa for that impairment. The Court reversed the Court of Civil Appeals insofar as it affirmed the circuit court's ruling that the amount of damages recoverable from Alfa was an amount equal to the entirety of USA's reasonable charges, irrespective of the amount that was otherwise owed by Alfa under the terms of its policy, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Ex parte Alfa Mutual Insurance Company." on Justia Law