Justia Alabama Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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Sandra Shinaberry petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for certiorari review of the Court of Civil Appeals' no- opinion affirmance of a circuit court's judgment awarding a fee to a guardian ad litem appointed to represent four minors for the sole purpose of making a recommendation to the circuit court on whether a proposed settlement was in the minors' best interest. In 2012, Shinaberry's automobile rear-ended an automobile being driven by Sherri Guy. Guy's three minor children and a minor stepchild were in her car. The children were treated for soft-tissue injuries. The children, by and through their parents, sued Shinaberry and her insurer. In April 2015, a settlement was reached between Shinaberry and her insurer and the four minor children. Mark Wilson was appointed as guardian ad litem for the four children for the purpose of determining if the settlement was fair to the children. By 2018, a final pro ami hearing was held to approve the settlement and Wilson's fee for serving as guardian ad litem. Wilson was awarded $8,000 for his services as guardian ad litem based on his affidavit that he worked 32 hours at a rate of $250 an hour; it was undisputed that Wilson never prepared a report with a recommendation as to whether the settlement was in the best interest of the minors. Shinaberry objected to Wilson's fee, and complained that he unnecessarily delayed the settlement. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded, finding the circuit court exceeded its discretion in awarding Wilson $7,750 as a fee because the record contained insufficient evidence to support that fee. View "Ex parte Shinaberry." on Justia Law

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Joann Bashinsky petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for mandamus relief, seeking to direct the Jefferson Probate Court to vacate orders disqualifying her attorneys from representing her in the underlying proceedings and appointing a temporary guardian and conservator over her person and property. Bashinsky also sought dismissal of the "Emergency Petition for a Temporary Guardian and Conservator" that initiated the underlying proceedings and the petition for a permanent guardian and conservator filed simultaneously with the emergency petition in probate court, both of which were filed by John McKleroy and Patty Townsend. McKleroy had a professional relationship with Ms. Bashinsky that dated back to 1968, the year she and Sloan Bashinsky married. Townsend previously served the Bashinsky family as Mr. Bashinsky's executive assistant. She was the corporate secretary, controller, and chief financial officer at Golden Enterprises, and she served as Ms. Bashinsky's personal financial assistant beginning in 2017, often having daily contact with Ms. Bashinsky. At the time of the events in question, Ms. Bashinsky's personal estate was estimated to be worth $80 million, and her entire estate (including trusts and business assets) was valued at $218 million. Ms. Bashinsky's only blood relative was her daughter's only son, Landon Ash. The emergency petition, filed October 1, 2019, stated that loan amounts to Ash increased over time, and that Ash's total amount of indebtedness to Ms. Bashinsky at that time was approximately $23.5 million. Ash allegedly borrowed $13.4 million from Ms. Bashinsky in 2019 for his various business ventures. The emergency petition alleged that Ms. Bashinsky's financial transactions with Ash "are problematic in that, if the IRS were to review these loans, they might have tremendous tax consequences for Ms. Bashinsky." The petition stated McKleroy and Townsend witnessed a decline in Ms. Bashinsky's faculties in their discussions with her about financial matters. An evaluation from a geriatric physician at the University of Alabama opined Ms. Bashinsky suffered from dementia. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the permanent petition for appointing a guardian and conservator over the person and property of Ms. Bashinsky was not properly before the Supreme Court; mandamus relief with respect to that petition was denied. The Court determined an October 17, 2019 order appointing a temporary guardian and conservator for Ms. Bashinsky was void, as was the order disqualifying Ms. Bashinsky's counsel. The Supreme Court therefore granted the petition for the writ of mandamus as to those orders and directed the probate court to vacate its October 17, 2019, orders, to require the temporary guardian and conservator to account for all of Ms. Bashinsky's funds and property, and to dismiss the emergency petition. View "Ex parte Joann Bashinsky." on Justia Law

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Leah Brown, Robert Allen Brown ("Allen"), and Cheryl Woddail ("Cheryl") were heirs of Pauline Brown ("Brown"), who died without a will. Leah, Allen, and Cheryl appealed a circuit court judgment authorizing Ellen Berry-Pratt, the administrator of Brown's estate, to sell certain real property owned by Brown at the time of her death. Because Leah, Allen, and Cheryl did not establish the circuit court erred by entering its judgment in favor of Berry-Pratt, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed. View "Brown v. Berry-Pratt, as successor administrator of the Estate of Pauline Brown" on Justia Law

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Defendants Curt Freudenberger, M.D., and Sportsmed Orthopedic Surgery & Spine Center, P.C. petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Madison Circuit Court to vacate its October 10, 2019, protective order to the extent it imposes conditions upon ex parte interviews defense counsel intends to conduct with physicians who treated one of the plaintiffs, Rhonda Brewer, in connection with her injuries. In August 2019, Rhonda and her husband, Charlie, sued Dr. Freudenberger and Sportsmed Orthopedic (collectively, "defendants"), asserting claims of medical malpractice based on injuries Rhonda allegedly suffered during the course of a surgical procedure performed by Dr. Freudenberger. Charlie also asserted a claim of loss of consortium. Before discovery, defendants moved for the entry of a "qualified protective order," pursuant to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 ("HIPAA"), and filed a proposed order with their motion. The trial court entered a qualified protective order authorizing the disclosure of Rhonda's protected health information; the order, however, imposed conditions on defense counsel's contacts with her treating physicians. Defendants moved the trial court to reconsider its order, contending that Alabama law allowed ex parte interviews with treating physicians, that HIPAA did not prohibit ex parte interviews with treating physicians, and that the restrictions imposed effectively deprived them from conducting ex parte interviews. The trial court denied reconsideration. The Supreme Court determined the trial court exceeded its discretion by requiring the Brewers' counsel to receive notice of, and have an opportunity to attend, ex parte interviews that defense counsel intended to conduct with Rhonda's treating physicians. Accordingly, the additional conditions imposed by the trial court were not justified based on the Brewers' objection that ex parte communications would violate HIPAA and the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure. The Court granted defendants' petition and issued the writ. The trial court was directed to vacate its order to the extent it imposed conditions upon defense counsel's ex parte interviews with Rhonda's treating physicians. View "Ex parte Freudenberger" on Justia Law

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William G. Veitch was a Republican candidate in 2018 for District Attorney of the 10th Judicial Circuit ("Jefferson County D.A.") and a resident of the area of Jefferson County, Alabama known as the Bessemer Cutoff. When he went to cast his vote in the Republican primary, he was not able to vote for the very office for which he was running. In fact, none of his neighbors in the Bessemer Cutoff were. Because of a local law enacted in 1953, residents of the Bessemer Cutoff did not participate in primary elections for Jefferson County D.A. Veitch challenged that law before the 2018 primary, and he continued to maintain that it violated the United States Constitution. The trial court entered a judgment against him. The Alabama Supreme Court reversed, finding the Jefferson County D.A. had the statutory authority to displace the Bessemer Division D.A. and exercise his powers in the Bessemer Cutoff. Because residents of the Bessemer Cutoff were subject to the prosecutorial power of the Jefferson County D.A., they had an equal interest with other Jefferson County residents in who occupied that office. Despite that equal interest, Act No. 138 denied voters in the Bessemer Cutoff the right to participate in the primary election for Jefferson County D.A. That discrimination, the Court held, violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and rendered Act No. 138 unconstitutional. View "Veitch v. Friday" on Justia Law

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Mark Stiff's property was sold at a tax sale that took place inside the Bessemer courthouse instead of "in front of the door of the courthouse" as required by section 40-10-15, Ala. Code 1975. He argued that the sale was void because of that irregularity. To that, the Alabama Supreme Court agreed and therefore reversed the circuit court's judgment refusing to set aside the tax sale. "The tax-sale statutes include a clear list of procedures designed to protect the rights of property owners and the public. The requirement that a tax sale be held in a uniform public location encourages fairness and transparency, and it supports the legitimacy of the tax-sale system as a whole. If the 'in front of the door of the courthouse' requirement is no longer important to Alabamians, it is up to the legislature (not the courts) to remove it." View "Stiff v. Equivest Financial, LLC" on Justia Law

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Lamerle Miles ("Miles"), as the personal representative of the estate of her deceased mother Tameca Miles ("Tameca"), sued Coosa Valley Medical Center ("CVMC") and other named and fictitiously named parties, alleging that they had engaged in negligent, wanton, and outrageous conduct that caused Tameca's death. Miles specifically alleged that multiple CVMC employees had breached the applicable standards of care, resulting in the Sylacauga Police Department removing Tameca from the CVMC emergency room before she was treated for what was ultimately determined to be bacterial meningitis. Miles did not identify any specific CVMC employees in her original complaint, but she later filed a series of amendments substituting Kristen Blanchard, Teshia Gulas, Carla Pruitt, and Kathy Russell for fictitiously named defendants. After being substituted as defendants, the CVMC petitioners moved the trial court to enter summary judgments in their favor, arguing that they had not been named defendants within the two-year period allowed by the statute of limitations governing wrongful-death actions. The Talladega Circuit Court denied those motions, and the CVMC petitioners sought mandamus relief from the Alabama Supreme Court. After review, the Court denied petitions filed by Blanchard, Gulas, and Pruitt. The Court granted Russell's petition because Miles' complaint did not state a cause of action against her. View "Ex parte Kathy Russell, R.N." on Justia Law

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H. Chase Dearman petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for certiorari review of the Court of Criminal Appeals' decision affirming, without an opinion, the Mobile Circuit Court's order finding Dearman in direct contempt. On August 30, 2018, Dearman, an attorney, was representing James Markese Wright at Wright's probation-revocation hearing before the circuit court. Dearman attempted to make an objection on the record when the court prevented it; the trial judge ejected Dearman from the courtroom and ended proceedings. Dearman filed a motion requesting that the circuit court vacate its August 30, 2018, order and requested a hearing on the matter. In his motion, Dearman alleged that he was not given notice of the specific contemptuous conduct and a reasonable opportunity to present evidence or mitigating circumstances as required under the Alabama Rules of Evidence. The circuit court denied Dearman's motion; the Court of Criminal Appeals remanded for the circuit court to comply with the Rules. After a hearing, at which Dearman was present, the circuit court stated that it found Dearman in direct contempt "because of the challenge [to] judicial authority as shown in the record on appeal" and that Dearman's "behavior necessitated immediate and prompt punishment; i.e., removal from the courtroom." Dearman was then given the opportunity to present evidence or argument regarding excusing or mitigating circumstances. On return to remand, the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the circuit court's decision by unpublished memorandum. The Alabama Supreme Court found, after review of the circuit court record, that Dearman was appropriately attempting to prosecute his client's cause. Because the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the circuit court on a record "devoid of any evidence in support of the circuit court's finding Dearman in direct contempt," the appellate court's order conflicted with controlling case law. Judgment was reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Ex parte H. Chase Dearman." on Justia Law

Posted in: Legal Ethics
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Kevin Crook appealed summary judgment entered in favor of Allstate Indemnity Company ("Allstate Indemnity"), Allstate Insurance Company ("Allstate Insurance"), and The Barker Agency (hereinafter collectively referred to as "the defendants"). Crook owns lake-front property in Tuscaloosa County. The property consists of a house, a bathhouse, a garage, a deck, and a boat dock. In 2006, Crook, through The Barker Agency, obtained property insurance on the house and other structures from Allstate Indemnity. Allstate Indemnity issued a policy to Crook ("the policy") and provided uninterrupted insurance coverage of Crook's house from 2006 through 2015. On February 12, 2015, Allstate Indemnity conducted an inspection of the property for underwriting purposes. After the inspection, on February 23, 2015, The Barker Agency sent Crook a letter with the results, finding no "issues that impact [Crook's] current coverage, and you do not need to do anything further. ...our inspection... focused only on identifying certain types of hazards or conditions that might impact your future insurance coverage. It may not have identified some other hazards of conditions on your property." In April 2015, a storm damaged the deck and the boat dock. Ultimately, Crook sued defendants for breach of contract, bad-faith failure to pay a claim, negligent/wanton procurement of insurance, and estoppel, all relating to the policy's coverage of the storm damage. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court found no reversible error in the grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants and affirmed. View "Crook v. Allstate Indemnity Company, et al." on Justia Law

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Doris Sanders petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the Macon Circuit Court to vacate its March 13, 2020, order transferring the underlying action to the Montgomery Circuit Court pursuant to section 6-3-21.1, Ala. Code 1975, Alabama's forum non conveniens statute. In 2019, Sanders, a resident of Barbour County, was involved in a multi-vehicle accident on Interstate 85 in Macon County. Sanders sued the drivers of the other two vehicles, Sae Him Chung and Shawn Reaves, at the Macon Circuit Court, alleging negligence and wantonness and seeking damages for her accident-related injuries. Sanders also included a claim against her insurer, Alfa Mutual Insurance Company, seeking to recover uninsured/underinsured motorist benefits. Defendants requested the change of venue to Montgomery County, arguing: (1) that the accident occurred in Macon County and was investigated there; (2) that Sanders was employed by the State of Alabama Tourism Department, which is located in Montgomery County; (3) that Chung lived and worked in Montgomery County; and (4) that Kellie McElvaine, a witness to the accident, lived and worked in Montgomery County. Sanders opposed the motion, arguing defendants failed to carry their burden of showing a transfer to Montgomery County was required under the statute. Sanders stated that she did not work in Montgomery County; rather, she said, she worked in Macon County at the Macon County Rest Area. And she received medical treatment for her injuries in Lee County and Barbour County, both of which were closer to Macon County than to Montgomery County. Thus, she asserted that her health-care providers in Lee County and Barbour County would have to travel farther if the case were transferred to Montgomery County. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded the Macon Circuit Court exceeded its discretion in transferring this case to the Montgomery Circuit Court. The Court therefore granted the petition for mandamus relief, and directed the Macon Court to vacated its March 2020 transfer order. View "Ex parte Doris Sanders." on Justia Law