Justia Alabama Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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David Roberson appealed a circuit court's dismissal of his claims against Balch & Bingham, LLP ("Balch"), on the basis that those claims were barred by the limitations periods contained in the Alabama Legal Services Liability Act ("the ALSLA"). After review of the trial court record, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed, but on grounds that differed from the trial court's. "[T]he gravamen of Roberson's claims against Balch involved the provision of legal services. However, both Roberson and Balch assert that Roberson was not Balch's client, and those assertions are borne out in the third amended complaint, which indicates that Balch was engaged by Drummond, not personally by Roberson. ... Roberson's claims against the law firm Drummond engaged, Balch, are barred by the ALSLA because Roberson cannot meet an essential element of an ALSLA claim -- namely, he was not Balch's client -- and thus Balch owed no duty to Roberson. ... the circuit court's rationale was based on the applicability of the ALSLA's limitations periods." View "Roberson v. Balch & Bingham, LLP" on Justia Law

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Jane Doe ("Doe"), individually and as mother and next friend of her minor children, Judy Doe and John Doe, petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Tuscaloosa Circuit Court to vacate its August 18, 2020, order staying all discovery in this case. On August 25, 2019, Doe was dropping off her children to stay with a friend at the Campus Evolution Villages apartments in Tuscaloosa. Doe alleged that, while she was in the common area of the apartments, Tereza Jones assaulted her and raped her in front of her children and then fled the scene. Jones was later arrested and was being prosecuted by the State of Alabama for first-degree rape. Doe sued Jones civilly for assault and battery, invasion of privacy, and the tort of outrage; Doe sued the various property management entities for negligence and/or wantonness. Doe moved for the entry of a default against Jones. Defendants Gulf South and Pinnacle jointly moved to stay discovery pending the criminal proceedings against Jones. On August 18, 2020, the trial court granted the motion to stay. On that same date, it denied Doe's motion for the entry of a default against Jones. The Alabama Supreme Court found Gulf South and Pinnacle, both corporations, filed the motion to stay based on speculation that Jones might later invoke his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination in response to discovery in this civil action. Gulf South and Pinnacle did not have their own Fifth Amendment privilege to assert, and the Court found they could not assert Fifth Amendment protections on behalf of Jones. Therefore, the Court concluded the trial court exceeded its discretion in granting their motion for a stay. Thus, the Court concluded Doe established a clear right to mandamus relief. Her petition was granted and the trial court directed to vacate its August 18, 2020 order staying the case. View "Ex parte Jane Doe, individually and as mother and next friend of her minor children, Judy Doe and John Doe." on Justia Law

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Brett/Robinson Gulf Corporation ("Brett/Robinson"); Claudette Brett, as the personal representative of the estate of Tillis Brett; Thomas Brett; William Robinson, Jr.; and Brett Real Estate and Robinson Development Company, Inc. ("Brett Real Estate") (collectively referred to as "the developer parties"), appealed a circuit court's judgment entered in favor of Phoenix on the Bay II Owners Association, Inc. ("the Association"), and Pamela Montgomery. Phoenix on the Bay II ('POB II') was a condominium project. Four areas of POB II were in dispute; the Association and Montgomery contended these four areas were not lawfully created units, and constituted common areas of the condominium. Brett/Robinson sued the Association and Montgomery asserting a trespass claim, alleging that the Association and Montgomery had willfully and intentionally trespassed on the "check-in unit" and the "maintenance unit" (two of the disputed areas). It also asserted claims that the Association and Montgomery had interfered with its business relationships and contractual relationships with condominium unit owners who rented out their units at Phoenix on the Bay II ("POB II") through Brett/Robinson. The trial court entered an order in which it found the Association and Montgomery were entitled to the equitable relief they had requested. The trial court then set forth the revised ownership interest in the common elements for each unit type; struck a formula for determining each unit percentage share of the common expenses (which had included the commercial units); and set forth a revised formula for determining the percentage of each unit's share of the common expenses, without including the commercial units. That resulted in increasing the ownership interest in the common elements for the owners of each of the remaining units and increasing each remaining unit owner's percentage share of the common expenses. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court determined the trial court erred when it found that the commercial units were not validly created and when it amended and reformed the Second Declaration in accordance with that finding. Accordingly, the trial court's judgment was reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings. View "Brett/Robinson Gulf Corp. v. Phoenix on the Bay II Owners Association, Inc. et al." on Justia Law

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Fuston, Petway & French, LLP ("the Firm"), appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of The Water Works Board of the City of Birmingham ("the Board") regarding the Board's termination of a contract between the parties. In September 2015, the Firm and the Board entered into a one-year contract in which the Firm agreed to provide legal representation for the Board. In 2016, the Firm and the Board entered into negotiations for a new contract. The chairman of the Board approached the Firm regarding the Board's need to have independent oversight and review of a program designed to attract "historically underutilized business entities" ("the HUB program"). Board meeting minutes at the end of 2016 reflected that the contract was approved. The contract between the Firm and the Board provided, in pertinent part, that the Firm would administer a Contract Compliance Program for the HUB program. Before the contract expired, the Board elected to terminate its contract with the Firm. The Firm sued for breach of contract and other theories. In its judgment, the trial court found, among other things, that the entirety of the Firm's obligations in the contract entailed legal services and that, as a result, the contract was terminable by the Board at any time. After review of the Firm's arguments appealing the trial court judgment, the Alabama Supreme Court found no reversible error and affirmed. View "Fuston, Petway & French, LLP v. Water Works Board of the City of Birmingham" on Justia Law

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Two appeals arose from a dispute between four siblings about the management of trusts set up by their parents. The siblings -- Lenn Rainwater ("Lenn"), Charles Edward Rainwater ("Charles"), Jean Rainwater Loggins, and Mary Rainwater Breazeale -- executed a settlement agreement resolving their dispute. In appeal no. 1190952, the parties petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court to consider whether that agreement should have been declared void. Lenn also sought to garnish trust assets that she says were hers. In appeal no. 1190951, the Supreme Court was asked to decide whether those garnishment proceedings should have been quashed. The Court ultimately did not reach either of those issues because both appeals should been dismissed: appeal no. 1190952 was filed too late and appeal no. 1190951 was filed too soon. View "Lem Harris Rainwater Family Trust et al. v. Rainwater" on Justia Law

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John Dee and Brenda Peterson appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of Triad of Alabama, LLC, d/b/a Flowers Hospital ("Triad") on the Petersons' claims asserted in their medical-malpractice action. John was admitted to Flowers Hospital ("the hospital") in August 2014 for treatment of abdominal pain and fever that was caused by colitis. John was suffering from chronic lymphocytic leukemia, end-stage renal disease, and diabetes. While he was admitted to the hospital in August 2014, John had a peripherally inserted central catheter ("PICC line") in his left shoulder. According to the Petersons, after John had suffered "constant pain and aggravation" around the area where the PICC line was inserted, a doctor agreed to have the PICC line removed the following morning. The Petersons asserted that, a nurse, Matthew Starr, was busy with other patients to immediately remove the line. The Petersons contended that another doctor was then called, that the doctor advised the nurses treating John to take out the PICC line, and that the nurses refused. The Petersons asserted that Starr "abandoned" John. Thereafter, John experienced a deep vein thrombosis ("DVT") in his upper left arm, which caused swelling and tissue necrosis. The Alabama Supreme Court affirmed, finding that the Petersons did not make an argument supported by sufficient authority to demonstrate the trial court erred. "They failed to present expert medical testimony from a similarly situated health-care provider to establish the applicable standard of care, a deviation from that standard, and proximate causation linking the actions of hospital staff to John's injury." View "Peterson v. Triad of Alabama, LLC, d/b/a Flowers Hospital" on Justia Law

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Patrick Jackson appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of Voncille Allen, as the personal representative of the estate of Valerie Allen ("the estate"), and Penn Tank Lines, Inc. ("PTL"). In 2016, Jackson was injured in an automobile accident while receiving training and riding as a passenger in a tractor-tanker trailer commercial motor vehicle ("the CMV") driven by Valerie Allen ("Allen"). Allen died as a result of the accident. Jackson was an employee of PTL and was being trained by Allen at the time of the accident. Allen owned the CMV, and PTL was leasing the vehicle from Allen, who worked for PTL, delivering fuel, under an independent-contractor agreement. Jackson received medical treatment for his injuries after the accident, and PTL's workers' compensation insurance covered the costs of the treatment. In 2018, Jackson sued the estate and PTL, alleging claims of negligence and "gross negligence and/or wantonness" against the estate and a claim of negligent or wanton hiring, training, and supervision against PTL; in addition, Jackson sought to hold PTL vicariously liable for Allen's actions through the doctrine of respondeat superior. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court affirm the judgment insofar as the trial court determined that PTL was entitled to complete immunity from Jackson's claims against it pursuant to the exclusive-remedy provisions of Workers' Compensation Act. The Court reversed insofar as the trial court determined, as a matter of law, that Allen was PTL's agent under the purview of the exclusive-remedy provisions of the Act. The matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "Jackson v. Allen" on Justia Law

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Yshekia Fletcher appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of the Health Care Authority of the City of Huntsville d/b/a Huntsville Hospital ("the Authority") on Fletcher's claims asserted in her medical-malpractice action. In 2016, Fletcher was admitted to Huntsville Hospital to undergo a laparoscopic tubal-ligation surgery. Before the surgery, Fletcher's doctor, Dr. Leon Lewis, explained to Fletcher that he might have issues performing the surgery because of her obesity. During the procedure, Fletcher was placed in a Trendelenburg position - a position that lowers the head of the patient by manipulating the angle of the operating table. While in Trendelenburg, Fletcher began to slip downward off the operating table. Nursing staff caught Fletcher’s body and gently placed her on the operating room floor, where the surgeon removed the trocars and closed the incisions. After the procedure, Fletcher underwent a CT scan of her head, neck, and hip, which were normal. She was admitted overnight and discharged the following day. Fletcher later complained of hip pain after the incident. She was evaluated by an orthopedic surgeon, who noted that she had a contusion and that she had had right-hip surgery as a child. Fletcher was admitted to the hospital overnight and discharged the following day with a walker. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded the trial court correctly entered summary judgment in favor of the Authority based on Fletcher's failure to present expert medical testimony. View "Fletcher v. Health Care Authority of the City of Huntsville d/b/a Huntsville Hospital" on Justia Law

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Caterpillar Financial Services Corporation ("CFS") petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for mandamus relief from a circuit court order purporting to grant a motion to set aside a default judgment in favor of CFS in its action against Horton Logging, LLC ("HL"), and Gary Horton ("Horton"). Because the Supreme Court found the trial court's order purported to grant a successive postjudgment motion, over which the trial court had no jurisdiction, it granted CFS's petition and issued the writ. View "Ex parte Caterpillar Financial Services Corporation." on Justia Law

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Damon Stephens appealed a circuit court order ordering that certain property located on Old Railroad Bed Road in Toney, ("the property"), be partitioned by sale, pursuant to the Alabama Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act ("the Heirs Act"). In September 2017, Michael Claridy filed a complaint to quiet title to the property and requested that the circuit court partition the property by sale on the basis that the property could not be equitably divided or partitioned in kind. Stephens acquired his interest in the property in 2019; he has neither lived on the property nor paid taxes on the property. Stephens stated that he had lived on the property and made improvements to some of the buildings there. Following an initial hearing, the circuit court determined that the property was heirs property governed by the Heirs Act. Based on the testimony, the evidentiary materials, and the judge's personal observation of the property, the circuit court concluded that there was no method by which the property could be partitioned in kind to adequately preserve each cotenant's interest in the property. Accordingly, the circuit court entered a detailed judgment ordering that the property be partitioned by sale via public auction. Stephens contended the circuit court erred by ordering a partition by sale because, he contended, the court considered only one factor in its analysis, provided no discussion of the other factors, and provided no analysis regarding whether any particular cotenant would be greatly prejudiced by a partition in kind. Finding no reversible error, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court's order. View "Stephens v. Claridy" on Justia Law