Justia Alabama Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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James Olvey was killed when his vehicle was struck head on by a vehicle driven by Donald Wright II, who was driving the wrong way on Interstate 65 ("I-65") while attempting to flee the police. James Griffin, the personal representative of Olvey's estate, sued Wright, the City of Trafford ("Trafford"), the City of Warrior ("Warrior"), and other named and fictitiously named parties, alleging that they shared responsibility for Olvey's death. Over a year later, Griffin amended his complaint to substitute Trafford police officer Dylan McCoy and Warrior police officers Stephen Scott and James Henderson ("the defendant officers") for fictitiously named defendants. The defendant officers moved to enter a judgment in their favor, arguing that the amended complaint was untimely and thus barred by the applicable statute of limitations. The trial court denied their motion, and the defendant officers petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for mandamus relief. After review of the trial court record, the Supreme Court determined Griffin had ample opportunity to discover the identities of the defendant officers before filing suit - and did not follow through. Therefore, he was not able to avoid the bar of the statute of limitations, and the defendant officers were entitled to the writ of mandamus. View "Ex parte McCoy, Scott, and Henderson." on Justia Law

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Two attorneys filed a complaint to recover fees they billed in the course of representing indigent defendants in criminal cases, and sought to certify several classes of plaintiffs. Specifically, they asserted that State officials improperly refused to pay bills for fees that exceeded statutory payment caps. The trial court entered a class-certification order, and the State officials appealed. Because State immunity barred the attorneys' request for retrospective monetary relief, and because the attorneys lacked standing to bring a constitutional challenge on behalf of indigent defendants, the Alabama Supreme Court reversed and remanded. View "Butler v. Parks" on Justia Law

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Harbor Freight Tools USA, Inc. ("Harbor Freight"), petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Lowndes Circuit Court to vacate its order granting a motion to compel discovery in an action Thomas and Juanita Webster ("the Websters") brought against Harbor Freight and others and to enter a protective order involving the requested discovery. The Websters previously hired Randall "Bubba" Wills and Jason Little to construct and install an elevator system in their house. In November 2016, Wills repaired the elevator system. To complete the repairs, Wills purchased from Harbor Freight a "Haul Master" 4,000-pound lifting block. According to Harbor Freight, its instruction manual for the lifting block expressly stated that the lifting block should not be used to transport people in an elevator system. Despite a posted warning, Wills tested the elevator system and rode in the elevator basket with Thomas Webster after Wills had installed the lifting block and completed the repairs. In December 2016, the Websters, along with their son Robbie, were riding in the elevator basket when it fell. To the extent that Harbor Freight sought mandamus relief on the grounds that the trial court's July 16, 2020, order granting the Websters' motion to compel failed to limit discovery, the Supreme Court determined the petition for mandamus relief was premature because Harbor Freight failed to seek a protective order raising the need for those limitations on discovery after the trial court entered the order granting the Websters' motion to compel. To the extent that Harbor Freight sought mandamus relief based on the trial court's implicit denial of its motion to adopt its proposed protective order, the Court determined Harbor Freight failed to demonstrate that any information that might be disclosed by providing the requested documents warrants the protections outlined in the proposed protective order. Accordingly, Harbor Freight's petition was denied. View "Ex parte Harbor Freight Tools USA, Inc." on Justia Law

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Anthony Nix, a police officer for the City of Haleyville ("the City"), and the City appealed a judgment entered on a jury verdict in favor of John Myers. Myers filed suit asserting claims of negligence, wantonness, and negligence per se against Officer Nix and, based on the doctrine of respondeat superior, the City. Myers also asserted that the City had negligently and/or wantonly hired, trained, and supervised Officer Nix. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the trial court reversibly erred by providing the trial court to provide to the jury a copy of the statutes upon which the jury had been charged. Accordingly, Officer Nix and the City were entitled to a reversal of the judgment and a new trial. View "Nix v. Myers" on Justia Law

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Michael Brown petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Lee Circuit Court to dismiss, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), Ala. R. Civ. P., the complaint filed against him by Christopher Beamon. Brown claimed the complaint should have been dismissed on the basis that the claims asserted in the complaint were barred by the applicable statute of limitations and that the doctrine of equitable tolling was inapplicable to suspend the running of the limitations period. IN 2017, pedestrian Beamon was injured when he was struck by a vehicle driven by Brown; the accident occurred in Auburn. In 2019, Beamon filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama, naming as defendants Brown and Geico Casualty Company. In that complaint, Beamon asserted state-law claims and purported to invoke the federal court's diversity jurisdiction. Despite alleging diversity jurisdiction, the complaint stated that both Beamon and Brown were citizens of Alabama. Brown answered the complaint, asserting as a defense lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. In his motion to dismiss, Brown asserted the federal court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over the complaint because complete diversity of citizenship was lacking between him an Beamon. Beamon moved to amend his complaint, asserting Brown was a citizen of Georgia, or alternatively, if the evidence was insufficient to support diversity jurisdiction, the court allow equitable tolling of the statute of limitations, which would allow him to refile his claims in a state court. On November 22, 2019, while the federal case was pending, but after the two-year limitations period had run, Beamon filed a second complaint, this time in the Lee Circuit Court, asserting the same claims against Brown as he had asserted in the federal court. The federal court dismissed the complaint without prejudice. The Alabama Supreme Court determined Brown did not establish a clear legal right to dismissal of the complaint filed at circuit court. "This case does not come within the exception to the general rule that a petition for the writ of mandamus is not the appropriate means by which to seek review of the merits of an order denying a motion to dismiss." View "Ex parte Michael Brown." on Justia Law

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The Health Care Authority for Baptist Health, an affiliate of UAB Health System ("HCA"), and The Health Care Authority for Baptist Health, an affiliate of UAB Health System d/b/a Prattville Baptist Hospital (collectively, "the HCA entities"), appealed a circuit court order denying their motion to compel arbitration in an action brought by Leonidas Dickson, II. In 2015, Dickson sustained injuries as a result of an automobile accident. Following the accident, Dickson was taken to Prattville Baptist Hospital ("PBH"), where he was treated and discharged. Dickson was partially covered by a health-insurance policy issued by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama, Inc. ("BCBS"). PBH was a party to a "Preferred Outpatient Facility Contract" ("the provider agreement") with BCBS, under which the medical care rendered to Dickson in the emergency department at PBH was reimbursable. In 2017, Dickson filed a complaint to challenge a reimbursement that PBH had received in exchange for Dickson's medical treatment. Dickson's complaint also sought to certify a class of people who were insured by BCBS and who had received care at any hospital operated by HCA's predecessor, Baptist Health, Inc. ("BHI"). After the HCA entities' motion to dismiss was denied, the HCA entities filed an answer to the lawsuit, but the answer did not raise arbitration as a defense. After a year of extensive discovery (including class certification and class-related discovery), the HCA entities moved to compel arbitration on grounds that Dickson's health-insurance policy with BCBS required all claims related to the policy to be arbitrated and that the provider agreement also provided for arbitration, contingent upon the arbitration requirements of the BCBS policy. The trial court denied the motion to compel without providing a reason for the denial. After a request for reconsideration was also denied, the HCA entities appealed. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded the HCA entities waived their right to arbitration, thus affirming the trial court order. View "The Health Care Authority for Baptist Health v. Dickson" on Justia Law

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Linda Steinberg, individually and as the sole remaining member and representative of Mendelson Properties, LLC, petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Etowah Circuit Court to vacate its order staying the proceedings in her civil case against several defendants. One of the defendants, Lisa Daugherty, moved the trial court to stay discovery regarding discovery requests that had been issued to her on the ground that such a stay was needed to protect her constitutional right against self-incrimination. The trial court granted that motion, but it also stayed the entire case. Because the Supreme Court found the trial court had before it no evidence supporting the stay, the Supreme Court granted the petition and issued the writ. View "Ex parte Linda Steinberg, individually and as sole remaining member and representative of Mendelson Properties, LLC." on Justia Law

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Marcus King George and Alyssa Watson petitioned the Alabama SUpreme Court for certiorari review of the Court of Criminal Appeals' decision in Watson v. Alabama, Ms. CR-18-0377, Jan. 10, 2020 (Ala. Crim. App. 2020), which affirmed the circuit court's judgments convicting the pair for felony murder (murder committed during the course of a kidnapping in the first degree), for which they were sentenced to 30 years' imprisonment. Central to the State's case against Watson and George was the testimony of Allison Duncan, an intelligence analyst with the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency ("ALEA"), analyzing the historical cell-site data of Watson's and George's cellular telephones. The Court of Criminal Appeals concluded that Duncan's testimony analyzing historical cell-site data was lay testimony admissible under Rule 701, Ala. R. Evid., and determined that Rule 702, Ala. R. Evid., had no application to Duncan's testimony. At the request of Watson and George, the Supreme Court granted review in both cases to consider as an issue of first impression whether testimony analyzing historical cell-site data was expert or lay testimony. More specifically, the Court determined, as an issue of first impression, whether Duncan's testimony analyzing the historical cell-site data of Watson's and George's cellular telephones was "scientific" testimony and, thus, subject to the admissibility requirements of Rule 702(b), Ala. R. Evid. The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Criminal Appeals' judgments and remanded to the trial court for a hearing to be held to determine whether Duncan's scientific testimony satisfied the admissibility requirements of Rule 702(b). View "Ex parte Marcus King George." on Justia Law

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Charles K. Breland, Jr., purchased land in Baldwin County, Alabama to build a housing subdivision. The subdivision he planned to construct required filling about 10.5 acres of wetlands, which the City of Fairhope and Baldwin County opposed. Breland and Breland Corporation (collectively, Breland) sued Fairhope, claiming that they had a vested right to fill the wetlands, that Fairhope's ordinances could not prevent them from filling the wetlands, that Fairhope had acted negligently regarding Breland's application for a land- disturbance permit, and that Breland's criminal citation for beginning work without a permit should have been expunged. The trial court rejected their claims following a nonjury trial. Breland appealed the trial court's judgment. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded Breland did not establish Fairhope's ordinances were invalid or that it had obtained a vested right to fill the wetlands on the property. Further, the Breland parties' argument that Breland's citation should have been expunged was premised on the notion that he was not obligated to comply with Fairhope's ordinances in existence at the time of his citation. Because the Supreme Court rejected that premise, the Breland parties' request for expungement was moot. And because this matter was not reversed or remanded for further proceedings and there was no other apparent remedy at this stage, the Breland parties' claim that the trial court erred by allowing The Battles Wharf/Point Clear Protective Association to intervene was moot. View "Breland v. City of Fairhope" on Justia Law

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SE Property Holdings, LLC ("SEPH"), the successor by merger to Vision Bank, and FNB Bank ("FNB") separately appealed a circuit court's judgments on their breach-of-contract claims against Bama Bayou, LLC, formerly known as Riverwalk, LLC ("Bama Bayou"), and Marine Park, LLC ("Marine Park"), and the individuals and entities guaranteeing Bama Bayou's and Marine Park's contract obligations, challenging the trial court's damages awards. Bama Bayou and Marine Park were the developers of a planned mixed-use development in Orange Beach consisting of a marine park, residential condominiums, retail shops, hotels, and commercial entertainment venues. Marine Park specifically intended to develop a special-use facility for the exhibition of marine animals. Vision Bank made four loans to Bama Bayou and Marine Park related to the development project. The Marine Park loan was fully funded by FNB pursuant to a participation agreement with Vision Bank. The participation agreement provided that the Marine Park parcel would be owned by FNB in the event it was acquired by foreclosure. Bama Bayou and Marine Park were having financial problems with regard to the project by August 2007. Vision Bank demanded payment at that time, and Bama Bayou, Marine Park, and the guarantors failed and/or refused to pay the indebtedness owed on the loans. In 2009, Vision Bank conducted a public auction to separately foreclose the mortgages. No bids were submitted; Vision Bank purchased the properties. Neither Bama Bayou, nor Marine Park, nor the guarantors exercised their rights to redeem the properties. Vision Bank sued Bama Bayou and its guarantors, and Marine Park and its guarantors for amounts owed under those loans, including all principal, accrued interest, late charges, attorney's fees and collection costs. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court reversed the trial court's judgments in these consolidated cases and remanded for a determination of the appropriate awards on the breach-of-contract claims. "Such awards should account for all accrued interest, late charges, attorney's fees, collection costs, and property- preservation expenses owed." View "FNB Bank v. Marine Park, LLC, et al." on Justia Law