Justia Alabama Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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Deer breeders Terry Kennedy and Johnny McDonald sought to raise and hunt bigger deer by artificially inseminating whitetail deer with mule-deer semen. Whether they could do so depended on whether the resulting hybrid deer were covered by Alabama's definition of "protected game animals" in section 9-11-30(a), Ala. Code 1975. On a motion for a judgment on the pleadings, the Circuit Court concluded that, because the hybrid deer were the offspring of a female whitetail deer, they were "protected game animals," both by virtue of the inclusion in that definition of "whitetail deer ... and their offspring," and by virtue of an old legal doctrine called partus sequitur ventrem. The trial court therefore entered a judgment in favor of the deer breeders. The Alabama Supreme Court disagreed: because the modifier "and their offspring" in section 9-11-30(a) did not reach back to apply to the term "whitetail deer," and because the Latin maxim cited as an alternative theory for relief had no application in this case, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded. View "Blankenship v. Kennedy" on Justia Law

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Joel Kennamer appealed a circuit court's dismissal of his complaint seeking a declaratory judgment, a preliminary injunction, and a permanent injunction against the City of Guntersville, the City's mayor Leigh Dollar, each member of the Guntersville City Council, and Lakeside Investments, LLC ("Lakeside"). Kennamer's complaint sought to prevent the City from leasing certain City property to Lakeside. Kennamer asserted that the City had erected a pavilion on "Parcel One" for public use and that residents used Parcel One for public fishing, fishing tournaments, truck and tractor shows, and public festivals and events. As for Parcel Two, Kennamer alleged that in 2000, the City petitioned to condemn property belonging to CSX Transportation, Inc. ("CSX"), "for the purpose of constructing [a] public boat dock and a public recreational park." In 2019, the City approved an ordinance declaring the development property "is no longer needed for public or municipal purposes." The development agreement, as updated, again affirmed that the development property would be used "for a mixed-use lakefront development containing restaurants, entertainment, retail, office space, high density multi-family residential, and other appropriate commercial uses, including parking." Thereafter, Kennamer sued the City defendants arguing the City lacked the authority to lease to a third-party developer City property that had been dedicated for use as, and/or was being used as, a public park. Finding that the City had the statutory authority to lease the property to the third-party developer, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court's dismissal. View "Kennamer v. City of Guntersville et al." on Justia Law

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TD Bank, National Association and TD Bank US Holding Company (collectively, "TD Bank") petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the circuit court to dismiss claims filed against them by Bolaji Kukoyi and Dynamic Civil Solutions, Inc., on the basis of a lack of personal jurisdiction. In January 2017, Kukoyi retained Jessyca McKnight, a real-estate agent and broker employed with A Prime Location, Inc., d/b/a A Prime Real Estate Location ("Prime"), to assist him in purchasing a house. Kukoyi made an offer on a house, the offer was accepted, and the closing was scheduled to take place at attorney David Condon's office in Birmingham. Before the closing date, McKnight and Prime received an e-mail purportedly from Condon's paralegal instructing Kukoyi to wire funds for the closing costs one week before the closing date to an account at a TD Bank location in Florida. According to Kukoyi, he questioned the instructions but was assured by McKnight and Prime that wiring the funds was necessary for the closing to go forward. Kukoyi initiated a wire transfer in the amount of $125,652.74 from an account he owned jointly with Dynamic Civil Solutions with ServisFirst Bank ("ServisFirst") to the account at TD Bank as instructed in the e-mail McKnight and Prime had forwarded to Kukoyi. Unbeknownst to plaintiffs, the account to which Kukoyi wired the funds had been opened by a company known as Ozoria Global, Inc. ServisFirst discovered that the wire transfer was fraudulent and had not been completely processed. Kukoyi requested that ServisFirst put a stop-payment on the wire transfer, and ServisFirst advised TD Bank that the transfer had been fraudulent and requested that TD Bank reverse the transfer. In late 2017, plaintiffs sued, asserting various causes of action against TD Bank and other defendants in relation to the wire transfer. By March 2019, TD Bank filed a motion to dismiss the claims against it based on a lack of personal jurisdiction. The Alabama Supreme Court determined TD Bank demonstrated that it had a clear legal right to mandamus relief, and granted the writ. The trial court was directed to grant TD Bank's motion to dismiss. View "Ex parte TD Bank US Holding Company" on Justia Law

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David Turner appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of State Farm Mutual Insurance Company. In August 2017, Turner was on duty as a paramedic and was riding in the passenger seat of an ambulance while responding to an emergency call. While traversing an intersection, the ambulance collided with a vehicle being driven by Michael Norris. Turner suffered multiple injuries, including a broken leg. In November 2017, Turner sued Norris, asserting claims of negligence and "recklessness." Norris answered the complaint, denying that he had been negligent or reckless. Because the Alabama Supreme Court Held that State Farm was discharged from its obligation to pay Turner UIM benefits based on State Farm's payment of a "Lambert" advance and Turner's repudiation of his policy with State Farm, the Court pretermitted consideration of Turner's alternative argument regarding State Farm's failure to disclose the substance of its investigation of Turner's claim for UIM benefits, and expressed no opinion concerning that issue. The Court also expressed no opinion regarding any potential liability State Farm may or may not have to Turner in tort because Turner did not assert such a claim in this action. View "Turner v. State Farm Mutual Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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In April 2017, Jerry Mohr, a Mobile County resident and an employee of CSX Transportation, Inc. ("CSX"), was injured in an on-the-job accident while working on a crew that was repairing a section of CSX railroad track near the Chef Menteur Bridge in Louisiana. Mohr sued CSX in the Mobile Circuit Court, asserting a negligence claim under the Federal Employers' Liability Act ("FELA"). The trial court ultimately entered a summary judgment in favor of CSX. Mohr appealed that judgment, arguing there were genuine issues of material fact that could only be resolved by a jury. Finding no reversible error, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed. View "Mohr v. CSX Transportation, Inc." on Justia Law

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Rita Edwards, as mother of Raven Edwards, appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of Penny Pearson on the ground of State-agent immunity. In 2014, Raven, an eight-year-old student at Airport Road Elementary School, attempted to cross the Deatsville Highway to board a school bus being driven by Pearson, an employee of the Elmore County Board of Education. As she did so, Raven was struck by an automobile, and she ultimately died as a result of her injuries. Edwards sued for wrongful death, alleging Pearson negligently had instructed and/or invited Raven to cross the highway to board the school bus. Pearson filed an answer denying the allegations in the complaint and asserting various affirmative defenses, including, among others, State-agent immunity. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court determined Pearson demonstrated she was entitled to State-agent immunity, and Edwards failed to demonstrate that an exception to that immunity applied. Accordingly, the trial court properly entered a summary judgment in Pearson's favor. View "Edwards v. Pearson" on Justia Law

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Russell Construction of Alabama, Inc. ("Russell"), appealed a circuit court order that vacated an arbitration award in favor of Russell and against Christopher Peat. In 2015, Russell and Peat entered into a contract pursuant to which Russell agreed to construct a residence for Peat on "a cost plus a fee basis." The documents executed in connection with the contract provided, in the event of a controversy or dispute, first for mediation and then for arbitration in accordance with the rules of the American Arbitration Association. Upon completion of the residence, a dispute arose between Russell and Peat regarding Russell's performance and the balance due Russell under the contract. In January 2018, Russell filed a formal demand for arbitration, seeking $295,408 allegedly due from Peat for the construction of the residence. Peat counterclaimed, alleging breach of fiduciary duty and breach of contract and disputing his consent to costs incurred by Russell; Peat sought specific performance and an award of $255,000 on his counterclaims. Thereafter, in May 2018, the parties reached, as a result of mediation, a settlement agreement. In essence, the settlement agreement required Russell to make certain repairs to the residence; required Peat to pay Russell $245,408 on or before June 15, 2018, at which time Russell agreed to release its recorded lien; and required Peat to deposit into escrow an additional $50,000 to ensure completion, by the end of August 2018, of a "punch-list" to the satisfaction of a third-party "Construction Consultant." The Alabama Supreme Court determined the circuit court did not err to the extent that it set aside the judgment entered pursuant to the arbitrator's Final Award. The Court affirmed the trial court's July 25, 2019 order to the extent that it vacated any judgment on the arbitrator's Final Award related to Russell's and Peat's breach of the provisions of the settlement agreement that remained in effect after the Modified Partial Final Award and the distribution of the outstanding $50,000 at issue. The Court reversed that same order to the extent it purported to vacate any judgment on the Modified Partial Final Award of $258,959.89 and remanded this case for further proceedings. View "Russell Construction of Alabama, Inc. v. Peat" on Justia Law

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Deborah Shannon suffered from ongoing medical problems she claimed were the result of an automobile accident. The jury that considered the claims she asserted against the other driver rejected her claims and returned a verdict in favor of the other driver. The trial court denied Shannon's motion for a new trial and she appealed, contending the jury's verdict was not sustained by a preponderance of the evidence. Finding adequate evidence to support the verdict, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed. View "Shannon v. Smith" on Justia Law

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Pentagon Federal Credit Union ("PenFed") appealed a circuit court judgment entered in favor of Susan McMahan. McMahan and her husband purchased property in Loxley, Alabama in 2005. The purchase mortgage was provided by Wells Fargo bank, and a second mortgage was granted in favor of PenFed. In pertinent part, the PenFed mortgage stated "At no time shall this mortgage, not including sums advanced to protect the security of this mortgage, exceed $55,000.00. ... [PenFed] shall be subrogated to the rights of the holder of any previous lien, security interest, or encumbrance discharged with funds advanced by [PenFed] regardless of whether these liens, security interests or other encumbrances have been released of record." In 2014, the McMahans filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy protection, listing both the Wells Fargo and PenFed mortgages. Both Wells Fargo and PenFed ultimately foreclosed on the mortgages. The McMahans' bankruptcy case was dismissed in late 2015. The Wells Fargo debt/lien and the PenFed debt were not discharged in the bankruptcy proceedings. PenFed filed suit against Wells Fargo to quiet title as the first lien holder to the McMahan property by virtue of the PenFed mortgage, the foreclosure deed, and the erroneous legal description in the Wells Fargo mortgage. PenFed did not notify or make McMahan a party to that lawsuit. That lawsuit was never tried to conclusion but was settled, and PenFed paid Wells Fargo $91,256.54 to satisfy the [Wells Fargo] note and in exchange for a cancellation and release of the Wells Fargo mortgage. PenFed did not acquire the right to enforce the Wells Fargo note and/or mortgage. Within one year of the foreclosure, PenFed sold the property, leaving the McMahans with a deficiency balance of $14,433.41. PenFed's calculation of the post-foreclosure-sale surplus proceeds excluded the $91,256.54 that PenFed paid to Wells Fargo to satisfy the Wells Fargo note and cancel the Wells Fargo mortgage. In 2018, McMahan sued PenFed, alleging PenFed's sale of the property to third-party purchasers created excess proceeds greater than what PenFed was entitled to received under the original note. The circuit court concluded PenFed could not exclude the surplus proceeds it paid to Wells Fargo to settle the Wells Fargo mortgage. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded the circuit court erred in characterizing the doctrine of unjust enrichment as an affirmative defense. Accordingly, PenFed did not waive the defense of unjust enrichment by failing to plead it in its responsive pleadings. Instead, PenFed raised the argument to the circuit court at trial and in its trial brief; the argument was properly before the circuit court. Judgment was reversed for further consideration of the merits of PenFed's unjust-enrichment argument. View "Pentagon Federal Credit Union v. McMahan" on Justia Law

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Brad Dupree sued PeoplesSouth Bank ("PeoplesSouth"), alleging that PeoplesSouth wrongfully gave the proceeds of a $100,000 certificate of deposit to his father, not him. Jimmy Dupree was Brad's father. In 1993, Jimmy opened the CD at issue here; it was issued in both Brad's and Jimmie's names. Handwritten edits on the CD later reversed the order of the names to "Jimmy Dupree and Brad Dupree" and also replaced Brad's taxpayer ID number with Jimmy's taxpayer ID number. A handwritten note, dated December 1993 on the back of the CD stated "changed order of names to report interest under Jimmy's SS#." No evidence was offered as to who made the handwritten changes, and they were not initialed by either Jimmy or Brad. Brad was a minor at the time the CD was issued and did not contribute any money to the purchase of the CD. In November 2010, before filing this case, Brad, his mother, and his stepbrother sued Jimmy alleging Jimmy had wrongfully converted certain personal property, including the CD. In 2012, while the 2010 action was pending, Jimmy cashed the CD without notifying Brad. PeoplesSouth issued a cashier's check payable to the order of "Jimmy Dupree or Brad Dupree" for the amount of the CD less amounts set off by PeoplesSouth related to Jimmy's business loan. Jimmy cashed the check and then spent the funds. Brad learned during mediation of the 2010 action that Jimmy had cashed in the CD and was advised by the mediator to sue PeoplesSouth. The circuit court entered judgment in favor of the bank. Brad appealed, arguing he should have won on his breach-of-contract claim and awarded $100,000 in damages. The Alabama Supreme Court determined that without any rights in the CD by virtue of an inter vivos gift, Brad could not show he was damaged by PeoplesSouth's alleged nonperformance, and he was therefore unable to prevail on his breach-of-contract claim. Judgment in favor of the bank was affirmed. View "Brad Dupree v. PeoplesSouth Bank" on Justia Law