Justia Alabama Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Arbitration & Mediation
by
James P. Key, Jr. appealed a circuit court order denying his motion to compel arbitration of his claims against Warren Averett, LLC, and Warren Averett Companies, LLC (collectively, "WA"). Key alleged that he was a certified public accountant who had been employed by WA for 25 years and had been a member of WA for 15 years; that he had executed a personal-services agreement ("PSA") with WA that included a noncompete clause; and that WA had sent him a letter terminating his employment. Key sought a judgment declaring "that the Non-Compete Clause and the financial penalty provision contained in the PSA is not applicable to Key and is an unlawful restraint of Key's ability to serve his clients as a professional." The Alabama Supreme Court found that whether Key's claims against WA had to be arbitrated was a threshold issue that should not have been decided by the circuit court; nor was it appropriate for the Supreme Court to settle the issue in this appeal. Accordingly, the circuit court's order was reversed, and the case was remanded for the circuit court to enter an order sending the case to arbitration for a determination of the threshold issue of arbitrability and staying proceedings in the circuit court during the pendency of the arbitration proceedings. View "Key v. Warren Averett, LLC, et al." on Justia Law

by
The Terminix International Co., L.P., and Terminix International, Inc. (collectively, "Terminix"), and Ken Stroh, an agent and employee of Terminix, appealed court orders appointing arbitrators, which were entered in two separate actions. The first action was commenced by Dauphin Surf Club Association, Inc. ("DSC"), an incorporated condominium owners' association, and multiple members of that association who owned individual condominium units. The second action was brought by Stonegate Condominium Owners' Association, Inc. ("Stonegate"), and multiple members of that association who owned individual condominium units. In 2006 and 2007, respectively, Terminix entered into contracts with DSC and Stonegate to provide protection from termites for the properties owned by DSC and Stonegate and their members. Both of those contracts included, among other things, an arbitration clause. After disputes regarding termite damage arose between Terminix and DSC and Stonegate, the DSC and Stonegate plaintiffs each petitioned for the appointment of an arbitrator to resolve the disputes. Defendants filed motions in opposition to the petitions, asserting that, because the National Arbitration Forum ("the NAF"), which had been designated as the arbitral forum in the arbitration agreement, was no longer administering consumer arbitrations, the claims could not be arbitrated by the NAF, as the parties had expressly agreed in the arbitration agreement, and that they could not be compelled to arbitrate in a manner inconsistent with the terms of the arbitration agreement. Plaintiffs countered that the contracts containing the arbitration agreement also contained a severability clause that should have been applied; the Federal Arbitration Act ("FAA") governed the agreement; language in the agreement demonstrated Terminix's primary intent was to arbitrate disputes (and that the choice of the NAF as the arbitral forum was an ancillary matter); and that defendants should have been judicially estopped from arguing that the selection of the NAF as the arbitral forum was integral to the arbitration agreement because they had taken the position in prior judicial proceedings that the courts presiding over those proceedings were authorized to appoint substitute arbitrators under the FAA. The Alabama Supreme Court agreed that the designation of the NAF as the arbitral forum in the agreement was ancillary rather than an integral and essential part of the agreements, the trial court therefore correctly granted plaintiffs' petitions to compel arbitration under the FAA. View "The Terminix International Co., L.P., et al. v. Dauphin Surf Club Association, Inc., et al." on Justia Law

by
The Alabama Space Science Exhibit Commission d/b/a U.S. Space & Rocket Center ("ASSEC") filed suit against Space Race, LLC ("Space Race"), seeking to avoid an arbitration award entered in favor of Space Race and against ASSEC by an arbitration panel in New York. In July 2016, Space Race agreed to produce an animated series for ASSEC aimed at promoting the interest of children in space exploration and science. The series was to be created and released to the public over a three-year period. In exchange, ASSEC agreed to compensate Space Race with funds ASSEC would receive from a grant from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration ("NASA"), which had contracted with ASSEC to provide funding for the series. The compensation was to be paid to Space Race annually as the series episodes were created during the three-year contract term. The parties' agreement provided that it "shall be governed" by Alabama law. Space Race produced the series before the contract term expired, but ASSEC failed to pay the amount owed for the last year of the series. Space Race claimed that ASSEC still owed Space Race approximately $1.3 million when the contract term expired. The parties' agreement contained an arbitration provision. In December 2017, after being notified by ASSEC that it would no longer make payments to Space Race because the grant from NASA had been terminated, Space Race commenced arbitration proceedings against ASSEC in New York. Space Race moved to dismiss ASSEC's Alabama action, asserting that a New York court had already entered a final judgment confirming the arbitration award. The Alabama trial court denied Space Race's motion to dismiss, and Space Race petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the trial court to dismiss ASSEC's action. Because the New York judgment confirming the arbitration award against ASSEC was entitled to full faith and credit and res judicata effect, the Supreme Court granted Space Race's mandamus petition. The trial court was directed to vacate its order denying Space Race's motion to dismiss and to enter an order granting that motion. View "Ex parte Space Race, LLC." on Justia Law

by
Wynlake Residential Association, Inc. ("the homeowners' association"), Wynlake Development, LLC, SERMA Holdings, LLC, Builder1.com, LLC, J. Michael White, Shandi Nickell, and Mary P. White ("the defendants") appealed a circuit court's judgment on an arbitration award entered against them. Because the defendants' appeal was untimely, the Alabama Supreme Court dismissed the appeal. View "Wynlake Residential Association, Inc, et al. v. Hulsey et al." on Justia Law

by
Scott and Janet Lopas filed suit against, among others, Performance Builders, LLC, Chris White, Shana Tyler Clark, and DSKAT Holdings, LLC, d/b/a A-Pro Home Inspection Services Birmingham (collectively, "the movants") asserting various causes of actions based on the inspection, appraisal, and sale of a piece of real property purchased by the Lopases. The movants moved to compel arbitration of the Lopases' claims, which the circuit court denied. The movants appealed the circuit court's order. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court concluded the movants met their burden of establishing the existence of an agreement containing an arbitration provision between the parties, and that that agreement involved a transaction affecting interstate commerce. Furthermore, the arbitration provision dictated that the issue of enforceability raised by the Lopases had to be submitted to the arbitrator for determination. Therefore, the circuit court's order denying the movants' motion to compel arbitration was reversed. View "Performance Builders, LLC, et al. v. Lopas" on Justia Law

by
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

by
Wayne Farms LLC appealed a circuit court order compelling it to arbitrate its claims asserted against Primus Builders, Inc., and staying the action. Wayne Farms was a poultry producer located in Dothan, Alabama. Wayne Farms sought to expand its poultry-processing facility, and, to that end, entered into a "Design/Build Agreement" with Primus in 2017, that specifically addressed work to be completed by Primus in connection with the expansion of Wayne Farms' freezer warehouse. Primus subcontracted with Republic Refrigeration, Inc.; Republic hired Steam-Co, LLC for "passivation services." Upon draining a condenser for the freezer warehouse, it was discovered that the interior of the condenser was coated with corrosive "white rust." Primus then replaced the damaged condenser at a cost of approximately $500,000 under a change order, pursuant the Design/Build Agreement with Wayne Farms. Wayne Farms paid Primus for both the original damaged condenser and the replacement condenser. Both Primus and Steam-Co have claimed that the other is responsible for the damage to the condenser. Wayne Farms sued Primus and Steam-Co asserting claims of breach of contract and negligence and seeking damages for the damaged condenser and the cost of replacing it. Primus moved the trial court to compel arbitration as to the claims asserted against it by Wayne Farms. Primus also moved the trial court to dismiss, or in the alternative, stay Steam-Co's cross-claims against it. Wayne Farms opposed Primus's motion to compel arbitration, arguing that no contract existed between the parties requiring it to arbitrate claims arising from the passivation process. The Alabama Supreme Court found that the contract between Wayne Farms and Primus specified arbitration would apply to only those disputes arising from obligations or performance under the Design/Build Agreement, Wayne Farms could not be compelled to arbitrate with Primus a dispute arising from the performance of passivation work that was not an obligation agreed to in the Design/Build Agreement. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Wayne Farms LLC v. Primus Builders, Inc." on Justia Law

by
Michael Falligant, as next friend of Michelle McElroy, who Falligant alleged was an incapacitated person, filed an action against TitleMax of Alabama, Inc. ("TitleMax"), alleging that TitleMax wrongfully repossessed and sold McElroy's vehicle. TitleMax filed a motion to compel arbitration of Falligant's claims, which the circuit court denied. TitleMax appealed. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court determined TitleMax met its burden of proving that a contract affecting interstate commerce existed, and that that contract was signed by McElroy and contained an arbitration agreement. The burden then shifted to Falligant to prove that the arbitration agreement was void. But the Court concluded Falligant failed to present substantial evidence indicating that McElroy was permanently incapacitated and, thus, lacked the mental capacity to enter into the contracts. Because Falligant failed to create a genuine issue of fact, the circuit court erred in ordering the issue of McElroy's mental capacity to trial. Accordingly, the circuit court's decision was reversed, and the matter remanded back to the circuit court for further proceedings. View "TitleMax of Alabama, Inc. v. Falligant" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff Gerriann Fagan appealed a circuit court order granting defendant Warren Averett Companies, LLC's motion to compel arbitration. Fagan was the owner of The Prism Group, LLC, a human-resources consulting firm. In February 2015, Warren Averett approached her and asked her to join Warren Averett and to build a human-resources consulting practice for it. In February 2015, she agreed to join Warren Averett, entering into a "Transaction Agreement" which provided that: Fagan would wind down the operations of The Prism Group; Fagan would become a member of Warren Averett; Warren Averett would purchase The Prism Group's equipment and furniture; Warren Averett would assume responsibility for The Prism Group's leases; and that Warren Averett would assume The Prism Group's membership in Career Partners International, LLC. The Transaction Agreement further provided that Fagan would enter into a "Standard Personal Service Agreement" ("the PSA") with Warren Averett; that Fagan's title would be president of Warren Averett Workplace; and that Fagan would be paid in accordance with the compensation schedule outlined in the PSA. Fagan alleged that she subsequently resigned from Warren Averett when she was unable to resolve a claim that Warren Averett had failed to properly compensate her in accordance with the PSA. On or about February 28, 2019, Fagan filed a demand for arbitration with the American Arbitration Association ("AAA"). The employment-filing team of the AAA sent a letter dated March 4, 2019, to the parties informing them of the conduct of the arbitration proceedings. On April 18, 2019, the employment-filing team notified the parties that Warren Averett had failed to submit the requested filing fee and that it was administratively closing the file in the matter. On April 30, 2019, Fagan sued Warren Averett in circuit court. The Alabama Supreme Court determined Warren Averett's failure to pay the filing fee constituted a default under the arbitration provision of the PSA. Accordingly, the trial court erred when it granted Warren Averett's motion to compel arbitration. View "Fagan v. Warren Averett Companies, LLC" on Justia Law

by
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