Articles Posted in Business Law

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Bert Nettles appealed summary judgment entered in favor of Rumberger, Kirk & Caldwell, P.C. ("Rumberger") and several attorneys with the firm. This case stemmed from the demise of the law firm of Haskell Slaughter Young & Rediker, LLC ("Haskell Slaughter"). Nettles and the individual defendants were all former members of Haskell Slaughter. In 2013, Haskell Slaughter was in financial distress, and members of the firm were in discussions as to what, if anything, could be done to save the firm. In December 2013, 10 lawyers, including the individual defendants, left Haskell Slaughter and joined Rumberger. Haskell Slaughter permanently closed in February 2014. In 2015, Bluebird Holdings, LLC ("Bluebird"), filed a complaint against Nettles and three other former members of Haskell Slaughter, seeking to collect on personal guarantee agreements executed by the former members. Nettles filed a third-party complaint in the Bluebird action against Rumberger and the individual defendants. Nettles sought damages from Rumberger and the individual defendants for alleged breach of fiduciary duty, fraud, conspiracy, and tortious interference with a contract. Nettles alleged that the individual defendants, in violation of fiduciary duties owed Nettles and Haskell Slaughter, conspired with each other and with Rumberger to orchestrate Rumberger's acquisition of two of Haskell Slaughter's most profitable practice groups. Nettles alleged that the loss of those practice groups "was the psychological and financial death blow to Haskell Slaughter" in that it thwarted plans for a potential firm-saving reorganization, caused the remaining members of the firm to leave, and resulted in the liquidation of Haskell Slaughter and ultimately the Bluebird action. The demise of Haskell Slaughter caused it to default on bank debt for which Nettles was a guarantor. Rumberger and the individual defendants filed a motion to dismiss Nettles's third-party complaint, arguing, among other things, that certain of Nettles's damages claims were not permissible under Rule 14, Ala. R. Civ. P. The trial court agreed and ruled that Nettles could recover only money that he may be required to pay as a result the personal guarantee agreement made the basis of the Bluebird action. As a result of that ruling, Nettles filed this suit, now before the Alabama Supreme Court. Finding no reversible error in the grant of summary judgment to the firm and individual defendants on all claims asserted, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's judgment. View "Nettles v. Rumberger, Kirk & Caldwell, P.C., et al." on Justia Law

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Dr. Tara Lynd, M.D. appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of Marshall County Pediatrics, P.C. ("MCP"), in her action seeking a judgment declaring the proper valuation of her shares in MCP. In July 1978, John Packard, M.D. filed articles of incorporation forming MCP, a medical practice specializing in pediatrics in Guntersville, Alabama. At the same time, MCP adopted bylaws. Those bylaws reference a separate "stockholder agreement," but one was never executed. Over time, Dr. Packard hired other physicians to work with him in MCP. In 2005, Dr. Packard hired Dr. Lynd as a pediatrician to work for MCP. In 2013, Dr. Packard retired from practice, and he sold MCP to four other physicians who were then working for MCP: Dr. David Chupp, Dr. Don Jones, Dr. Sarah Rhodes, and Dr. Lynd. At the time of sale, each physician paid Dr. Packard $1,000, with the understanding that he or she would pay Dr. Packard the remaining amount due for his or her shares, with interest, over a period of several years. At the time the four physicians acquired MCP from Dr. Packard, they accepted the bylaws without alteration. They did not execute a stockholder agreement. In 2014, Dr. Lynd telephoned each of the other physicians to inform him or her that she would be leaving MCP. Dr. Rhodes testified in her affidavit that, upon Dr. Lynd's severance from MCP, the other three physicians did not dispute that Dr. Lynd was owed her portion of the receivables/production bonuses generated by MCP. A dispute formed over the valuation of her shares. The Alabama Supreme Court determined Dr. Lynd failed to demonstrate that she should receive the fair value of her stock in MCP, and that the trial court did not err in denying her motion for a summary judgment. View "Lynd v. Marshall County Pediatrics, P.C." on Justia Law

Posted in: Business Law, Contracts

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Dr. Tara Lynd, M.D. appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of Marshall County Pediatrics, P.C. ("MCP"), in her action seeking a judgment declaring the proper valuation of her shares in MCP. In July 1978, John Packard, M.D. filed articles of incorporation forming MCP, a medical practice specializing in pediatrics in Guntersville, Alabama. At the same time, MCP adopted bylaws. Those bylaws reference a separate "stockholder agreement," but one was never executed. Over time, Dr. Packard hired other physicians to work with him in MCP. In 2005, Dr. Packard hired Dr. Lynd as a pediatrician to work for MCP. In 2013, Dr. Packard retired from practice, and he sold MCP to four other physicians who were then working for MCP: Dr. David Chupp, Dr. Don Jones, Dr. Sarah Rhodes, and Dr. Lynd. At the time of sale, each physician paid Dr. Packard $1,000, with the understanding that he or she would pay Dr. Packard the remaining amount due for his or her shares, with interest, over a period of several years. At the time the four physicians acquired MCP from Dr. Packard, they accepted the bylaws without alteration. They did not execute a stockholder agreement. In 2014, Dr. Lynd telephoned each of the other physicians to inform him or her that she would be leaving MCP. Dr. Rhodes testified in her affidavit that, upon Dr. Lynd's severance from MCP, the other three physicians did not dispute that Dr. Lynd was owed her portion of the receivables/production bonuses generated by MCP. A dispute formed over the valuation of her shares. The Alabama Supreme Court determined Dr. Lynd failed to demonstrate that she should receive the fair value of her stock in MCP, and that the trial court did not err in denying her motion for a summary judgment. View "Lynd v. Marshall County Pediatrics, P.C." on Justia Law

Posted in: Business Law, Contracts

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International Paper Company and three employees (Janet Pridgeon, Joni Harris, and Shawn Blenis) sought a writ of mandamus directing the Wilcox Circuit Court to rule upon a pending motion to dismiss a case against them for improper venue, based on an outbound forum-selection clause in a waste services agreement between International Paper and JRD Contracting & Land Clearing, Inc. ("JRD C & L"). After review, the Alabama Supreme Court determined the circuit court exceeded its discretion by failing to rule on, and instead "taking under advisement," the motion to dismiss the third-party complaint based on improper venue while allowing discovery on the merits to proceed and setting deadlines for summary-judgment motions and setting the trial date. Therefore, the Supreme Court issued the writ and directed the circuit court to issue an order addressing the merits of IPC's motion to dismiss based on improper venue. The Court expressed no opinion as to whether IPC's motion should or should not be granted; "[w]hile the writ [of mandamus] will issue to compel the exercise of discretion by a circuit judge, it will not issue to compel the exercise of discretion in a particular manner." View "Ex parte International Paper Company et al." on Justia Law

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Alfa Insurance Corporation, ALFA Mutual General Insurance Corporation, ALFA Life Insurance Corporation, and ALFA Specialty Insurance Corporation (collectively, "Alfa") petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus seeking review of an order entered by the Montgomery Circuit Court on December 18, 2015. Although Alfa set forth three issues for review, the Supreme Court reviewed only one: whether the circuit court had jurisdiction to enter the December 18, 2015, order and whether it exceeded its discretion by not setting that order aside. R.G. "Bubba" Howell, Jr., and M. Stuart "Chip" Jones were insurance agents for an Alfa insurance agency in Mississippi. Their agency agreements with Alfa included an arbitration provision, as well as a provision requiring Howell and Jones to purchase "errors and omissions" insurance coverage. In 2012, Alfa accused Howell and Jones of selling competing products in contravention of their agency agreements; Howell and Jones, however, alleged that their actions had been approved by Alfa. Regardless, Alfa forced Howell to resign his position as an Alfa agent on December 31, 2012, and discharged Jones on January 1, 2013. After review, the Supreme Court concluded the circuit court exceeded its discretion in entering the December 18, 2015, order compelling discovery pretermitted discussion of the other, two discovery issues. View "Ex parte Alfa Insurance Corporation et al." on Justia Law

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Alfa Insurance Corporation, ALFA Mutual General Insurance Corporation, ALFA Life Insurance Corporation, and ALFA Specialty Insurance Corporation (collectively, "Alfa") petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus seeking review of an order entered by the Montgomery Circuit Court on December 18, 2015. Although Alfa set forth three issues for review, the Supreme Court reviewed only one: whether the circuit court had jurisdiction to enter the December 18, 2015, order and whether it exceeded its discretion by not setting that order aside. R.G. "Bubba" Howell, Jr., and M. Stuart "Chip" Jones were insurance agents for an Alfa insurance agency in Mississippi. Their agency agreements with Alfa included an arbitration provision, as well as a provision requiring Howell and Jones to purchase "errors and omissions" insurance coverage. In 2012, Alfa accused Howell and Jones of selling competing products in contravention of their agency agreements; Howell and Jones, however, alleged that their actions had been approved by Alfa. Regardless, Alfa forced Howell to resign his position as an Alfa agent on December 31, 2012, and discharged Jones on January 1, 2013. After review, the Supreme Court concluded the circuit court exceeded its discretion in entering the December 18, 2015, order compelling discovery pretermitted discussion of the other, two discovery issues. View "Ex parte Alfa Insurance Corporation et al." on Justia Law

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Terex USA, LLC ("Terex"), petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the Circuit Court to enforce an outbound forum-selection clause contained in a distributorship agreement between Terex and Cowin Equipment Company, Inc. ("Cowin"), and to dismiss Cowin's action against Terex based on improper venue pursuant to Rule 12(b)(3), Ala. R. Civ. P. Before August 2015, Cowin, a heavy-equipment dealer, had served as an authorized dealer of heavy equipment manufactured by the Liebherr Group for approximately 30 years. Cowin alleged Terex, a heavy-equipment manufacturer, began aggressively recruiting Cowin to become a dealer of its equipment in Alabama, Georgia, and Florida. At the time, Warrior Tractor & Equipment Company, Inc. ("Warrior"), was serving as the dealer for Terex's equipment in the region. Based on assurances from Terex that Cowin would be the only Terex dealer in the territory, Cowin allowed its relationship with Liebherr Group to expire. In August 2015, Cowin entered into a distributorship agreement with Terex to sell Terex heavy equipment in Alabama, Georgia, and Florida. Subsequent to entering into the distributorship agreement with Cowin, Terex entered into a new distributorship agreement with Warrior without providing notice to Cowin that Warrior would be reentering the heavy-equipment market. Cowin alleged Terex's failure to give it notice that Warrior would be reentering the market was contrary to common industry practices. Cowin sued Terex and Warrior, asserting various claims arising from Terex's alleged violation of the Alabama Heavy Equipment Dealer Act, sec. 8-21B-1 et seq., Ala. Code 1975 ("the AHEDA"). Terex moved the trial court pursuant to Rule 12(b)(3), Ala. R. Civ. P., to dismiss Cowin's complaint, arguing that venue in Jefferson County was improper because of the forum-selection clause in the distributorship agreement designating either the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia or the Georgia state court in Atlanta as the proper forum for any dispute between the parties arising from the distributorship agreement. "An outbound forum-selection clause is exactly the type of provision the legislature intended to prohibit because it would undermine the remedial measures and protections the legislature clearly intended to afford heavy-equipment dealers under the AHEDA; this is especially so as to the outbound forum-selection clause in this case, which also contains a choice-of-law provision designating Georgia law as controlling." The Alabama Supreme Court concluded Terex failed to establish a clear legal right to the relief it sought, so the Court denied its petition for a writ of mandamus. View "Ex parte Terex USA, LLC." on Justia Law

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In 2014, Traci Salinas and Sharon Lee Stark, as shareholders of Sterne Agee Group, Inc. ("SAG") filed a shareholder-derivative action, on behalf of nominal defendant SAG, against James and William Holbrook and the nonHolbrook directors, who together composed the SAG board of directors. Salinas and Stark alleged that the Holbrooks had breached their fiduciary duty to the SAG shareholders by misusing, misappropriating, and wasting corporate assets and that the non-Holbrook directors had knowledge of, and had acquiesced in, the Holbrooks' alleged misconduct. In 2015, while Salinas and Stark's action was pending, SAG entered into a merger agreement with Stifel Financial Corp. ("Stifel") pursuant to which Stifel would acquire SAG ("the merger"). As a result of the merger, each share of certain classes of SAG stock was to be converted into a right of the shareholder to receive a pro rata share of merger consideration in cash and/or shares of Stifel common stock. The Holbrooks moved for summary judgment in which they argued that, under Delaware law, when a plaintiff in a shareholder-derivative action ceases to be a shareholder of the corporation on whose behalf the action was brought, the shareholder was divested of standing to continue prosecuting the derivative action. Thus, the Holbrooks argued, because Salinas and Wainwright were no longer SAG shareholders following the merger, they lacked standing to prosecute their derivative action and, the argument continued, the Holbrooks were entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. In response, Salinas and Wainwright amended their complaint to allege that a merger "cannot absolve fiduciaries from accountability for fraudulent conduct that necessitated the merger." Rather, they maintained, "such conduct gives rise to a direct claim that survives the merger, as the injury caused by such misconduct is suffered by the shareholders rather than the corporation, and thereby supports a direct cause of action." Subsequently, the parties filed a stipulation of dismissal in which they dismissed Salinas from the action, leaving Wainwright as the sole plaintiff. The Alabama Supreme Court determined that a May 2017 trial court order did not come within the subject-matter-jurisdiction exception to the general rule that the denial of a motion to dismiss or a motion for a summary judgment was not reviewable by petition for a writ of mandamus. β€œThe petitioners have an adequate remedy by way of appeal should they suffer an adverse judgment. Accordingly, we deny the petitions.” View "Ex parte Jon S. Sanderson et al." on Justia Law

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Profit Boost Marketing, Inc., d/b/a Hometown Values Coupon Magazine ("HVCM"), one of the defendants in the underlying case, petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Marshall Circuit Court to vacate its order denying HVCM's motion to dismiss the claims filed against it by Mike Zak d/b/a Hometown Magazine ("Zak") and to direct that court to enter an order dismissing Zak's claims against it. HVCM was a Washington state based "print broker ... for direct mail advertising." Hometown Magazine was a coupon distributor; Mike Zak was its sole proprietor. In August 2013, Zak and HVCM entered into a "Print Brokerage Agreement" and related "Licensing Agreement" whereby Zak was to become an exclusive "Area Publisher" of HVCM's coupon magazine in three specified zones within Alabama. Zak obtained from the City of Arab ("the City") a business license to engage in "publishing industries." Zak ultimately published a single issue of a publication entitled Hometown Magazine. According to HVCM, "[i]nstead of publishing as [HVCM], Zak formed Hometown Magazine and used the [HVCM] trademark when he sold advertising to local business," i.e., allegedly, "Zak solicited ... clients as [HVCM], sold them advertising using the [HVCM] trademark ..., and never published a magazine as [HVCM]." This action resulted in a dispute between Zak and HCVM. As a result of a Facebook post, which Zak maintained "was entirely fallacious and possessed absolutely no truth," Zak allegedly began to receive queries from customers regarding the legality of his activities. Ultimately, according to Zak, his reputation was allegedly so "irreparably tarnished and damaged" that Zak was forced to close his business. Zak sued the City and various fictitiously named defendants. Specifically, Zak sought to recover both compensatory and punitive damages on various theories, including defamation, negligence, and "wantonness/gross negligence." After review of the trial court record, the Supreme Court held the trial court erred in denying HVCM's motion requesting dismissal of Zak's claims on statute-of-limitations grounds; therefore the Court granted HVCM's petition and issued a writ of mandamus directing the Marshall Circuit Court to vacate its January 3, 2017, order denying HVCM's motion and to enter an order dismissing HVCM as a defendant in the underlying action. View "Ex parte Profit Boost Marketing, Inc., d/b/a Hometown Values Coupon Magazine." on Justia Law

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Candy Parkhurst ("Parkhurst"), personal representative of the estate of her husband, Andrew P. Parkhurst ("Andrew"), deceased, file suit to compel Carter C. Norvell and Parkhurst & Norvell, an accounting firm Norvell had operated as a partnership with Andrew ("the partnership"), to arbitrate a dispute regarding the dissolution of the partnership. Pursuant to an arbitration provision in a dissolution agreement Norvell and Andrew had executed before Andrew's death, the trial court ultimately ordered arbitration and stayed further proceedings until arbitration was complete. Subsequently, however, Parkhurst moved the trial court to lift the stay and to enter a partial summary judgment resolving certain aspects of the dispute in her favor. After the trial court lifted the stay and scheduled a hearing on Parkhurst's motion, Norvell and the partnership appealed, arguing that the trial court was effectively failing to enforce the terms of a valid arbitration agreement in violation of the Federal Arbitration Act. The Alabama Supreme Court determined there was no evidence in the record indicating that Norvell made such an agreement and he, in fact, denied doing so. In the absence of any evidence that would establish such an agreement, as well as any other evidence that would conclusively establish that Norvell clearly and unequivocally expressed an intent to waive his right to have the arbitrator resolve this dispute. As such, Parkhurst failed to meet her burden of showing that the arbitration provision in the dissolution agreement should not have been enforced. Accordingly, the trial court erred by lifting the arbitral stay in order to consider Parkhurst's motion for a partial summary judgment, and its judgment doing so was reversed and remanded. View "Norvell v. Parkhurst" on Justia Law