Justia Alabama Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Business Law
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In appeal no. 1180355, Donald Porter, Marc Porter, Porter Capital Corporation, Porter Bridge Loan Company, Inc., Lowerline Corporation, CapitalPartners Leasing, Inc., and CapitalPartners Leasing, LLC (hereinafter referred to collectively as "the Porter defendants"), appealed a judgment entered in favor of Byron Porter Williamson in his action seeking specific performance of a shareholders agreement that Williamson had entered into with Donald and Marc ("the agreement"). In appeal no. 1180634, Williamson cross-appealed the same judgment seeking prejudgment interest on the full amount of the judgment. The question presented for the Alabama Supreme Court's review was whether the trial court exceeded the scope of Williamson's request for specific performance of the agreement by awarding Williamson a monetary sum representing the value of his interest in the Porter companies based on a valuation process that differed from the valuation process set forth in the agreement. The Porter defendants did not challenge the trial court's determination that Williamson's retirement was a "triggering event" under the agreement that required the Porter defendants to "acquire" Williamson's shares under paragraph 9 of the agreement. They argued only that the trial court awarded relief beyond the scope of a request for specific performance of the agreement. The Supreme Court concurred the trial court's determination of share value used an evaluation process inconsistent with the agreement. The cross-appeal was dismissed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Porter, et al. v. Williamson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Business Law, Contracts
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Consolidated appeals stemmed from an August 2012 transaction in which SMM Gulf Coast, LLC ("SMM"), purchased the assets of four salvage and recycling businesses in Alabama and Mississippi. After that transaction closed, Dade Capital Corporation ("Dade"), a creditor of one of the businesses whose assets were purchased by SMM, and Dade's president David Fournier, who owned stock in that same business, sued SMM, the four businesses that had sold their assets to SMM, and various individuals associated with those businesses alleging that Dade and Fournier should have received a greater share of the purchase price paid by SMM. Following a bifurcated trial, the trial court found that Dade and Fournier's claims were barred by a release agreement that Fournier executed in conjunction with the transaction and entered a judgment against them. SMM, two of the businesses that had sold their assets to SMM, and two individuals with ownership interests in those businesses subsequently moved the trial court to award them attorney fees, court costs, and litigation expenses in accordance with a prevailing-party provision in the release agreement. The trial court denied their motions, and those parties appeal, arguing that the prevailing-party provision entitles them to the requested awards and that they have not waived their right to recover the requested amounts. The Alabama Supreme Court determined that none of the reasons the trial court used as grounds for denial SMM's reimbursement motions was a proper basis for denial. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for the trial court to consider the evidence submitted by SMM and the appellant sellers in conjunction with their motions for reimbursement and to enter an appropriate award based on that evidence. View "Collier v. Dade Capital Corporation" on Justia Law

Posted in: Business Law, Contracts
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Alabama imposed a license or privilege tax on tobacco products stored or received for distribution within the State ("the tobacco tax"). Under Alabama law, the Department of Revenue could confiscate tobacco products on which the tobacco tax had not been paid. Panama City Wholesale, Inc. ("PCW") was a wholesale tobacco-products distributor located in Panama City, Florida, and owned by Ehad Ahmed. One of PCW's customers, Yafa Wholesale, LLC ("Yafa"), was an Alabama tobacco distributor owned by Sayeneddin Thiab ("Thiab"). On October 10, 2018, Hurricane Michael destroyed the roof on PCW's warehouse. Department surveillance agents observed observed one of Thiab's vehicles being unloaded at two of the recently rented storage units. The day after that, agents observed one of Thiab's delivery vehicles being loaded with tobacco products from a recently rented unit following the storm. On October 23, 2018, the Department confiscated 1,431,819 cigars from four storage units leased by persons connected to Yafa and Thiab. It is undisputed that the tobacco tax had not been paid on the cigars. Ahmed filed an action against Vernon Barnett, as Commissioner of the Department, seeking a judgment declaring that the cigars were Ahmed's and that they were not subject to confiscation. The case was transferred to the Jefferson Circuit Court, PCW was substituted for Ahmed, and the parties were realigned to make the Commissioner of the Department the plaintiff and PCW the defendant in a civil forfeiture action. On PCW's motion, the circuit court entered a summary judgment in PCW's favor, ruling that the Commissioner failed to present substantial evidence that the cigars were in the possession of a retailer or semijobber, as the court believed was required by the confiscation statute. The Commissioner appealed. A divided Alabama Supreme Court reversed, concluding the circuit court erred in interpreting the confiscation statute to apply only to untaxed tobacco products in the possession of retailers and semijobbers, and because the Commissioner presented substantial evidence that the cigars were subject to confiscation under a correct interpretation of the statute, the Court reversed summary judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "Alabama Department of Revenue v. Panama City Wholesale, Inc." on Justia Law

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Jostens, Inc. ("Jostens"), John Wiggins, and Chris Urnis (collectively, "defendants") appealed a circuit court's denial of their renewed motions for a judgment as a matter of law following the entry of a judgment on a jury verdict in favor of Herff Jones, LLC ("Herff Jones"), and Brent Gilbert (collectively, "plaintiffs"). Herff Jones and Jostens were nationwide competitors that manufactured scholastic-recognition products (e.g., class rings, diplomas, caps, gowns, tassels, and graduation announcements) for high school students. The companies sold their products through independent-contractor small businesses located in the schools' territories. Gilbert's business was GradPro Recognition Products, Inc. ("GradPro"), and he worked with Herff Jones for over 30 years, both as a sales representative for his father and as the current owner of GradPro. Wiggins worked for an independent distributor of Jostens from 2000 to late 2003; Urnis worked for an independent distributor of Jostens from 2001 to 2005. In 2004 and 2006, respectively, Gilbert hired Wiggins and Urnis away from Jostens to be sales representatives for GradPro and, ostensibly, for Herff Jones. Before joining Gilbert in working on behalf of Herff Jones, Wiggins and Urnis each spent one year away from the industry to honor their noncompetition agreements. After working with GradPro for a time, Wiggins and Urnis went to another independent distributor for Jostens. Herff Jones suffered a substantial loss in business, allegedly stemming from the move. An issue at trial arose over whether plaintiffs were required to present direct, customer-by-customer evidence of the reasons each of the 47 blue-list schools that switched from Herff Jones to Jostens in order for the issue of causation to be submitted to the jury. The Alabama Supreme Court determined plaintiffs presented ample circumstantial evidence that would allow the jury to infer that defendants' wrongful conduct led to plaintiffs' loss of the school accounts at issue. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's order denying the defendants' renewed motion for a judgment as a matter of law. View "Jostens, Inc. v. Herff Jones, LLC" on Justia Law

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Tamikia Everheart; Cardell Coachman, by and through his mother and next friend Johnitia Coachman; Michael Coleman, as administrator of the estate of Diane McGlown; Mary Weatherspoon; and Elizabeth McElroy, as administratrix of the estate of Jakobie Johnson (collectively, "plaintiffs"), filed four separate of summary judgments entered in their separate cases by the Jefferson Circuit Court in favor of Rucker Place, LLC, and Savoie Catering, LLC. While attending a Christmas party in December 2015 at the residence of Bruce McKee and Dale McKee, Jason Bewley consumed alcohol. Later, he was driving while allegedly intoxicated and was involved in an accident with a vehicle occupied by five individuals. As a result of the accident, two of those individuals were injured and the other three were killed. The plaintiffs filed four separate actions against Bewley, alleging negligence and wantonness in the operation of his vehicle. The plaintiffs also asserted dram-shop claims against Dale McKee; the estate of Bruce McKee, who died shortly after the Christmas party; Savoie Catering, LLC, which had catered the McKees' party and had served guests alcohol that had been provided by the McKees; and Rucker Place, LLC, which operates a catering business with connections to Savoie, but which claims it had no involvement with the McKees' party. The Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's judgments based on the conclusion that plaintiffs did not demonstrate that Reg. 20-X-6- .02(4) applied to the circumstances involved in their cases. The Court expressed no opinion as to whether plaintiffs presented evidence sufficient to establish a joint venture between Savoie and Rucker Place. View "Everheart et al. v. Rucker Place, LLC et al." on Justia Law

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Lawler Manufacturing Co., Inc., appealed an order requiring Chris Lawler, president of Lawler Manufacturing, among other things, to authorize and give his consent to a pending shipment of goods from China, and to refrain from engaging in conduct that is contrary to the best interest of Lawler Manufacturing. In 2019, Lawler Manufacturing sued Delmas Lawler, a shareholder, vice president, and alleged former employee of Lawler Manufacturing, and Sandra Lawler, an alleged former employee, alleging breach of fiduciary duty, theft, and conspiracy. Delmas moved the court to order Lawler Manufacturing and Chris, as president of Lawler Manufacturing, to continue the business operations of Lawler Manufacturing in the usual and customary manner in which business affairs had been conducted before the litigation was commenced, which would include authorizing the shipment of an order from China that had been placed earlier. The trial court granted the motion and ordered Chris to act in the best interest of the company. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the trial court did not have jurisdiction to enter the order. The presiding judge disqualified himself from this case, and no longer had authority to appoint his successor or to enter the order appointing the judge who entered the order requiring Chris Lawler to act in Lawler Manufacturing's best interest. " Therefore, Presiding Judge Woodruff's appointment of Judge Fannin was not a valid judicial appointment, and that order is vacated." View "Lawler Manufacturing Co., Inc. v. Lawler" on Justia Law

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LED Corporations, Inc. ("LED"), and Anthony Florence petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Etowah Circuit Court ("the trial court") to vacate its order denying their motions to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction an action filed against them by SDM Electric, LLC ("SDM"), and to enter an order dismissing the case against them. SDM is an Alabama corporation that served as an electrical subcontractor for a construction project at a high school in Calhoun County, Alabama. LED is a Florida corporation owned by Florence, its sole shareholder. In 2017, SDM contacted LED to solicit a bid for lighting fixtures for use in the construction project. SDM executed and delivered to LED a purchase order for lighting fixtures; SDM paid LED the balance of the purchase order. The fixtures were never shipped, and, in late 2018, SDM sued LED and Florence (among others), for breach of contract, fraudulent misrepresentation and conversion. The Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the trial court, concluding SDM satisfied its burden in opposition to LED's and Florence's motions to dismiss by showing that LED and Florence has sufficient contacts with Alabama to support the exercise of specific personal jurisdiction and that the exercise of jurisdiction over them "complies with traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice." View "Ex parte LED Corporations, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Warner Wiggins appeals a circuit court's order compelling him to arbitrate his claims against Warren Averett, LLC. Warren Averett was an accounting firm. Eastern Shore Children's Clinic, P.C. ("Eastern Shore"), a pediatric medical practice, was a client of Warren Averett. In September 2010, while Wiggins, who was a medical doctor, was a shareholder and employee of Eastern Shore, Warren Averett and Eastern Shore entered an agreement pursuant to which Warren Averett was to provide accounting services to Eastern Shore ("the contract"). The contract contained an arbitration clause. Thereafter, Wiggins and Warren Averett became involved in a billing dispute related to the preparation of Wiggins's personal income-tax returns. In 2017, Wiggins filed a single-count complaint alleging "accounting malpractice" against Warren Averett. Warren Averett filed an answer to Wiggins's complaint, asserting, among other things, that Wiggins's claims were based on the contract and were thus subject to the arbitration clause. A majority of the Alabama Supreme Court concluded the determination of whether Wiggins' claims were covered under the terms of the arbitration clause was delegated to an arbitrator to decide. Therefore, it affirmed the trial court's order. View "Warner W. Wiggins v. Warren Averett, LLC" on Justia Law

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Valley National Bank ("VNB") petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct directing the trial court to dismiss a declaratory-judgment action filed against VNB by Jesse Blount, Wilson Blount, and William Blount. William owned a 33% interest in Alabama Utility Services, LLC ("AUS"). William also served as the president of WWJ Corporation, Inc. ("WWJ"), and WWJ managed AUS. Wilson and Jesse, William's sons, owned all the stock of WWJ. In May 2013, William transferred his 33% interest in AUS to WWJ, and WWJ then owned all the interest in AUS. In July 2015, VNB obtained a $905,599.90 judgment against William in an action separate from the underlying action. On August 31, 2015, Asset Management Professionals, LLC, purchased from WWJ all the assets of AUS for $1,600,000. On July 17, 2018, the Blounts filed a declaratory judgment action seeking a judgment declaring "that a) William's transfer of his interest in AUS to WWJ was not fraudulent as to [VNB], b) William was not the alter ego of AUS or WWJ, c) the sale of AUS did not result in a constructive trust in favor of [VNB], and d) the [Blounts] did not engage in a civil conspiracy." VNB filed an action under the Alabama Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act against the Blounts and others in which it asserted that William had fraudulently transferred assets and sought to pierce the corporate veil of WWJ. After review of the trial court records and documents submitted by the parties, the Alabama Supreme Court determined VNB did not demonstrate a clear legal right to have claims against them dismissed. The court denied the mandamus petition insofar as it sought dismissal of the alter-ego claim and the constructive-trust claim. View "Ex parte Valley National Bank." on Justia Law

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Luther Pate IV and New Pate, LLC, filed suit against Chris Hayslip, among others, seeking indemnity and to set aside a particular transfer of funds as fraudulent. Hayslip filed a motion to dismiss Pate and New Pate's action. The circuit court entered an order granting Hayslip's motion as to Pate and New Pate's indemnity claim and denying the motion as to the fraudulent-transfer claim. Hayslip petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the circuit court to vacate that portion of its order denying Hayslip's motion to dismiss Pate and New Pate's fraudulent-transfer claim and to enter an order granting the entirety of Hayslip's motion to dismiss. In 2005, Hayslip and Harlan Homebuilders, Inc., formed The Townes of North River Development Company, LLC ("Townes Development Company"), to develop a residential subdivision. Christopher Dobbs and Teresa Dobbs owned Harlan Homebuilders. At some point, a dispute arose as to the ownership of Townes Development Company. In June 2007, Hayslip and Harlan Homebuilders mediated the dispute and agreed to a settlement in which Hayslip and Harlan Homebuilders would sign a new operating agreement for Townes Development Company indicating that Hayslip owned 70% of Townes Development Company and that Harlan Homebuilders owned the remaining 30%. As part of the settlement agreement, the parties further agreed that the Dobbses would purchase Hayslip's 70% interest in Townes Development Company. However, the Dobbses subsequently claimed that they had been fraudulently induced into entering into the settlement agreement and determined to sue Hayslip and Townes Development Company alleging fraud and other business torts. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded Hayslip demonstrated the circuit court should have granted his motion to dismiss Pate and New Pate's fraudulent-transfer claim. Hayslip's petition for mandamus relief was granted. View "Ex parte Chris W. Hayslip." on Justia Law