Justia Alabama Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Business Law
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Caterpillar Financial Services Corporation ("CFS") petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for mandamus relief from a circuit court order purporting to grant a motion to set aside a default judgment in favor of CFS in its action against Horton Logging, LLC ("HL"), and Gary Horton ("Horton"). Because the Supreme Court found the trial court's order purported to grant a successive postjudgment motion, over which the trial court had no jurisdiction, it granted CFS's petition and issued the writ. View "Ex parte Caterpillar Financial Services Corporation." on Justia Law

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Vectus 3, Inc., sued Shorter Brothers, Inc., and its owners for breaching an asset-purchase agreement and related claims. In doing so, Vectus asked the trial court to pierce Shorter Brothers' corporate veil and hold Shorter Brothers' owners personally liable for the company's actions. The trial court granted complete relief to Vectus and awarded it damages, leading defendants to appeal to the Alabama Supreme Court. Vectus cross-appealed, arguing that the damages awarded were insufficient. Vectus operated FedEx Ground delivery routes for several years before its owner decided to sell its assets. Brothers Joseph Shorter and Jason Shorter expressed interest in purchasing those assets. Shorter Brothers entered into an asset purchase agreement ("the Agreement") with Vectus in October 2018. Because of concerns that Shorter Brothers would not obtain financing by the Agreement's closing, the parties provided a financing contingency in the Agreement. Shorter Brothers failed to obtain financing. As a result, it paid a downpayment and a monthly rental fee for approximately six months. It ceased making any payments after June 2019. The Alabama Supreme Court found no reversible error in the trial court's judgment. Accordingly, judgment was affirmed as to the Shorter Brothers' appeal and Vectus' cross-appeal. View "Shorter Brothers, Inc.,et al. v. Vectus 3, Inc." on Justia Law

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Edward Wrenn ("Edward") and David Wrenn ("David") petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct a circuit court to vacate an order requiring Edward and David to disclose their personal income-tax returns to plaintiff Jeffrey Wright, and to enter a protective order shielding the tax returns from production. Wright alleged he contracted with A-1 Exterminating Company, Inc. ("A-1 Exterminating"), for periodic termite treatments of his house. Over the course of several decades of treatments, Wright says, A-1 Exterminating used a "watered-down pesticide so weak that it may only kill ants and 'maybe' spiders." A-1 Exterminating allegedly concealed this practice from him. As a result, Wright contended his house was infected with and damaged by termites. Wright sued Edward, David, A-1 Exterminating, A-1 Insulating Company, Inc., and Wrenn Enterprises, Inc., alleging breach of warranty, breach of contract, negligence and wantonness. Wright sought to represent a class consisting of himself and other A-1 Exterminating customers allegedly harmed by defendants' actions. In support of his request to certify a class, Wright alleged that a "limited fund" existed that would support a class action under Rule 23(b)(1)(B), Ala. R. Civ. P. The Supreme Court held that for tax returns to be discoverable, they must be highly relevant, the litigant seeking their disclosure must show a compelling need for them, and their disclosure must be clearly required in the interests of justice, and that those standards have not been met in this case. Accordingly, the Court granted the petition and issued the writ to direct the trial court vacate its order requiring disclosure of the tax records. View "Ex parte Edward Wrenn & David Wrenn." on Justia Law

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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

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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

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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

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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