Articles Posted in Civil Procedure

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Hartung Commercial Properties, Inc. ("Hartung"), appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of Buffi's Automotive Equipment and Supply Company, Inc. ("Buffi's Automotive"). Wayne Hartung bought a piece of commercial property that had an auto-body collision, repair, and paint shop ("the body shop") on the premises. Wayne also formed Har-Mar Collisions, Inc. ("Har-Mar") to operate the body shop. Hartung subsequently entered into a lease with Har-Mar pursuant to which Har-Mar leased the body shop. Wayne had a custom-built paint booth installed in the body shop and hired Buffi's Automotive to make the paint booth operational once it was installed. On January 24, 2011, the body shop was completely destroyed by a fire. On July 8, 2011, Hartung sued Har-Mar, Buffi's Automotive, and several fictitiously named defendants in the circuit court asserting claims of negligence and wantonness related to their alleged roles in causing the fire that destroyed the body shop. Buffi's Automotive alleged that, sometime after the fire destroyed the body shop, Hartung ordered what remained of the body shop and all the equipment inside it to be demolished. Buffi's Automotive argued that Hartung allowed the body shop to be demolished even though it believed at that time that Buffi's Automotive had caused the fire; that Buffi's Automotive "was named as a defendant only after the evidence was destroyed"; and that Buffi's Automotive "should have been placed on notice of the claim and allowed to inspect the premises with its own experts prior to destruction of the evidence." The Alabama Supreme Court determined the circuit court could not properly conclude that the sanction of dismissal, as opposed to some lesser sanction, was mandated in the present case. “[B]ased on the record before us at this time, we are simply not convinced that Buffi's Automotive met its burden in this case.” Accordingly, summary judgment was reversed. View "Hartung Commercial Properties, Inc. v. Buffi's Automotive Equipment and Supply Company, Inc." on Justia Law

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Robert Robinson appealed a circuit court's dismissal of his action against Harrigan Timberlands Limited Partnership ("Harrigan"), Scotch Land Management, LLC ("Scotch"), Fulton Logging Company, LLC ("Fulton"), Black Sheep Woodlands, LLC ("Black Sheep"), and Todd Overstreet d/b/a Overstreet Timber Company ("Overstreet") (collectively referred to as "the Harrigan defendants") for the alleged wrongful cutting of timber. The pivotal factor in the trial court's judgment that the eastern boundary line of "Parcel Two" was located in one location suggested by the documentary evidence rather than another location suggested by documentary evidence was the court's on-site inspection of the property, an inspection made during the summary-judgment stage of the proceedings. Ultimately, the trier of fact may reject Robinson's contention that the "Bassetts Creek" referred to in his deeds as marking the eastern boundary of Parcel Two was in a different location than the location suggested by the Harrigan defendants. But, on the record before the Alabama Supreme Court, that was not a judgment that appropriately could be determined by summary judgment. Therefore, the trial court's judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Robinson v. Harrigan Timberlands Limited Partnership" on Justia Law

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In 2017, a vehicle driven by Lisa Huffstutler collided with a tractor-trailer driven by Charles Craig, an employee of Tyson Chicken, Inc. Emergency responders, including state troopers and medical personnel, investigated the accident, treated Huffstutler for her injuries at the scene, and then transported her to the hospital for further medical treatment. The accident occurred in Cullman County, Alabama; Huffstutler sued Tyson, Craig and multiple fictitiously named defendants in the Marshall Circuit Court alleging multiple causes of action sounding in tort. Tyson and Craig jointly moved for a change of venue to the Cullman Circuit Court under Alabama's forum non conveniens statute. After the trial court denied that motion, Tyson and Craig filed this mandamus petition. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court concluded Tyson and Craig demonstrated a clear legal right to have the underlying action transferred to Cullman County. Therefore, it granted the petition and issued a writ of mandamus directing the Marshall Circuit Court to vacate its order denying the motion for a change of venue and to enter an order transferring this action to the Cullman Circuit Court. View "Ex parte Tyson Chicken, Inc., and Charles Gregory Craig." on Justia Law

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Deborah Barnhart, Brooke Balch, and Vickie Henderson, current and former officers of the Alabama Space Science Exhibit Commission ("the Commission") petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for mandamus relief. The Commission sought to have the circuit court dismiss the claims asserted against them in the underlying class action or, in the alternative, to vacate the order certifying those claims for class-action treatment. The Commission is required by law to maintain records of its revenue and expenditures and to periodically make those records available for audit by the Department of Examiners of Public Accounts ("DEPA"). After an audit, DEPA determined the Commission had not complied with Alabama law (1) in its payment of annual longevity bonuses to Commission employees and (2) in the manner it compensated Commission employees for working on certain State holidays. The Commission disagreed with the results of the audit; none of the recommended changes were made, and as a result, several former Commission employees sued the Commission and the Commission officers, alleging that the plaintiffs, as well as other past and present Commission employees, had not received all the compensation to which they were entitled during their tenures as Commission employees. The Supreme Court determined the Commission did not establish the named plaintiffs’ retrospective relief and declaratory relief claims were barred by the doctrine of State immunity, and the trial court did not err by dismissing those claims for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. However, the individual-capacities claims were barred inasmuch as those claims were essentially claims against the State regardless of the manner in which they have been asserted, and the trial court accordingly erred by not dismissing those claims for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. Further, the named plaintiffs met their burden for class certification, and the trial court did not exceed its discretion by certifying their retrospective-relief and declaratory-relief claims for class-action treatment. Accordingly, the trial court's order certifying this action for class treatment was reversed insofar as it certified the individual-capacities claims; in all other respects it was affirmed. View "Barnhart v. Ingalls" on Justia Law

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In consolidated appeals, Randolph Clay Cooper ("Clay") appealed two summary judgments entered in favor of his siblings, Garland Terrance Cooper ("Terry") and Rebecca Cooper Bonner ("Becky"). Case no. 1170270 concerned a petition for letters of administration for the estate of Carol Evans Cooper ("Mrs. Cooper"), who was their mother. Case no. 1170271 concerned Clay's petition to distribute any assets remaining in a trust created by the will of their father, Nolan P. Cooper ("Mr. Cooper"). After review, the Alabama Supreme Court determined summary judgment was appropriate in Case no. 1170270, but that the district court erred in granting summary judgment in 1170271: in the 2012 litigation regarding the administration of his mother’s estate, Clay attempted to sue Becky in her capacity as "administratrix of the will and/or estate of Carol Evans Cooper," among other capacities. However, that attempt was ineffective because no administration of Mrs. Cooper's estate had yet been commenced and no estate administrator was appointed until after the 2012 litigation had concluded on October 1, 2014. The parties in the two cases were not the same or substantially identical (letters of administration had been previously granted to Harry D’Olive, Jr.), and the circuit court erred by entering a summary judgment in favor of Becky and Terry based on their argument that the administration of Mrs. Cooper's estate was barred by the doctrine of res judicata. View "Cooper v. Cooper" on Justia Law

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Nationwide Agribusiness Insurance Co. ("Nationwide") and The Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Co. ("Hartford") petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Circuit Court to rule on their pending motion for a change of venue from Marshall County to Morgan County. In this case, by deferring its ruling on venue until the pretrial hearing, the trial court effectively required that Nationwide and Hartford complete discovery, prepare dispositive and other pretrial motions, mediate the case, and prepare for trial before it would resolve the venue question. Under these facts, the Supreme Court’s analysis in Ex parte International Paper, ___ So. 3d ___ (Ala. 2018) controlled. Venue is a threshold matter, and, "as a general rule, a trial court should rule on a motion alleging improper venue as expeditiously as possible." Accordingly, the Court issued the writ and directed the trial court to rule on Nationwide and Hartford's motion for a change of venue as soon as practicable. View "Ex parte Nationwide Agribusiness Insurance Co. and The Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Co." on Justia Law

Posted in: Civil Procedure

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In 2014, Jeremy Gowan filed this action against Cavalier Home Builders, LLC, d/b/a Buccaneer Homes ("Buccaneer"), Minton Industries, Inc. ("Minton"), Monster Movers, LLC ("Monster Movers"), Jerry Dudley, and Britt Richards. Buccaneer, Dudley, Richards, and Minton moved to compel arbitration based on an arbitration agreement Gowan had signed relating to the sale of a manufactured home. Although Monster Movers was not a party to the arbitration agreement, Gowan's claims against Monster Movers were submitted to arbitration by consent of the parties. While the arbitration proceeding was pending, Monster Movers entered into a joint dismissal with Gowan. The case proceeded to arbitration against the remaining defendants. In 2017, the arbitrator issued an award in favor of Gowan and against Buccaneer in the amount of $10,000. As to Gowan's claims against all other remaining defendants, the award was adverse to Gowan. Gowan appealed the award to the circuit court on the basis that the award was insufficient against Buccaneer. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the circuit court deviated from the procedure for the appeal of an arbitration award established by Rule 71B, Ala. R. Civ. P. The issue raised in the mandamus petition was made moot, and the Supreme Court declined further review. View "Ex parte Cavalier Home Builders, LLC, d/b/a Buccaneer Homes." on Justia Law

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Killian Construction Company ("Killian") and Christian Mills petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Circuit Court to vacate its order denying their motion to dismiss the underlying action and to enter an order dismissing the action, based on improper venue. The City of Foley, Alabama, contracted with Killian to construct the Foley Sports Tourism Complex ("the sports complex"). Killian was a Missouri corporation whose principal place of business was located in Springfield, Missouri. Killian entered into a subcontract for part of the work on the sports complex with Edward Woerner, owner of Southern Turf Nurseries, Inc. Woerner was a resident of Baldwin County, Alabama. Woerner claimed Killian failed to pay him the full amount due for the work performed under the subcontract and sued Killian at the Baldwin County Circuit Court. The Alabama Supreme Court determined a forum-selection clause in the subcontract obligated the parties to litigate in a federal or state court in Missouri. Woerner did not establish that venue in Missouri would have been seriously inconvenient for the trial of the underlying action. Mills could enforce an outbound forum-selection clause because he was an employee of Killian directly involved in the sports complex project and the claims against him were related to the contract claims against Killian. Therefore, the Supreme Court found Killian and Mills were entitled to the writ of mandamus and granted relief. View "Ex parte Killian Construction Company and Christian Mills." on Justia Law

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The underlying case concerned a dispute between Allen and Nina Kennemer and the Shelby County Board of Equalization as to the assessed value of real property owned by the Kennemers. The Board informed the Kennemers, by notice dated May 31, 2016, that it had ruled that the fixed value of the property was $122,700 for purposes of assessment. According to the Kennemers, however, the "true and fair value" of the property was $89,405.50. The Kennemers petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari to review whether the Court of Civil Appeals' affirmance, without an opinion, the Circuit Court's dismissal of their appeal of the Board's decision. The Kennemers contended the appellate court's decision conflicted with Shoals Mill Development, Ltd. v. Shelby County Board of Equalization, 238 So. 3d 1253 (Ala. Civ. App. 2017). The Supreme Court agreed: the mailbox rule applied to the filing of a notice of appeal with the Board under section 40-3-25. Accordingly, the Kennemers' notice of appeal was timely filed with the Board, and the circuit court erred in dismissing their appeal of the Board's May 2016 ruling. View "Ex parte Allen Kennemer and Nina Kennemer." on Justia Law

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Evangela Skelton ("Angel"), as personal representative of the estate of Brian Lee Skelton, Sr. ("the estate"), requested the Alabama Supreme Court issue a writ of mandamus directing the Circuit Court (1) to vacate its order denying her motion to dismiss an action filed in the circuit court by Joshua Council ("Joshua") and (2) to enter an order dismissing Joshua's action on the ground of abatement. Frederick Skelton, Jr. ("Frederick Jr."), died on June 7, 1979. Frederick Jr. was survived by his wife, Rheta Skelton ("Rheta"), and four children: Brian Lee Skelton, Sr. ("Brian Lee"), Frederick Tildon Skelton III ("Frederick III"), Loretta Skelton ("Loree"), and Cindy Skelton ("Cindy"). The original trustee of the trust was Rheta. The trust named Frederick III as successor trustee to Rheta and Brian Lee as successor trustee to Frederick III. The trust named no successor trustee to Brian Lee. Rheta died on December 13, 2015. Rheta was predeceased by Frederick III, who died on January 1, 2014. Thus, Brian Lee became the successor trustee of the trust following Rheta's death. However, Brian Lee died on July 2, 2016, before dividing the trust property into shares and distributing those shares pursuant to the terms of the trust and before making a final settlement of the trust. Brian Lee was survived by his wife, Angel, by two adult children, Brian Lee Skelton, Jr. ("Brian Jr."), and Taylor Skelton Madsen ("Taylor"), and by a minor child, Olivia Jade Skelton ("Olivia"). Brian Lee's adult children sought appointment such that the Family Trust shares could be distributed. Joshua, as beneficiary, petitioned for termination, alleging that the trust should have terminated on Rheta's death, and asked the circuit court to distribute the trust assets. Angel moved to dismiss, which was ultimately denied. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the circuit court erred in denying Angel's motion, reversed the Circuit court and directed it to enter an order dismissing Joshua's action. View "Ex parte Evangela Skelton, as the personal representative of the Estate of Brian Lee Skelton, Sr., deceased." on Justia Law