Justia Alabama Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
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The Talladega County Commission ("the Commission") appealed a trial court's dismissal of its mandamus petition filed against the Commission by the City of Lincoln ("the City"), that left in place a prior order interpreting provisions of a local act. At issue was a dispute between the Commission and the City regarding the interpretation of Act No. 91-533, Ala. Acts 1991 ("the Act"), as amended by Act No. 2000-758, Ala. Acts 2000 ("the amended Act"). The Act, which local to and operative only in Talladega County, levied special county "privilege license and excise taxes" in parts of Talladega County located outside the corporate limits of cities within the county. Initially, the Act required the revenues from the taxes to be used for the retirement of the County's indebtedness. The amended Act, enacted after the retirement of the County's indebtedness, created the "Talladega County Special Tax Fund" ("the fund") into which all revenues from the taxes, less the costs of collection, were to be deposited. The City claimed in its petition that the Commission did not have any discretion to withhold the disbursement of moneys contained in the fund once the delegation had authorized the disbursement. The City asked the trial court to order the Commission to disburse $494,639 collected to the City as had been recommended by the TCEDA and approved by the delegation. In order to resolve the Commission's declaratory-judgment counterclaim, the trial court was required to determine whether the Commission had authority under the amended Act to "veto, overrule, or otherwise deny" the delegation's approval of the TCEDA's recommendation. At the time the trial court entered the October 30 order on the Commission's declaratory- judgment counterclaim, the Alabama Supreme Court determined there existed a clear justiciable controversy between the City and the Commission concerning the Commission's duties and authority under the amended Act. Once State representatives withdrew their approval, a necessary precursor to the disbursement of moneys from the fund under the amended Act, the City was no longer entitled to the funds and there ceased to be a controversy between the City and the Commission. The Supreme Court therefore determined the action was moot and dismissed the appeal. View "Talladega County Commission v. State of Alabama ex rel. City of Lincoln" on Justia Law

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Petitioners George Cowgill and Elise Yarbrough, petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the circuit court to grant their motion for partial summary judgment on the ground that plaintiff's substitution of them for fictitiously named defendants was made after the expiration of the applicable two-year statute of limitations. Petitioners owned Black Mark 2, LLC, a Birmingham bar. On New Year's Eve 2012, plaintiff Paul Thomas was with his friend Brian Pallante. Pallante and another patron, Dalton Teal, got into an altercation. Staff from Black Market removed Teal. An unidentified female patron returned a handgun Teal had dropped inside Black Market. Teal waited outside for Thomas, Pallante and another to leave. Within five minutes, a second altercation ensued, ending with shots fired, and leaving Thomas injured. The Supreme Court that although Thomas disputed knowledge of petitioners' precise duties, it was undisputed he possessed sufficient information from which he should have known or was at least placed on notice of a factual basis for his eventual claims against them. "Because [he] knew of [petitioners'] involvement in [training and supervision of Black Market employees], it was incumbent upon [Thomas], before the statute of limitations on [his] claim expired, to investigate and evaluate the claim to determine who was responsible for [his injuries]." Therefore, the Court concluded the undisputed evidence demonstrated Thomas failed to exercise due diligence in identifying petitioners as proper party defendants; the trial court thus erred in denying petitioners' motion for partial summary judgment. The Court issued the writ and remanded for further proceedings. View "Ex parte Cowgill" on Justia Law

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State Farm Fire and Casualty Company ("State Farm"), a defendant below, petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to challenge Clarke Circuit Court's failure to dismiss the underlying action or to enter a judgment in its favor on the claims of the plaintiffs, Samuel Boykin, Lucretia Boykin, Reginald Berry, and Ida Berry (collectively referred to as "the respondents"). Specifically, State Farm contended respondents' claims were barred by section 27-23-2, Ala. Code 1975 ("the direct-action statute). In denying the writ, the Supreme Court found it “never recognized an exception to the general rule that would permit interlocutory review of a trial court's denial of a motion to dismiss or for a judgment on the pleadings for cases that turn on whether the plaintiff has stated a cognizable claim under the applicable law. We will not make an exception here. Accordingly, the petition is denied.” View "Ex parte State Farm Fire & Casualty Company." on Justia Law

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Allstate Property and Casualty Insurance Company ("Allstate") petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Macon Circuit Court to grant Allstate’s request for a jury trial in a pending action there. In August 2013, a vehicle occupied by Danielle Carter was involved in an accident with a vehicle being driven by Alvin Lee Walker. Carter sued Walker, alleging negligence and wantonness in the operation of his vehicle. In the same action, Carter also sued her underinsured-motorist carrier, Allstate, seeking underinsured-motorist benefits. In her complaint, Carter demanded a jury trial. Likewise, Allstate demanded a jury in its answer to the complaint. Pursuant to Lowe v. Nationwide Insurance Co., 521 So. 2d 1309 (Ala. 1988), Allstate opted out of active participation in the litigation. Opting out under Lowe keeps the jury in a vehicle-accident action from learning that insurance coverage might be available to pay damages. As the trial date approached, Carter and Walker decided that they would rather try the case without a jury. Allstate, however, demanded a jury trial. The trial court denied Allstate's demand and set the case for a nonjury trial. The Supreme Court determined that Lowe demonstrated there was a strong policy in Alabama against tainting a jury with knowledge of the possible availability of insurance to cover a party's damages. “There is also a strong policy of preserving the right to have a jury determine the extent of a party's liability.” Accordingly, the Court held Allstate could insist that a jury determine liability and damages and, at the same time, keep its involvement from the jury pursuant to the opt-out procedure adopted in Lowe. View "Ex parte Allstate Property & Casualty Insurance Company." on Justia Law

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Rose McClurg sued Birmingham Realty Company ("BRC") based on injuries she sustained when she fell in the parking lot of a shopping center owned by BRC. The circuit court entered a summary judgment in favor of BRC, and McClurg appealed. Because there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the hole in which McClurg stepped was an open and obvious danger, the Alabama Supreme Court reversed summary judgement. View "McClurg v. Birmingham Realty Company" on Justia Law

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Dow AgroSciences LLC ("DAS"), a counterclaim defendant, petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus challenging a circuit court’s refusal to dismiss a fraud claim filed against it by defendant Robert Ward in an action filed by Andalusia Farmers Cooperative ("AFC") against Ward. Specifically, DAS contended that Ward's fraud claim was plainly barred by the applicable statute of limitations. The Supreme Court agreed and granted the petition. View "Ex parte Dow AgroSciences LLC." on Justia Law

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Zambia Player appealed two circuit court orders issued in regard to her administration of the estate of her brother, Jabari Player. Jabari died intestate in 2013, leaving as his sole heir at law his 14-year-old daughter J.C. In 2017, Zambia filed a "Petition for Letters of Administration," and, after posting a bond, she was appointed administratrix of Jabari's estate. Zambia filed an "Inventory of the Estate of Jabari Player," which showed the value of Jabari's estate to be $20,862. J.C. protested this inventory through counsel. For reasons that were not clear, a guardian ad litem was not appointed on J.C.'s behalf until four years later. For several years Zambia did nothing to close the estate or to surrender the property in the estate to J.C. Through her guardian ad litem, J.C. filed a petition to remove the estate to the Etowah Circuit Court. Following the removal of the estate, J.C. moved to compel an accounting. Zambia failed to comply with the accounting order; thereafter, J.C. moved to remove Zambia as personal representative of the estate. In response, Zambia filed a “petition for final settlement” of the estate. The circuit court still insisted on a “formal accounting.” At the hearing on J.C.’s motion to remove Zambia, Zambia appeared pro se and testified concerning her administration of the estate. Zambia essentially testified that she had relied upon her former attorney for all of her actions and that she did not mean to mismanage the estate, but Zambia essentially admitted that she had commingled estate funds and property with her personal accounts and property. The following day, the circuit court entered an order that, among other things, removed Zambia as personal representative of the estate, and it denied Zambia's petition for approval of her final accounting. The Supreme Court determined Zambia's appeal of the order removing her as personal representative of Jabari's estate was not timely; therefore that part of Zambia's appeal was not properly before the Supreme Court and was dismissed. Zambia also did not demonstrate that the circuit court erred in its order assessing damages against her for malfeasance in administering the estate. Therefore, that order was affirmed. View "Player v. J. C." on Justia Law

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BBH BMC, LLC, d/b/a Brookwood Baptist Medical Center ("Brookwood") petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Jefferson Circuit Court to vacate its order compelling Brookwood to respond to certain interrogatories and requests for production. Donna Gaston arrived at Brookwood Baptist Medical Center ("the medical center") to participate in a voluntary psychiatric outpatient-treatment program. At approximately 8:40 a.m., Donna registered for the 9:00 a.m. outpatient group-therapy session in which she had enrolled. She then left the therapy area, accessed a parking deck on the premises of the medical center, and leaped to her death. Charles Gaston, Donna's husband, filed a wrongful-death action seeking to hold Brookwood liable for Donna's suicide. Specifically, he alleged the conduct of Brookwood's nurses and security fell below the applicable standard of care. The Supreme Court determined that although Gaston could discover information concerning those acts or omissions by those employees whose conduct was detailed specifically and factually described in the complaint as rendering Brookwood liable for Donna's death, Gaston was not entitled to discovery regarding acts or omissions by Brookwood related to other incidents. Therefore, because the requested discovery sought evidence of other acts or omissions of Brookwood and its employees beyond the alleged standard of care owed to Donna, Brookwood had shown a clear legal right to have the trial court's discovery order vacated. View "Ex parte BBH BMC, LLC, d/b/a Brookwood Baptist Medical Center." on Justia Law

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William "Will" Willimon, the former bishop of the North Alabama Annual Conference, United Methodist Church, Inc. ("the Conference"), and Debra Wallace-Padgett, the current bishop, petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Talladega Circuit Court to grant them protective orders or, alternatively, to quash their deposition notices in an action against a former youth pastor alleging sexual abuse. Charles Terrell, one of the defendants in the underlying action, was a former youth pastor at First United Methodist Church of Sylacauga ("the Church"). The plaintiff, J.N., was a minor male congregant in the Church who filed the underlying action alleging Terrell had sexually abused him. The Supreme Court denied the petition, finding the bishops failed to demonstrate that J.N.'s requested depositions were merely a fishing expedition to discover impeachment evidence. Thus, they failed to demonstrate they had a clear legal right to a protective order or to an order quashing their deposition notices on that basis. View "Ex parte Willimon & Wallace-Padgett." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Helene Hoehn Taylor, appealed a trial court's judgment on partial findings in favor of defendant Margaret Hoehn. John Alphonse Hoehn ("Hoehn") died on or about October 17, 2014. He was survived by his wife, Margaret, and four daughters: Helene Taylor, Barbara Roberts, Ann Self, and Roman Fitzpatrick. In 2015, Helene filed a petition requesting that a will of Hoehn's that was dated June 7, 2005, be admitted to probate and that letters testamentary be issued to her. She attached to the petition an unsigned copy of a the purported will, stated that she believed that Margaret had the original signed will in her possession, and requested that the probate court enter an order requiring Margaret to produce the signed will so it could be properly probated. Margaret ultimately moved to dismiss Helene's petition, alleging Hoehn had died intestate. Helene sought to compel Margaret to produce Hoehn's executed will. In response, Margaret asserted she had been married to Hoehn for 46 1⁄2 years and that she was not aware of any will that he had executed. She moved again for Helene's petition be dismissed. Helene attempted to probate a lost will. The circuit court dismissed the daughters' attempt to intervene. At a bench trial, Roman testified she was present when her father signed the will at issue; she also produced a signed copy of a revocable trust agreement, wherein the trust would be funded by the terms of the will. An attorney who drafted the will and trust agreement also testified; his office did not have an executed copy of Hoehn's will or the trust agreement. Further, the attorney testified that "knowing what [he] knew about the family and the potential for subsequent litigation, it would have been unusual for [him] to have Roman or anybody else sitting right there" while the Hoehns signed the documents. The attorney testified Hoehn asked the attorney to revoke the power of attorney and any other writing he had made which purported to gift anything of value to Roman or Helene. Margaret moved for judgment on partial findings at the close of Helene's case. The Alabama Supreme Court affirmed judgment in favor of Margaret, finding the circuit court could have reasonably concluded that Helene did not establish that Hoehn ever properly executed the purportedly lost will, and could have reasonably concluded that, even if Hoehn had signed the will, that will had been revoked. View "Taylor v. Hoehn" on Justia Law