Justia Alabama Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
by
Attorney W. Perry Hall petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the circuit court to vacate its order entered on August 15, 2019 requiring Hall, among other things, to issue a letter of apology to his clients. Hall represented a homeowners association and multiple individual homeowners in a Mobile subdivision in a lawsuit against the developer of that subdivision. After Hall moved to dismiss certain counterclaims asserted against those homeowners, the circuit court entered an order demanding that Hall "provide a copy of this order and a copy of Ala. R. Civ. P. Rule 19, as well as a copy of [the motion to dismiss] to [his homeowner clients], along with a letter explaining how Rule 19 works, apologizing for the invectives and sheer puffery used in this frankly scandalous pleading." The circuit court entered the order because it "dislike[d]" Hall's use of the phrase "forced Plaintiff's [sic]" to describe the plaintiffs, as well as other terms used in the motion to dismiss. The circuit court provided no other basis for the directives in its order. Hall filed this petition for a writ of mandamus contending he circuit court had exceeded its discretion by entering the order. The Alabama Supreme Court did not address that issue because, six days later, the circuit court vacated the order after the individual homeowners were dismissed from the action by joint stipulation. View "Ex parte W. Perry Hall." on Justia Law

by
The Alabama Supreme Court granted certiorari review to Lance LeFleur, in his official capacity as director ("the director") of the Alabama Department of Environmental Management ("ADEM"), seeking review of the Court of Civil Appeals' decision in Smith v. LeFleur, [Ms. 2180375, October 11, 2019] ___ So. 3d ___ (Ala. Civ. App. 2019), in which the Court of Civil Appeals held that ADEM did not have the authority to amend Ala. Admin. Code (ADEM), Rule 335-13-4-.15, Rule 335-13-4-.22, or Rule 335- 13-4-.23 to permit the use of alternative-cover materials at landfills ("the alternative-cover-materials rules"). Appellants Ronald Smith, Latonya Gipson, and William Gipson all resided near the Stone's Throw Landfill and Arrowhead Landfills located in Tallapoosa County. Since appellants lived in their respective homes, ADEM permitted the operators of the Stone's Throw Landfill to use at least one material other than earth to cover solid waste deposited in the landfill. In their lawsuit, appellants sought a declaration that ADEM impermissibly adopted the Ala. Admin. Code (ADEM), allowing landfill operators to use alternative materials to cover solid waste in violation of the Solid Wastes and Recyclable Materials Management Act ('the SWRMMA'), Ala. Code 1975, sections 22-27-1 et seq., which, they argued, authorized the use of only earth to cover solid waste. The Court of Civil Appeals found appellants had standing to contest the alternative-cover-materials rules, and that ADEM exceeded its statutory authority. The Supreme Court concluded appellants did not present substantial evidence to establish standings. The trial court therefore properly granted the directors' motion for summary judgment, and properly denied appellants' motion for summary judgment. The Court reversed the Court of Civil Appeals which held to the contrary. View "Ex parte Alabama Department of Environmental Management." on Justia Law

by
Ryan Magers appealed the dismissal of his wrongful-death claim against Alabama Women's Center Reproductive Alternatives, LLC ("the AWC"), for its role in the abortion of Baby Roe. In 2017, Baby Roe was aborted at approximately six weeks of gestation after the AWC provided Baby Roe's mother with an abortifacient pill to end her pregnancy. Magers, Baby Roe's father, then petitioned the Probate Court to be appointed personal representative of Baby Roe's estate. Magers' argument consisted of one conclusory statement followed by a string citation. The brief did not discuss how the cited authority was relevant to his argment. Because Mager's brief failed to conform to Rule 28, Ala. R. App. P., the Alabama Supreme Court determined it had nothing to review on appeal and affirmed dismissal. View "Magers v. Alabama Women's Center Reproductive Alternatives, LLC" on Justia Law

by
Alfa Mutual Insurance Company intervened in a lawsuit brought by its insured, Danielene Myricks, against Kelisha Saulsberry, an uninsured motorist. Two weeks before trial, Alfa moved to opt out of the lawsuit. The circuit court issued an order granting that motion, but it later vacated the order and required Alfa to continue participating in the case as a named defendant. Alfa appealed, asking the Alabama Supreme Court to direct the circuit court to allow it to opt out. Finding that Alfa did not establish a clear legal right to intervene then opt out before trial, the Supreme Court denied Alfa's petition for mandamus relief. View "Ex parte Alfa Mutual Insurance Company." on Justia Law

by
Defendants D.R.J. and his mother, Dana Sides, petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Circuit Court to vacate two orders holding that a pro tanto release executed in their favor was void, thus restoring them as defendants in the underlying lawsuit. Kathy and Barry King sued D.R.J. and Sides seeking damages for injuries the Kings sustained as a result of an automobile accident allegedly caused by D.R.J.'s negligence in driving Sides' vehicle. D.R.J. was a minor at the time of the accident. Defendants and their insurer, Alfa Mutual Insurance Company, offered to settle the Kings' claims for $95,000. Counsel for the Kings notified their insurer, State Farm, of the settlement offer, preserving its subrogation rights against defendants. State Farm responded by offering the Kings $25,000 to settle the UIM claim, which the Kings rejected. The Kings then accepted the $95,000 settlement offer without State Farm's consent, expressly reserving their UIM claim against State Farm. The Kings then moved to dismiss all claims against defendants, and the trial court entered an order dismissing defendants with prejudice. When State Farm learned of the pro tanto release, it moved the trial court for summary judgment, arguing the Kings forfeited their rights to UIM benefits by executing the pro tanto release without its consent. The trial court found State Farm validly objected to the Kings' settlement, made no ruling on State Farm's motion, and declared the pro tanto release void, thus restoring the "status quo" of the case. Defendants argued the trial court should have granted State Farm's motion and ended the litigation. The Supreme Court determined defendants' situation was not one in which they had a clear legal right to relief sought but the trial court refused to grant. They thus had not met their burden for the issuance of a writ of mandamus, and the Court denied their petition. View "Ex parte D.R.J." on Justia Law

by
Birmingham law firm Campbell Law, P.C., represented consumers in legal proceedings against pest-control companies, including The Terminix International Co., LP, and Terminix International, Inc. (collectively referred to as "Terminix"). After Campbell Law initiated arbitration proceedings against Terminix and Matthew Cunningham, a Terminix branch manager, on behalf of owners in the Bay Forest condominium complex ("Bay Forest") in Daphne, Terminix and Cunningham asked the circuit court to disqualify Campbell Law from the proceedings because it had retained a former manager of Terminix's Baldwin County office as an investigator and consultant. The trial court denied the motion to disqualify. Terminix and Cunningham petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus, arguing that the Alabama Rules of Professional Conduct required Campbell Law's disqualification. In support of their petition, Terminix argued the investigator/consultant possessed privileged and confidential information related to disputes between Terminix and parties represented by the law firm, and that Campbell Law violated the Rules of Professional Conduct. The Supreme Court concluded the petitioners did not demonstrate Campbell Law violated the Rules, thus did not establish they had a clear legal right to mandamus relief. The petition was denied. View "Ex parte The Terminix International Co., LP, et al." on Justia Law

by
The Alabama Department of Revenue ("DOR") petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to order Judge Eddie Hardaway to recuse himself from an appeal challenging a decision of the Alabama Tax Tribunal in favor of Greenetrack, Inc. In 2009, the DOR determined Greentrack owed $75 million in sales taxes and consumer-use taxes for its electronic-bingo activities for the period from January 1, 2004, through December 31, 2008. In 2013, the Alabama Department of Revenue moved for Judge Hardaway to recuse himself, arguing that recusal was required because Judge Hardaway had recused himself two months earlier from another case on a related matter involving these same parties. In the present dispute, the DOR asked Judge Hardaway to recuse himself. This time the circuit court denied the request without providing any specific rationale or reasoning in its order, finding the "cases and authorities relied upon by the Alabama Department of Revenue do not support recusal under the facts and circumstances of this case." Finding the DOR demonstrated a clear, legal right to the recusal of Judge Hardaway in this matter, the Alabama Supreme Court granted its petition and directed Judge Hardaway to recuse himself. View "Ex parte Alabama Department of Revenue." on Justia Law

by
The circuit court dismissed with prejudice a complaint relating to an alleged sexual assault of a minor at an Autauga County, Alabama school. Multiple requests for continuances were granted. The last such grant, the circuit court admonished it would not grant additional continuances "absent a showing of extraordinary circumstances." A few days later, plaintiffs moved for another continuance, citing a scheduling conflict involving mediation in a separate case in another county. The circuit court did not rule on the motion, instead issuing an order dismissing the case with prejudice. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the circuit court exceeded its discretion in dismissing S.C. and K.C.'s claims when there was no clear record of delay or contumacious conduct by the plaintiffs. "By contacting court personnel, the parties were attempting to find a date for the circuit court's convenience as well as to make sure that the case proceeded to the merits in a timely manner. . . . That most severe sanction in the spectrum of sanctions is not warranted in this case." View "S.C. et al. v. Autauga County Board of Education et al." on Justia Law

by
Brenda and James Gustin appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of Vulcan Termite and Pest Control, Inc. ("Vulcan"), and its general manager, Fred Smith. In 1998, Vulcan was hired by a construction company to pretreat a house in Shelby County, Alabama for termites. The house was three stories tall, with three concrete decks overlooking a lake. The decks were supported by 18 wooden columns. Additionally, to the left of the front door was a porte cochere for vehicles to pass through on their way up the driveway. The exterior of the house was entirely covered in faux-stone cladding. The Gustins purchased the house in 2006. In 2009, the Gustins entered into a contract with Vulcan for termite-damage inspection, treatment, and repair. In 2015, they hired a decorating company to renovate on of the rooms in the house. The company removed several sections of beadboard from the porte cochere, revealing extensive termite damage. Removing some of the cladding from the facade, the Gustins discovered active termites and severe damage to all levels and all sides of the house, as well as damage to a deck. The Gustins hired an expert, who estimated it would cost roughtly $950,000 to repair the house. Several days after the damage was discovered, Smith went to the house to inspect, and observed the active termites. Vulcan did not repair the house. The Gustins sued. In granting summary judgment, the trial court found "no evidence Vulcan breached the contract by failing to discover hidden termites. The Gustins presented no evidence that the annual inspection were not performed in accordance with the regulations or industry standards." The Alabama Supreme Court's review of the record indicated the Gustins submitted "substantial evidence" that Vulcan committed acts and omissions underlying each of their seven breach-of-contract claims. That evidence created a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether Vulcan breached its duty to "perform all services in a workmanlike manner," as the contract required. While the Court agreed with the trial court and affirmed as to some causes of action, it reversed with respect to others, and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Gustin v. Vulcan Termite and Pest Control, Inc." on Justia Law

by
Laurie Ann Ledbetter ("Laurie Ann") and Warren Lewis Ledbetter ("Warren") sued their brother, William Russell Ledbetter ("Russell") alleging he improperly used money placed in an oral trust by their deceased mother, Lois Ann Ledbetter ("Lois"). The circuit court entered a summary judgment in favor of Russell. Laurie Ann and Warren appealed, contending that they presented substantial evidence of the existence and terms of the oral trust. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court agreed and reversed the circuit court. View "Ledbetter v. Ledbetter" on Justia Law