Justia Alabama Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
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This case involved a wrongful-death claim filed by Michael Rondini ("Rondini"), as personal representative of the estate of Megan Rondini ("Megan"), to recover damages for the death of his daughter Megan, who committed suicide almost eight months after she was allegedly sexually assaulted while enrolled as a student at the University of Alabama. Rondini sued Megan's alleged assailant, Terry Bunn, Jr., in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama, Southern Division, claiming that Bunn's alleged sexual assault and false imprisonment of Megan proximately caused her death. After Bunn moved for summary judgment, the federal court certified a question to the Alabama Supreme Court on whether Rondini's wrongful-death claim was viable under Alabama law. Both Rondini and Bunn framed their arguments around the Alabama Supreme Court's decision in Gilmore v. Shell Oil Co., 613 So. 2d 1272 (Ala. 1993). The Alabama Supreme Court responded by stating suicide would not, as a matter of law, absolve an alleged assailant of liability. “The statement in Gilmore that suicide is unforeseeable as a matter of law, was made in the context of a negligence case and does not apply in an intentional-tort case involving an allegation of sexual assault. … traditional negligence concepts like foreseeability and proximate cause, which form the backbone of the negligence analysis in Gilmore, have a more limited application in intentional-tort cases.” The Court held that a wrongful-death action could be pursued against a defendant when there is substantial evidence both that defendant sexually assaulted the decedent and that the assault was a cause in fact of the decedent's later suicide. “In such cases, it is unnecessary to analyze whether the decedent's suicide was a foreseeable consequence of the sexual assault; liability may attach without regard to whether the defendant intended or could have reasonably foreseen that result.” View "Rondini v. Bunn" on Justia Law

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Laura Register appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of Outdoor Aluminum, Inc., as to her claim alleging retaliatory discharge. Register worked as a laborer for Outdoor Aluminum. As part of her employment, Register laid out metal material, drilled or punched holes in the material, and deburred and cut the material. Register punched holes in the metal material with a hydraulic-press machine. The hydraulic press became misaligned and was not punching through the metal. When Register attempted to fix the press, the press exploded, causing a two-inch long and half-inch thick piece of metal to strike Register on the head above her right eye and temple. Register reported the incident to her supervisor, Roger Wise. As a result of the incident, Register's neck and head were injured and she had headaches, blurred vision, dizziness, balance problems, and pain. Register sought workers' compensation benefits and medical treatment from Outdoor Aluminum. Approximately a year after Register’s accident and subsequent medical treatments, Outdoor Aluminum management expressed concern with the length of Register’s rehabilitation. In June 2017, a nurse case manager reported to Outdoor Aluminum that Register had been released to full duty with zero impairment by one doctor; by July, Register had not returned to work under advice of another doctor. Because she had not returned to work, and based on the nurse case manager’s report, Outdoor Aluminum terminated Register. In 2018, Register sued Outdoor Aluminum seeking workers' compensation benefits and damages for retaliatory discharge. The parties engaged in discovery. In May 2020, Outdoor Aluminum moved for summary judgment, arguing Register could not show that her workers' compensation claim was the sole motivating factor behind the termination of her employment. The Alabama Supreme Court reversed, finding Register presented substantial evidence that there were genuine issues of material fact that should have been resolved by a jury. View "Register v. Outdoor Aluminum, Inc." on Justia Law

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Jefferson County ("the county") filed a complaint against Wilbert of Birmingham, LLC ("Wilbert"), Lisa D. Turner, and Marvin Lands ("the taxpayers") seeking an order requiring the taxpayers to pay various taxes and license fees they allegedly owed to the county. The circuit court ruled in favor of the county and ordered the taxpayers to pay to the county $112,728.96 plus accrued interest and court costs. The taxpayers appealed. The merits of the circuit court's ruling were not actually before the Alabama Supreme Court in this appeal. Instead, the issue raised in the taxpayers' brief was whether the circuit court obtained jurisdiction over the matter pursuant to the Alabama Taxpayers' Bill of Rights and Uniform Revenue Procedures Act, 40-2A-1 et seq., Ala. Code 1975 ("the TBOR"). The Supreme Court found the taxpayers demonstrated that, by failing to schedule a conference with the taxpayers concerning the preliminary assessments, the county's department of revenue did not strictly comply with the procedural requirements of the TBOR. That failure to strictly comply with the procedural requirements of the TBOR deprived the circuit court of jurisdiction over the county's action against the taxpayers, and, thus, the order entered in favor of the county was void. Therefore, the Supreme Court dismissed the taxpayers' appeal and instructed the circuit court to vacate its judgment in favor of the county and to dismiss the case. View "Wilbert of Birmingham, LLC, et al. v. Jefferson County" 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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This case presented an issue of first impression for the Alabama Supreme Court: whether a noncompetition agreement executed ancillary to the sale of a business terminates upon the death of the individual subject to the covenant not to compete. The Court found that based the specific facts of this case, the noncompetition agreement here did not impose any affirmative obligations on the decedent, and was executed separately from the other agreements relating to the sale of the business. Accordingly, the Court held the noncompetition agreement did not terminate. View "Boyd v. Mills" on Justia Law

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Savannah Dail and Cindy Dail ("the Dails") petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Montgomery Circuit Court to dismiss the claims asserted against them by Brittany Jordan, in her individual capacity. In 2017, the parties were involved in an automobile accident involving several other vehicles. In 2019, Jordan filed a complaint on behalf of herself and Caden Jordan, her minor child, asserting claims of negligence and wantonness against Diane Tyner, the individual driving the automobile that collided with the rear of Jordan's automobile. In 2020, Jordan filed an amended complaint asserting additional claims against the Dails. Responding to the Dails' motion to dismiss, Jordan claimed that, although the Dails were listed on an incident and offense report concerning the accident, the report did not indicate that they were at fault and that Jordan did not learn of the Dails' fault in the accident until discovery had been conducted. The Alabama Supreme Court found that because Jordan's amended complaint did not relate back to the filing of the original complaint pursuant to Rule 15, Ala. R. Civ. P., it granted the petition and issued the writ. View "Ex parte Savannah and Cindy Dail." on Justia Law

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Dalton Teal, a defendant in a pending personal-injury action, petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Jefferson Circuit Court to vacate its partial summary judgment in favor of plaintiff Paul Thomas, pursuant to which it struck Teal's affirmative defenses of self-defense and statutory immunity. Thomas, accompanied by a friend, Brian Pallante, were at a Birmingham bar when an altercation between Pallante and Teal arose on the premises. Bar staff separated the two; Pallante and Thomas left through the front door, and Teal left through the back. Following his exit, Teal waited on a nearby bench for friends who had accompanied him. Within minutes of their exit from the bar, Pallante and Thomas again encountered Teal, and Pallante allegedly initiated another confrontation. Thomas confirmed that Teal was on his back on the ground with Pallante above him, and that Pallante was obviously "getting the better of" Teal in the struggle. Teal testified that, after having been choked for approximately 15 to 20 seconds, he realized that he was not going to be able to get up and became "afraid that they were going to kill [him]." At that point, Teal drew a pistol and fired a single shot in an effort "to get them off of [him]." Teal, who indicated that his ability to aim his weapon was affected by the fact that Pallante had "[Teal's] arm pinned down," missed Pallante, at whom Teal was apparently aiming, but the shot struck Thomas in the abdomen, seriously injuring him. The Jefferson County District Attorney declined to bring criminal charges against Teal based on the conclusion that Pallante's actions had "led to the shooting that injured [Thomas]." Thomas filed a personal-injury action against Teal and other defendants. The Alabama Supreme Court determined Teal presented substantial evidence demonstrating the existence of genuine issues of material fact regarding whether he was entitled to assert the affirmative defense of self-defense to Thomas's tort claims and whether he was entitled to statutory immunity. Therefore, the trial court erred in entering a partial summary judgment striking Teal's affirmative defenses premised on a theory of self-defense. Teal's petition was granted and a writ of mandamus issued to direct the trial court to vacate its order. View "Ex parte Dalton Teal." on Justia Law

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Cadence Bank, N.A. ("Cadence"), sued Steven Dodd Robertson and Mary Garling-Robertson, seeking to recover a debt the Robertsons allegedly owed Cadence. The circuit court ruled that Cadence's claim was barred by the statute of limitations and, thus, granted the Robertsons' motion for a summary judgment. The Alabama Supreme Court reversed, finding the Robertsons' summary-judgment motion did not establish that Cadence sought to recover only pursuant to an open-account theory subject to a three-year limitations period. The Robertsons did not assert any basis in support of their summary-judgment motion other than the statute of limitations. The matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "Cadence Bank, N.A. v. Robertson" on Justia Law

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Alexandra Miller, a defendant in this personal-injury action, petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Madison Circuit Court to vacate its order purporting to grant plaintiff Ralph Mitchell's postjudgment motion seeking a new trial. Miller and Mitchell were involved in a motor-vehicle accident in May 2017. Mitchell sued Miller in the Madison Court, where the matter proceeded to a jury trial in January 2020. At the conclusion of the trial, the trial court granted Mitchell's motion for a judgment as a matter of law on the issue of liability; the jury subsequently returned a verdict awarding Mitchell damages totaling $22,368, the exact amount of medical expenses that Mitchell alleged at trial. The trial court entered a judgment on the jury's verdict on January 31, 2020. On February 10, 2020, Mitchell filed a timely postjudgment motion seeking a new trial on the ground that the jury's verdict allegedly erroneously failed to also include an award for "physical pain and suffering." The trial court scheduled Mitchell's motion for a hearing to be held on March 17, 2020. On March 13, 2020, the Alabama Supreme Court, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, issued an "Administrative Order Suspending All In-Person Court Proceedings for the Next Thirty Days," i.e., from March 16, 2020, through April 16, 2020. Additional orders further extended the deadline suspending in-person court proceedings. On June 11, 2020, Miller filed a response opposing Mitchell's postjudgment motion. Subsequent to the scheduled hearing, on June 18, 2020, the trial court entered an order purporting to grant Mitchell's postjudgment motion seeking a new trial. Miller moved to vacate Mitchell's motion, arguing the circuit court lacked jurisdiction to grant it. The trial court did not rule on Miller's motion, but set it for a hearing on August 11, 2020, which was more than 42 days after the entry of the June 18, 2020, order purporting to grant Mitchell's postjudgment motion. The Supreme Court concluded Miller demonstrated both that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to enter the order purporting to grant Mitchell's postjudgment motion seeking a new trial, and a corresponding clear legal right to the requested relief. View "Ex parte Alexandra Grace Miller." on Justia Law

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Cobbs, Allen & Hall, Inc. ("Cobbs Allen"), and CAH Holdings, Inc. ("CAH Holdings") (collectively,"CAH"), appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of EPIC Holdings, Inc. ("EPIC"), and EPIC employee Crawford E. McInnis, with respect to CAH's claims of breach of contract and tortious interference with a prospective employment relationship. Cobbs Allen was a regional insurance and risk-management firm specializing in traditional commercial insurance, surety services, employee-benefits services, personal-insurance services, and alternative-risk financing services. CAH Holdings was a family-run business. The families, the Rices and the Densons, controlled the majority, but pertinent here, owned less than 75% of the stock in CAH Holdings. Employees who were "producers" for CAH had the opportunity to own stock in CAH Holdings, provided they met certain sales thresholds; for CAH Holdings, the equity arrangement in the company was dictated by a "Restated Restrictive Stock Transfer Agreement." For several years, McInnis and other individuals who ended up being defendants in the first lawsuit in this case, were producers for CAH, and McInnis was also a shareholder in CAH Holdings. In the fall of 2014, a dispute arose between CAH and McInnis and those other producers concerning the management of CAH. CAH alleged that McInnis and the other producers had violated restrictive covenants in their employment agreements with the aim of helping EPIC. Because of the dispute, CAH fired McInnis, allegedly "for cause," and in November 2014 McInnis went to work for EPIC, becoming the local branch manager at EPIC's Birmingham office. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court's judgment finding CAH's breach-of-contract claim against McInnis and EPIC failed because no duty not to disparage parties existed in the settlement agreement. EPIC was not vicariously liable for McInnis's alleged tortious interference because McInnis's conduct was not within the line and scope of his employment with EPIC. EPIC also was not directly liable for McInnis's alleged tortious interference because it did not ratify McInnis's conduct as it did not know about the conduct until well after it occurred. However, the Supreme Court disagreed with the circuit court's conclusion that McInnis demonstrated that he was justified as a matter of law in interfering with CAH's prospective employment relationship with Michael Mercer. Based upon the admissible evidence, an issue of fact existed as to whether McInnis gave Mercer honest advice. Therefore, the judgment of the circuit court was affirmed in part, reversed in part, and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Cobbs, Allen & Hall, Inc., and CAH Holdings, Inc. v. EPIC Holdings, Inc., and McInnis." on Justia Law