Articles Posted in Civil Procedure

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Charles Taylor appealed a court order finding he was rightfully removed as the pastor of the Paradise Missionary Baptist Church ("PMBC"). By 2012, PMBC's membership of 16 persons had fractured into 2 groups. It is alleged that the congregation had become dissatisfied with Taylor's service as pastor at PMBC and that Taylor and his close relatives had "started taking over the church" and were behaving in such a way as to have "forced other members from attending church." Taylor headed one group of eight church members, and Lenora Ray, a church trustee and co-founder, headed the other group of eight church members. After review of this matter, the Alabama Supreme Court determined the trial court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction to decide whether Taylor’s dismissal as Pastor of PMBC was valid, and therefore reversed and remanded. View "Taylor v. Paradise Missionary Baptist Church" on Justia Law

Posted in: Civil Procedure

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Mazda Motor Corporation ("Mazda") appealed a judgment entered against it on two jury verdicts resulting from two product liability claims filed in Alabama. The claims stemmed from an accident involving a “Mazda 3” driven by then 16-year-old Sydney McLemore, with 15-year-old Natalie Hurst as a passenger. McLemore was driving 55 miles per hour in a 35 mile-per-hour zone when she lost control of the car; the car spun around and hit a light pole before coming to a stop, then burst into flames. McLemore suffered third-degree burns covering approximately 15 percent of her body; Hurst died from burn injuries. Hurst’s parents filed suit against Mazda and McLemore, asserting wrongful death, and pertinent here, product liability claims. Specifically, they alleged that Mazda erred by designing the 2008 Mazda 3 so that a plastic fuel tank was positioned one-half inch from a steel muffler that had sharp protruding edges so that when hit, the muffler's sharp edge cut the fuel tank, causing the fuel tank to fail and allowing gasoline vapors to escape and to ignite, which caused the post-collision fuel-fed fire. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded after review of the trial court record that the trial court did not err with respect to the admission of certain expert testimony. McLemore’s wantonness claim should not have been submitted to the jury, and the judgment must be reversed insofar as it included an award based on that claim. The record did not support an award of punitive damages in connection with McLemore’s claim against Mazda. Further, Mazda has failed to present any argument that would counsel in favor of a remittitur of the Hursts' damages award on their wrongful-death claim, and, therefore, the jury's $3.9 million award in favor of the Hursts and against Mazda. The trial court was therefore affirmed in part, reversed in part and remanded for further proceedings. View "Mazda Motor Corporation v. Hurst" on Justia Law

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Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. appealed a circuit court's denial of its claim for attorney fees against National Bank of Commerce ("NBC"). The claim at issue in this appeal stemmed from a lawsuit concerning the deposit of a check issued by Jennifer Champion, treasurer of Jefferson County, for $178,916.42 in settlement of claims made in Winston v. Jefferson County, a class-action lawsuit concerning excess tax bids. The check was drawn on Jefferson County's account with Wachovia Bank, N.A. (a predecessor to Wells Fargo), and it was jointly payable to the order of Carl Prewitt, Debra Prewitt, Renasant Bank, and Moore Oil Co., Inc. ("Moore Oil"). After the check was issued, it was mailed to the Prewitts, received by Debra Prewitt. The check was stamped "for deposit only," and it was deposited to an account in the name of Liberty Investing, LLC ("Liberty Investing"), at Red Mountain Bank (a predecessor to NBC), using a remote scanner that was provided by NBC's predecessor to Creative Edge Landscaping, Inc. It is undisputed that the check was deposited without endorsements and that the Prewitts were not signatories on the Liberty Investing account. Wells Fargo's predecessor paid the check and debited Jefferson County's account. The Prewitts received the proceeds of the check over time through a series of withdrawals and transfers from the Liberty Investing account. Moore Oil became aware of the check, and by a letter it demanded that Jefferson County pay Moore Oil the amount of the check because, Moore Oil contended, it was entitled to the proceeds of the check. The Alabama Supreme Court fetermined Wells Fargo's claim for reimbursement of attorney fees expended in defense of the claim brought by Moore Oil lacked support in the applicable statutory scheme. Furthermore, neither of the "special equity" rules under which Wells Fargo claimed entitlement to reimbursement of its attorney fees was applicable in this situation. Finding no reversible error as to the denial of attorney fees to Wells Fargo, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court. View "Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. v. National Bank of Commerce" on Justia Law

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Jewels by Park Lane, Inc. ("JBPL"), and Kathy Cassidy, the national director for JBPL, sought a writ of mandamus compelling the Circuit Court to vacate its order denying their motion to dismiss an action against them on the ground of improper venue arising out of a forum-selection clause, and to enter an order dismissing the case. JBPL was a multilevel marketing company that sold jewelry through independent contractors who host parties offering JBPL's jewelry line for sale. Jennifer Miller became a “director” for LBPL. Miller sued JBPL and Cassidy, alleging JBPL promised to employ her for a 12-month period and to pay her $4,000 a month for that period. Miller set out claims alleging account stated, open account, breach of contract, and fraud. Miller sought compensatory damages, punitive damages, and attorney fees. The employment agreement contained a “forum selection clause” in which any disputes between the parties would be settled in accordance with the laws of Illinois. Miller admitted that the director agreement contained a forum selection clause but argued that she would not have entered into the agreement but for the fraud perpetuated by JBPL and Cassidy. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded JBPL and Cassidy have shown a clear legal right to have the action against them dismissed on the basis that venue in the Tallapoosa Circuit Court was, by application of the outbound forum-selection clause, improper. The trial court exceeded its discretion in denying their motion to dismiss Miller's action. View "Ex parte Jewels by Park Lane, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2015, RPM Cranes and its owner Muhammad Wasim Ali sued the defendants CraneWorks, Inc. and its owners, David Upton ("David") and Steve Upton ("Steve"), and Russell Brooks, Rick Yates, and Casey Markos, alleging that Brooks, Yates, and Markos had violated their employment agreements by going to work for CraneWorks and that CraneWorks' hiring of Brooks, Yates, and Markos likewise violated those employment agreements. David and Steve were named as defendants by virtue of their ownership of CraneWorks. RPM and Ali sought monetary damages and injunctive relief. The trial court entered a permanent injunction in favor of RPM and Ali and against the defendants. The Alabama Supreme Court found the injunction at issue in defendants' appeal was not specific in its scope: the order stated that the defendants were "permanently restrained and enjoined from contacting, in any way, whatsoever, any of those clients which are now clients of RPM Cranes." The order failed, however, to specify which clients were included in the injunction. RPM and Ali introduced no evidence as to who RPM's clients were or whether it had developed any clients of its own that Yates and Brooks did not bring onboard as a result of their previous jobs with other entities. In other words, the injunction was broad and vague rather than "specific in [its] terms." The Court reversed the trial court's order and remanded for further proceedings. View "Brooks v. RPM Cranes, LLC" on Justia Law

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This action concerned a piece of real property located in Calhoun County, Alabama. Lynda Newman, individually and as personal representative of the estate of Oscar Newman, deceased, appealed the summary judgment entered in favor of Michael and Rhonda Howard. The Howards owned the property in 2003 and in April 2003 mortgaged the property to secure a note. In 2007, the Howards conveyed the property by general warranty deed to Lynda and Oscar Newman; Oscar, Lynda's husband, subsequently died. It was undisputed that, unbeknownst to the Newmans, the 2003 mortgage was not satisfied by the Howards before the conveyance and remained an encumbrance on the property. The Newmans and the Howards were involved in litigation concerning numerous claims against one another, as well as others, involving deeds, financing agreements, mortgages, and contracts between the various parties concerning several pieces of real property, including the property at issue in this case. Before a final judgment was reached in that litigation, in December 2014 the parties dismissed the lawsuit and entered into a "settlement agreement and mutual release agreement." Also in December 2014, shortly after Lynda signed the agreement, she attempted to sell the property at issue here. During the process of closing on the sale of the property, Lynda's attorney conducted a title search of the property and discovered that the property was encumbered by the 2003 mortgage. Lynda requested that the Howards satisfy the mortgage pursuant to the terms of the May 16, 2007, warranty deed. The Howards refused. Following a hearing, the circuit court granted the Howards' summary-judgment motion on the sole basis that Lynda had released any claims she may have had against the Howards. Lynda appealed. The Alabama Supreme Court reversed, finding Lynda timely objected to the Howards' reliance on the affirmative defense of settlement and release in their summary-judgment motion and equally clear that an amendment to specially plead that affirmative defense was not made by the Howards. The circuit court erred in granting the Howards' summary-judgment motion based on an unpleaded affirmative defense of release. View "Newman v. Howard" on Justia Law

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Lamar Ragland appeals the dismissal of his bad-faith claim against State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company. Ragland sought punitive damages from State Farm based on State Farm's alleged bad-faith failure to pay and related failure to subject his claim for underinsured-motorist ("UIM") benefits to a cognitive review. State Farm moved to dismiss Ragland's claims, because Ragland had filed a separate civil action in 2014 that had not yet been resolved. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court dismissed Ragland's claim as being from a nonfinal judgment. View "Ragland v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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SSC Selma Operating Company, LLC, doing business as Warren Manor Health and Rehabilitation Center, and SavaSeniorCare Administrative Services, LLC, appealed a circuit court order denying their motion to compel arbitration of a retaliatory-discharge claim filed against them by Jackie Fikes. Fikes sued the companies, seeking to recover worker's compensation benefits pursuant to the Alabama Workers' Compensation Act, and alleging that the companies had discharged her from her employment in violation of Ala. Code 1975, sec. 25–5–11.1, solely because she had filed a claim for worker's compensation benefits. Fikes alleged that in 2013, she suffered a work-related injury when she attempted to lift a patient while working for the companies as a certified nurse assistant; that she underwent medical treatment for her work-related injury; and that she returned to work under light-duty restrictions until Spring 2014, at which time, she says, the companies wrongfully terminated her employment. Fikes requested in the complaint that the worker's compensation claim and the retaliatory-discharge claim be severed in order for the retaliatory discharge claim to be tried by a jury. The companies moved to compel arbitration of the retaliatory discharge claim pursuant to their employment-dispute resolution program ("the EDR program") under which Fikes had agreed to be bound. Fikes responded, arguing that the retaliatory-discharge claim was not covered by the EDR program. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court concluded Fikes failed to demonstrate her retaliatory-discharge claim was not covered by the EDR program. Accordingly, the Court reversed the trial court's order denying the companies' motion to compel arbitration of that claim. View "SSC Selma Operating Company, LLC v. Fikes" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Roger Firestone sued defendants Carl Weaver, Charles Tooley, L.C. Collins, Jr. ("L.C."), and Mickie Collins ("Mickie"), alleging that defendants conspired to and brutally assaulted and battered Firestone. Firestone appealed summary judgment entered in favor of Weaver, dismissing his claims as barred by an applicable statute of limitations. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court concluded that the trial court exceeded its discretion in certifying the summary judgment in favor of Weaver as final because proceedings were still pending against the other defendants, and issues in Weaver’s matter were so closely intertwined with those of the other defendants “that separate adjudication would pose an unreasonable risk of inconsistent results.” A non-final judgment would not support an appeal; therefore Firestone’s appeal was dismissed. View "Firestone v. Weaver" on Justia Law

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Yolanda Terry, a social worker employed by the Macon County Department of Human Resources ("DHR"), petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Macon Circuit Court to vacate its order denying her motion for a summary judgment based on State-agent immunity and to enter a summary judgment in her favor based on that defense. DHR assigned the case of Mildred Collins to Terry. Collins was living with her daughter Cherri Forrester (her legal guardian). Collins' grandson Ronald Person, suspected Forrester was abusing Collins. After an investigative visit, Terry concluded Collins was not in imminent danger, and no indication that legal intervention was needed to have Collins removed from Forrester's home. Collins died two days after the visit. The death certificate indicated the cause of death as "blunt force abdominal injuries with hematoma." The personal representative of Collins' estate sued Terry for failing to follow DHR policy that allowed Collins to remain in Forrester's custody. After review of the record, the Supreme Court concluded the estate failed to meet its burden of presenting substantial evidence that Terry acted beyond her authority by failing to discharge her duties, i.e., investigating the report that Collins was being abused, pursuant to DHR policy and procedures, because Terry complied with DHR policy and procedures concerning unannounced investigative visits, the need for involving law enforcement, private interviews of clients, inspections of the affected areas of a client's body, and inspections of the entire home. The Court found Terry was entitled to State-agent immunity, and granted her writ application. View "Ex parte Terry" on Justia Law