Articles Posted in Civil Procedure

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Joshua Ward petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the Shelby Circuit Court to vacate its October 7, 2017, order setting aside a default judgment entered against Johnathan Motors, LLC, and its principal Jacques C. Chahla (hereinafter referred to collectively as "the dealership") and to enter an order reinstating the default judgment. In 2017, Ward filed a 12-count complaint against the dealership and fictitiously named defendants alleging, among other things, that on August 5, 2016, he purchased a vehicle from the dealership and that the dealership unilaterally voided the sale of the vehicle and unlawfully repossessed and converted to its own use the vehicle, the down payment, the monthly installment payment, and the personal property in the vehicle when it was unlawfully repossessed. On August 14, 2017, Ward requested the clerk of the circuit court to enter a default against the dealership pursuant to Rule 55(a), Ala. R. Civ. P., based on the dealership's failure to answer or otherwise to defend in the case; the clerk subsequently made an entry of default in the case. On October 3, 2017, the dealership moved the trial court to set aside the default judgment. On October 7, 2017, the trial court entered an order granting the dealership's motion to set aside the default judgment, but requiring the dealership to file an answer within seven days from the date of that order; the dealership did not file an answer within seven days as ordered. On November 1, 2017, Ward moved the trial court to reconsider its order setting aside the default judgment, the trial court denied Ward's motion to reconsider the order setting aside the default judgment. On November 13, 2017, the dealership filed an answer to the complaint. Ward thereafter petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus. After review, the Supreme Court ordered the trial court to vacate its order setting aside the default judgment, to enter an order reinstating the default judgment against the dealership, and to schedule a hearing on damages. View "Ex parte Joshua Ward." on Justia Law

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The Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama ("the Board") petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the Jefferson Circuit Court to dismiss for lack of subject- matter jurisdiction, based on Article I, section 14, Ala. Const. 1901, an action filed against it by Paul F. Castellanos, M.D. ("Dr. Castellanos"). Dr. Castellanos filed an action against six named defendants and other fictitiously named defendants asserting claims of intentional interference with contractual and business relations, civil conspiracy, and "intentional infliction of mental anguish -- outrageous conduct" and sought declaratory and injunctive relief. The Supreme Court determined the circuit court lacked the power to compel the Board to arbitrate Dr. Castellanos's claims against it. Instead, it was incumbent upon the circuit court to grant the Board's motion to dismiss the claims against it, as Dr. Castellanos himself conceded. Accordingly, the Supreme Court granted the petition for a writ of mandamus and directed the circuit court to vacate its order insofar as it compelled arbitration with regard to the Board and to dismiss the claims against the Board based on section 14 immunity. View "Ex parte the Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama." on Justia Law

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Defendant Mark Price d/b/a J&M Movers ("J&M") filed a petition for a writ of mandamus with the Alabama Supreme Court requesting the Perry Circuit Court to vacate its order granting a motion for relief from judgment filed by plaintiffs Lawrence and Margaret Brewer. In 2013, the Brewers sued J&M and fictitiously named defendants, asserting a single claim alleging trespass based on the June 23, 2009, repossession of a mobile home that was located on their real property. According to the Brewers, on or about June 23, 2009, J&M unlawfully entered their real property to repossess the mobile home and caused damage to their property during the process. J&M filed an answer in which it denied the allegations in the complaint. In 2015, the Brewers filed an amended complaint, substituting Brandon Scott Asberry d/b/a Scott Asberry Transportation as "the proper party Defendant in this case." Thereafter the Brewers filed a motion to dismiss J&M as a defendant in the case, which the trial court granted. J&M was dismissed as a defendant. Over two years later, the Brewers filed a motion for relief from the judgment of dismissal, citing Rule 60(b)(6), Ala. R. Civ. P., and asking the trial court to reinstate J&M as a defendant. The trial court granted the Brewers' motion for relief from judgment. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court concluded J&M established that the Brewers were not entitled to relief pursuant to Rule 60(b)(6) and that the trial court exceeded its discretion in granting the Brewers' motion for relief from judgment. Accordingly, the Supreme Court granted the petition for a writ of mandamus and directed the Perry Circuit Court to vacate its order granting the motion for relief from judgment filed by the Brewers. View "Ex parte Mark Price d/b/a J&M Movers." on Justia Law

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Albert Daniels petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus compelling the Barbour Circuit Court to vacate its order severing and staying Daniels's claims against defendants Joseph Morris, Tracy Cary, and Morris, Cary, Andrews, Talmadge & Driggers, LLC ("the Morris firm"), and also to compel the circuit court to enter a default judgment. Sherry Johnson and Daniels were the parents of Alquwon Johnson. On June 4, 2011, Alquwon committed suicide while he was an inmate in the Barbour County jail. Johnson engaged the Morris firm to pursue a wrongful-death claim related to Alquwon's death. Johnson, as the personal representative of Alquwon's estate, filed a wrongful-death action in the Barbour Circuit Court. Johnson was represented by the Morris defendants in the wrongful-death litigation. The case was removed to federal court. In 2015, the case was settled. The Morris defendants distributed the settlement funds to Johnson; none of the proceeds were paid to Daniels. Daniels telephoned the Morris firm to inquire about retaining the firm to file a wrongful-death suit related to Alquwon's death. After speaking with an employee of the firm, Daniels was told that the firm had a conflict of interest and could not represent him. He later received a letter from Cary stating that "a lawsuit brought on your behalf would not be economically feasible given the nature, facts and circumstances surrounding your case." The Morris firm did not inform Daniels about the prior lawsuit and that it had settled the case and paid the settlement proceeds to Johnson. On September 18, 2015, Daniels filed suit against Johnson alleging that, as Alquwon's father, Daniels was entitled to 50% of the net settlement proceeds but that Johnson had wrongfully retained the entire amount. He asserted against Johnson claims of breach of fiduciary duty and conversion. Two years later, Daniels added as defendants the Morris defendants and asserting two claims against them. Count three of Daniels's amended complaint asserted a claim of fraud against the Morris defendants. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court concluded the Alabama Legal Services Liability Act ("ALSLA") did not require that Daniels's claims against the Morris defendants be bifurcated and stayed pending resolution of his claims against Johnson. Accordingly, the circuit court was directed to vacate its order bifurcating and staying Daniels's claims against the Morris defendants. Daniels, however, did not establish a clear legal right to a default judgment against the Morris defendants. Thus, as to the request for a default judgment, the petition was denied. View "Ex parte Albert Daniels." on Justia Law

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Defendants the Alabama Secretary of State, John Merrill, and a member of his staff, Ed Packard, the director of elections, petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Montgomery Circuit Court to vacate a preliminary injunction and to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction the underlying action seeking injunctive and declaratory relief. On December 7, 2017, plaintiffs Pamela Miles, Dan Dannemueller, Paul Hard, and Victoria Tuggle (hereinafter referred to collectively as "the plaintiffs") filed a civil action against Merrill and Packard, in their official capacities, alleging certain electronic voting machines used in Alabama elections created digital images of the paper ballots scanned and counted by the machines, and that defendants "do not and will not instruct election officials" to preserve the digital ballot images. Those images, it was argued, were public records that, under Alabama law, had to be preserved. Plaintiffs also appeared to allege that federal law, specifically, 52 U.S.C. 20701, required those images be retained. This failure "to require that all election materials" be preserved, the plaintiffs contended, "infringe[d] upon their right to a fair and accurate election." The Alabama Supreme Court determined plaintiffs' allegations did not demonstrate how the "challenged practices harm[ed]" plaintiffs in a concrete way; how they would personally suffer the threatened injury, which is itself described only as a mere speculative possibility; or how they would benefit in a "tangible way" by a judgment in their favor. Instead, the Court found they alleged only that they "could" be harmed." Therefore, because the complaint insufficiently alleged that plaintiffs have standing, the trial court lacked jurisdiction over the action. The Court therefore directed that the case be dismissed. View "Ex parte Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill and Director of Elections Ed Packard." on Justia Law

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Baptist Health System, Inc., d/b/a Walker Baptist Medical Center ("WBMC"), appealed a circuit court's denial of its postjudgment motion seeking relief from the judgment entered on a jury verdict in favor of Armando Cantu ("Armando"), as father and next friend of Daniel Jose Cantu ("Daniel"), a minor, on Armando's medical-malpractice claim. In 2009, Armando and his wife, Eulalia, took then three-month-old Daniel to WBMC's emergency room for treatment following symptoms including decreased appetite, coughing, and a fever that had lingered for several days. At that time, Daniel was diagnosed by the attending emergency-room physician as suffering from a viral illness (specifically, an upper-respiratory infection) and was discharged with instructions to continue fluids and to seek further treatment if the symptoms continued. Thereafter, Daniel's condition allegedly further deteriorated into vomiting, suspected dehydration, decreased activity, and "irritab[ility] whenever his neck was touched." Daniel received a second-opinion from his pediatrician, who performed a "spinal tap," revealing Daniel had bacterial meningitis. Daniel was taken to Children's Hospital in Birmingham, where he was treated with antibiotics, and released with a "discharge diagnosis" of: "meningococcal meningitis, hydrocephalus status post ventriculoperitoneal shunt placement, seizure disorder, blindness, and deafness as a result of bacterial meningitis." In October 2011, Armando sued both WBMC and Dr. James Wilbanks (the attending physician at Daniel's first trip to the Emergency Room), alleging a single count pursuant to Alabama's Medical Liability Act. Ultimately, the jury returned a verdict finding that Dr. Wilbanks's actions did not meet the applicable standard of care, found WBMC liable for the conduct of Dr. Wilbanks, and awarded Armando $10,000,000 in damages. WBMC filed a postjudgment motion seeking a judgment as a matter of law or a new trial. Among the other claims included in that motion, WBMC specifically asserted that it was entitled to a new trial based on the trial court's admission, over WBMC's objections, of evidence of prior medical-malpractice lawsuits filed against WBMC. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded the facts related to the jury regarding prior acts and omissions by WBMC were entirely irrelevant for the purpose of curative admissibility, were highly prejudicial to WBMC, and warranted reversal of the judgment against WBMC. The judgment of the trial court was, therefore, reversed, and the case remanded for a new trial. View "Baptist Health System, Inc. v. Cantu" on Justia Law

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Ed Richardson and Reginald Eggleston, individually and in their official capacities as interim superintendent of the Alabama Department of Education and chief administrative officer of the Alabama State Board of Education, respectively, and Gordon Stone, individually and in his official capacity as mayor of the Town of Pike Road (collectively referred to as "the defendants"), appealed an injunction staying the sale of Georgia Washington Middle School, located in Montgomery, and the sale of any other real property owned by, or the closure of any other schools operated by, the Montgomery County Board of Education. The Alabama Supreme Court determined plaintiffs did not have standing to bring suit, thus the trial court never acquired subject-matter jurisdiction over this case. Accordingly, the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal and ordered the trial court to dismiss the case. View "Richardson v. Relf" on Justia Law

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Warrior Met Coal, LLC sued Eickhoff Corporation alleging certain pieces of heavy mining equipment Eickhoff had manufactured and sold to Warrior Coal were defective. Eickhoff subsequently moved the trial court to compel Warrior Coal to arbitrate its claims pursuant to an arbitration provision in contracts executed after the sale of the equipment, not the original purchase-order contracts associated with the allegedly defective equipment. The trial court denied the motion to compel arbitration and Eickhoff appeals. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the breach-of-warranty, breach-of-contract, and products-liability claims asserted by Warrior Coal in its action against Eickhoff were at least arguably connected to the master service agreements inasmuch as those contracts addressed Eickhoff's obligation to provide an employee to assist with the maintenance and operation of the longwall shearers (the allegedly defective equipment). Accordingly, because the parties also agreed in the master service agreements that the AAA commercial arbitration rules would govern any arbitration, and because those rules empowered the arbitrator to decide questions of arbitrability, the trial court erred when it instead at least implicitly resolved the arbitrability issue in favor of Warrior Coal in its order denying Eickhoff's motion to compel. That order was accordingly reversed and the case remanded for the trial court to enter an order granting Eickhoff's motion to compel arbitration and staying proceedings in the trial court during the pendency of the arbitration proceedings. View "Eickhoff Corporation v. Warrior Met Coal, LLC" on Justia Law

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Homer Watson, as personal representative of the estate of Mary Fejeran, deceased, appealed the grant of summary judgment in a wrongful death action in favor of defendants the University of Alabama Health Services Foundation, P.C., and Graham C. Towns, M.D. The defendants filed a motion for a summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56, Ala. R. Civ. P., on the basis that Watson lacked the representative capacity to bring the wrongful-death action. In support of their summary judgment motion, the defendants attached a copy of a March 24, 2014, final-settlement order indicating that Watson had been discharged as the personal representative of Fejeran's estate. Watson moved the probate court to clarify its March 24, 2014, order or, alternatively, to correct a clerical error in the order pursuant to Rule 60(a), Ala. R. Civ. P. Watson specifically alleged in his motion to clarify and/or to correct that his petition for final settlement sought relief only for liability arising from estate-administration activities and that the petition did not seek closure of the estate or termination of his letters of administration. On the same day, the probate court entered an order, dated March 23, 2017, purporting to clarify and/or to correct its March 24, 2014, order. Based on review of the probate court’s “clarification,” the Alabama Supreme Court concluded Watson was legally discharged as personal representative of Fejeran's estate, lacked the representative capacity to bring the wrongful-death action, therefore the action was therefore a nullity. Accordingly, the summary judgment in favor of the defendants was affirmed. View "Watson v. University of Alabama Health Services Foundation, P.C." on Justia Law

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International Paper Company and three employees (Janet Pridgeon, Joni Harris, and Shawn Blenis) sought a writ of mandamus directing the Wilcox Circuit Court to rule upon a pending motion to dismiss a case against them for improper venue, based on an outbound forum-selection clause in a waste services agreement between International Paper and JRD Contracting & Land Clearing, Inc. ("JRD C & L"). After review, the Alabama Supreme Court determined the circuit court exceeded its discretion by failing to rule on, and instead "taking under advisement," the motion to dismiss the third-party complaint based on improper venue while allowing discovery on the merits to proceed and setting deadlines for summary-judgment motions and setting the trial date. Therefore, the Supreme Court issued the writ and directed the circuit court to issue an order addressing the merits of IPC's motion to dismiss based on improper venue. The Court expressed no opinion as to whether IPC's motion should or should not be granted; "[w]hile the writ [of mandamus] will issue to compel the exercise of discretion by a circuit judge, it will not issue to compel the exercise of discretion in a particular manner." View "Ex parte International Paper Company et al." on Justia Law