Justia Alabama Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Consumer Law
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Liberty National Life Insurance Company and Marcus Rich sought mandamus relief to direct the Montgomery Circuit Court ("the trial court") to vacate its order denying their motions to transfer an action filed against them by Kenny and Margie Girdner to Elmore County and to enter an order transferring the action. According to the allegations in the Girdners' complaint, starting in 2017 Liberty National agent Rich came to their house in Wetumpka and offered to restructure their existing Liberty National life-insurance policies; Rich said the restructuring could save the Girdners money. The Girdners alleged that the policies were restructured under the assurances that their premiums would not increase substantially. In late March 2018, three different Liberty National agents met with the Girdners at their house to discuss fixing the "mess" Rich created with their policies. The Girdners alleged that they were given information at that meeting that indicated either that Rich did not know what he was doing or that Rich had intentionally allowed their policies to lapse in order to gain additional commission when new policies were issued. The Girdners again agreed to restructure the policies as the three agents recommended to have their policies reinstated. By September 2018, after Liberty National had failed to reinstate their insurance policies, the Girdners sued Liberty National and Rich alleging misrepresentation, suppression, deceit, unjust enrichment, negligent and/or wanton hiring, supervision, and training, breach of contract, conversion, and "negligent/wanton service." The Girdners asserted that venue was proper in Montgomery County under section 6-3-7(a)(1) and (3), Ala. Code 1975. The Girdners also stated Liberty National had a registered agent in Wetumpka, Elmore County, and that Rich was a resident of Butler County. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded Liberty National and Rich demonstrated venue was improper in Montgomery County and was proper in Elmore County under sections 6-3-7(a)(1) and 6-3-2(a)(3), they demonstrated a clear legal right to have the underlying action transferred to Elmore County. View "Ex parte Liberty National Life Insurance Company and Marcus Rich." on Justia Law

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SAI Montgomery BCH, LLC, d/b/a Classic Cadillac and Andrew Harper, general manager for Cadillac appealed a trial court order denying their motions to compel arbitration. The matter arose over a lease agreement. Customers made two lease payments before the car they lease was seized by law enforcement, and the lessees arrested for theft of property. A grand jury ultimately refused to return an indictment, and the lessees sued the Cadillac dealership and its general manager for malicious prosecution, slander, defamation and conversion, amongst other things. Because the Alabama Supreme Court concluded the trial court was without jurisdiction to enter the order appealed from, it dismissed the appeal. View "SAI Montgomery BCH, LLC v. Williams" on Justia Law

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Jason Blanks, Peggy Manley, Kimberly Lee, Nancy Watkins, Randall Smith, Trenton Norton, Earl Kelly, Jennifer Scott, and Alyshia Kilgore (referred to collectively as "the customers") appealed the denial of a motion to compel arbitration and a declaratory judgment entered in an action brought by TDS Telecommunications LLC, and its two affiliates, Peoples Telephone Company, Inc., and Butler Telephone Company, Inc. (referred to collectively as "the Internet providers"). The customers subscribed to Internet service furnished by the Internet providers; their relationship was governed by a written "Terms of Service." The customers alleged that the Internet service they have received was slower than the Internet providers promised them. At the time the customers learned that their Internet service was allegedly deficient, the Terms of Service contained an arbitration clause providing that "any controversy or claim arising out of or relating to [the Terms of Service] shall be resolved by binding arbitration at the request of either party." In the declaratory-judgment action, the trial court ruled that the Internet providers were not required to arbitrate disputes with the customers. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the arbitration clause in the applicable version of the Terms of Service included an agreement between the Internet providers and the customers that an arbitrator was to decide issues of arbitrability, which included the issue whether an updated Terms of Service effectively excluded the customers' disputes from arbitration. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed the trial court's denial of the customers' motion to compel arbitration and its judgment declaring the updated Terms of Service "valid and enforceable," and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Blanks et al. v. TDS Telecommunications LLC" on Justia Law

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Jessie and Rickey Castleberry appealed a circuit court order dismissing their claims against Angie's List, Inc., based on a forum-selection clause in a contract between Angie's List and the Castleberrys. The Castleberrys, who are father and son, became members of Angie's List in 2014. They claim that they used their membership with Angie's List to locate a contractor, Dream Baths of Alabama, LLC ("Dream Baths"), which the Castleberrys hired to renovate a bathroom in Jessie Castleberry's house to make it handicapped accessible. According to the Castleberrys, Dream Baths was not properly licensed and poorly performed the work it contracted to do. The Alabama Supreme Court found the Castleberrys simply pointed out in the argument section of their brief that, in addition to suing Angie's List, they also sued Dream Baths. They asserted that "[t]his action pertains not only to the agreement between the Castleberrys and Angie's List, but to improper work performed upon a home located in Montgomery County, Alabama by defendant Dream Baths." The Castleberrys provided no significant discussion of the specific claims against Dream Baths and Angie's List. To the Supreme Court, it appealred that the Castleberrys' claims against Angie's List and Dream Baths were based on different categories of wrongdoing that were only tangentially related. The trial court, therefore, did not err in enforcing the forum-selection clause simply because the Castleberrys also sued Dream Baths. View "Castleberry v. Angie's List, Inc." on Justia Law

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Chiropractic Life Center, Inc. ("CLC"), sued Kathryn Naman, alleging she failed to pay for chiropractic care she had received at CLC. The district court entered a judgment in favor of Naman, which CLC did not appeal. Naman thereafter sued CLC and its owner, Dr. Christy Agren, alleging that they had wrongfully brought the collection action against Naman. The circuit court dismissed the claim against Dr. Agren and ultimately entered a summary judgment in favor of CLC. Naman appealed. The Alabama Supreme Court determined there were undisputed facts in the record supporting CLC's argument that it had a good-faith basis for believing that Naman owed it money. Accordingly, Naman could not establish that CLC acted without probable cause in initiating the collection action. The summary judgment entered by the circuit court on Naman's malicious-prosecution claim against CLC was affirmed. View "Naman v. Chiropractic Life Center, Inc." on Justia Law

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The State appealed a circuit court order that, among other things, dismissed its claims against Volkswagen AG ("VWAG"). The State had filed a complaint claiming VWAG and other defendants, violated the Alabama Environmental Management Act ("the AEMA"), and the Alabama Air Pollution Control Act of 1971 ("the AAPCA") when cars VWAG produced had "defeat devices" installed, designed to alter emissions readings on cars with diesel engines. In other words, the complaint alleged defendants had tampered with the emission-control systems or ordered third parties to tamper with the emission-control systems of vehicles that were licensed and registered in the State of Alabama. Giving its reasons for dismissal, the Supreme Court determined that given the unique factual situation involved in this case, and based on reasoning set by the multi-district litigation court, allowing the State to proceed would "stand as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives of Congress." Therefore, the trial court properly granted VWAG's motion to dismiss. View "Alabama v. Volkswagen AG" on Justia Law

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At issue in this appeal were denials of motions to compel arbitration filed by Locklear Chrysler Jeep Dodge, LLC ("Locklear CJD"), and Locklear Automotive Group, Inc. ("Locklear Group"), in actions filed by plaintiffs who alleged they were victims of identity theft resulting from personal information they had provided Locklear CJD in order to explore the possibility of financing the purchase of a vehicle from Locklear CJD. In case no. 1160435, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the trial court order denying the motion to compel arbitration; in the other appeals, the Court reversed the trial court's orders and remanded for further proceedings. Plaintiffs in these cases purchased vehicles from Locklear CJD. All the plaintiffs signed an arbitration agreement as part of their vehicle purchases; the operative language of those arbitration agreements was the same. And all the plaintiffs alleged that they were the victims of identity theft that resulted from providing personal information to Locklear CJD when they filled out credit applications for the vehicle purchases. With respect to Case 1160435, the Supreme Court determined that on the face of the arbitration agreement, its terms did not apply to the interaction of the Lollars and the defendants that occurred in 2015. The Lollars purchased their vehicle in 2013; vehicle purchase to which the 2013 arbitration agreement referred and related was one transaction. The Lollars' 2015 visit to the dealership for the purpose of exploring whether to enter into an entirely different transaction with Locklear CJD (and their provision of financial information to Locklear CJD during that visit) was an unrelated matter to which the arbitration clause did not apply. View "Locklear Chrysler Jeep Dodge, LLC v. Hood" on Justia Law

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Locklear Chrysler Jeep Dodge, LLC, and Locklear Automotive Group, Inc. (collectively, "Locklear"), sought a writ of mandamus to order the Bibb Circuit Court to vacate certain discovery orders in actions filed against Locklear by Rhonda Cook, James McKinney, and James Daniel Parker (collectively, "the purchasers"), who alleged that they were victims of identity theft by a Locklear employee. In July and August 2016, each purchaser alleged that the employee used the personal information from the purchaser's credit application to purchase thousands of dollars in cellular-telephone services. They asserted claims of negligence, wantonness, invasion of privacy, conversion, fraud, tort of outrage, civil conspiracy, violations of Alabama's Consumer Identity Protection Act, and breach of fiduciary duty. Shortly after filing their lawsuits, the purchasers sought general discovery, including interrogatories, requests for production of documents, requests for admissions, and notices of deposition. In response to the three actions, Locklear filed a motion in each action seeking an order compelling arbitration staying the action. The trial court held a hearing on the motions, but did not rule on them. Subsequently, each of the purchasers filed a motion to compel Locklear's responses to their discovery requests and to deem admitted their requests for admissions. The trial court granted the purchasers' motions. Locklear then filed three petitions for mandamus review. While the mandamus petitions were pending, the trial court granted Locklear's motions to stay discovery. The Alabama Supreme Court noted that, in the instant case, the issue presented for its review was not to review the trial court's order denying a motion to compel arbitration; the trial court has not yet ruled on Locklear's motion to compel. The Supreme Court was reviewing the trial court's general discovery orders, and concluded the trial court exceeded its discretion by allowing general discovery before the resolution of the issue whether the purchasers must arbitrate their claims. Furthermore, because it would be unfair to require Locklear conduct merit-based discovery prior to deciding the arbitration issue, and because Locklear could not be afforded the relief it seeks after that discovery has been conducted, Locklear does not have an adequate remedy by ordinary appeal. Accordingly, the Court granted the petitions and issued the writs, directing the trial court to vacate its orders requiring Locklear to respond to the purchasers' discovery requests, including the requests for admissions and to sit for depositions. View "Ex parte Locklear Chrysler Jeep Dodge, LLC" on Justia Law

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Action Auto Sales, Inc. ("AAS"), petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Clarke Circuit Court to vacate orders denying AAS' objection to L.M. Stewart and Cathy Cargile's notice of intent to serve subpoenas on nonparties Merchants Bank and accountant Eddie Nicholes and denying AAS's motion for a protective order. The underlying dispute arose out of Stewart and Cargile's purchase of an automobile, still encumbered by a security interest by AAS. AAS, a financing company, made loans to Pine City Motors, LLC; Pine City sold the vehicle to Steward and Cargile. Steward and Cargile alleged that after they took possession of the car, Pine City failed to satisfy its debt to AAS, and AAS or Pine City retained physical possession of the certificate of title for the vehicle. Thereafter, AAS sued Pine City, Stewart, and Cargile, requesting damages and a judgment directing Stewart and Cargile to return the vehicle to AAS. Stewart and Cargile filed a counterclaim against AAS and a cross-claim against Pine City. Pointing to various Alabama statutes, Stewart and Cargile asserted that their rights in the vehicle are superior to AAS's and that AAS or Pine City improperly retained possession of the certificate of title for the vehicle. Stewart and Cargile also demanded compensatory and punitive damages, asserting theories of negligence and wantonness and conspiracy between AAS and Pine City. The Supreme Court found Stewart and Cargile were not entitled to the discovery of the nonparties, and the trial court erred in not granting the motion for a protective order. The Court therefore granted AAS' petition and issued the writ. View "Ex parte Action Auto Sales, Inc." on Justia Law

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The City of Selma ("the City") filed a petition for a writ of mandamus requesting the Alabama Supreme Court direct the Dallas Circuit Court to enter a summary judgment in its favor, based on State-agent immunity, as to claims Gregory Pettaway filed against it. Pettaway financed the purchase of a 2006 Nissan Armada sport-utility vehicle. Subsequently, Santander Consumer USA, Inc. ("Santander"), took over the loan. Santander contracted with Par North America, Inc. ("Par"), to handle repossessions for it and that Par used Central Alabama Recovery Systems ("CARS") to carry out the actual repossessions. Early on November morning in 2010, two men from CARS came to Pettaway's residence and told him that they were there to repossess the vehicle. By the time Pettaway got dressed and walked outside, the men had already hooked the Armada up to the tow truck and lifted it. Pettaway objected and telephoned the Selma Police Department; Officer Jonathan Fank responded to the call. After Officer Fank told Pettaway that the repossession was a civil matter and that he could not do anything because the vehicle was already hooked up to the tow truck, Pettaway again called the Selma Police Department to ask that Officer Fank's supervisor come to the scene. Pettaway filed a complaint against Santander, Par, CARS, and the City, alleging conversion, negligence, wantonness, and trespass claims. Although he stated conversion, negligence, wantonness, and trespass claims, Pettaway admitted that his only complaint against the City was that the officers told the repossession men to take the vehicle. The City admitted that officers were called to the scene at Pettaway's request to keep the peace but denied the remaining allegations as to the actions of its officers, raising the affirmative defense of immunity. The City argued the trial court erred in denying its motion for a summary judgment: at the time of the incident that formed the basis for Pettaway's complaint, Officers Fank and Calhoun were performing discretionary functions within the line and scope of their law-enforcement duties and that, therefore, they would be entitled to State-agent immunity. The Supreme Court concluded the City established that it has a clear legal right to a summary judgment in its favor based on State-agent immunity. View "Ex parte The City of Selma." on Justia Law