Justia Alabama Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Consumer Law
Littlefield v. Smith
In a dispute involving the foreclosure of a home, the Supreme Court of Alabama upheld the decisions of the lower court in favor of the purchasers of the foreclosed property and the mortgagee. The original homeowners, the Littlefields, defaulted on their mortgage payments and the property was subsequently foreclosed on by Planet Home Lending, LLC ("Planet"), and then sold to Terry Daniel Smith and Staci Herring Smith. The Littlefields refused to vacate the property, leading the Smiths to initiate an ejectment action against them. The Littlefields responded with counterclaims against the Smiths and Planet, arguing that the foreclosure was void because Planet had failed to comply with the mortgage's notice requirements. The Supreme Court of Alabama rejected the Littlefields' arguments, holding that any alleged noncompliance with the notice requirements would have rendered the foreclosure voidable, not void. The court concluded that because the Littlefields did not challenge the foreclosure before the property was sold to the Smiths, who were considered bona fide purchasers, the foreclosure could not be set aside. The court also noted that the Littlefields failed to challenge other rulings related to their counterclaims against Planet and their forfeiture of redemption rights, leading to these aspects of the lower court's judgment being affirmed as well. View "Littlefield v. Smith" on Justia Law
Gleason v. Halsey
Sandra Gleason filed suit against Charles Halsey and Jim McDonough d/b/a Jim McDonough Home Inspection ("McDonough"), seeking to recover for damage that Gleason allegedly incurred as a result of defendants' allegedly negligent and/or fraudulent conduct associated with Gleason's purchase of a house from Halsey and McDonough's inspection of the house. Although Gleason's claims against Halsey and McDonough involve different legal theories, the issue underlying the claims was essentially the same: whether the house was inspected. The issue underlying Gleason's claims against Halsey was whether McDonough's inspection of the house could be credited to Gleason for purposes of determining whether Gleason may assert an argument under the health or safety exception to the doctrine of caveat emptor; the issue underlying Gleason's claims against McDonough appeared to be whether McDonough owed Gleason a duty in inspecting the house or in consulting with Gleason as she personally inspected the house. The Alabama Supreme Court found that Gleason's claims against Halsey, the judgment on which was certified as final under Rule 54(b), and Gleason's claims against McDonough that remain pending in the circuit court "are so closely intertwined that separate adjudication would pose an unreasonable risk of inconsistent results." As a result, the Court concluded that the circuit court exceeded its discretion in certifying the June 23, 2021, order granting Halsey's summary-judgment motion as final. The Court therefore dismissed the appeal. View "Gleason v. Halsey" on Justia Law
Ex parte TitleMax of Georgia, Inc., and TMX Finance LLC.
TitleMax of Georgia, Inc., and its parent company, TMX Finance LLC ("TMX"), petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Talladega Circuit Court to vacate its order denying their motion to dismiss them as parties to the underlying action commenced against them and others by Phallon Billingsley and to enter an order dismissing them from the action based on the trial court's lack of personal jurisdiction over them. This case started over the repossession of a 2005 Range Rover. In December 2014, the individual who owned the vehicle at that time allegedly entered into a "pawn ticket" agreement with TitleMax of Georgia pursuant to which the owner borrowed money from TitleMax of Georgia and provided TitleMax of Georgia a security interest in the vehicle. In 2016, Billingsley purchased the vehicle from a dealer in Georgia, with financing from Coosa Pines Federal Credit Union ("Coosa Credit"), and received a certificate of good title. In 2014, after a "perceived" default on the "pawn ticket" agreement by the vehicle owner, TitleMax of Georgia authorized a vehicle-repossession company to take possession of the vehicle when it was located in Virginia in 2019. TitleMax of Georgia asked Insurance Auto Auctions Corp. ("IAA") to sell the vehicle; when the vehicle ultimately reached Billingsley, it was damages and inoperable. It was unclear when the damage to the vehicle occurred. Billingsley sued all entities involved in the sale and delivery of the repossessed vehicle; TitleMax of Georgia was added as a party in an amended complaint. The Alabama Supreme Court granted TitleMax of Georgia’s petition, finding there was no evidence to support a finding that an agency relationship existed between either TitleMax of Georgia or TMX and IAA or Attention to Detail (the transport company). View "Ex parte TitleMax of Georgia, Inc., and TMX Finance LLC." on Justia Law
Ex parte Edward Wrenn & David Wrenn.
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
Cadence Bank, N.A. v. Robertson
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
TitleMax of Alabama, Inc. v. Falligant
Michael Falligant, as next friend of Michelle McElroy, who Falligant alleged was an incapacitated person, filed an action against TitleMax of Alabama, Inc. ("TitleMax"), alleging that TitleMax wrongfully repossessed and sold McElroy's vehicle. TitleMax filed a motion to compel arbitration of Falligant's claims, which the circuit court denied. TitleMax appealed. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court determined TitleMax met its burden of proving that a contract affecting interstate commerce existed, and that that contract was signed by McElroy and contained an arbitration agreement. The burden then shifted to Falligant to prove that the arbitration agreement was void. But the Court concluded Falligant failed to present substantial evidence indicating that McElroy was permanently incapacitated and, thus, lacked the mental capacity to enter into the contracts. Because Falligant failed to create a genuine issue of fact, the circuit court erred in ordering the issue of McElroy's mental capacity to trial. Accordingly, the circuit court's decision was reversed, and the matter remanded back to the circuit court for further proceedings. View "TitleMax of Alabama, Inc. v. Falligant" on Justia Law
Ex parte The Terminix International Co., LP, et al.
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
Ex parte Liberty National Life Insurance Company and Marcus Rich.
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
SAI Montgomery BCH, LLC v. Williams
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
Blanks et al. v. TDS Telecommunications LLC
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