Justia Alabama Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Consumer 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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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

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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

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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