Justia Alabama Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Contracts
Brady v. Hiett
This appeal and cross-appeal involved a residential lease agreement with an option to purchase executed by Tony Hiett, Sr., and his wife Kelly ("the tenants") and Beverlye Brady ("the landlord"). The landlord leased to the tenants a house ("the property") located in Auburn for a term of five years, beginning September 1, 2011, and ending August 31, 2016, for $2,000 per month. By letter dated August 29, 2016, the tenants informed the landlord that they were exercising their option to purchase the property. According to the tenants, they accepted the first option to purchase the property presented in an email from the landlord and began making monthly holdover rental payments of $2,500. In April 2017, they informed the landlord that they had obtained financing and were ready to close on the property by April 30, 2017. The landlord, however, refused to convey title to the property because, she claimed, the tenants had never responded to her email; thus, according to the landlord, the option to purchase had expired. The tenants thereafter stopped paying rent under the lease agreement, but continued to occupy the property, and sued the landlord, seeking specific performance of the option to purchase. The landlord counterclaimed, asserting a claim for ejectment and a claim of breach of contract, based on unpaid rent and late fees owed under the lease agreement. The Alabama Supreme Court affirmed judgment on a jury’s verdict in favor of the tenants on their specific performance claim, and against the landlord on her ejectment claim. The Supreme Court reversed judgment entered on the jury’s verdict in favor of the landlord on her breach-of-contract claim based on the inadequacy of damages awarded, and the Court remanded the case with directions to the trial court to grant a new trial only as to that claim unless the tenants consented to an additur. View "Brady v. Hiett" on Justia Law
Ex parte Warren Averett Companies, LLC.
Warren Averett Companies, LLC, sought a writ of mandamus to direct a circuit court to vacate its order denying Warren Averett's motion to strike the jury demand asserted by Gerriann Fagan and to enter an order granting the motion to strike the jury demand. The underlying dispute involved a business proposition Warren Averett made to Fagan to to build a human-resources consulting practice. Fagan would wind down the operations of her company, The Prism Group; Fagan would then become a member of Warren Averett, and Warren Averett would purchase The Prism Group's equipment and furniture, assume responsibility for The Prism Group's leases; and that Warren Averett would assume The Prism Group's membership in Career Partners International, LLC. The "Standard Personal Service Agreement" ("the PSA") entered into by Fagan and Warren Averett drafted by Warren Averett included, in pertinent part, a dispute-resolution clause. Fagan resigned from Warren Averett after a salary dispute, and, on February 28, 2019, Fagan filed a demand for arbitration with the American Arbitration Association ("AAA"). The AAA determined that, under its rules, Fagan owed $300 and Warren Averett owed $1,900. The AAA also stated that any dispute regarding the filing fees should be raised before the arbitrator for a determination once all the filing requirements, including payment of the fees, had been satisfied. Warren Averett refused to pay its share of the filing fees as requested by the AAA, and the AAA closed the file in the matter. Thereafter, Fagan sued Warren Averett alleging multiple causes of action. Fagan demanded a jury trial. Warren Averett moved to dismiss the claims, and concurrently moved to compel arbitration. The Alabama Supreme Court determined Fagan did not show prejudice by the almost two-year delay between the filing of Fagan's amended complaint and the filing of Warren Averett's motion to strike the jury demand: "The trial court granted Warren Averett's motion to compel arbitration, and Fagan sought review of that decision. We reversed that decision; on remand, the trial court set a scheduling conference, and Warren Averett filed its motion to strike Fagan's jury demand. Although there was a delay between the time that Fagan demanded a jury and the time that Warren Averett sought to strike that demand, Fagan has not shown that she was prejudiced by that passage of time." Warren Averett's petition was granted and the writ issued. View "Ex parte Warren Averett Companies, LLC." on Justia Law
Anderson v. Coleman, et al.
Plaintiff Terri Anderson appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of the defendants. At issue was an agreement to purchase certain residential property located on Ono Island in Baldwin County, Alabama ("the property") for $1.4 million. In 2012, Robert Bowling III acquired the property and executed a promissory note in favor of Merchants Bank. Merchants Bank subsequently assigned the promissory note and its mortgage interest in the property to Wells Fargo Bank ("Wells Fargo"). In 2018, Bowling conveyed his interest in the property to Robin and Michael Coleman via a vendor's lien deed. The Colemans executed a promissory note evidencing a debt to Bowling. In 2020, the Colemans conveyed a partial interest in the property to their friends, France Frederick and Thomas Sparks. In March 2021, the Colemans, Frederick, and Sparks entered into a purchase agreement regarding the property with Anderson. In April 2021, the sellers decided they had made a mistake by agreeing to sell the property. Robin Coleman eventually sent a communication to Anderson's realtor explaining, in relevant part: "We have voided the contract you sent us and have decided to keep our property." Anderson then initiated this action seeking an injunction prohibiting the sellers from violating the terms of the purchase agreement and a judgment requiring specific performance under the terms of the purchase agreement or, as an alternative to specific performance if the court were to determine that such relief was unavailable, damages for breach of contract. The sellers moved to dismiss Anderson's complaint, arguing that title to the property was unmarketable due to Bowling's and Wells Fargo's respective unsatisfied interests in the property. Accordingly, they contended, the language of the purchase agreement required a refund to Anderson of her earnest-money deposit and an automatic termination of the purchase agreement. The Alabama Supreme Court held only that the sellers could not invoke the marketability requirement of the termination provision set out in the purchase agreement to unilaterally rescind the purchase agreement under the circumstances presented by the record because it appeared that Anderson was willing to waive marketability of the sellers' title to the property to purchase whatever interest they were able to convey and because the sellers have expressly agreed to sell their interest in the property to Anderson, provided that the other pertinent contingencies of the purchase agreement were met. Judgment was reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings. View "Anderson v. Coleman, et al." on Justia Law
Key v. Warren Averett, LLC, et al.
James P. Key, Jr. appealed a circuit court order denying his motion to compel arbitration of his claims against Warren Averett, LLC, and Warren Averett Companies, LLC (collectively, "WA"). Key alleged that he was a certified public accountant who had been employed by WA for 25 years and had been a member of WA for 15 years; that he had executed a personal-services agreement ("PSA") with WA that included a noncompete clause; and that WA had sent him a letter terminating his employment. Key sought a judgment declaring "that the Non-Compete Clause and the financial penalty provision contained in the PSA is not applicable to Key and is an unlawful restraint of Key's ability to serve his clients as a professional." The Alabama Supreme Court found that whether Key's claims against WA had to be arbitrated was a threshold issue that should not have been decided by the circuit court; nor was it appropriate for the Supreme Court to settle the issue in this appeal. Accordingly, the circuit court's order was reversed, and the case was remanded for the circuit court to enter an order sending the case to arbitration for a determination of the threshold issue of arbitrability and staying proceedings in the circuit court during the pendency of the arbitration proceedings. View "Key v. Warren Averett, LLC, et al." on Justia Law
The Terminix International Co., L.P., et al. v. Dauphin Surf Club Association, Inc., et al.
The Terminix International Co., L.P., and Terminix International, Inc. (collectively, "Terminix"), and Ken Stroh, an agent and employee of Terminix, appealed court orders appointing arbitrators, which were entered in two separate actions. The first action was commenced by Dauphin Surf Club Association, Inc. ("DSC"), an incorporated condominium owners' association, and multiple members of that association who owned individual condominium units. The second action was brought by Stonegate Condominium Owners' Association, Inc. ("Stonegate"), and multiple members of that association who owned individual condominium units. In 2006 and 2007, respectively, Terminix entered into contracts with DSC and Stonegate to provide protection from termites for the properties owned by DSC and Stonegate and their members. Both of those contracts included, among other things, an arbitration clause. After disputes regarding termite damage arose between Terminix and DSC and Stonegate, the DSC and Stonegate plaintiffs each petitioned for the appointment of an arbitrator to resolve the disputes. Defendants filed motions in opposition to the petitions, asserting that, because the National Arbitration Forum ("the NAF"), which had been designated as the arbitral forum in the arbitration agreement, was no longer administering consumer arbitrations, the claims could not be arbitrated by the NAF, as the parties had expressly agreed in the arbitration agreement, and that they could not be compelled to arbitrate in a manner inconsistent with the terms of the arbitration agreement. Plaintiffs countered that the contracts containing the arbitration agreement also contained a severability clause that should have been applied; the Federal Arbitration Act ("FAA") governed the agreement; language in the agreement demonstrated Terminix's primary intent was to arbitrate disputes (and that the choice of the NAF as the arbitral forum was an ancillary matter); and that defendants should have been judicially estopped from arguing that the selection of the NAF as the arbitral forum was integral to the arbitration agreement because they had taken the position in prior judicial proceedings that the courts presiding over those proceedings were authorized to appoint substitute arbitrators under the FAA. The Alabama Supreme Court agreed that the designation of the NAF as the arbitral forum in the agreement was ancillary rather than an integral and essential part of the agreements, the trial court therefore correctly granted plaintiffs' petitions to compel arbitration under the FAA. View "The Terminix International Co., L.P., et al. v. Dauphin Surf Club Association, Inc., et al." on Justia Law
Ex parte Space Race, LLC.
The Alabama Space Science Exhibit Commission d/b/a U.S. Space & Rocket Center ("ASSEC") filed suit against Space Race, LLC ("Space Race"), seeking to avoid an arbitration award entered in favor of Space Race and against ASSEC by an arbitration panel in New York. In July 2016, Space Race agreed to produce an animated series for ASSEC aimed at promoting the interest of children in space exploration and science. The series was to be created and released to the public over a three-year period. In exchange, ASSEC agreed to compensate Space Race with funds ASSEC would receive from a grant from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration ("NASA"), which had contracted with ASSEC to provide funding for the series. The compensation was to be paid to Space Race annually as the series episodes were created during the three-year contract term. The parties' agreement provided that it "shall be governed" by Alabama law. Space Race produced the series before the contract term expired, but ASSEC failed to pay the amount owed for the last year of the series. Space Race claimed that ASSEC still owed Space Race approximately $1.3 million when the contract term expired. The parties' agreement contained an arbitration provision. In December 2017, after being notified by ASSEC that it would no longer make payments to Space Race because the grant from NASA had been terminated, Space Race commenced arbitration proceedings against ASSEC in New York. Space Race moved to dismiss ASSEC's Alabama action, asserting that a New York court had already entered a final judgment confirming the arbitration award. The Alabama trial court denied Space Race's motion to dismiss, and Space Race petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the trial court to dismiss ASSEC's action. Because the New York judgment confirming the arbitration award against ASSEC was entitled to full faith and credit and res judicata effect, the Supreme Court granted Space Race's mandamus petition. The trial court was directed to vacate its order denying Space Race's motion to dismiss and to enter an order granting that motion. View "Ex parte Space Race, LLC." on Justia Law
Deslonde v. Nationstar Mortgage, LLC, d/b/a Mr. Cooper et al.
Brett Deslonde appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of Nationstar Mortgage, LLC, doing business as Mr. Cooper ("Nationstar"), and The Bank of New York Mellon, as trustee for Nationstar Home Equity Loan Trust 2007-C ("BNYM"), on Deslonde's claim seeking reformation of a loan-modification agreement on the ground of mutual mistake. In December 2006, Deslonde purchased real property in Fairhope, Alabama with a loan from Nationstar. Deslonde subsequently defaulted on his mortgage payments and applied for a loan modification through Nationstar's loss-mitigation program. By letter dated February 2014, Nationstar notified Deslonde that he had been approved for a "trial period plan" under the federal Home Affordable Modification Program ("the federal program"). Under the federal program, Deslonde was required to make three monthly trial payments in the amount of $1,767.38 and to submit all required documentation for participation in the program, including an executed loan-modification agreement. In July 2014, Nationstar informed Deslonde that his request for a loan modification under the federal program had been denied because he had not returned an executed loan-modification agreement or made the trial payments. That letter informed Deslonde that there were other possible alternatives that might be available to him if he was unable to make his regular loan payments. Deslonde submitted a second application package for loss mitigation in October 2014. Under the executed modification agreement from the second application, Deslonde made monthly payments sufficient to cover only interest and escrow charges on the loan. The loan-modification period, however, expired in November 2016, at which time the monthly payments reverted to the premodification amount so as to include principal on the loan. After the loan-modification period expired, Deslonde made three additional monthly payments, but he then ceased making payments altogether. In an attempt to avoid foreclosure, Deslonde filed a complaint against Nationstar and BNYM in the Baldwin Circuit Court ("the trial court"), requesting a temporary restraining order enjoining foreclosure of the mortgage, a judgment declaring the parties' rights under the executed modification agreement, and reformation of the executed modification agreement on the ground of mutual mistake. Finding that the trial court did not err in granting summary judgment in favor of Nationstar and BNYM, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed. View "Deslonde v. Nationstar Mortgage, LLC, d/b/a Mr. Cooper et al." 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 SE Property Holdings, LLC
In case no. 1190816, appellant-plaintiff SE Property Holdings, LLC ("SEPH"), appealed a circuit court's denial of its petition seeking to hold appellee-defendant David Harrell in contempt for failing to comply with the trial court's postjudgment charging order entered in a previous action involving the parties and its failure to hold a hearing on its contempt petition. In case no. 1190814, SEPH petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari, seeking the same relief. The Supreme Court consolidated the proceedings ex mero motu. In case no. 1190816, the Supreme Court found nothing in the record indicating that a hearing was held or that, if one was held, Harrell was "notified ... of the time and place for the hearing on the petition." Thus, in case no. 1190816, judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. Case 1190814 was dismissed. View "Ex parte SE Property Holdings, LLC" on Justia Law
Builder Systems, LLC v. Klamer
Builder Systems, LLC, appealed an order, certified as final pursuant to Rule 54(b), Ala. R. Civ. P., entered in favor of George "Jerry" Klamer and his wife Lisa Klamer arising from a remediation and new-construction project performed by Builder Systems on the Klamers' house. Because the Alabama Supreme Court determined that the order was not appropriate for Rule 54(b) certification, it dismissed the appeal. View "Builder Systems, LLC v. Klamer" on Justia Law