Justia Alabama Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Contracts
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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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The law firm of Sirote & Permutt, P.C., and attorney C. Randall Caldwell, Jr., each claimed they were entitled to one-third of the attorneys' fees that were owed for a BP oil spill settlement. Sirote and Caldwell litigated their dispute against each other, and, following a bench trial, the trial court ruled in favor of Caldwell and awarded the funds to him. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the trial court had sufficient evidence to find the existence of a valid referral agreement between Caldwell and Cunningham Bounds as well as the existence of an attorney-client relationship between Caldwell and the Woerner entities. Sirote was not entitled to replace Caldwell as referring counsel merely because the Woerner entities terminated their attorney-client relationship with Caldwell. And the trial court's finding that Caldwell earned his referral fees at the time he referred the Woerner entities' BP claims did not require reversal. Finally, it is clear that the trial court did not award postjudgment interest. In all respects, the Court affirmed the trial court. View "Sirote & Permutt, P.C. v. Caldwell" on Justia Law

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Paradigm Investment Group, LLC, and HR IV, LLC ("the tenants"), entered into a written lease agreement, which was ultimately assigned to Dewey Brazelton ("the landlord"). The lease obligated the tenants to make rental payments to the landlord from the operation of a fast-food franchise on the leased premises. When the tenants failed to remit rental payments, the landlord sued the tenants for breach of contract and unjust enrichment. The trial court entered a summary judgment in favor of the landlord, finding that the tenants had breached the lease agreement and were obligated to pay the landlord $113,869.44. The tenants appealed, arguing the trial court erred in entering summary judgment in favor of the landlord because they abandoned the leased premises; the lease agreement does not address abandonment; and, therefore, as a matter of law, common-law principles of abandonment, rather than the terms of lease, govern the landlord's available remedies. The tenants assert that, had the trial court correctly applied common-law principles of abandonment, it would not have awarded contract damages under the lease. Finding summary judgment was properly granted in favor of the landlord, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed. View "Paradigm Investment Group, LLC and HR IV, LLC v. Brazelton" on Justia Law

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In an earlier action, 623 Partners, LLC, obtained a default judgment against Bart Bowers. But 623 Partners never collected on that judgment. About nine years after obtaining the judgment, 623 Partners filed this case, alleging that Bart and members of his family had orchestrated the fraudulent conveyance of a property that should have been used to pay the judgment. While this case was pending, the judgment in the earlier action reached the 10-year mark, meaning the judgment was presumed satisfied. 623 Partners tried but failed to revive the judgment. The defendants in this case then moved for summary judgment on the sole basis that 623 Partners could not enforce the judgment -- effectively arguing that the 623 Partners' fraudulent-conveyance claims were moot. The trial court granted that motion. Because the Alabama Supreme Court presumed the judgment against Bart and its underlying debt were satisfied, the Court affirmed. View "623 Partners, LLC v. Bowers et al." on Justia Law