Justia Alabama Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Contracts
Roberson v. Balch & Bingham, LLP
David Roberson appealed a circuit court's dismissal of his claims against Balch & Bingham, LLP ("Balch"), on the basis that those claims were barred by the limitations periods contained in the Alabama Legal Services Liability Act ("the ALSLA"). After review of the trial court record, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed, but on grounds that differed from the trial court's. "[T]he gravamen of Roberson's claims against Balch involved the provision of legal services. However, both Roberson and Balch assert that Roberson was not Balch's client, and those assertions are borne out in the third amended complaint, which indicates that Balch was engaged by Drummond, not personally by Roberson. ... Roberson's claims against the law firm Drummond engaged, Balch, are barred by the ALSLA because Roberson cannot meet an essential element of an ALSLA claim -- namely, he was not Balch's client -- and thus Balch owed no duty to Roberson. ... the circuit court's rationale was based on the applicability of the ALSLA's limitations periods." View "Roberson v. Balch & Bingham, LLP" on Justia Law
Fuston, Petway & French, LLP v. Water Works Board of the City of Birmingham
Fuston, Petway & French, LLP ("the Firm"), appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of The Water Works Board of the City of Birmingham ("the Board") regarding the Board's termination of a contract between the parties. In September 2015, the Firm and the Board entered into a one-year contract in which the Firm agreed to provide legal representation for the Board. In 2016, the Firm and the Board entered into negotiations for a new contract. The chairman of the Board approached the Firm regarding the Board's need to have independent oversight and review of a program designed to attract "historically underutilized business entities" ("the HUB program"). Board meeting minutes at the end of 2016 reflected that the contract was approved. The contract between the Firm and the Board provided, in pertinent part, that the Firm would administer a Contract Compliance Program for the HUB program. Before the contract expired, the Board elected to terminate its contract with the Firm. The Firm sued for breach of contract and other theories. In its judgment, the trial court found, among other things, that the entirety of the Firm's obligations in the contract entailed legal services and that, as a result, the contract was terminable by the Board at any time. After review of the Firm's arguments appealing the trial court judgment, the Alabama Supreme Court found no reversible error and affirmed. View "Fuston, Petway & French, LLP v. Water Works Board of the City of Birmingham" on Justia Law
Shorter Brothers, Inc.,et al. v. Vectus 3, Inc.
Vectus 3, Inc., sued Shorter Brothers, Inc., and its owners for breaching an asset-purchase agreement and related claims. In doing so, Vectus asked the trial court to pierce Shorter Brothers' corporate veil and hold Shorter Brothers' owners personally liable for the company's actions. The trial court granted complete relief to Vectus and awarded it damages, leading defendants to appeal to the Alabama Supreme Court. Vectus cross-appealed, arguing that the damages awarded were insufficient. Vectus operated FedEx Ground delivery routes for several years before its owner decided to sell its assets. Brothers Joseph Shorter and Jason Shorter expressed interest in purchasing those assets. Shorter Brothers entered into an asset purchase agreement ("the Agreement") with Vectus in October 2018. Because of concerns that Shorter Brothers would not obtain financing by the Agreement's closing, the parties provided a financing contingency in the Agreement. Shorter Brothers failed to obtain financing. As a result, it paid a downpayment and a monthly rental fee for approximately six months. It ceased making any payments after June 2019. The Alabama Supreme Court found no reversible error in the trial court's judgment. Accordingly, judgment was affirmed as to the Shorter Brothers' appeal and Vectus' cross-appeal. View "Shorter Brothers, Inc.,et al. v. Vectus 3, Inc." on Justia Law
Auburn-Opelika Investments, LLC v. Burdette
Martin Burdette appealed a circuit court judgment entered in favor of Auburn-Opelika Investments, LLC ("AOI"), regarding a dispute involving a promissory note entered into by the parties. AOI cross-appealed the trial court's judgment denying its request for relief under the Alabama Litigation Accountability Act. In 2004, Martin Burdette and Susan Burdette, a married couple, formed AOI, with each owning 50% of the company. After its formation, AOI obtained a bank loan to purchase certain commercial property. In 2012, Martin and Susan sold property that they owned in Florida for $432,855. Martin and Susan agreed to use the proceeds from that sale, along with other funds, to make a loan to AOI so that it could pay off the bank loan. In May 2012, AOI executed a promissory note ("the 2012 note"). In 2014, Martin and Susan divorced. Neither the 2012 note nor ownership of AOI was addressed in the divorce proceedings. In 2016, Martin and Susan had a disagreement regarding the management and operation of AOI, and Martin sued Susan. In June 2017, as part of those proceedings, Martin and Susan entered into a mediated settlement agreement wherein Susan agreed to pay Martin in exchange for sole ownership of AOI ("the 2017 agreement"). That note was secured by a mortgage on the property owned by AOI. Susan later sold the property, and she paid the balance due on the note to Martin in full. In August 2019, Martin sued AOI, asserting claims of breach of contract and unjust enrichment, alleging AOI had failed to pay Martin the amount owed under the 2012 note. AOI argued Martin commenced the action against it without substantial justification because Martin was "fully aware that he has been paid in full for his interest in the 2012 Promissory Note and despite that fact, [he] initiated the groundless underlying lawsuit." The Alabama Supreme Court found that although the trial court found in favor of AOI on the substantive claims Martin asserted in his complaint, the trial court could have determined the issues of fact surrounding Martin's claim were reasonably in conflict. Accordingly, the trial court's factual determination that Martin's action was not frivolous or groundless in fact was supported by the evidence. Moreover, the Supreme Court's review of the record, lead it to conclude that Martin's claims against AOI were not groundless in law. Accordingly, the trial court's decision to not award attorney fees and costs to AOI under the ALAA was affirmed. View "Auburn-Opelika Investments, LLC v. Burdette" on Justia Law
Jay v. United Services Automobile Association
Nicholas Jay appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of United Services Automobile Association ("USAA") on his claim against USAA seeking uninsured-motorist ("UM") benefits. Nicholas was injured in an automobile accident when riding as a passenger in Ryen Gorman's automobile. Gorman did not have automobile insurance. Nicholas received $50,000 in UM benefits through a policy he had with Nationwide Insurance Company. Thereafter, Nicholas commenced an action against USAA, seeking UM benefits pursuant to a USAA policy owned by his father-in-law, George Brewer, and under which Nicholas's wife, Michelle Jay, had automobile-insurance coverage. Because Nicholas was not a "covered person" under the USAA policy, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the judgment. View "Jay v. United Services Automobile Association" 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
Boyd v. Mills
This case presented an issue of first impression for the Alabama Supreme Court: whether a noncompetition agreement executed ancillary to the sale of a business terminates upon the death of the individual subject to the covenant not to compete. The Court found that based the specific facts of this case, the noncompetition agreement here did not impose any affirmative obligations on the decedent, and was executed separately from the other agreements relating to the sale of the business. Accordingly, the Court held the noncompetition agreement did not terminate. View "Boyd v. Mills" on Justia Law
Cobbs, Allen & Hall, Inc., and CAH Holdings, Inc. v. EPIC Holdings, Inc., and McInnis.
Cobbs, Allen & Hall, Inc. ("Cobbs Allen"), and CAH Holdings, Inc. ("CAH Holdings") (collectively,"CAH"), appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of EPIC Holdings, Inc. ("EPIC"), and EPIC employee Crawford E. McInnis, with respect to CAH's claims of breach of contract and tortious interference with a prospective employment relationship. Cobbs Allen was a regional insurance and risk-management firm specializing in traditional commercial insurance, surety services, employee-benefits services, personal-insurance services, and alternative-risk financing services. CAH Holdings was a family-run business. The families, the Rices and the Densons, controlled the majority, but pertinent here, owned less than 75% of the stock in CAH Holdings. Employees who were "producers" for CAH had the opportunity to own stock in CAH Holdings, provided they met certain sales thresholds; for CAH Holdings, the equity arrangement in the company was dictated by a "Restated Restrictive Stock Transfer Agreement." For several years, McInnis and other individuals who ended up being defendants in the first lawsuit in this case, were producers for CAH, and McInnis was also a shareholder in CAH Holdings. In the fall of 2014, a dispute arose between CAH and McInnis and those other producers concerning the management of CAH. CAH alleged that McInnis and the other producers had violated restrictive covenants in their employment agreements with the aim of helping EPIC. Because of the dispute, CAH fired McInnis, allegedly "for cause," and in November 2014 McInnis went to work for EPIC, becoming the local branch manager at EPIC's Birmingham office. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court's judgment finding CAH's breach-of-contract claim against McInnis and EPIC failed because no duty not to disparage parties existed in the settlement agreement. EPIC was not vicariously liable for McInnis's alleged tortious interference because McInnis's conduct was not within the line and scope of his employment with EPIC. EPIC also was not directly liable for McInnis's alleged tortious interference because it did not ratify McInnis's conduct as it did not know about the conduct until well after it occurred. However, the Supreme Court disagreed with the circuit court's conclusion that McInnis demonstrated that he was justified as a matter of law in interfering with CAH's prospective employment relationship with Michael Mercer. Based upon the admissible evidence, an issue of fact existed as to whether McInnis gave Mercer honest advice. Therefore, the judgment of the circuit court was affirmed in part, reversed in part, and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Cobbs, Allen & Hall, Inc., and CAH Holdings, Inc. v. EPIC Holdings, Inc., and McInnis." on Justia Law
FNB Bank v. Marine Park, LLC, et al.
SE Property Holdings, LLC ("SEPH"), the successor by merger to Vision Bank, and FNB Bank ("FNB") separately appealed a circuit court's judgments on their breach-of-contract claims against Bama Bayou, LLC, formerly known as Riverwalk, LLC ("Bama Bayou"), and Marine Park, LLC ("Marine Park"), and the individuals and entities guaranteeing Bama Bayou's and Marine Park's contract obligations, challenging the trial court's damages awards. Bama Bayou and Marine Park were the developers of a planned mixed-use development in Orange Beach consisting of a marine park, residential condominiums, retail shops, hotels, and commercial entertainment venues. Marine Park specifically intended to develop a special-use facility for the exhibition of marine animals. Vision Bank made four loans to Bama Bayou and Marine Park related to the development project. The Marine Park loan was fully funded by FNB pursuant to a participation agreement with Vision Bank. The participation agreement provided that the Marine Park parcel would be owned by FNB in the event it was acquired by foreclosure. Bama Bayou and Marine Park were having financial problems with regard to the project by August 2007. Vision Bank demanded payment at that time, and Bama Bayou, Marine Park, and the guarantors failed and/or refused to pay the indebtedness owed on the loans. In 2009, Vision Bank conducted a public auction to separately foreclose the mortgages. No bids were submitted; Vision Bank purchased the properties. Neither Bama Bayou, nor Marine Park, nor the guarantors exercised their rights to redeem the properties. Vision Bank sued Bama Bayou and its guarantors, and Marine Park and its guarantors for amounts owed under those loans, including all principal, accrued interest, late charges, attorney's fees and collection costs. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court reversed the trial court's judgments in these consolidated cases and remanded for a determination of the appropriate awards on the breach-of-contract claims. "Such awards should account for all accrued interest, late charges, attorney's fees, collection costs, and property- preservation expenses owed." View "FNB Bank v. Marine Park, LLC, et al." on Justia Law
Wayne Farms LLC v. Primus Builders, Inc.
Wayne Farms LLC appealed a circuit court order compelling it to arbitrate its claims asserted against Primus Builders, Inc., and staying the action. Wayne Farms was a poultry producer located in Dothan, Alabama. Wayne Farms sought to expand its poultry-processing facility, and, to that end, entered into a "Design/Build Agreement" with Primus in 2017, that specifically addressed work to be completed by Primus in connection with the expansion of Wayne Farms' freezer warehouse. Primus subcontracted with Republic Refrigeration, Inc.; Republic hired Steam-Co, LLC for "passivation services." Upon draining a condenser for the freezer warehouse, it was discovered that the interior of the condenser was coated with corrosive "white rust." Primus then replaced the damaged condenser at a cost of approximately $500,000 under a change order, pursuant the Design/Build Agreement with Wayne Farms. Wayne Farms paid Primus for both the original damaged condenser and the replacement condenser. Both Primus and Steam-Co have claimed that the other is responsible for the damage to the condenser. Wayne Farms sued Primus and Steam-Co asserting claims of breach of contract and negligence and seeking damages for the damaged condenser and the cost of replacing it. Primus moved the trial court to compel arbitration as to the claims asserted against it by Wayne Farms. Primus also moved the trial court to dismiss, or in the alternative, stay Steam-Co's cross-claims against it. Wayne Farms opposed Primus's motion to compel arbitration, arguing that no contract existed between the parties requiring it to arbitrate claims arising from the passivation process. The Alabama Supreme Court found that the contract between Wayne Farms and Primus specified arbitration would apply to only those disputes arising from obligations or performance under the Design/Build Agreement, Wayne Farms could not be compelled to arbitrate with Primus a dispute arising from the performance of passivation work that was not an obligation agreed to in the Design/Build Agreement. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Wayne Farms LLC v. Primus Builders, Inc." on Justia Law