Justia Alabama Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Contracts
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The Ohio Valley Conference ("the OVC") appealed a judgment dismissing its official-capacity and individual-capacity claims against Randall Jones, the Chair of the Board of Trustees of Jacksonville State University ("JSU"), and Don C. Killingsworth, Jr., the President of Jacksonville State University. The OVC was a men's and women's collegiate athletic conference that began in 1948. The OVC Constitution contained two relevant provisions concerning resignation of membership from the conference. In addition to alleging that JSU had failed to pay the conference-resignation fee described in Article 4.5.3 of the OVC Constitution, the OVC also asserted that JSU owed the conference money for tickets to certain conference championship basketball tournament tickets. JSU, Jones, and Killingsworth filed a joint motion to dismiss the OVC's complaint. With respect to the OVC's claims against JSU, defendants argued that the Alabama State Board of Adjustment ("the BOA") had "exclusive jurisdiction" over those claims. With respect to any claims the OVC asserted against Jones and Killingsworth in their official capacities, defendants argued the claims were barred by State immunity under § 14 of the Alabama Constitution. With respect to any claims the OVC asserted against Jones and Killingsworth in their individual capacities, defendants argued the OVC had failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, and they maintained that the claims were barred by the doctrine of State-agent immunity. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded the OVC's claims against Jones and Killingsworth in their official capacities seeking payment for the liquidated amount of the conference-resignation fee and for the value of the tickets JSU received for the OVC's 2021 conference championship basketball tournament did not constitute claims against the State, and, therefore, they were not barred by State immunity. Accordingly, the circuit court erred in dismissing the OVC's official-capacity claims against Jones and Killingsworth. However, the Court found the OVC failed to state individual-capacity claims against Jones and Killingsworth for which relief could be granted because Jones and Killingsworth lacked any duty apart from their official positions to make the payments the OVC sought to recover and because the OVC's complaint did not supply the factual allegations necessary to support those individual-capacity claims. View "Ohio Valley Conference v. Jones, et al." on Justia Law

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MUSA Properties, LLC ("MUSA"), and R.K. Allen Oil Co., Inc. ("Allen Oil"), entered into a real-estate sales contract in which MUSA agreed to purchase from Allen Oil a gasoline service station and convenience store ("the property"). The terms of the sales contract were not fulfilled, and the property was not transferred to MUSA. Allen Oil filed a lawsuit against MUSA, alleging various causes of action based on the sales contract; MUSA filed various counterclaims in response. MUSA also filed in probate court a notice of lis pendens describing the property. In an interlocutory order, the circuit court later determined that MUSA did not have a right to or interest in the property, and, upon the motion of Allen Oil, the circuit court entered an order expunging the lis pendens notice. MUSA then petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for mandamus relief, to direct the circuit court to vacate its order expunging the lis pendens notice. Finding that Allen Oil's argument did not provide a convincing basis for the Supreme Court to suspend application of the doctrine of lis pendens and deny MUSA's mandamus petition, the Court granted the petition and issued the writ directing the circuit court to vacate its order expunging the lis pendens notice. View "Ex parte MUSA Properties, LLC" on Justia Law

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Consolidated appeals arose from of a commercial dispute between Southern Lift Trucks, LLC ("Southern"), and Hyundai Construction Equipment Americas, Inc. ("Hyundai Construction") -- an alleged subsidiary of Hyundai Heavy Industries Co., Ltd. ("Hyundai Heavy Industries"). Southern was a heavy-equipment dealer for Hyundai Construction. Southern filed suit against Hyundai Construction and Hyundai Heavy Industries (collectively, as "Hyundai") asserting various claims, including claims under the Alabama Heavy Equipment Dealer Act ("the AHEDA"). Southern also sought a preliminary injunction to prevent Hyundai: (1) from unlawfully terminating one of the dealer agreements at issue in these appeals; and (2) from unlawfully adding a second dealer in the territory that was covered under another dealer agreement at issue. In response, Hyundai moved to compel arbitration. The circuit court granted Southern's request for a preliminary injunction and denied Hyundai's motion to compel arbitration. In appeal no. SC-2022-0675, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's order insofar as it granted Southern's motion for a preliminary injunction as to the forklift agreement. However, the Court reversed the trial court's order insofar as it issued a preliminary injunction related to the construction-equipment agreement, and remanded the case for the trial court to enter an order consistent with the Supreme Court's opinion. In case no. SC-2022-0676, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's order insofar as it denied Hyundai's motion to compel arbitration as to any provisions of Southern's declaratory-judgment claim relating to the "enforceability of any provision" of the dealer agreement. However, the Court reversed the trial court's order insofar as it denied Hyundai's motion to compel arbitration as to Southern's other claims, and that case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Hyundai Construction Equipment Americas, Inc., et al. v. Southern Lift Trucks, LLC" on Justia Law

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Alabama Somerby, LLC, d/b/a Brookdale University Park IL/AL/MC; Brookdale Senior Living, Inc.; and Undrea Wright (collectively, Brookdale) appealed a circuit court's order denying their motion to compel arbitration of the claims asserted against them by plaintiff, L.D., as the next friend of her mother, E.D. Brookdale operated an assisted-living facility for seniors ("the nursing home") in Jefferson County, Alabama; Wright was the administrator of the nursing home. In March 2022, L.D. filed on E.D.'s behalf, a complaint against Brookdale and Wright and others, asserting various tort claims and seeking related damages premised on allegations that, following her admission to the nursing home, E.D. had been subjected to multiple sexual assaults both by other residents and by an employee of Brookdale. The Brookdale defendants jointly moved to compel arbitration of L.D.'s claims against them or, alternatively, to dismiss the action without prejudice to allow those claims to proceed via arbitration. Following a hearing, the trial court, denied the motion seeking to dismiss the action or to compel arbitration. The Brookdale defendants timely appealed, asserting that the trial court had erred by failing to order arbitration. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded the Brookdale defendants established that an agreement providing for arbitration existed and that the agreement affected interstate commerce. The trial court erred in denying the Brookdale defendants' request to compel arbitration. The Supreme Court reversed the trial court's order and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Alabama Somerby, LLC, et al. v. L.D." on Justia Law

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In this case, a purchase agreement provided provided that the parties were obligated to close a real-estate sale unless the buyer -- Lafayette Land Acquisitions II, LLC ("Lafayette Land") -- rejected the deal in writing before the end of the due-diligence period. Although the parties disputed when that period began, and how long it lasted, it was undisputed that Lafayette Land never rejected the deal. Therefore, the Alabama Supreme Court concluded the parties were obligated to close. Because the Circuit Court held otherwise, judgment was reversed and remanded. View "Lafayette Land Acquisitions II, LLC v. Walls" on Justia Law

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Mobile Infirmary Association d/b/a Mobile Infirmary Medical Center ("Mobile Infirmary") appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of Quest Diagnostics Clinical Laboratories, Inc. ("Quest"). Quest and Mobile Infirmary entered into a Laboratory Management Agreement ("the LMA"), in which Quest agreed to manage Mobile Infirmary's onsite clinical laboratory facilities and to provide clinical testing services used by Mobile Infirmary's medical staff to diagnose and treat patients. The LMA also contained indemnity provisions. In 2015, James Ward went to Mobile Infirmary's emergency room after suffering weakness, dizziness, loss of fluids, a mild cough, and severe body aches. Ward was eventually diagnosed with diabetic ketoacidosis. When his condition did not improve, Ward was moved into the intensive-care unit, at which point his doctor ordered him to undergo glucose finger-sticks and a basic metabolic panel every four hours to help monitor his serum glucose, kidney function, acid/base status, and electrolytes. According to Mobile Infirmary, those basic metabolic panels were supposed to be performed by Quest, but they were allegedly canceled by one of Quest's employees. At some point, he suffered an "anoxic brain injury" and later died "as a result of multisystem organ failure secondary to severe sepsis and septic shock." Ingrid Mia Ward ("Mia"), Ward's wife and the personal representative of his estate, commenced a wrongful-death action against Mobile Infirmary and other defendants responsible for Ward's treatment and care. Quest was not named as a party to Mia's action. Mobile Infirmary informed Quest of the action and, as the case progressed, apprised Quest of the status of the proceedings, including its negotiations with Mia for potential settlement of the lawsuit. Mia and Mobile Infirmary ultimately settled the wrongful-death action. Before Mia's claims against Mobile Infirmary were dismissed pursuant to a joint motion of those parties, Mobile Infirmary filed a third-party complaint against Quest in which it sought contractual and equitable indemnity related to its defense and settlement of Mia's action. Quest filed a motion to dismiss, which the trial court granted in part by dismissing Mobile Infirmary's equitable- indemnity claim. The Alabama Supreme Court found that nowhere in the LMA did the parties expressly agree or clearly provide a formula that, in the event there was a claim that arises out of partial liability or concurrent acts by both parties, indemnification will be required for a proportionate share. Accordingly, judgment was affirmed. View "Mobile Infirmary Association v. Quest Diagnostics Clinical Laboratories, Inc." on Justia Law

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Ed Davis sued the City of Montevallo ("the City") claiming that the City was in breach of contract because, in terminating his employment with the City, it failed to follow certain discharge procedures set out in an employee handbook it had issued to him. The City responded by arguing it was not required to follow the handbook's procedures because Davis was an at-will employee. After entertaining motions for summary judgment from both sides, the trial court ruled in favor of the City. Davis appealed. The Alabama Supreme Court reversed the trial court's summary judgment in favor of the City. "The Handbook was an offer for a unilateral contract, which Davis accepted by continuing his employment with the City. Because the Handbook constitutes a unilateral contract, we reverse the trial court's denial of Davis's motion for partial summary judgment and direct the trial court on remand to determine whether, in fact, the City violated the Handbook's terms." View "Davis v. Montevallo" on Justia Law

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Defendant-petitioner Sunset Digital Communications, Inc. ("Sunset") sought a writ of mandamus to direct an Alabama circuit court vacate its order denying a motion to dismiss the complaint filed by plaintiffs Point Broadband, LLC ("Point Broadband"), and Point Broadband Fiber Holding, LLC ("PBFH") (collectively, "plaintiffs"). In 2018, Sunset and Sunset Fiber, LLC, entered into a "First Amended and Restated Asset Purchase Agreement" ("the APA") with PBFH, which was then known as Sunset Digital Holding, LLC. In 2021, plaintiffs filed a complaint against Sunset seeking a judgment declaring that PBFH was not liable for certain unpaid taxes and penalties; that PBFH did not owe defense or indemnity obligations to Sunset relating to those unpaid taxes; that PBFH did not owe legal fees in connection with any audits or other investigations relating to Sunset's tax liability; and that Sunset owed PBFH defense and indemnity obligations in the event a third party sought to bring a claim or attempted to collect any unpaid taxes from PBFH. Sunset moved to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b), Ala. R. Civ. P., in which it alleged, among other things, that the APA included a mandatory outbound-forum selection clause that "requires the parties to submit exclusively to the jurisdiction of the United States federal courts or the Virginia state courts located in Bristol, Virginia." In its order denying the motion to dismiss, the trial court stated, in pertinent part: "At issue is if the language ('may') creates a mandatory forum selection clause or clause that consents to jurisdiction. Language such as 'shall' or 'must' would be used in cases where the clause was to be considered mandatory. As this is a consent to jurisdiction clause and not a mandatory one, Alabama Courts have held that imperative language such as 'shall' or 'must' are required to find that the clause is a mandatory one. However, the word 'may' results in language that is much more permissive or rather a 'consent to jurisdiction' clause." Sunset argued the trial court erroneously found that the forum-selection clause in the APA was permissive rather than mandatory. Specifically, it asserted that the trial court "wholly ignored the 'exclusive jurisdiction' language of the forum selection clause." To this the Alabama Supreme Court concurred, granted the writ and directed the trial court to vacate its February 2022 order denying Sunset's motion to dismiss. View "Ex parte Sunset Digital Communications, Inc." on Justia Law

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Milton Turner died on July 25, 2018. On September 20, 2018, Mildred Williamson petitioned for letters of administration of Turner's estate in the probate court. In her petition, Williamson asserted that Turner had died intestate and that Williamson was Turner's only surviving heir. In 2019, Williamson, individually and in her capacity as the personal representative of Turner's estate, entered into a contract agreeing to sell to Matthew Drinkard and Jefferson Dolbare ("the purchasers") real property belonging to the estate for $880,650. The real-estate sales contract specified that the closing of the sale was to occur on or before May 31, 2019. On February 7, 2019, Williamson, individually and in her capacity as personal representative of Turner's estate, executed a deed conveying other real property that was part of Turner's estate to Marcus Hester. On February 13, 2019, Callway Sargent, alleging to be an heir of Turner's, filed a claim of heirship in Turner's estate. Sargent also moved for injunctive relief in which he acknowledged the February 7, 2019, deed, but asserted that Williamson had agreed to sell and had conveyed real property belonging to Turner's estate without the approval of the probate court, and requested that the probate court enjoin "Williamson from engaging in any further administration of [Turner's] estate until so ordered by [the probate court]." Williamson petitioned to have the case removed fro probate to the circuit court. From February 28, 2019, to March 18, 2019, a number of individuals came forward, all claiming to be Turner's heirs. Williamson moved to have the circuit court approve the pending property sales. Williamson and the purchasers did not close on the sale of the property that was the subject of their real-estate sales contract by May 31, 2019, as required by the contract. Some of the purported heirs petitioned the circuit court to stay or vacate the order approving the purchasers contact until matters regarding the heirs was resolved. Drinkard and Dolbare filed a motion to intervene in the proceedings regarding the administration of Turner's estate, but the circuit court denied the motion. The Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court's denial of the purchasers' motion to intervene in the administration of Turner's estate. View "Drinkard, et al. v. Perry, et al." on Justia Law

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Alicia Cochran appealed a circuit court order that granted her former employer, CIS Financial Services' motion for a preliminary injunction. CIS was engaged in the mortgage-origination business and employed Cochran as a branch loan originator. In June 2021, Cochran's supervisor at CIS, Randy Lowery, left his employment at CIS to accept a position with Movement Mortgage, LLC ("Movement"). Another CIS employee, Geremy Reese, also left CIS to work for Movement. CIS thereafter filed suit against Lowery and Reese. Among other things, CIS requested in its complaint injunctive relief against Lowery and Reese. Additionally, CIS filed that same day a motion for a preliminary injunction against Lowery and Reese. On August 31, 2021, Cochran resigned her position with CIS. CIS then amended its complaint to include Cochran and Movement as defendants. The only specific count that CIS asserted against Cochran in the amended complaint was one alleging breach of contract. Then CIS moved for the preliminary injunction against Cochran at issue here. On appeal, Cochran challenged the propriety of the circuit court's order granting CIS's motion for a preliminary injunction, arguing that the respective restraining provisions of her compensation agreement and nonsolicitation agreement were not enforceable against her. However, CIS moved to dismiss Cochran's appeal as moot, noting that, by its terms, the preliminary injunction expired after August 31, 2022. CIS argued that this appeal no longer presented a justiciable controversy and that the Alabama Supreme Court, therefore, lacked jurisdiction over the appeal. The Supreme Court found the preliminary injunction challenged in Cochran's appeal expired by its own terms. Consequently, the Supreme Court lacked the power to grant Cochran relief from the preliminary injunction; therefore, this appeal was no longer justiciable and has become moot. The appeal was therefore dismissed. View "Cochran v. CIS Financial Services, Inc." on Justia Law