Justia Alabama Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Insurance Law
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The Supreme Court of Alabama dismissed an appeal by the Great American Insurance Company. The insurance company had appealed a lower court's decision denying its motion to invoke the appraisal procedure in a dispute with the Crystal Shores Owners Association, Inc. The dispute arose following damage to the Crystal Shores Condominium complex due to Hurricane Sally and a subsequent bathtub overflow in one of the units. The insurance company argued that the dispute over the amount of loss was subject to an appraisal procedure described in the insurance policy, which it contended was a form of arbitration. The Supreme Court of Alabama held that, regardless of whether federal law or Alabama law controlled the definition of "arbitration" in the Federal Arbitration Act, the appraisal clause in the insurance contract did not qualify as a clause calling for "arbitration". As such, the lower court's denial of Great American's motion did not constitute an order denying a motion to compel arbitration, and the Supreme Court of Alabama dismissed the appeal as one stemming from a nonfinal judgment. View "Great American Insurance Company v. Crystal Shores Owners Association, Inc." on Justia Law

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Petitioners Insurance Express, LLC ("Insurance Express"), Wayne Taylor, and Julie Singley sought a writ of mandamus to direct a circuit court to vacate an order staying the underlying action against defendants Lynne Ernest Insurance, LLC ("LEI"), Lynne Ernest, Chynna Ernest, and Deadra Stokley. According to the complaint, Lynne and Stokley were longtime employees of Insurance Express. It alleged that they, while still employed by Insurance Express, entered Insurance Express's office after business hours and, without authorization, made electronic copies of various business records related to Insurance Express's clients and insurance policies. Lynne and Stokley resigned soon after and began employment with LEI, which purportedly had been formed by Lynne and Chynna and was a direct competitor of Insurance Express. Lynne and Stokley, it is alleged, then induced some Insurance Express clients to transfer their policies to LEI. Insurance Express sought injunctive relief to, among other things, prevent defendants from communicating with past or current customers of Insurance Express and to require defendants to return any customer information taken by them. It further sought damages for breach of contract, conversion, intentional interference with business relations, breach of fiduciary duty, and civil conspiracy. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court found petitioners established they had a clear legal right to the relief they sought. The Court granted their petition and directed the trial court to vacate its order granting a stay. View "Ex parte Insurance Express, LLC, et al." on Justia Law

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State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company ("State Farm") appealed a judgment entered against it on a jury verdict in an automobile-accident case. Brian Wood ("Brian") was driving through an intersection in Auburn when his vehicle was T-boned by a vehicle being driven by Mark Stafford. Brian and his wife Jennifer sued Stafford, an uninsured motorist, alleging claims of negligence, wantonness, and loss of consortium. Because Stafford was uninsured, the Woods also sued State Farm, their automobile-insurance company, seeking uninsured-motorist benefits under their policy. The jury returned a verdict in the Woods' favor, awarding them $700,000 in compensatory damages, and the trial court entered a judgment on that verdict. The jury did not award any punitive damages. State Farm filed a postjudgment motion challenging the judgment on various grounds, including whether the wantonness claim should have gone to the jury. The postjudgment motion was denied by operation of law, and State Farm appealed. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court concluded State Farm failed to establish the trial court erred by not setting aside its judgment entered on the jury's verdict, therefore the judgment was affirmed. View "State Farm Mutual Automobile Ins. Co. v. Wood" on Justia Law

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Douglas Ghee, as the personal representative of the estate of Billy Fleming, appealed a circuit court judgment dismissing Ghee's wrongful-death claim against USAble Mutual Insurance Company d/b/a Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arkansas and Blue Advantage Administrators of Arkansas ("Blue Advantage"). The circuit court correctly dismissed the aspect of Ghee's claim that, on the face of the complaint, was based on an insurance-benefits decision by Blue Advantage. The Alabama Supreme Court found the circuit court erred, however, by dismissing the aspect of Ghee's claim that was based on Blue Advantage's alleged provision of medical advice, because it was not clear from the complaint that that aspect was based on an insurance-benefits decision. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment in part and reversed it in part. View "Ghee v. USAble Mutual Insurance Company d/b/a Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arkansas, et al." on Justia Law

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Progressive Direct Insurance Company ("Progressive") appealed a circuit court order granting a motion for a partial summary judgment filed by Madison Keen and joined by Robert Creller and Alfa Mutual Insurance Company ("Alfa"); the trial court certified its order as final pursuant to Rule 54(b), Ala. R. Civ. P. In September 2019, Keen was involved in a motor-vehicle accident. She sought compensation from Creller, who was the driver of the other vehicle involved in the accident. The vehicle Creller was driving was owned by his parents and was insured by Alfa. The evidence suggested that Creller and his spouse were living with Creller's parents at the time of the accident. Alfa paid Keen the limits of the insurance policy, and Keen executed a settlement agreement and a release in favor of Creller and Alfa. In June 2021, Keen filed the lawsuit at issue here seeking underinsured-motorist benefits from two different policies, namely, a policy issued by Progressive covering the vehicle Keen was driving at the time of the accident and a policy issued by State Farm Automobile Insurance Company ("State Farm") covering a second vehicle in Keen's household. Because Keen was driving the vehicle insured by Progressive at the time of the accident, her Progressive underinsured-motorist coverage was the primary insurance and the State Farm underinsured-motorist coverage was the secondary insurance. During the litigation, Creller was deposed and revealed the existence of an additional insurance policy covering his spouse's vehicle, which had been issued by Allstate Insurance Company ("Allstate") and which identified Creller as a named insured. The discovery of the Allstate policy raised the possibility that Creller might have had additional liability insurance coverage that could have compensated Keen for her injuries. Based on the alleged existence of additional insurance benefits, she asserted that there had been a mutual mistake among the parties to the settlement agreement and the release. Keen eventually moved for partial summary judgment, arguing the Allstate policy did not provide coverage. For its part, Progressive opposed Keen's motion, because the availability of benefits under the Allstate policy might affect Progressive's interests with respect to Keen's underinsured- motorist claim. The trial court granted Keen's motion and certified its order as final pursuant to Rule 54(b). Progressive appealed. Because it appeared there was a question of fact based on the evidence before the trial court existed when it entered the partial summary judgment, the Alabama Supreme Court reversed that judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Progressive Direct Ins. Co. v. Keen, et al." on Justia Law

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After a fire at James and Suzanne Skinner's house, their insurer sought a judgment declaring that it did not owe either of them coverage. The circuit court entered summary judgment for Suzanne while the claim against James remained pending. A year later, with the claim against James still pending, the circuit court certified the judgment in Suzanne's favor as final and thus immediately appealable under Rule 54(b), Ala. R. Civ. P. Because the circuit court exceeded its discretion in doing so, the Alabama Supreme Court set aside the Rule 54(b) certification and dismissed this appeal. View "Alabama Insurance Underwriting Association v. Skinner" on Justia Law

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Ben E. Keith Company, Inc. ("BEK"), appealed a circuit court order entering summary judgment in favor of Lyndon Southern Insurance Company ("Lyndon") on Lyndon's complaint for a declaratory judgment. On December 14, 2018, Felicia Edwards and Robert Allen Marak were involved in a motor-vehicle accident in Dadeville. Felicia was driving a 2009 Toyota Camry automobile that was owned by Annette Edwards and insured by Lyndon. Marak was driving a tractor-trailer that was owned by BEK. As a result of the accident, BEK incurred damage to its tractor-trailer. BEK sued Felicia and Annette claiming negligence and wantonness against both Felicia and Annette and a claim of negligent entrustment against Annette. BEK later amended the complaint to add a negligent-maintenance claim against Annette. Lyndon filed a complaint for a declaratory judgment against Felicia, Annette, and BEK, asserting the policy it issued to Annette excluded coverage for "[a]ny operator of a vehicle who is not listed as a driver on the Policy Applications, Declarations, and/or added by Endorsement who is under the age of twenty-five and is either a Family Member or resides in the same household as the Named Insured" and for "[a]n operator of a vehicle who is an unlicensed driver or whose driving privileges have been terminated or suspended." BEK argued the trial court erroneously granted Lyndon's motion for a summary judgment because Lyndon did not produce substantial admissible evidence to establish that Felicia was a noncovered person under the policy that insured Annette's vehicle at the time of the accident. Specifically, it contended Lyndon did not produce substantial admissible evidence to establish that Felicia did not have a valid driver's license at the time of the accident or to establish Felicia's age and residence at the time of the accident. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court concurred Lyndon did not produce substantial evidence to establish that Felicia did not have a valid driver's license at the time of the accident and did not produce substantial evidence to establish that Felicia was under the age of 25 and resided in Annette's household at the time of the accident. Therefore, Lyndon did not shift the burden of proof to BEK. Accordingly, the trial court erred in granting Lyndon's motion for a summary judgment. Judgment was therefore reversed. View "Ben E. Keith Company, Inc. v. Lyndon Southern Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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Dwayne Harris appealed a circuit court order dismissing his counterclaim against Dubai Truck Lines, Inc., pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), Ala. R. Civ. P. On February 18, 2018, three vehicles were involved in an accident in Jefferson County, Alabama: a vehicle owned by Dubai and driven by Jose Martinez, one of Dubai's employees; a vehicle driven by Harris; and a vehicle driven by Annika Schaefer. Schaefer's vehicle was insured by State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company. On February 28, 2019, Schaefer and State Farm, as subrogee of Schaefer sued Dubai and Martinez. According to Dubai, it was not served with the complaint until June 2020, after the expiration of the applicable two-year statute-of- limitations period. On August 7, 2020, Dubai filed an answer denying all liability for the accident and adding Harris as a third-party defendant pursuant to Rule 14, Ala. R. Civ. P. Dubai specifically impleaded Harris to allege that Harris's negligence was the proximate cause of the accident. On November 13, 2020, Harris filed a counterclaim against Dubai, alleging that Martinez, Dubai's employee, had been negligent and/or wanton in causing the accident, that Harris had suffered injuries as a result of the accident and that Dubai was vicariously liable for those injuries. Dubai then moved to dismiss the counterclaim, alleging Harris' counterclaim was barred by the applicable statute of limitations. The Alabama Supreme Court found Harris's counterclaim was compulsory, and not subject to a statute-of-limitations defense. Thus, there was no basis for the circuit court to dismiss Harris's counterclaim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). View "Harris v. Dubai Truck Lines, Inc." on Justia Law

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Melvin James appealed a circuit court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Assurance America Insurance Company ("Assurance") on its complaint for a declaratory judgment. In February 2019, Bernardino Mejia and James were involved in a motor-vehicle accident in Montgomery, Alabama. Mejia was driving a 2003 Chrysler Town and Country minivan, and James was driving a 2004 Toyota Camry automobile. As a result of the accident, Mejia's three children were ejected from the Town and Country. One of Mejia's children died, and the other two were seriously injured. James was also injured as a result of the accident. Mejia was arrested, and, on September 23, 2019, he was indicted for one count of reckless murder and four counts of first- degree assault as a result of the accident. He was incarcerated on those charges. In April 2019, James sued Mejia, ALFA Insurance Corporation, USAA Casualty Insurance Company, and various fictitiously named defendants for negligence, negligence per se, wantonness, and breach of contract. Mejia moved to stay the civil proceeding until the accident-related criminal proceedings against him were concluded; this motion was granted. Assurance sought the summary judgment motion at issue here, against Mejia and James. Assurance contended Mejia was not the named insured under the Assurance policy that covered the Town & Country he was driving, and that policy excluded coverage for injury or damage caused by an insured vehicle when driven by a person who was not listed as a driver on the declarations page of the policy and who did not have a valid driver's license. The Alabama Supreme Court reversed and remanded, finding Assurance did not produce substantial, admissible evidence to establish Mejia did not have a valid driver's license at the time of the accident and therefore did not shift the burden of proof to James. Accordingly, the trial court erred in granting Assurance's motion for a summary judgment. View "James v. Assurance America Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Cathedral of Faith Baptist Church, Inc., and Lee Riggins appealed the dismissal of their complaint asserting various claims against, among others, Donald Moulton, Sr., Broken Vessel United Church ("Broken Vessel"), Lucien Blankenship, Blankenship & Associates, Antoinette M. Plump, Felicia Harris-Daniels, Tara Walker, and Tavares Roberts ("defendants"). Cathedral Church conducted worship at its property until membership dwindled and discontinued meeting. A mortgage existed on the property with Regions Bank which was outstanding and failed to be paid by Riggins. Riggins and Willie Bell Hall were the sole survivors and interest holders of Cathedral Church; their interest conveyed legally to Riggins. Moulton, on behalf of Broken Vessel Church, sought to rent the Cathedral Church property from Riggins. Riggins agreed to rent the property; Moulton and Broken Vessel Church were to seek financing. Moulton and Broken Vessel Church were to pay the commercial liability insurance Cathedral Church maintained with Planter's Insurance. However Moulton and Broken Vessel unilaterally changed the insurance carrier in July 2015 to Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company without Cathedral Church and Riggins's knowledge or consent. Moulton and Broken Vessel never obtained financing to purchase the property and never paid any money to Riggins or Cathedral Church. Riggins paid for all Cathedral Church repairs and renovations required. Then in late 2016, Cathedral Church burned and was a total loss. Moulton made a claim to Nationwide for the lost premises and contents. No money was paid to Riggins. Riggins discovered the property settlement with Nationwide in or around August 2017. Riggins also discovered two recordings of a general warranty deed at the local Tax Assessor's office purporting to be the sale of the property by Riggins to Broken Vessel. Riggins filed suit, raising a number of causes of action sounding in fraud and conspiracy, and denying he conveyed the church property to Moulton or Broken Vessel, and denied the validity of the deeds on file at the Assessor's office. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the trial court judgment on appeal here did not adjudicate all claims before the court. It was therefore a nonfinal judgement that could not support this appeal. The appeal was thus dismissed. View "Cathedral of Faith Baptist Church, Inc. et al. v. Moulton, et al." on Justia Law