Justia Alabama Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
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Joshua Rogers appealed a preliminary injunction preventing Rogers from soliciting any employees or clients of Burch Corporation, his former employer, as contractually agreed to under restrictive covenants in an employment agreement. The Alabama Supreme Court determined there was nothing justiciable concerning the preliminary injunction because the nonsolicitation clause in the employment agreement expired, at the latest, on December 6, 2019. Therefore, the case was moot and the Court dismissed the appeal. View "Rogers v. Burch Corporation" on Justia Law

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Justin Craft and Jason Craft appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of members of the Lee County Board of Education ("the Board") and the Superintendent of the Lee County Schools, Dr. James McCoy. During July, August, and September 2016, the Board hired S&A Landscaping to perform three projects of overdue lawn maintenance at Lee County schools. S&A Landscaping was owned by an aunt by marriage of Marcus Fuller, the Assistant Superintendent of the Lee County Schools. The Crafts, who were employed as HVAC technicians by the Board, questioned the propriety of hiring S&A Landscaping for those projects. The Crafts expressed their concerns with various current and former Board members and individuals at the State Ethics Commission ("the Commission") and at the Alabama Department of Examiners of Public Accounts. Although an individual at the Commission instructed Jason Craft on how to file a complaint with the Commission, neither of the Crafts did so. During this time, McCoy, Fuller, and others suspected various maintenance employees, including the Crafts, of misusing their Board-owned vehicles and misrepresenting their work hours. To investigate their suspicions, the Board had GPS data-tracking devices installed in Board-owned vehicles being used by employees to monitor their use and the employees' activities. A review of the GPS data indicated that certain employees, including the Crafts, had violated Board policy by inappropriately using the Board-owned vehicles and by inaccurately reporting their work time. McCoy sent letters to the Crafts and two other employees, advising them that he had recommended to the Board the termination of their employment. The letters detailed dates, times, and locations of specific incidents of alleged misconduct. The Crafts were placed on administrative leave, then returned to work to custodial positions that did not require them to use Board-owned vehicles. The Crafts appealed their job transfers, arguing they had not been afforded due process. An administrative law judge determined the Students First Act did not provide an opportunity for a hearing before the imposition of a job transfer. The Crafts thereafter sued the Board members and McCoy, seeking declaratory relief based on alleged violations of the anti-retaliation provision of section 36-25-24, Ala. Code 1975, arguing that they were punished for contacting the Commission. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the anti-retaliation protection was triggered only when an employee filed a complaint with the Commission. Because it was undisputed the Crafts did not file a complaint, they were not entitled to those statutory protections. Therefore, summary judgment in favor of the Board and McCoy was affirmed. View "Craft v. McCoy et al." on Justia Law

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Drury Hotels Company, LLC ("Drury"), petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Montgomery Circuit Court to dismiss Maritza Diaz's tort claims against Drury. Diaz worked as a housekeeper at Drury's hotel in Montgomery. In her complaint, Diaz alleged that she was working at the hotel when she was attacked by an unknown assailant. Diaz alleged that the assailant "sexually assaulted and robbed [her] by placing a knife to her throat, threatening to harm [her], attempting to force [her to] have sexual intercourse and taking approximately $200 in property from [her]." Diaz further claimed that the assault caused her serious bodily injuries, emotional distress, and mental anguish. In December 2018, Diaz sued Drury, alleging claims of negligence and wantonness based on allegations that Drury had failed to provide a secure workplace. Diaz also alleged a claim of negligence based on the theory of premises liability, and she alleged claims against fictitiously named parties. As an alternative to her tort claims, Diaz also alleged a claim for workers' compensation benefits under the Act if her injuries are in fact covered under the Act. Given the procedural posture of this case and the arguments presented, the Supreme Court concluded Drury did not establish a clear legal right to mandamus relief. Thus, Drury's petition for a writ of mandamus was denied. The Court made no conclusion regarding whether Drury could ultimately be entitled to immunity under the exclusive-remedy provisions of the Act. View "Ex parte Drury Hotels Company, LLC." on Justia Law

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William DeVos, M.D., and Donald Simmons, M.D. (collectively, "the doctors"), appealed a preliminary injunction entered in an action filed against them by The Cunningham Group, LLC, and Cunningham Pathology, LLC. The doctors separately appealed the trial court's order denying their request to increase the amount of the surety bond for the imposition of the injunction. According to the complaint, the doctors had been employed by The Cunningham Group from April 30, 2007, until August 31, 2018, when the doctors terminated their employment without prior notice. The Cunningham Group, also identified in the complaint, other pleadings, and documents in the record as "Services LLC," provided pathology and cytology services through an agreement with Cunningham Pathology. The doctors entered into employment agreements with Services LLC in 2007, in which they agreed that, if they provided Services LLC less than 12 months' notice of their termination of their employment, they would pay Services LLC an amount equal to one year's annual salary. The doctors also agreed that, for a period of two years after the termination of employment, they would not directly or indirectly solicit any of Cunningham/Services' clients or referral sources without prior consent of Cunningham/Services. Cunningham asserted that Cunningham Pathology was an express third-party beneficiary of the doctors' employment agreements with Services LLC, and asserted claims of breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty and sought to enforce the restrictive covenants contained in the employment agreements. Cunningham also filed a motion seeking a preliminary injunction to prohibit the doctors from violating the nonsolicitation provisions of the employment agreements. The Alabama Supreme Court found that the doctors would still be required to prove their actual damages should it later be determined that they were wrongfully enjoined. "[A]t this stage the trial court should be concerned only with setting an injunction bond amount that would adequately cover the doctors' prospective costs, damages, and attorney fees if it is later determined that the doctors were wrongfully enjoined." The Supreme Court found that based on the evidence presented to the trial court, a $25,000 injunction bond was "simply inadequate to compensate two physicians for damages and attorney fees in the event it is determined that they were wrongfully enjoined from soliciting and continuing to serve Brookwood through their new pathology business." The trial court's order denying the doctors' request to increase the amount of the injunction bond was reversed, and the case remanded for the trial court to increase the injunction-bond amount. View "DeVos v. Cunningham Group, LLC" on Justia Law

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Sonia Blunt, a teacher in the Tuscaloosa City Schools system ("TCS"), petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Tuscaloosa Circuit Court to enter a summary judgment in her favor on the basis of State-agent immunity as to claims asserted against her by Keith Langston, as next friend and father of Joshua Langston and Matthew Langston, minors at the time the action was filed. Marcus Crawford, a student attending one of Blunt’s summer-school classes at TCS, left campus for lunch at a nearby fast food restaurant. Crawford testified it took longer to get his food order than he estimated, and hurried back to campus. Approximately one mile away on a two-lane public road, Crawford attempted to pass a vehicle in front of him by crossing a double-yellow center line and driving in the oncoming lane of traffic. In doing so, Crawford collided with a vehicle driven by Susan Kines Langston, a TCS teacher, in which Matthew Langston and Joshua Langston were passengers. Susan Langston was killed in the accident, and Matthew and Joshua were seriously injured and eventually had to be life-flighted to Children's Hospital in Birmingham. Crawford was charged, tried, and convicted of reckless manslaughter for his actions in causing Susan Langston's death. He was sentenced to five years and nine months in prison. Thereafter Keith Langston filed suit against Blunt and Patsy Lowry (another TCS teacher). Langston asserted claims of negligence and wantonness against Blunt and Lowry for failing to follow the "policies and procedures" of TCS, which failure allegedly proximately caused the injuries sustained by Matthew and Joshua Langston. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded Langston failed to demonstrate the existence of a detailed rule binding upon Blunt that would establish that she acted beyond her authority in supervising students when she allowed Crawford to leave the school campus at the time and in the manner he did. Therefore, Blunt was entitled to State-agent immunity from Langston's claims of negligence and wantonness pertaining to her alleged violation of a TCS policy or procedure. View "Ex parte Sonia Blunt." on Justia Law

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Burkes Mechanical, Inc. petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct a trial court to vacate its order denying Burkes's motion to dismiss claims of negligence, wantonness, and the tort of outrage asserted against Burkes by Alexsie McCoy and to enter an order dismissing those claims. In 2018, McCoy was injured during the course of his employment as an iron worker for Burkes. McCoy and two other iron workers were working in a hot, confined space at a mill owned by International Paper Company ("IP") and were using welding torches to cut heavy metal plates in IP's debarking machine. A worker employed by another company broke a welding line, which ignited the air. McCoy sustained severe burn injuries. According to McCoy, Burkes failed to notify IP, which had an emergency-medical-response team on site to address workplace injuries. Instead, a Burkes employee sprayed an "improper substance" on McCoy to treat the injury. Rather than calling an ambulance, Burkes transported McCoy by private vehicle to a local doctor's office, which advised McCoy's injuries were too severe to be treated at his office and that McCoy needed to be taken to a hospital. A Burkes employee took McCoy to a drugstore to purchase over-the-counter burn cream and then to Grove Hill Memorial Hospital. That hospital determined that the burns were too serious to be treated there, and, as a result, McCoy was transported by ambulance to the University of South Alabama Medical Center in Mobile, where he was hospitalized for approximately one week. Burkes filed a motion to dismiss McCoy's negligence and wantonness claims against it, asserting that the exclusivity provisions of the Alabama Workers' Compensation Act barred those claims. The Supreme Court concluded Burkes, with its reliance on a few distinguishable cases, did not demonstrate a clear legal right to have the negligence and wantonness claims against it dismissed. It agreed the tort of outrage was not pled sufficiently, but denial of a motion to dismiss was not reviewable through a petition for mandamus relief. As such, the Court denied relief. View "Ex parte Burkes Mechanical, Inc." on Justia Law

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This case challenged a circuit court default judgment against Muhammad Wasim Sadiq Ali and others in favor of Mike Williamson after a case ordered to private arbitration was remanded to the trial court. Williamson, Patrick Watson, Ali, and others formed RPM, a regional supplier of rental cranes based in Birmingham, in 2008. Williamson was employed as RPM's general manager. Ali was the primary investor and majority owner of RPM, and Ali and Watson allegedly represented to Williamson at the time RPM was formed that Williamson would own a 12% share of the company. In 2012, Watson and Ali told Williamson that, in order to accrue his 12% equity interest in RPM at the end of his five-year employment term, he needed to pay $1,000,000, and that, if Williamson could not pay, his employment would be terminated unless he signed an employment agreement. Williamson signed an employment agreement with RPM which contained an arbitration clause. The employment agreement also contained a noncompetition clause that prohibited Williamson, for two years following the termination of his employment with RPM, from competing with RPM and from being employed by any business that is in competition with RPM. In 2013, a dispute between Williamson and RPM arose concerning Williamson's insurance coverage with respect to RPM vehicles. RPM terminated Williamson's employment "for cause," citing his failure to obtain an appropriate certificate of insurance. In 2014, Williamson filed a complaint against RPM Cranes, LLC ("RPM"), asserting claims of breach of contract, unjust enrichment, conversion, unreasonable restraint of trade, and misrepresentation arising from his alleged ownership of, his employment with, and the termination of that employment with RPM. Ali contended the default judgment was void because the trial court lacked personal jurisdiction over him. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court agreed, and reversed and remanded. View "Ali v. Williamson" on Justia Law

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The City of Evergreen, Alabama ("the City") terminated the employment of Helen Wiggins, a warrant clerk and magistrate, after the Evergreen City Council ("the Council") accepted the recommendation of the City's mayor that she be dismissed for dereliction of duty. Specifically, the City alleged she failed to perform the duties of her job as a warrant clerk and magistrate on February 16, 2017, when she declined to consider a citizen's application for arrest warrants, instead telling that citizen to return in several hours when another warrant clerk and magistrate would be there. Wiggins thereafter filed a wrongful-termination action against the City. The trial court ultimately entered a judgment in favor of the City and against Wiggins. She appealed that judgment. Because there was evidence in the record that supported the City's decision, the Alabama Supreme Court held the trial court properly entered a judgment in favor of the City. View "Wiggins v. City of Evergreen" on Justia Law

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This dispute centered on whether Keith Arnold had to reimburse his former employer, Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama, LLC ("HMMA"), for expenses HMMA incurred in moving Arnold from Kentucky to Alabama to begin employment at HMMA's manufacturing facility in Montgomery. When he started his employment, Arnold signed an agreement obligating him to reimburse HMMA for his relocation expenses if he voluntarily left his employment with HMMA within 24 months. Just 16 months after beginning his employment, Arnold resigned his position with HMMA. After Arnold refused to reimburse HMMA for the relocation expenses it had paid on his behalf, HMMA sued him in the Montgomery Circuit Court, asserting a breach-of-contract claim. HMMA obtained a summary judgment against Arnold for $67,534 in damages, but the trial court denied HMMA's request for prejudgment interest, attorney fees, and expenses. Arnold appealed the summary judgment in favor of HMMA. HMMA cross-appealed, arguing that under the terms of the reimbursement agreement, it was entitled to $11,710 for prejudgment interest and $20,293 for attorney fees and expenses. The Alabama Supreme Court affirmed summary judgment entered by the trial court to the extent it held that Arnold was liable for breach of contract and awarded HMMA $67,534. Because HMMA established it had a contractual right to additional sums beyond the $67,534 awarded by the trial court, the Supreme Court reversed that portion of the judgment denying HMMA's request for those additional sums and remand the cause for the trial court to enter a final judgment in favor of HMMA for $99,537, an amount that fully compensated HMMA under the reimbursement agreement. View "Arnold v. Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama, LLC" on Justia Law

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Lonnie Beal sued his former employer, Shoals Extrusion, LLC, an aluminum-extrusion business in Florence, Alabama after his employment there was terminated in November 2015. Beal alleged that Shoals Extrusion breached the terms of his employment agreement by refusing to give him severance compensation and benefits to which he claims he was entitled. The Circuit Court entered a summary judgment in favor of Beal and awarded him $80,800. The Alabama Supreme Court found, however, a genuine issue of material fact about whether Beal first breached the terms of the employment agreement and whether such breach excused further performance by Shoals Extrusion under that agreement. Accordingly, the summary judgment was reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings. View "Shoals Extrusion, LLC v. Beal" on Justia Law