Justia Alabama Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
Jackson v. Allen
Patrick Jackson appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of Voncille Allen, as the personal representative of the estate of Valerie Allen ("the estate"), and Penn Tank Lines, Inc. ("PTL"). In 2016, Jackson was injured in an automobile accident while receiving training and riding as a passenger in a tractor-tanker trailer commercial motor vehicle ("the CMV") driven by Valerie Allen ("Allen"). Allen died as a result of the accident. Jackson was an employee of PTL and was being trained by Allen at the time of the accident. Allen owned the CMV, and PTL was leasing the vehicle from Allen, who worked for PTL, delivering fuel, under an independent-contractor agreement. Jackson received medical treatment for his injuries after the accident, and PTL's workers' compensation insurance covered the costs of the treatment. In 2018, Jackson sued the estate and PTL, alleging claims of negligence and "gross negligence and/or wantonness" against the estate and a claim of negligent or wanton hiring, training, and supervision against PTL; in addition, Jackson sought to hold PTL vicariously liable for Allen's actions through the doctrine of respondeat superior. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court affirm the judgment insofar as the trial court determined that PTL was entitled to complete immunity from Jackson's claims against it pursuant to the exclusive-remedy provisions of Workers' Compensation Act. The Court reversed insofar as the trial court determined, as a matter of law, that Allen was PTL's agent under the purview of the exclusive-remedy provisions of the Act. The matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "Jackson v. Allen" on Justia Law
Lands v. Ward d/b/a Lucky B’s Trucking
Steve Lands appealed summary judgment entered in favor of Betty Ward d/b/a Lucky B's Trucking ("Lucky B") in a suit he filed seeking damages for injuries sustained on the job. The circuit court entered summary judgment in favor of Lucky B on both of Lands's claims against it -- negligence and wantonness -- because it held that Lucky B did not owe Lands a duty. Tennessee Valley Land and Timber, LLC ("TVL&T"), contracted with Lands to haul timber for processing at various locations in the Southeast. Kenneth Ward, the owner of TVL&T, provided Lands with a 1994 Peterbilt 379 Truck ("the truck") to make the deliveries. According to Lands, when Kenneth first provided the truck, he told Lands that it was sometimes difficult to start. If the truck would not start, Kenneth instructed Lands to use a "hot-wire" method, which required Lands to use a 12-inch piece of partially exposed wire to "jump" the truck while its ignition was left in the on position. Although TVL&T allowed Lands to use the truck for work, the truck was owned by Lucky B. After a delivery, Lands had to hot-wire the truck to start it. Lands put the truck in neutral, engaged the parking brake, and got out of the truck to use the hot-wire method. With both feet on the front-wheel axle and a cigarette lighter in hand, he lifted the hood and connected the 12-inch piece of wire to the firewall solenoid. The truck jumped back to life and sent Lands to the ground. The truck then rolled over Lands, severing the muscles in the lower half of his leg. Lands sued Lucky B, TVL&T, and other entities for negligence and wantonness. The essence of Lands's claims was that Lucky B, as the owner of the truck, had a duty under statute, regulation, and common law to inspect the truck and maintain it in safe condition. By failing to inspect and maintain it, he argued, the truck fell into disrepair and triggered the sequence of events that caused his injuries. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded Lands made out a prima facie case of negligence. While questions about causation and his own possible negligence remained, the Court found Lands was entitled to have those questions answered by a jury. The Court therefore reversed the trial court's summary judgment on that claim and remanded the case for further proceedings. With respect to Lands' wantonness claims, the Court found no evidence of heightened culpability required to prove wantonness. Judgment as to that claim was affirmed. View "Lands v. Ward d/b/a Lucky B's Trucking" on Justia Law
Nucor Steel Tuscaloosa, Inc. v. Zurich American Insurance Company et al.
Nucor Steel Tuscaloosa, Inc. ("Nucor"), appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of Zurich American Insurance Company ("Zurich") and Onin Staffing, LLC ("Onin"), on claims asserted by Nucor arising from an alleged breach of an indemnification agreement. Nucor operated a steel-manufacturing facility in Tuscaloosa. Nucor had an internship program that offered part-time work to technical-school students, who, as part of the internship program, earned both academic credit and work experience relevant to their vocational training. In 2010, Nucor entered into a "Temporary Services Agency Agreement" ("the TSA Agreement") with Onin, a personnel-staffing agency, whereby Onin was to manage the employment of the technical-school students selected by Nucor for its internship program. Korey Ryan was a student at Shelton State Community College who applied for Nucor's internship program through Shelton State. In October 2014, Ryan was killed while working in the course of his duties at the Nucor facility. Ricky Edwards, a Nucor employee, directed Ryan to stand in a certain area in front of a water filter so that he would be clear of a moving crane. Edwards stated that he then turned his attention back to the load and began moving the crane. Ryan's right boot was struck by and became caught underneath the gearbox as the crane was moving. Ryan was dragged by the crane along the concrete floor through the narrow passageway between the crane and the warehouse wall, where he was crushed to death against a building support beam. Ryan's estate brought a wrongful-death action against Nucor; OSHA cited Nucor for a "serious" safety violation and fined it. Zurich issued a letter to Nucor and Onin in which it questioned whether the general-liability policy afforded coverage for the claims asserted in the wrongful-death action. Zurich noted that neither the indemnification provision in the TSA Agreement nor the additional-insured endorsement contained in the policy applied to in instances when the alleged "bodily injury" and/or "property damage" was caused by Nucor’s sole wrongful conduct. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the particular facts and circumstances underlying the wrongful- death action did not trigger the indemnification provision and the payment of an insurance benefit; rather, the facts and circumstances voided the indemnification provision altogether. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the insurance company. View "Nucor Steel Tuscaloosa, Inc. v. Zurich American Insurance Company et al." on Justia Law
Register v. Outdoor Aluminum, Inc.
Laura Register appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of Outdoor Aluminum, Inc., as to her claim alleging retaliatory discharge. Register worked as a laborer for Outdoor Aluminum. As part of her employment, Register laid out metal material, drilled or punched holes in the material, and deburred and cut the material. Register punched holes in the metal material with a hydraulic-press machine. The hydraulic press became misaligned and was not punching through the metal. When Register attempted to fix the press, the press exploded, causing a two-inch long and half-inch thick piece of metal to strike Register on the head above her right eye and temple. Register reported the incident to her supervisor, Roger Wise. As a result of the incident, Register's neck and head were injured and she had headaches, blurred vision, dizziness, balance problems, and pain. Register sought workers' compensation benefits and medical treatment from Outdoor Aluminum. Approximately a year after Register’s accident and subsequent medical treatments, Outdoor Aluminum management expressed concern with the length of Register’s rehabilitation. In June 2017, a nurse case manager reported to Outdoor Aluminum that Register had been released to full duty with zero impairment by one doctor; by July, Register had not returned to work under advice of another doctor. Because she had not returned to work, and based on the nurse case manager’s report, Outdoor Aluminum terminated Register. In 2018, Register sued Outdoor Aluminum seeking workers' compensation benefits and damages for retaliatory discharge. The parties engaged in discovery. In May 2020, Outdoor Aluminum moved for summary judgment, arguing Register could not show that her workers' compensation claim was the sole motivating factor behind the termination of her employment. The Alabama Supreme Court reversed, finding Register presented substantial evidence that there were genuine issues of material fact that should have been resolved by a jury. View "Register v. Outdoor Aluminum, Inc." 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
Caton v. City of Pelham
Mark Caton appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of the City of Pelham ("the City"), in his action alleging retaliatory discharge against the City. In approximately 2001, he was hired as a police officer by the City. In 2004, while he was still a police officer, Caton injured his neck when he was wrestling with a suspect. Caton did not receive treatment for his neck at the time, but the pain from the injury gradually increased. In April 2006, Caton transferred from the Police Department to the Pelham Fire Department. In 2012, Caton had a vertebrae-fusion surgery. In 2015 and 2016, Caton would have periods of excruciating pain leading to unexcused absences from work. He received reprimands and suspensions. Caton would consult with multiple doctors and pain specialists for rehabilitation therapy and pain management each time he was reinjured as a result of his work. In 2016, Caton was referred to Dr. Michelle Turnley, a physiatrist at the Workplace Occupational Health Clinic located on the campus of the University of Alabama at Birmingham ("UAB"). Dr. Turnley and Caton tell differing stories of an encounter at the UAB clinic September 2016. Caton testified that he asked Dr. Turnley for pain medication for the next time his pain became too intense, but Dr. Turnley reminded Caton that on his first visit he had not signed a pain contract and he had refused to provide a urine sample, so she declined to give him pain medication. Caton denied the doctor's account, but Dr. Turnley's clinical notes described her encounter with Caton as him being "fairly aggressive requesting pain medication... he was fairly loud and refused to leave the clinic and UAB police were called. ... He did not appear to have any functional deficits. Additionally, someone in the waiting room saw him sling the door open like he was about to 'pull it off the hinges'; therefore, obviously he has no strength deficits." In October, Dr. Turnley sent Caton a letter dropping him as a patient. By November, the City terminated Caton's employment, citing in part, the visit to Dr. Turnley's office. His unemployment application was denied because of his discharge from the City for misconduct. Caton sued, alleging procedural issues with the unemployment compensation hearing, adding a retaliatory-discharge claim. The trial court entered summary judgment in favor of the City, finding Caton had a full opportunity to litigate his retaliatory-discharge claim at the unemployment hearing, thus he was barred from raising it again by collateral estoppel. The Alabama Supreme Court determined application of collateral estoppel did not violate Caton's right to a trial by jury, and concurred estoppel barred his retaliatory-discharge claim against the City. "Caton does not present any other reason why the trial court's judgment should be reversed. Therefore, we affirm summary judgment in favor of the City." View "Caton v. City of Pelham" on Justia Law
Blankenship et al. v. City of Irondale
The Jefferson County, Alabama Board of Education ("the Board") and several of its employees sought to avoid the application of an occupational tax imposed by the City of Irondale ("City"). The Board and its employees argued that public-school employees were exempt from the occupational tax because, they contended they provided an essential government service. "But the importance of a state employee's role, even a role as important as a public-school employee, does not remove that employee's obligation to pay a duly owed occupational tax." The Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's judgment in favor of the City. View "Blankenship et al. v. City of Irondale" on Justia Law
Fagan v. Warren Averett Companies, LLC
Plaintiff Gerriann Fagan appealed a circuit court order granting defendant Warren Averett Companies, LLC's motion to compel arbitration. Fagan was the owner of The Prism Group, LLC, a human-resources consulting firm. In February 2015, Warren Averett approached her and asked her to join Warren Averett and to build a human-resources consulting practice for it. In February 2015, she agreed to join Warren Averett, entering into a "Transaction Agreement" which provided that: Fagan would wind down the operations of The Prism Group; Fagan would become a member of Warren Averett; Warren Averett would purchase The Prism Group's equipment and furniture; Warren Averett would assume responsibility for The Prism Group's leases; and that Warren Averett would assume The Prism Group's membership in Career Partners International, LLC. The Transaction Agreement further provided that Fagan would enter into a "Standard Personal Service Agreement" ("the PSA") with Warren Averett; that Fagan's title would be president of Warren Averett Workplace; and that Fagan would be paid in accordance with the compensation schedule outlined in the PSA. Fagan alleged that she subsequently resigned from Warren Averett when she was unable to resolve a claim that Warren Averett had failed to properly compensate her in accordance with the PSA. On or about February 28, 2019, Fagan filed a demand for arbitration with the American Arbitration Association ("AAA"). The employment-filing team of the AAA sent a letter dated March 4, 2019, to the parties informing them of the conduct of the arbitration proceedings. On April 18, 2019, the employment-filing team notified the parties that Warren Averett had failed to submit the requested filing fee and that it was administratively closing the file in the matter. On April 30, 2019, Fagan sued Warren Averett in circuit court. The Alabama Supreme Court determined Warren Averett's failure to pay the filing fee constituted a default under the arbitration provision of the PSA. Accordingly, the trial court erred when it granted Warren Averett's motion to compel arbitration. View "Fagan v. Warren Averett Companies, LLC" on Justia Law
Anthony et al. v. Datcher, et al.
Cynthia Anthony, former interim president of Shelton State Community College; William Ashley, then-president of Shelton State; and Jimmy Baker, chancellor of the Alabama Community College System ("the ACCS") (collectively, "the college defendants"), appealed a circuit court judgment entered in favor of Khristy Large and Robert Pressley, current instructors at Shelton State, and Scheree Datcher, a former instructor at Shelton State (collectively, "the instructor plaintiffs"). Large and Pressley were instructors in the Office Administration Department ("OAD") at Shelton State; Datcher was an OAD instructor, now retired. Under college policy, an instructor was placed into one of three groups based on the instructor's "teaching area": Group A, Group B, or Group C. After an instructor was placed into a group, the instructor was ranked within the group for salary purposes according to criteria listed in the policy. The primary issue in this case was whether the instructor plaintiffs should be placed in Group A or Group B. In 2013, Joan Davis, then-interim president of Shelton State, concluded that Datcher and Pressley should have been reclassified from Group A to Group B, contrary to their credentialing document. Datcher and Pressley received higher salaries by being reclassified to Group B. When Large was hired to be an OAD instructor in 2013, she was also placed in Group B. In 2016, Chancellor Heinrich directed Anthony, then interim president, to review instructors' classifications to make sure they were properly classified. Anthony determined the instructor plaintiffs should have been classified as Group A, in accordance with the credentialing document. Thus, she reclassified the instructor plaintiffs to Group A, which resulted in decreased salaries. The trial court entered a judgment in favor of the instructor plaintiffs, concluding that they are properly classified in Group B under the policy and ordering that the instructor plaintiffs be placed in Group B. The trial court also awarded the instructor plaintiffs backpay for the period following Anthony's reclassification, during which they were classified as Group A instead of Group B. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the placement of OAD instructors in Group A was "plainly incorrect." Because the college defendants lacked discretion to classify the instructor plaintiffs as Group A, the claims for backpay against them in their official capacities were not barred by the doctrine of State immunity. When Anthony left her position as interim president, her successor was automatically substituted for her with respect to the official-capacity claims alleged against her; judgment should not have been entered against her. Therefore, judgment was reversed insofar as it was entered against Anthony. The judgment was affirmed in all other respects. View "Anthony et al. v. Datcher, et al." on Justia Law