Justia Alabama Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
Davis v. Montevallo
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
Ex parte Jeffrey Varoff.
After Clifford Bufford, an employee of Borbet Alabama, Inc., injured his left arm in a workplace accident, he sued seven of his co-employees claiming that his injury was the result of their willful conduct. The co-employees sought summary judgment, arguing that they were immune from suit under Alabama's Workers' Compensation Act ("the Act") because, they said, there was no evidence to support Bufford's claims. Bufford voluntarily dismissed his claims against all the defendants except the petitioner, maintenance supervisor Jeffrey Varoff. The circuit court then denied Varoff's motion for summary judgment. He petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the trial court to enter judgment in his favor on the basis of the immunity afforded by the Act. We grant the petition and issue the writ. The Supreme Court concurred there was not evidence in the trial court record that would support a finding that Varoff had engaged in willful conduct as that term was described in § 25-5-11(c). The Court held Varoff was immune from liability under § 25-5- 53. Accordingly, the trial court erred by denying Varoff's motion for summary judgment. His petition was therefore granted, and the trial court directed to vacate its order denying Varoff's motion. View "Ex parte Jeffrey Varoff." on Justia Law
Cochran v. CIS Financial Services, Inc.
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
Ex parte CSX Transportation, Inc.
Christopher Ellis worked for CSX Transportation, Inc. as a remote-control foreman at CSX's Montgomery yard. While riding on the ladder of a railcar during the course of his employment with CSX, Ellis was struck in the torso by the broken door handle and latch assembly of a railcar on an adjacent track. The impact of the blow knocked Ellis off the railcar on which he was riding, causing him to suffer significant injuries. On November 17, 2020, Ellis sued CSX asserting claims under the Federal Employers' Liability Act ("FELA"), and the Safety Appliance Act ("the SAA"). Ellis propounded 25 multipart interrogatories and 62 requests for production to CSX with his complaint. CSX petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the Montgomery Circuit Court to, among other things, vacate its order granting Ellis's motion to compel discovery and either enter an order denying Ellis's motion to compel or a protective order barring production of materials CSX contends to be protected work product or patently irrelevant. The Supreme Court granted the petition for mandamus relief in part and directed the trial court to vacate its order to the extent that it requires the production of materials contained in the company's risk management system ("RMS") in violation of the work-product doctrine. The Court denied the petition in all other respects. View "Ex parte CSX Transportation, Inc." on Justia Law
Ex parte Alabama Power Company, et al.
Alabama Power Company ("Alabama Power"), B&N Clearing and Environmental, LLC ("B&N"), and Jettison Environmental, LLC ("Jettison") petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the Montgomery Circuit Court to vacate its order denying their motions to transfer this action to the Autauga Circuit Court and to enter an order granting the motions. In 2019, Zane Yates Curtis, a North Carolina resident who was employed by B&N, was killed when a portion of his tractor-trailer made contact with an energized overhead power line in Autauga County. At the time, Zane was dumping mulch at a landfill in Prattville that was operated by JB Waste Connection, LLC. Rachel Curtis, as the administrator of Zane's estate, filed a complaint for worker's compensation benefits against B&N in the Montgomery Circuit Court. B&N was a Delaware limited-liability company whose principal address was in Houston, Texas. It did not have a physical office in the State of Alabama, it did not have a principal office in Montgomery County or any other Alabama county, and none of its members were residents of Montgomery County or any other Alabama county. Rachel amended her complaint to include a workers’ compensation claim against B&N, and negligence and wantonness claims against Alabama Power, Jettison, and JB Waste. Alabama Power was an Alabama corporation that had its principal place of business in Birmingham. Jettison was an Alabama limited-liability company that had its principal place of business in Autauga County. JB Waste was an Alabama limited-liability company with an office in Montgomery County and did business in Montgomery County and Autauga County. B&N filed answers to both complaints, specifically including the defense of improper venue. Because venue in Montgomery County was not proper as to B&N when the action was commenced, the Alabama Supreme Court found the trial court exceeded its discretion in denying the motions to transfer the case to Autauga County, where venue would have been proper. The writ petition was granted and the Montgomery Court ordered to transfer the case to Autauga. View "Ex parte Alabama Power Company, et al." on Justia Law
Key v. Warren Averett, LLC, et al.
James P. Key, Jr. appealed a circuit court order denying his motion to compel arbitration of his claims against Warren Averett, LLC, and Warren Averett Companies, LLC (collectively, "WA"). Key alleged that he was a certified public accountant who had been employed by WA for 25 years and had been a member of WA for 15 years; that he had executed a personal-services agreement ("PSA") with WA that included a noncompete clause; and that WA had sent him a letter terminating his employment. Key sought a judgment declaring "that the Non-Compete Clause and the financial penalty provision contained in the PSA is not applicable to Key and is an unlawful restraint of Key's ability to serve his clients as a professional." The Alabama Supreme Court found that whether Key's claims against WA had to be arbitrated was a threshold issue that should not have been decided by the circuit court; nor was it appropriate for the Supreme Court to settle the issue in this appeal. Accordingly, the circuit court's order was reversed, and the case was remanded for the circuit court to enter an order sending the case to arbitration for a determination of the threshold issue of arbitrability and staying proceedings in the circuit court during the pendency of the arbitration proceedings. View "Key v. Warren Averett, LLC, et al." on Justia Law
Ex parte Tiffina McQueen.
Tiffina McQueen petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct a circuit court to vacate its order directing her that her compulsory counterclaims would be tried separately from the claims raised by Yukita Johnson, the plaintiff below. In 2020, Johnson sued R&L Foods, LLC, petitioner, Michael McQueen ("McQueen"), Michael London, and Joe Fortner alleging McQueen threatened her over her work performance one day. Johnson phoned Fornter, a regional manager and reported McQueen; she asked Fortner if she could leave and go home. Fortner allegedly phoned McQueen over Johnson's allegations, but did not give Johnson permission to leave for the day. Notwithstanding the call, Johnson alleged McQueen still berated her, with petitioner joining in, retreving a handgun from a bag she was carrying, and gave the gun to her brother, McQueen. Johnson alleged McQueen fired several shots at her while inside the restaurant. As she fled, McQueen allegedly gave the gun to London, another employee, and London then fired several more shots at her from inside the restaurant. Johnson averred that customers of the restaurant and of a nearby business called law-enforcement officers of the incident. Johnson alleged that, after the shooting, she telephoned Fortner and told him about the incident and that Fortner telephoned the petitioner and then drove to the restaurant. Law-enforcement officers arrested McQueen and London. Johnson alleged that law-enforcement officers caught petitioner attempting to destroy video-surveillance footage of the incident and attempting to hide the handgun that was used in the incident. Petitioner was arrested for tampering with evidence. Johnson further alleged that, unbeknownst to the law-enforcement officers, Fortner had instructed petitioner to delete the video-surveillance footage of the incident. R&L Foods terminated Johnson's employment, but did not terminate petitioner's. Johnson asserted multiple claims arising from the altercation with petitioner and her brother. The Alabama Supreme Court determined that nothing in the facts of this case demonstrated that separate trials on Johnson's claims or in the counterclaim would further the convenience of the parties, would avoid prejudice to the parties, or would be "conducive to expedition and economy." Accordingly, the trial court exceeded its discretion when it ordered separate trials in this case. The petition was granted and the writ was issued. View "Ex parte Tiffina McQueen." on Justia Law
Ex parte Shane Taylor and Shane A. Taylor & Associates, P.C.
This case involved a petition for a writ of mandamus filed by defendants Shane Taylor ("Taylor") and Shane A. Taylor & Associates, P.C. ("the law firm"), asking the Alabama Supreme Court to direct the Mobile Circuit Court to vacate its March 22, 2021, order denying their motion to strike the jury demand in the complaint filed against them by plaintiff Kimberly Hall-Smith, and to enter a new order granting their motion to strike. Taylor was a licensed attorney; Hall-Smith worked as paralegal for the law firm for a period. The law firm and Hall-Smith entered into an "Employee Confidentiality Agreement" ("the agreement"), which included a jury waiver provision should any litigation arise between them. Hall-Smith signed the agreement. Subsequently, the law firm terminated her employment. Hall-Smith then sued Taylor and the law firm alleging Taylor negligently, recklessly, and/or intentionally subjected her to, among other things, "harmful, unwanted, offensive and sexually charged physical contact." She asserted claims of negligence and/or wantonness and the tort of outrage/intentional infliction of emotional distress against Taylor and the law firm. Hall-Smith further asserted claims of assault, battery, and invasion of privacy against Taylor. Finally, the complaint included a demand for a trial by jury. Taylor and the law firm filed a motion to strike Hall-Smith's jury demand based on the jury-waiver provision included in the agreement. They asserted that Hall-Smith's claims clearly arose from her employment with the law firm and that their counterclaims against Hall-Smith "are related to both the subject matter of the [agreement] and [Hall-Smith's] employment." The Supreme Court agreed that Hall-Smith's claims against the law firm were related to her employment, and she waived her right to a jury trial as to those claims. Therefore, the trial court erred when it denied defendants' motion to strike the demand for a jury trial. The Court issued the writ and directed the trial court to enter an order granting defendants' motion. View "Ex parte Shane Taylor and Shane A. Taylor & Associates, P.C." on Justia 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