Justia Alabama Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Legal Ethics
Schaeffer et al. v. Thompson
Unhappy with the result in the underlying litigation, two family members -- Mary Beasley Schaeffer ("Mary") and Ellis Beasley Long ("Ellis"), as the personal representative of the estate of Emma Glass Beasley -- sued their attorney, Jan Garrison Thompson, claiming that he committed malpractice when he represented them. Thompson moved for summary judgment and presented evidence that he did not commit malpractice. In response, Mary and Ellis submitted expert testimony stating that Thompson violated the standard of care owed by attorneys. The trial court ruled for Thompson and entered summary judgment in his favor. Mary and Ellis appealed. Finding no reversible error, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed. View "Schaeffer et al. v. Thompson" on Justia Law
Fox v. Hughston
Erica Rae Fox appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of her former criminal-defense attorneys, Harold V. Hughston III and Sheila Morgan. The trial court determined that the applicable statute of limitations barred Fox's action. Finding no error in that determination, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed. View "Fox v. Hughston" on Justia Law
Fox v. Hughston, et al.
Erica Fox appealed a circuit court's grant of summary judgment in favor of her former criminal-defense attorneys, Harold Hughston, III and Sheila Morgan. In 2016, Ronnie Credille murdered Fox's husband, Jason Fox. Credille shot Jason in the head as he entered the doorway of the residence that he shared with Fox and their children. Fox and Credille were alleged to have been involved in an adulterous relationship. A grand jury indicted Fox for capital murder on January 12, 2017. The trial court presiding over the criminal action declared Fox indigent and appointed Hughston and Morgan to represent her. Fox was convicted for capital murder, for which she received a life sentence without the possibility of parole. Fox contended that, at the conclusion of the sentencing hearing, she made it clear to her defense attorneys that she wanted to appeal her conviction and sentence and that they represented to her that a notice of appeal had been perfected. Despite that representation, there was no oral notice of appeal contained in the transcript of the sentencing hearing. The attorneys moved for a new trial on Fox's behalf; that motion was denied by operation of law approximately one month later. The trial court nevertheless held a hearing on the motion, in which the motion was formally denied. This denial ended up being void for the trial court's want of jurisdiction. Because the deadline by which Fox was required to file a written notice of appeal of her conviction and sentence was calculated from the date on which her motion for a new trial was denied by operation of law, her written notice of appeal was due to be filed on or before March 11, 2019. After the trial court denied Fox's motion for a new trial, the attorneys moved to withdraw from representing Fox. Fox received an appointed appellate counsel, Charlie Bottoms, who attempted to get the appeals court to reinstate the appeal or order a new sentencing hearing. Fox ultimately sued her trial attorneys for legal malpractice for not lodging the appeal at trial. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded Fox failed to demonstrate any statutory tolling provision applied in her case, therefore it granted the trial court's grant of summary judgment to the defense attorneys. View "Fox v. Hughston, et al." on Justia Law
Jinks v. Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission
The Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission ("the JIC") filed a complaint against Judge John Randall "Randy" Jinks, the Probate Judge for Talladega County, Alabama, alleging that he had violated the Alabama Canons of Judicial Ethics by frequently exhibiting an inappropriate demeanor, by inappropriately using a work-assigned computer and a work-assigned cellular telephone, and by abusing the prestige of the Office of Probate Judge. The Alabama Court of the Judiciary, ("the COJ") found that the evidence supported some of the charges alleged and removed Judge Jinks from office. Judge Jinks appealed. After reviewing the record in this case, the Mississippi Supreme Court concluded that the judgment of the COJ was supported by clear and convincing evidence. Accordingly, the judgment of the COJ was affirmed. View "Jinks v. Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission" on Justia Law
Sirote & Permutt, P.C. v. Caldwell
The law firm of Sirote & Permutt, P.C., and attorney C. Randall Caldwell, Jr., each claimed they were entitled to one-third of the attorneys' fees that were owed for a BP oil spill settlement. Sirote and Caldwell litigated their dispute against each other, and, following a bench trial, the trial court ruled in favor of Caldwell and awarded the funds to him. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the trial court had sufficient evidence to find the existence of a valid referral agreement between Caldwell and Cunningham Bounds as well as the existence of an attorney-client relationship between Caldwell and the Woerner entities. Sirote was not entitled to replace Caldwell as referring counsel merely because the Woerner entities terminated their attorney-client relationship with Caldwell. And the trial court's finding that Caldwell earned his referral fees at the time he referred the Woerner entities' BP claims did not require reversal. Finally, it is clear that the trial court did not award postjudgment interest. In all respects, the Court affirmed the trial court. View "Sirote & Permutt, P.C. v. Caldwell" on Justia Law
Roberson v. Balch & Bingham, LLP
David Roberson appealed a circuit court's dismissal of his claims against Balch & Bingham, LLP ("Balch"), on the basis that those claims were barred by the limitations periods contained in the Alabama Legal Services Liability Act ("the ALSLA"). After review of the trial court record, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed, but on grounds that differed from the trial court's. "[T]he gravamen of Roberson's claims against Balch involved the provision of legal services. However, both Roberson and Balch assert that Roberson was not Balch's client, and those assertions are borne out in the third amended complaint, which indicates that Balch was engaged by Drummond, not personally by Roberson. ... Roberson's claims against the law firm Drummond engaged, Balch, are barred by the ALSLA because Roberson cannot meet an essential element of an ALSLA claim -- namely, he was not Balch's client -- and thus Balch owed no duty to Roberson. ... the circuit court's rationale was based on the applicability of the ALSLA's limitations periods." View "Roberson v. Balch & Bingham, LLP" on Justia Law
Fuston, Petway & French, LLP v. Water Works Board of the City of Birmingham
Fuston, Petway & French, LLP ("the Firm"), appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of The Water Works Board of the City of Birmingham ("the Board") regarding the Board's termination of a contract between the parties. In September 2015, the Firm and the Board entered into a one-year contract in which the Firm agreed to provide legal representation for the Board. In 2016, the Firm and the Board entered into negotiations for a new contract. The chairman of the Board approached the Firm regarding the Board's need to have independent oversight and review of a program designed to attract "historically underutilized business entities" ("the HUB program"). Board meeting minutes at the end of 2016 reflected that the contract was approved. The contract between the Firm and the Board provided, in pertinent part, that the Firm would administer a Contract Compliance Program for the HUB program. Before the contract expired, the Board elected to terminate its contract with the Firm. The Firm sued for breach of contract and other theories. In its judgment, the trial court found, among other things, that the entirety of the Firm's obligations in the contract entailed legal services and that, as a result, the contract was terminable by the Board at any time. After review of the Firm's arguments appealing the trial court judgment, the Alabama Supreme Court found no reversible error and affirmed. View "Fuston, Petway & French, LLP v. Water Works Board of the City of Birmingham" on Justia Law
Ex parte Petway Olsen, LLC.
Law firm Petway Olsen, LLC, petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Jefferson Circuit Court to set aside its order granting the motion filed by Mercedes-Benz USA, LLC ("MBUSA"), seeking to disqualify the firm from representing the plaintiffs in the underlying case and to enter an order allowing the firm to represent the plaintiffs. In 2017, Valisha Cartwell was driving a 1998 Mercedes ML320. As she was pulling into a parking space in front a dental office operated by Vital Smiles Alabama, P.C., the vehicle suddenly accelerated and crashed into the front of the dental office, killing a six-year-old child and injuring others. Grelinda Lee, as personal representative of the child's estate, sued Cartwell and the owner of the Mercedes ML320 (and other fictitiously named defendants) for wrongful death. An amended complaint added Mercedes-Benz USA, LLC. The second amended complaint was signed by D. Bruce Petway of Petway Olsen and included the names of other attorneys with different law firms who were also representing the plaintiffs. Both Mercedes-Benz U.S. International, Inc. ("MBUSI") and MBUSA asserted as a defense that Petway Olsen was "disqualified [from representing the plaintiffs] because one of its members [was] a former in-house attorney and general counsel for MBUSI." After review, the Supreme Court determined the trial court erred when it granted MBUSA's motion to disqualify Petway Olsen from representing the plaintiffs. The petition for mandamus relief was granted and the trial court directed to vacate its previous order granting MBUSA's motion. View "Ex parte Petway Olsen, LLC." on Justia Law
Ex parte W. Perry Hall.
Attorney W. Perry Hall petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the circuit court to vacate its order entered on August 15, 2019 requiring Hall, among other things, to issue a letter of apology to his clients. Hall represented a homeowners association and multiple individual homeowners in a Mobile subdivision in a lawsuit against the developer of that subdivision. After Hall moved to dismiss certain counterclaims asserted against those homeowners, the circuit court entered an order demanding that Hall "provide a copy of this order and a copy of Ala. R. Civ. P. Rule 19, as well as a copy of [the motion to dismiss] to [his homeowner clients], along with a letter explaining how Rule 19 works, apologizing for the invectives and sheer puffery used in this frankly scandalous pleading." The circuit court entered the order because it "dislike[d]" Hall's use of the phrase "forced Plaintiff's [sic]" to describe the plaintiffs, as well as other terms used in the motion to dismiss. The circuit court provided no other basis for the directives in its order. Hall filed this petition for a writ of mandamus contending he circuit court had exceeded its discretion by entering the order. The Alabama Supreme Court did not address that issue because, six days later, the circuit court vacated the order after the individual homeowners were dismissed from the action by joint stipulation. View "Ex parte W. Perry Hall." on Justia Law
Ex parte The Terminix International Co., LP, et al.
Birmingham law firm Campbell Law, P.C., represented consumers in legal proceedings against pest-control companies, including The Terminix International Co., LP, and Terminix International, Inc. (collectively referred to as "Terminix"). After Campbell Law initiated arbitration proceedings against Terminix and Matthew Cunningham, a Terminix branch manager, on behalf of owners in the Bay Forest condominium complex ("Bay Forest") in Daphne, Terminix and Cunningham asked the circuit court to disqualify Campbell Law from the proceedings because it had retained a former manager of Terminix's Baldwin County office as an investigator and consultant. The trial court denied the motion to disqualify. Terminix and Cunningham petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus, arguing that the Alabama Rules of Professional Conduct required Campbell Law's disqualification. In support of their petition, Terminix argued the investigator/consultant possessed privileged and confidential information related to disputes between Terminix and parties represented by the law firm, and that Campbell Law violated the Rules of Professional Conduct. The Supreme Court concluded the petitioners did not demonstrate Campbell Law violated the Rules, thus did not establish they had a clear legal right to mandamus relief. The petition was denied. View "Ex parte The Terminix International Co., LP, et al." on Justia Law