Articles Posted in Real Estate & Property Law

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Philip Richardson filed a complaint against Ben Chambless ("Ben"), Alaspec Residential Inspections, LLC, and Good Cents Home Inspections & Energy Management, LLC, in which he requested a jury trial on multiple claims arising from an allegedly faulty inspection the defendants had performed on a house Richardson was in the process of purchasing. In June 2012, the trial court entered a default judgment against Good Cents for failure to answer and, following a hearing, entered an order awarding Richardson $80,281.28 against Good Cents based on findings that the inspection report failed to disclose material defects in the house and that Richardson would not have purchased the house if the inspection report had disclosed those defects. In March 2013, Richardson amended his complaint to add Rosemarie, who was Ben's wife at the time, as a defendant. Richardson alleged that, in December 2012, Ben had transferred his interest in the Chamblesses' marital residence to Rosemarie ("the transfer") and that Ben had made the transfer because, Richardson said, Ben "knew he was going to incur ... a foreseeable judgment in the lawsuit filed by ... Richardson" and knew that making the transfer "would impair his ability to pay this ... judgment." Rosemarie filed a motion for a summary judgment on Richardson's claims against her. The trial court found no genuine issues of material fact as to Richardson's claims against Rosemarie, therefore she was entitled to a judgment as a matter of law on those claims. Richardson's claims against Ben and Alaspec remained pending, but the trial court, finding that there was no just reason for delay, certified its partial summary judgment as final. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded resolution of Richardson's pending claims against Ben regarding the allegedly faulty inspection could potentially moot the claims adjudicated by the trial court's partial summary judgment; the trial court's Rule 54(b) certification of that judgment was therefore improper. Accordingly, the Court dismissed the appeal on the basis that it arose from a nonfinal judgment. View "Richardson v. Chambless" on Justia Law

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G.R.L.C. Trust, formed under the laws of Texas, appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of Garrison Decatur Crossings, LLC ("Garrison Decatur"), in Garrison Decatur's action for a judgment declaring the need for reformation of a recorded memorandum of lease on the ground of a mutual mistake. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the trial court's finding that there had been a mutual mistake in omitting Exhibit A from the lease memorandum was supported by the evidence; therefore, the summary judgment in favor of Garrison Decatur reforming the lease memorandum was affirmed. View "G.R.L.C. Trust v. Garrison Decatur Crossings, LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Jimmy Larry Beddingfield ("Larry"), his wife, Rebecca, and their adult son, James Cody Beddingfield ("Cody") appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendants Mullins Insurance Company, Mullins & Company Insurance, Rand Mullins, and David Mullins (referred to collectively as "Mullins"), on the Beddingfields' claims stemming from Mullins's alleged failure to properly procure insurance coverage. In 1997, Larry and Rebecca purchased a homeowners' liability-insurance policy from Rand Mullins that protected Larry and Rebecca's primary residence. In 2001, Larry and Rebecca purchased a second liability-insurance policy that provided coverage for a rental house located in Florence; they later constructed another house in Guntersville and, in 2003, purchased an additional liability-insurance policy for that property. In July 2003, Mullins canceled the insurance policy on the Florence house allegedly based on a belief that "the policy was issued in duplicate." Allegedly unbeknownst to Larry and Rebecca, however, the requested cancellation left the Florence house uninsured. One month later, pursuant to a mortgage refinance on the Beddingfields' residence, Larry and Rebecca paid one year's insurance premium on that residence; the check was endorsed and deposited into Mullins's account. In March 2004, the policy on the Beddingfields' residence was canceled because of nonpayment of the premium; neither Larry nor Rebecca, however, was able to recall receiving notice of the cancellation. After those two events, Larry and Rebecca were without insurance on their residence and the Florence house, leaving them with liability insurance only on their Guntersville house. In July 2004, a minor guest at the Beddingfields' Guntersville house, Trace Linam, suffered a serious eye injury in a fireworks-related incident. In 2008, Linam and his father, Linam, sued the Beddingfields, alleging that they, and particularly Cody (who was a minor at the time), were responsible for the injury. Because the underwriter of the Beddingfields' policy had been placed into receivership in Texas in 2006, the Alabama Insurance Guaranty Association ("AIGA") covered the Beddingfields' legal-defense costs in the Linam litigation; however, the maximum amount of liability coverage available was limited to $100,000 –- the amount of the liability- insurance policy Larry and Rebecca had obtained from Mullins to insure that property -- and not $500,000, the amount they say would have been available had the other two policies not been canceled. In February 2011, a judgment was entered on a $600,000 jury verdict against the Beddingfields in the Linam litigation. The Beddingfields appealed that decision. Because, however, AIGA did not post the requisite supersedeas bond, and the Beddingfields were allegedly unable to obtain a bond, execution of the judgment was not stayed during the pendency of the appeal. In July 2011, while their appeal was pending, the Beddingfields sued Mullins, alleging numerous counts of negligence and wantonness with relation to Mullins's handling of the various insurance policies. After review of the trial court record, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed summary judgment as to the negligence claims, reversed as to the wantonness claims, and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Beddingfield et al. v. Mullins Insurance Company et al." on Justia Law

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Joshua Ward petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the Shelby Circuit Court to vacate its October 7, 2017, order setting aside a default judgment entered against Johnathan Motors, LLC, and its principal Jacques C. Chahla (hereinafter referred to collectively as "the dealership") and to enter an order reinstating the default judgment. In 2017, Ward filed a 12-count complaint against the dealership and fictitiously named defendants alleging, among other things, that on August 5, 2016, he purchased a vehicle from the dealership and that the dealership unilaterally voided the sale of the vehicle and unlawfully repossessed and converted to its own use the vehicle, the down payment, the monthly installment payment, and the personal property in the vehicle when it was unlawfully repossessed. On August 14, 2017, Ward requested the clerk of the circuit court to enter a default against the dealership pursuant to Rule 55(a), Ala. R. Civ. P., based on the dealership's failure to answer or otherwise to defend in the case; the clerk subsequently made an entry of default in the case. On October 3, 2017, the dealership moved the trial court to set aside the default judgment. On October 7, 2017, the trial court entered an order granting the dealership's motion to set aside the default judgment, but requiring the dealership to file an answer within seven days from the date of that order; the dealership did not file an answer within seven days as ordered. On November 1, 2017, Ward moved the trial court to reconsider its order setting aside the default judgment, the trial court denied Ward's motion to reconsider the order setting aside the default judgment. On November 13, 2017, the dealership filed an answer to the complaint. Ward thereafter petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus. After review, the Supreme Court ordered the trial court to vacate its order setting aside the default judgment, to enter an order reinstating the default judgment against the dealership, and to schedule a hearing on damages. View "Ex parte Joshua Ward." on Justia Law

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Defendant Mark Price d/b/a J&M Movers ("J&M") filed a petition for a writ of mandamus with the Alabama Supreme Court requesting the Perry Circuit Court to vacate its order granting a motion for relief from judgment filed by plaintiffs Lawrence and Margaret Brewer. In 2013, the Brewers sued J&M and fictitiously named defendants, asserting a single claim alleging trespass based on the June 23, 2009, repossession of a mobile home that was located on their real property. According to the Brewers, on or about June 23, 2009, J&M unlawfully entered their real property to repossess the mobile home and caused damage to their property during the process. J&M filed an answer in which it denied the allegations in the complaint. In 2015, the Brewers filed an amended complaint, substituting Brandon Scott Asberry d/b/a Scott Asberry Transportation as "the proper party Defendant in this case." Thereafter the Brewers filed a motion to dismiss J&M as a defendant in the case, which the trial court granted. J&M was dismissed as a defendant. Over two years later, the Brewers filed a motion for relief from the judgment of dismissal, citing Rule 60(b)(6), Ala. R. Civ. P., and asking the trial court to reinstate J&M as a defendant. The trial court granted the Brewers' motion for relief from judgment. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court concluded J&M established that the Brewers were not entitled to relief pursuant to Rule 60(b)(6) and that the trial court exceeded its discretion in granting the Brewers' motion for relief from judgment. Accordingly, the Supreme Court granted the petition for a writ of mandamus and directed the Perry Circuit Court to vacate its order granting the motion for relief from judgment filed by the Brewers. View "Ex parte Mark Price d/b/a J&M Movers." on Justia Law

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John Hoehn ("John") and his wife, Margaret, jointly owned the Foley Flea Market in Foley, Alabama ("the property"). In 2009, John, Margaret, and Roman Fitzpatrick (John and Margaret’s daughter) entered into an agreement to sell John's "1/2 undivided interest in the property" to Fitzpatrick and her then-husband, Paul Kihano. The agreement specified that Margaret would "retain her 1/2 undivided interest in the property." The agreement stated that Fitzpatrick and Kihano "shall be entitled to enter into possession of [the] property so long as [they are] not in default in the performance of [the agreement]." The agreement also made clear that title to John's "1/2 undivided interest in the property" would not pass to Fitzpatrick and Kihano until all the payments had been made under the agreement. John executed a quitclaim deed conveying his one-half interest in the property to Margaret; the quitclaim deed made no mention of the agreement. In 2013, Margaret changed the locks on the property so that Fitzpatrick could no longer access the property or operate the flea market. Fitzpatrick quit making payments under the agreement in December 2013. Fitzpatrick, with her sisters, initiated this lawsuit against Margaret, Kihano, and Mixon alleging intentional interference with a contract and intentional interference with business relations; against John's estate, breach of contract; and against Margaret, Kihano, and Mixon, tortious interference with an inheritance. In case no. 1160393 (Margaret's cross-appeal of the circuit court's judgment in favor of Fitzpatrick on Fitzpatrick's claims of interference with a contract and intentional interference with business relations), the Alabama Supreme Court reversed judgment in favor of Fitzpatrick and rendered judgment in favor of Margaret. In case no. 1160348 (Fitzpatrick's appeal of the amount of Fitzpatrick's compensatory-damages award and the circuit court's judgment in favor of Margaret on Margaret's counterclaim against Fitzpatrick), the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal as moot insofar as Fitzpatrick challenged the compensatory-damages award and affirmed the judgment on Margaret's counterclaim. View "Fitzpatrick v. Hoehn" on Justia Law

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A party waives any right to object to the validity of an arbitration provision calling for the arbitration of certain claims once that party agrees to arbitrate those claims. Here, the parties settled the claims made the basis of case no. CV-2015-900849 by agreeing to arbitrate any further disputes regarding alleged violations of the Hillwood Office Center Owners' Association, Inc.’s ("the HOCOA"), governing documents. Following the dismissal of case no. CV-2015- 900849, Carol Blevins continued to assert violations of the governing documents and made a demand for arbitration. The HOCOA and its board members agreed to the submission of Carol's claims to arbitration. Although the HOCOA and its board members did object to certain issues being submitted to the arbitrator for determination, arguing that those issues instead should be determined by the trial court, they did not object to the submission of the claims to arbitration. The HOCOA and its board members agreed upon two different arbitrators and also sought the enforcement of the settlement agreement containing the arbitration provision by initiating case no. CV-2015- 901891. Accordingly, The Alabama Supreme Court concluded that because the HOCOA and its board members agreed to the submission of the claims raised in this matter to the now pending arbitration proceeding, they waived their right to object to the validity of the arbitration provision. The appeal in case no. CV-2015-900849 was dismissed. To the extent that the HOCOA and its board members appealed the trial court's order dissolving the stay of arbitration in case no. CV-2015-901891, that order was affirmed. Finally, the order appealed from case no. CV-2016- 901627 was affirmed in part and reversed in part and the case was remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Hillwood Office Center Owners' Association, Inc., et al. v. Blevins" on Justia Law

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Alabama Power initiated condemnation proceedings in the probate court seeking to obtain easements across three parcels of property in St. Clair County Alabama for the purpose of erecting new power-transmission lines. Alabama Power Company petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the St. Clair Circuit Court to dismiss an appeal filed by the property owners who challenged the condemnation proceedings. The Supreme Court found that the probate court's July 5, 2017 transfer order notified the property owners that it found their notice of appeal to be vague or in some way deficient instead of ordering a transfer of the action. Because the probate court understood the property owners' notice of appeal to encompass an order of condemnation, no such notice of deficiency was given, and the property owners instead reasonably relied on the probate court's representation that their notice of appeal was effective and that the action had been transferred to the circuit court. The Supreme Court held it would have been unjust in these circumstances for the Supreme Court to declare that the property owners' notice of appeal was in some way deficient so as to render it ineffective. Therefore, the Supreme Court determined the circuit court properly denied Alabama Power's motion to dismiss, and Alabama Power was not entitled to the relief it sought. Accordingly, the petition for the writ of mandamus was denied. View "Ex parte Alabama Power Company." on Justia Law

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EvaBank appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of Traditions Bank, TBX Title, Inc., and Terry Williams. In 2013, EvaBank customers William Michael Robertson and Connie Robertson, entered into a purchase agreement with Terry Williams, pursuant to which Williams agreed to purchase the Robertsons' property located on County Road 35 in Hanceville ("the property"). EvaBank held two mortgages on the property. Williams financed his purchase through Traditions Bank. TBX Title, a Traditions Bank subsidiary, acted as the closing agent for the real-estate transaction. EvaBank faxed Traditions Bank the payoff statement for the wrong EvaBank customer, Michael Roberson, with an address in Moulton, Alabama. TBX Title closed the real-estate transaction between the Robertsons and Williams. Traditions Bank thereafter delivered a check to EvaBank; EvaBank accepted and negotiated the check and applied the proceeds to the loan of Michael Roberson. TBX Title wired the net sales proceeds from the closing to the Robertsons. TBX Title recorded the warranty deed and mortgage and mailed the deed to Williams. When EvaBank contacted William Robertson about his loan being past due; Robertson responded that the loan should have been paid off at the closing with the proceeds from the sale. EvaBank learned at this point that there was a problem with the payoff statement it had provided. EvaBank sent Traditions Bank an e-mail explaining its mistake and noting that it had made a demand upon William Michael Robertson to pay the remaining balance due on the EvaBank mortgages but that Robertson had refused. Accordingly, EvaBank informed Traditions Bank that it would not release it mortgages encumbering the Robertsons' property until the balance on the loan they were securing had been fully satisfied. Traditions Bank sued EvaBank, asserting a claim of slander of title and seeking a judgment declaring that it was the first lienholder on the property. All parties moved for a summary judgment. The trial court entered judgment in favor of Traditions Bank and TBX Title, on the basis of equitable estoppel, on the claims involving those parties and dismissed all other claims. The Alabama Supreme Court determined that Traditions Bank and TBX Title were on notice of one or more discrepancies between the payoff statement and the closing documents, which, through the exercise of due diligence, would have revealed the fact that the payoff statement was not for the loan secured by the Evabank mortgages encumbering the property being sold by the Robertsons. Therefore, the Court concluded as a matter of law, that Traditions Bank and TBX Title's reliance on the payoff statement, without further inquiry, was not reasonable. Accordingly, they could not rely on estoppel as a basis on which to claim a priority interest in the property. View "Evabank v. Traditions Bank, et al." on Justia Law

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Alan Newell appealed the grant of summary judgment against him on various claims and counterclaims relating to two tracts of real property located in Franklin County. This appeal arises from a dispute between a father, Floyd Newell, and his son, Alan, regarding the ownership of two tracts of land located in Franklin County. The two tracts were farmland, "the Hester farm" and "the DeVaney farm." Floyd was the title owner of the two properties. Alan, however, claimed to be the true owner of the properties and asserts that the properties were deeded to Floyd only as security for loans Floyd made to Alan to purchase the land. Floyd sued Alan, asserting claims of ejectment and detinue. Floyd flatly denied Alan's claim of ownership of the two farms. Floyd contended he purchased both the Hester farm and the DeVaney farm and that he owned the farms outright. He denied lending Alan money to purchase the properties, and that Alan made any payments to him toward the purchase price of the farms. He disputed claims that Alan made improvements to the farms. However, Floyd admitted to allowing Alan to use the properties in varying degrees over the years. The trial court entered a partial summary judgment in favor of Floyd as to the ejectment claim and counterclaim and as to Alan's claim seeking recognition of an equitable mortgage. The trial court specifically held that the basis for Alan's claim of ownership of the two tracts of real property was barred by the Statute of Frauds. The Alabama Supreme Court determined it was clear from Alan's pleadings and from the arguments made at trial that what Alan termed an "equitable mortgage" was what the Supreme Court long recognized as a "resulting trust in the nature of an equitable mortgage." A resulting trust in the nature of a mortgage arises by implication of law and is therefore not subject to the Statute of Frauds. In this case, because the Statute of Frauds was not applicable to a claim seeking a declaration of a trust in the nature of an equitable mortgage, the summary judgment entered on that basis was in error. Furthermore, nearly every fact relevant to Alan's counterclaim seeking an equitable mortgage was disputed, making summary judgment improper. View "Newell v. Newell" on Justia Law