Justia Alabama Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Real Estate & Property Law
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In December 2016, Geraldine Daniels was residing at the Hawthorne at Lily-Flagg apartment complex, which was owned by Hawthorne-Midway Lily Flagg, LLC ("Hawthorne-Midway"), and managed by Hawthorne Residential Partners, LLC, and its community manager, Tracy Wiley. Daniels sued Hawthorne-Midway and Wiley for damages resulting from injuries she suffered when she fell while stepping off a sidewalk at the complex. Daniels appealed summary judgment entered in favor of Hawthorne-Midway and Wiley. The Alabama Supreme Court affirmed: Daniels did not demonstrate any genuine issue of material fact that prevented Hawthorne-Midway and Wiley from being entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. View "Daniels v. Hawthorne-Midway Lily Flagg, LLC" on Justia Law

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Pentagon Federal Credit Union ("PenFed") appealed a circuit court judgment entered in favor of Susan McMahan. McMahan and her husband purchased property in Loxley, Alabama in 2005. The purchase mortgage was provided by Wells Fargo bank, and a second mortgage was granted in favor of PenFed. In pertinent part, the PenFed mortgage stated "At no time shall this mortgage, not including sums advanced to protect the security of this mortgage, exceed $55,000.00. ... [PenFed] shall be subrogated to the rights of the holder of any previous lien, security interest, or encumbrance discharged with funds advanced by [PenFed] regardless of whether these liens, security interests or other encumbrances have been released of record." In 2014, the McMahans filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy protection, listing both the Wells Fargo and PenFed mortgages. Both Wells Fargo and PenFed ultimately foreclosed on the mortgages. The McMahans' bankruptcy case was dismissed in late 2015. The Wells Fargo debt/lien and the PenFed debt were not discharged in the bankruptcy proceedings. PenFed filed suit against Wells Fargo to quiet title as the first lien holder to the McMahan property by virtue of the PenFed mortgage, the foreclosure deed, and the erroneous legal description in the Wells Fargo mortgage. PenFed did not notify or make McMahan a party to that lawsuit. That lawsuit was never tried to conclusion but was settled, and PenFed paid Wells Fargo $91,256.54 to satisfy the [Wells Fargo] note and in exchange for a cancellation and release of the Wells Fargo mortgage. PenFed did not acquire the right to enforce the Wells Fargo note and/or mortgage. Within one year of the foreclosure, PenFed sold the property, leaving the McMahans with a deficiency balance of $14,433.41. PenFed's calculation of the post-foreclosure-sale surplus proceeds excluded the $91,256.54 that PenFed paid to Wells Fargo to satisfy the Wells Fargo note and cancel the Wells Fargo mortgage. In 2018, McMahan sued PenFed, alleging PenFed's sale of the property to third-party purchasers created excess proceeds greater than what PenFed was entitled to received under the original note. The circuit court concluded PenFed could not exclude the surplus proceeds it paid to Wells Fargo to settle the Wells Fargo mortgage. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded the circuit court erred in characterizing the doctrine of unjust enrichment as an affirmative defense. Accordingly, PenFed did not waive the defense of unjust enrichment by failing to plead it in its responsive pleadings. Instead, PenFed raised the argument to the circuit court at trial and in its trial brief; the argument was properly before the circuit court. Judgment was reversed for further consideration of the merits of PenFed's unjust-enrichment argument. View "Pentagon Federal Credit Union v. McMahan" on Justia Law

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Tamikia Everheart; Cardell Coachman, by and through his mother and next friend Johnitia Coachman; Michael Coleman, as administrator of the estate of Diane McGlown; Mary Weatherspoon; and Elizabeth McElroy, as administratrix of the estate of Jakobie Johnson (collectively, "plaintiffs"), filed four separate of summary judgments entered in their separate cases by the Jefferson Circuit Court in favor of Rucker Place, LLC, and Savoie Catering, LLC. While attending a Christmas party in December 2015 at the residence of Bruce McKee and Dale McKee, Jason Bewley consumed alcohol. Later, he was driving while allegedly intoxicated and was involved in an accident with a vehicle occupied by five individuals. As a result of the accident, two of those individuals were injured and the other three were killed. The plaintiffs filed four separate actions against Bewley, alleging negligence and wantonness in the operation of his vehicle. The plaintiffs also asserted dram-shop claims against Dale McKee; the estate of Bruce McKee, who died shortly after the Christmas party; Savoie Catering, LLC, which had catered the McKees' party and had served guests alcohol that had been provided by the McKees; and Rucker Place, LLC, which operates a catering business with connections to Savoie, but which claims it had no involvement with the McKees' party. The Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's judgments based on the conclusion that plaintiffs did not demonstrate that Reg. 20-X-6- .02(4) applied to the circumstances involved in their cases. The Court expressed no opinion as to whether plaintiffs presented evidence sufficient to establish a joint venture between Savoie and Rucker Place. View "Everheart et al. v. Rucker Place, LLC et al." on Justia Law

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Deutsche Bank National Trust Company sought to appeal a circuit court order in a foreclosure action it brought against Dortha and Randy Karr. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the order appealed from was not a final judgment, thus it dismissed the Bank's appeal. View "Deutsche Bank National Trust Company v. Karr" on Justia Law

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Jimmy Leftwich, Jr., appealed a circuit court's denial of his motion for a new trial in his negligence action against Steven Brewster. Leftwich alleged that Brewster breached a duty to competently inspect a house that Leftwich purchased. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Brewster. On appeal, Leftwich contended the trial court erred in failing to disqualify two jurors for cause and that the trial court erroneously excluded vital evidence that provided estimated costs to repair the home. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court found no reversible error and affirmed the judgment of the trial court. View "Leftwich v. Brewster" on Justia Law

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Josie Wright was injured when she fell in front of the Millbrook Civic Center. She and her husband James sued the City of Millbrook based on her injuries. The City's liability turned on a question of statutory interpretation. The City asked the Alabama Supreme Court to issue a writ of mandamus to direct the Elmore Circuit Court to grant the City's motion for a summary judgment on the basis of Article 2 of the recreational-use statutes, sections 35-15- 20 through -28, Ala. Code 1975. That article immunized landowners from liability for accidents that occur on "outdoor recreational land." Because the City did not show the civic center was included within the definition of "outdoor recreational land" in Article 2, the Court denied the petition. View "Ex parte City of Millbrook." on Justia Law

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Mark Rosenthal ("Mark"), as personal representative of the estate of Richard Rosenthal, deceased ("Richard"), appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of JRHBW Realty, Inc., d/b/a RealtySouth ("RealtySouth"), and Charles Valekis on Richard's claims alleging breach of contract and negligence/wantonness. In early June 2013, Richard retained RealtySouth through its agent Valekis to assist him in locating a new house to purchase. Valekis told Richard about an unlisted property that Valekis believed would meet Richard's needs. Richard testified that he told Valekis that he would not buy the home without having a structural engineer examine it. Richard testified that, based on Valekis's representation that he had had a structural engineer inspect the home and on Valekis's representation that Garland Caudle, a home inspector (but not a structural engineer) had not found any structural issues, he placed an offer on the home. Richard closed on the home on July 19, 2013, and he moved into the home soon thereafter. After he had lived in the home for several months, Richard concluded that the home was too small and that he needed a larger home. He again engaged the services of Valekis and RealtySouth to sell the home. After the home was placed on the real-estate market, Richard began to notice problems with it. Valekis subsequently informed Richard that numerous potential buyers were concerned with the condition of the home. Ultimately, Richard had the home inspected by a foundation-repair contractor, and that contractor recommended that Richard hire a structural engineer. The structural engineer determined the home was experiencing significant structural distress and estimated that fixing the issues would cost over $100,000. In 2015, Richard sued RealtySouth, Valekis, Caudle, Foundations Unlimited of Alabama, and the Coopers (the previous owners of the house). The Alabama Supreme Court concluded Mark's allegation of a breach of contract by Valekis apart from the agency agreement was without merit. As the circuit court concluded, the agency agreement "contains language that RealtySouth and Valekis did not assume any responsibility to inspect the property or retain building experts to inspect the property," so the Court concluded the agency agreement did not provide a basis for Richard's breach-of-contract claim. Accordingly, the circuit court correctly entered a summary judgment in favor of RealtySouth and Valekis with respect to any alleged breach of contract. View "Estate of Richard Rosenthal v. JRHBW Realty, Inc., d/b/a RealtySouth" on Justia Law

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Dale Forbes, as administrator ad litem for the estate of Gay Nell Mize, appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of Platinum Mortgage, Inc. ("Platinum"), and PennyMac Loan Services, LLC ("PennyMac"). Gay Nell signed, and the record contained, a notarized power of attorney. The limited power of attorney authorized Gay Nell's husband, Charles Mize, to execute, on Gay Nell's behalf, certain documents in a transaction refinancing the Mizes' house. On the authority of the power of attorney, Charles borrowed $175,000 from Platinum and gave Platinum a mortgage on the Mizes' residence, executing both a loan agreement and a mortgage. Platinum then assigned the loan and mortgage to PennyMac. In 2015, Gay Nell was declared incompetent and a conservator was appointed for her. The conservator sued multiple defendants, including Platinum and PennyMac, alleging that the power of attorney executed by Gay Nell was invalid, that Gay Nell was not bound by the loan agreement and the mortgage executed by Charles, and that the Mizes' house was not encumbered by the mortgage. Platinum and PennyMac filed separate motions for a summary judgment. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court concluded the estate did not provide any persuasive argument that would render the loan agreement and the mortgage anything other than valid and binding on Gay Nell. "The trial court in the present case determined, and rightly so, that Platinum and PennyMac properly relied on the power of attorney, because they had no actual knowledge that it was anything other than a valid instrument authorizing Charles to execute the loan agreement and the mortgage as Gay Nell's duly authorized agent." Accordingly, the Court affirmed summary judgment. View "Forbes v. Platinum Mortgage, Inc." on Justia Law

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Rose McClurg sued Birmingham Realty Company ("BRC") based on injuries she sustained when she fell in the parking lot of a shopping center owned by BRC. The circuit court entered a summary judgment in favor of BRC, and McClurg appealed. Because there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the hole in which McClurg stepped was an open and obvious danger, the Alabama Supreme Court reversed summary judgement. View "McClurg v. Birmingham Realty Company" on Justia Law

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On April 1, 2016, Lasonya Lindsey agreed to purchase real property located in Selma from Doris Wallace. Attorney Charles Sims III was retained by one or both of the transacting parties in connection with the sale. On April 26, Sims incorrectly represented to Lindsey that the property was unencumbered by any liens. The transaction closed two days later. In November 2017, Lindsey received written notice that the property had been sold two days earlier at a foreclosure sale after Wallace defaulted on a mortgage on the property. Lindsey and her family were ordered to immediately vacate the property, on which they had already spent $20,000 improving. In early 2018, Lindsey brought a single-count complaint against Sims under the Alabama Legal Services Liability Act, alleging that Sims breached his duty of care by misrepresenting the property. Lindsey filed a first amended complaint on January 31 for the sole purpose of correcting the spelling of Sims's name. Neither the original complaint nor the first amended complaint contained a jury demand. Sims answered the first amended complaint on March 8, and on April 25 he submitted a response to Lindsey's interrogatories in which he stated that he had never represented Lindsey, that his only involvement in the transaction had been to prepare a warranty deed at Wallace's direction, and that he did not perform any title work as part of his representation of Wallace. Lindsay amended the complaint a second time, which included, for the first time, a jury demand on all counts. Relevant here, Sims moved to strike the jury demand, asserting it was made more than 30 days after service of the last pleading on the triable issue: Sims' March 8, 2018, answer. The trial court granted this motion, and Lindsay petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for mandamus relief, directing the trial court to vacate its order. Because any error could be adequately remedied on appeal, the Supreme Court denied Lindsey's petition for a writ of mandamus to the extent it asks the Court to direct the trial court to vacate its order dismissing counts III and IV of the second amended complaint. The Court granted the petition for a writ of mandamus, however, to the extent it asks the Court to direct the trial court to vacate its order striking the jury demand in the second amended complaint with respect to new issues. The second amended complaint included two new issues –- the conflict-of- interest allegation against Sims in count I and the fraud claim against Wallace in count II –- and Lindsey made a timely demand for a trial by jury on both of those issues. View "Ex parte Lasonya Lindsey" on Justia Law