Articles Posted in Alabama Supreme Court

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International Refining & Manufacturing Co. d/b/a IRMCO, among others, and GE Betz, Inc., among others, separately sought mandamus relief from the trial court's denial of a motion for summary judgment and a motion to dismiss. Bell Carr, Jr., and approximately 320 other former employees at a manufacturing plant operated by Arvin Industries d/b/a Arvin–Meritor, Inc. sued Arvin–Meritor and six individual defendants, also former employees at the plant, where automotive mufflers were manufactured. The complaint alleged that up until the closing of the plant in May 2002, the employees suffered harm from "exposure to toxic and dangerous chemicals" that were flushed from the manufacturing machines and eventually circulated into a large pit, which the employees were responsible for draining and cleaning. In addition to these seven defendants, the original complaint fictitiously named 40 other defendants in the caption and in the body of the complaint. Defendants argued that mandamus was appropriate because certain claims of wantonness were governed by a two-year statute of limitations and were time-barred because those claims did not relate-back to the date of filing of the original complaint. Although a two-year statute of limitations on wantonness claims may have been in place at the time the employees' claims arose, the six-year statute of limitations adopted in "McKenzie v. Killian" (887 So. 2d 861 (Ala. 2004)) was in place at the time the former employees asserted those claims against the defendants in the first amended complaint. Defendants did not demonstrate that the trial court failed to comply with any prior mandate of the Supreme Court, nor have they demonstrated a clear legal right to the dismissal of the wantonness claims against them by way of a summary judgment. View "Carr v. Arvin Industries" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Mary Hall, the personal representative of the estate of Adolphus Hall, Sr., and Anaya McKinnon, the personal representative of the estate of Wanzy Lee Bowman appealed the Jefferson Circuit Court's order dismissing their complaint filed against Environmental Litigation Group, P.C., a law firm ("ELG"). The plaintiffs filed a complaint in against ELG, requesting a declaratory judgment and alleging one count of unjust enrichment and one count of breach of contract. The plaintiffs asserted those claims on behalf of the estates they represented and on behalf of "others similarly situated as a class action pursuant to Rule 23," Ala. R. Civ. P. In the 1990s, ELG agreed to represent hundreds of clients who had been exposed to asbestos, including Adolphus Hall and Bowman; ELG entered into an attorney-employment agreement with each client; pursuant to that agreement, ELG agreed to "take all legal steps necessary to enforce the said tort claim," and in return ELG would receive 40% of amounts collected from any settlement or judgment as its fee; the agreement also permitted ELG to reimburse itself for reasonable expenses related to the clients' claims. The "crux" of the plaintiffs' claims is that ELG breached the attorney-employment agreement by allegedly taking as an attorney fee more than 40% of the settlement proceeds. ELG filed a motion to dismiss the plaintiffs' appeal, arguing that the Supreme Court did not have subject-matter jurisdiction over the plaintiffs' appeal because "[o]nly the Alabama State Bar has jurisdiction to resolve the dispute between the parties." The Supreme Court concluded the trial court erred in dismissing plaintiffs' complaint, and affirmed the denial of ELG's motion to dismiss. View "Hall v. Environmental Litigation Group, P.C. " on Justia Law

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The City of Midfield, Officer Jason Davis, and Sgt. Otis Brown petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Jefferson Circuit Court to enter a summary judgment in their favor, based on State-agent immunity, on claims filed against them by Patrick Williams ("Patrick") and Elizabeth W. McElroy, as successor administratrix of the estate of Willie Lee Williams. Police engaged a suspect in a high speed chase following a traffic stop. The driver struck Patrick's vehicle. The collision caused the truck to flip over several times. Willie Lee died at the scene, and Patrick suffered severe injuries. Patrick and the estate sued the driver alleging claims of wrongful death, negligence, and wantonness. Patrick and the estate also sued the Midfield defendants, alleging various negligence claims. The Midfield defendants moved the circuit court to dismiss the claims against them, alleging, among other things, that Officer Davis and Sgt. Brown were entitled to police-officer immunity, and that because the officers were immune from suit, the claims against Midfield also failed. The circuit court denied the motion, and the Midfield defendants petitioned the Supreme Court for mandamus relief, which was denied in May 2012. While the Midfield defendants' first mandamus petition was pending, Patrick and the estate amended their complaint, alleging negligence per se against Midfield for the negligence of Sgt. Brown, claims of negligent supervision and training against Midfield, and claims of general negligence against Officer Davis and Sgt. Brown and, derivatively, against Midfield. In May 2013, the Midfield defendants filed a motion for a summary judgment, again arguing, among other things, that Officer Davis and Sgt. Brown were immune from suit and that the claims against Midfield were too. The circuit court denied the motion, and the Midfield defendants appealed. Upon review, the Supreme Court found that the circuit court erred in denying the Midfield defendants' motion for summary judgment, granted their petition, and issued the writ. View "Williams v. City of Midfield" on Justia Law

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Petitioners the City of Valley Grande and its mayor, David Labbe, petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Circuit Court to vacate its order denying petitioners' motion for a summary judgment and to enter a summary judgment for the petitioners on claims asserted against them by Marcus Kelley, Yolanda Kelley, and Jeffery Barlow, Jr. The Valley Grande Volunteer Fire Department was incorporated specifically as a charity under 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. In 2008, the City entered into an agreement with the fire department to which the fire department agreed to provide fire protection service to the City "without remuneration." However, the petitioners did acknowledge in the fire-service agreement that the City "ha[d] in the past and likely [would] continue to provide [the fire department] with some level of annual funding." Mayor Labbe testified that the City and the fire department are separate entities and that the City did not maintain or reserve any right of control over the fire department. In early 2011, James Barlow, Sr., and his mother, Bertha Yeager, were killed in a house fire. W. Alan Dailey, the coroner for Dallas County, pronounced Barlow and Yeager dead at the scene and directed members of the fire department to remove the remains of the deceased from the house. The plaintiffs alleged that the fire department represented that it had recovered all the decedents' remains. The plaintiffs stated that in April 2011 the family discovered a body bag at the scene of the fire that contained additional remains of Barlow. Plaintiffs sued petitioners, among others, asserting claims of negligence; wantonness; intentional infliction of emotional distress; fraud; suppression; and negligent and/or wanton hiring, training, and supervision of the individual firefighters against both the City and the mayor. Petitioners moved for a summary judgment, arguing, among other things, that the petitioners did not employ, supervise, or train any firefighters; that petitioners did not reserve any right of control over the fire department; that the petitioners were entitled to immunity pursuant to the Volunteer Service Act, 6-5-336, Ala. Code 1975; that the City was immune from suit for intentional torts of its agents, officers, or employees; and that the petitioners could not be liable for negligent and/or wanton hiring, training, or supervision of the individual firefighters because, they said, no master-servant relationship existed between the City and the fire department. The trial court denied petitioners' motion. Because of the procedural posture of this case, the Supreme Court addressed only those issues on immunity grounds and concluded that the agreement between the City and the fire department, as well as the donations made to the fire department by the City, did not alter the fire department's status as a "volunteer" fire department. Furthermore, the Court concluded that the firefighters were immune from liability for their negligent acts under the Volunteer Service Act. Accordingly, the Court granted the petition for a writ of mandamus in this case and directed the trial court to enter summary judgment for the petitioners. View "Kelley et al. v. Dailey" on Justia Law

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Volcano Enterprises, Inc., d/b/a Club Volcano, appealed the denial of its Rule 60(b)(4), Ala. R. Civ. P., motion to set aside the judgment entered against it in a wrongful-death action filed by Peggy Bender Rush, as administratrix of the estate of her husband Derric Rush and as his widow, and by Dashton Rush, the Rushes' minor son, by an through his mother and next friend, Peggy Bender Rush. The complaint alleged that police officer James Kendrick met a friend of his at Club Volcano after Kendrick's shift had ended. The complaint alleged Kendrick consumed a substantial amount of alcohol while sitting in a parked vehicle in the parking lot of the club, after which he entered the club with his friend. Kendrick allegedly "remained for several hours" in the club, that while there he "became visibly intoxicated," and that, "despite his "visibly intoxicated condition, [he] was served additional alcohol and allowed to leave in an intoxicated condition." In his intoxicated condition, Kendrick allegedly drove his vehicle in a manner that caused the death of Derric Rush. In order to serve Volcano and its owner with her complaint, Rush employed a process server, who after three attempts, was unable to serve Volcano a copy of the complaint. There was a question at trial over whether Volcano's owner was actively attempting to avoid service. Rush resorted to service by publication. Volcano alleged service by publication was insufficient in this case. The Supreme Court concluded Rush had the burden of demonstrating that Volcano's owner avoided service, which the Court concluded she did not do. Therefore, the trial court erred in failing to grant Volcano's motion to set aside the default judgment. View "Volcano Enterprises, Inc. v. Rush" on Justia Law

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Alfa Life Insurance Corporation ("Alfa") and Brandon Morris, an agent for Alfa, appealed a judgment entered against them following a jury verdict for Kimberly Colza, the widow of Dante Colza. In 2010, Morris met with Dante to assist him in completing an application for a life-insurance policy. There was disputed evidence as to whether Morris asked Dante whether he had had a moving traffic violation, a driver's license suspended, or an accident in the prior three years, it was undisputed that Morris entered a checkmark in the "No" box by that question. The evidence indicated that Dante applied for the Preferred Tobacco premium rate. Dante named Kimberly as the beneficiary under the policy. At the close of the meeting, Kimberly wrote a check payable to Alfa for $103.70, the monthly Preferred Tobacco premium rate. Kimberly testified at trial that Morris informed them that Dante would be covered as soon as they gave Morris the check. Dante was later examined by the medical examiner. During the examination, Dante informed the examiner that his family had a history of heart disease and that he had had moving traffic violations within the past five years. The day after he had his medical examination, Dante was killed in an accident. Two days later, Alfa received the medical examiner's report, which indicated that Dante's family had a history of heart disease, that Dante's cholesterol was above 255, and that Dante had had moving traffic violations in the past five years. In light of the report, Alfa's underwriters determined that Dante was not eligible for the Preferred Tobacco rate for which he had applied; rather, the proper classification would have been the Standard Tobacco rate (which had a higher premium). Additionally, in light of the moving vehicle violations, Dante was a greater risk to insure and a "rate-up" of $2.50 per $1,000 worth of coverage was required. Alfa notified Kimberly by letter that no life-insurance coverage was available for Dante's death "because no policy was issued and the conditions of coverage under the conditional receipt were not met." Kimberly sued Alfa seeking to recover under the terms of the conditional receipt (an acknowledgment of the policy). She alleged, among other claims, that Alfa had breached the contract and had acted in bad faith when it refused to pay life-insurance benefits on Dante's death. Kimberly also sued Morris, alleging, among other claims, that he had negligently failed to procure insurance coverage for Dante. After a trial, the jury found that Alfa had breached the contract and had in bad faith refused to pay the insurance benefits due, and that Morris had negligently failed to procure insurance. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded Alfa and Morris were entitled to a judgment as a matter of law on those claims, and the trial court erred by submitting the claims to the jury for consideration. View "Alfa Life Insurance Corporation v. Colza " on Justia Law

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Defendants Hector Laurel, M.D., Crissey Watkins, and Comprehensive Anesthesia Services, P.C. ("CAS"), sought a permissive appeal to challenge the circuit court's order denying their motions for a summary judgment. Plaintiff Tiffany Prince underwent a laparoscopic cholecystectomy at The Madison Surgery Center. During the anesthetic induction, Watkins administered what she believed to be 4 milligrams of Zofran from a syringe that had a white label with a handwritten letter "Z" on the label. Watkins testified that that medication had been drawn into the syringe by Dr. Laurel, an anesthesiologist. After the medication was administered, and while Prince was moving from the preoperative stretcher to the operating-room stretcher, Prince became weak and was having trouble breathing. Watkins called for an anesthesiologist and assisted Prince with a bag mask. Subsequently, Dr. Hoger, another anesthesiologist, came in and administered anesthesia medication to Prince. Watkins testified that Dr. Laurel came into the room sometime during the induction of Prince. When talking to Dr. Laurel, Watkins learned that the syringe with the white label actually contained Zemuron, a paralytic, and that the syringe had been used on a previous patient ("Patient A"). Watkins testified that, during Patient A's induction, she had disposed of a syringe of Zemuron because she had touched the cap. Subsequently, she said, Dr. Laurel had drawn another syringe of Zemuron for Patient A. Watkins testified that she subsequently checked Patient A's medical records and that Patient A's medical history was negative for a history of HIV and hepatitis C. During the year following her surgery, Prince underwent routine testing for HIV and hepatitis C, and all of Prince's tests were negative. Prince did not pay for any of the testing. Prince later sued Dr. Laurel, Watkins, and CAS, alleging medical malpractice. The trial court entered orders denying the defendants' motions for a summary judgment. Defendants subsequently filed a "Motion to Reconsider or, Alternatively, Motion for Certification of Order for Appeal," which the trial court also denied. The defendants then filed a petition for a permissive appeal to the Supreme Court, which was granted. Upon review, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded, finding that undisputed expert testimony established that there was no medical basis for concluding that Prince had a risk of developing any disease based on the use of the contaminated syringe, and her test results had all been negative. The trial court should have granted the defendants' motions for a summary judgment on that basis. View "Laurel v. Prince " on Justia Law

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J&W Enterprises, LLC ("J&W"), and Ezell Coates were defendants brought by plaintiff Angel Luis Cruz. J&W and Coates petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Clarke Circuit Court to transfer the action to the Mobile Circuit Court. This action arose from a truck accident that occurred in 2011 in Mobile County. At the time of the accident, Coates was driving a tractor-trailer rig owned by J&W, his employer. According to the complaint, Coates negligently and/or wantonly operated the tractor-trailer rig, causing it to collide with a tractor-trailer rig operated by Cruz. Cruz claimed injury as a result of the accident, but he did not seek any medical treatment in Mobile County as a result of the accident. Given the specific facts of this case, the Supreme Court could not say that Mobile County had a significantly stronger connection to this case than did Clarke County so that the interest of justice would be offended by trial in Clarke County. Accordingly, the Court could not conclude that the trial court exceeded its discretion in refusing to transfer this action to Mobile County. As such, the Court denied the writ. View "Cruz v. J&W Enterprises, LLC" on Justia Law

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Wayne Morrow filed a permissive appeal to the Circuit Court's order denying his request for a judgment declaring that the $100,000 cap on damages in section 11-47-190, Ala. Code 1975, applied to Morrow, a municipal employee who was sued in his individual capacity. In 2009, Alice Yu sought to have Alabama Power Company restore electrical service in her name at a commercial building she was leasing. The premises had been without power for approximately eight months. The City of Montgomery sent Morrow to perform an electrical inspection of the premises and clear the premises for service before electrical service was restored. Keandarick Russell, a minor, was staying with his great-grandmother, who lived next door to the premises. Russell was playing on the concrete pad on which the air-conditioning system was located and was electrocuted when he came in contact with a chain-link fence adjacent to the premises. When the incident occurred, wires from an uncovered junction box at the electrical source had come in contact with a portion of the fence, and, as a result, the fence had become electrified. Russell was electrocuted when he touched the fence. Shameka Caldwell, as Russell's mother and next friend, filed a wrongful-death action against multiple defendants, including Morrow and Yu for two fictitiously named defendants. In the amended complaint, Caldwell alleged that Morrow had negligently, recklessly, and/or wantonly inspected the premises and had negligently, recklessly, and/or wantonly allowed electrical service to be restored to the premises. In his answer, Morrow asserted that he was entitled to State immunity, to State-agent immunity, and to qualified immunity. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded the plain language of 11-47-190 did not limit the recovery on a claim against a municipal employee in his or her individual capacity, the $100,000 statutory cap on recovery would not apply to Caldwell's claims against Morrow. Therefore, the trial court properly denied Morrow's request for a judgment declaring that it would. View "Morrow v. Caldwell" on Justia Law

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State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Clarke Circuit Court to vacate its order denying State Farm's motion to transfer this case to the Mobile Circuit Court and to enter an order granting the motion. The underlying action arose from an automobile accident that occurred in Mobile County in 2010. Sandra Banks, a resident of both Clarke and Mobile Counties, sued Robert Spray, a resident of Baldwin County, and State Farm. Banks alleged that she suffered injuries as a result of the wrongful, negligent, and/or wanton conduct of Spray when the vehicle he was driving and owned struck her vehicle. Additionally, Banks alleged that at the time of the accident she had a policy of insurance with State Farm, which included uninsured-/underinsured-motorist coverage, and that she was due proceeds under her coverage. Because both the "convenience of parties and witnesses" and the "interest of justice" prongs of the doctrine of forum non conveniens compelled the transfer of this case from Clarke County to Mobile County, the Supreme Court concluded the trial court abused its discretion in refusing to transfer the action. Therefore, the Court granted State Farm's petition and issued a writ directing the Clarke Circuit Court to vacate its order and to enter an order granting the motion. View "Banks v. Spray" on Justia Law