Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Alabama

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Daniel Donaldson appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of Country Mutual Insurance Company ("Country Mutual"). The underlying action stemmed from a November 2015 accident in which Donaldson, while working in a construction zone on the west side of Bailey Cove Road in Madison County, Alabama, was struck by a sport-utility vehicle, owned and driven by Gregory Johnston. As a result of the collision, Donaldson suffered severe injuries to one of his legs that ultimately required the amputation of the leg. Donaldson sued Johnston and Country Mutual, asserting claims of negligence and wantonness against Johnston and asserting that Country Mutual was vicariously liable for Johnston's conduct under theories of agency and respondeat superior. At the time of the underlying accident, Johnston was working as an insurance agent under an "agent's agreement" with Country Mutual and a number of other companies that were collectively referred to in that agreement as "Country Insurance and Financial Services." Country Mutual filed a motion for a summary judgment, arguing that Johnston was not its agent or employee but, instead, was an independent contractor. Country Mutual further argued that, even assuming Johnston was its employee, his actions in relation to the accident were outside the line and scope of his alleged employment. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded Donaldson failed to submit substantial evidence of the existence of a genuine issue of material fact to support its claims against Country Mutual to defeat Country Mutual's summary judgment motion. Therefore, the Court affirmed the trial court. View "Donaldson v. Country Mutual Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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Douglas Ghee, as the personal representative of the estate of Billy Fleming, appealed a circuit court order dismissing a wrongful-death claim brought against USAble Mutual Insurance Company d/b/a Blue Advantage Administrators of Arkansas ("Blue Advantage"). Fleming presented to the emergency department complaining of constipation and abdominal pain. He would ultimately need a colectomy, but the hospital informed him Blue Advantage had decided that a lower quality of care (continued non-surgical management) was more appropriate than the higher quality of care (surgery) that Fleming's surgeon felt was appropriate. Fleming and his family had multiple conversations with agents of Blue Advantage in an unsuccessful attempt to convince the company that the higher surgery was the more appropriate course of care. Ultimately, an agent of Blue Advantage suggested to Fleming that he return to the hospital in an attempt to convince hospital personnel and physicians to perform the surgery on an emergency basis. For five days, Fleming would present to the emergency room, each time he was treated by non-surgical means, then returned home. On the evening of July 15, 2013, Fleming's condition had deteriorated such that he had to be intubated. He died after midnight of septic shock due to a perforated sigmoid colon with abundant fecal material in the peritoneal cavity. A lawsuit was filed against Blue Advantage, asserting that the combined negligence of the hospitals and clinics involved and Blue Advantage, proximately caused Fleming's death. Because the trial court determined that Ghee's allegations against Blue Advantage as stated in the original complaint were defensively preempted by ERISA, the Alabama Supreme Court found Ghee should have had the right to amend his complaint to clarify his state-law claims. Because the Court concluded that Ghee should have been afforded the right to amend his complaint, it reversed the judgment of the trial court and remanded for further proceedings. View "Ghee v. USAble Mutual Insurance Company d/b/a Blue Advantage Administrators of Arkansas" on Justia Law

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Katerial Wiggins, individually and as the administrator of the estate of Dominic G. Turner, deceased, and as the next friend of Dominic Turner, Jr. ("D.T."), appealed the grant of summary in favor of Mobile Greyhound Park, LLP ("MGP") and Mobile Greyhound Racing, LLP ("MGR"). In 2015, a vehicle driven by Willie McMillian struck Wiggins' vehicle from behind on Interstate 10 in Mobile County. Wiggins's fiancé, Turner, and their child, D.T., were riding in the backseat of Wiggins' vehicle when the collision occurred. As a result, Turner died and Wiggins and D.T. were injured. After obtaining evidence indicating that McMillian was under the influence of alcohol, law-enforcement officers arrested McMillian. He later pleaded guilty to reckless murder and was sentenced to imprisonment for 15 years. Wiggins sued MGR and MGP alleging that on the day of the collision, MGR and MGP sold alcohol to McMillian at the dog-racing track while he was visibly intoxicated; she requested compensatory damages and punitive damages, pursuant to section 6-5-71, Ala. Code 1975 ("the Dram Shop Act"), for Turner's death and the injuries she and D.T. had sustained. MGR moved for a summary judgment in the dram-shop action and submitted evidence in support of its motion. Among other things, MGR argued that Wiggins had failed to present sufficient evidence indicating that McMillian had appeared "visibly intoxicated" while purchasing alcohol at the dog-racing track operated by MGR. MGP also moved for a summary judgment. In relevant part, MGP asserted that it was a limited partnership that owned a minority interest in MGR. MGP asserted that it was not responsible for the operation of the dog-racing track. The Alabama Supreme Court determined a genuine issue of material fact remained regarding whether McMillian appeared visibly intoxicated when purchasing alcohol from MGR on the night of the collision. The circuit court's summary judgment in favor of MGR was, therefore, reversed. To the extent that Wiggins sought to recover damages stemming from Turner's death under both the Dram Shop Act and the Wrongful Death Act, the circuit court's order granting MGR's motion to strike Wiggins's request for damages under the Wrongful Death Act was affirmed; Wiggins could recover only damages based on Turner's death under the provisions of the Dram Shop Act. Because Wiggins waived any challenge to the summary judgment in favor of MGP, the circuit court's decision in that regard was affirmed. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Wiggins v. Mobile Greyhound Park, LLP" on Justia Law

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Ella Bell, a member of the Alabama State Board of Education ("ASBE"), appealed a circuit court's dismissal of her complaint asserting claims of defamation, invasion of privacy, the tort of outrage, negligence and wantonness, and conspiracy against Cameron Smith, Advance Local Media, LLC ("ALM"), and the R Street Institute ("R Street"). In June 2017, Bell attended a special-called meeting of the ASBE concerning elementary- and secondary-education matters. Among other matters, the ASBE decided during the meeting not to renew the Alabama State Department of Education's contract with ACT Spire Solutions, which provided ACT Spire Assessments for the purpose of tracking academic progress of Alabama's public-school students in kindergarten through 12th grade. In the course of the discussion between ASBE members about that contract, Bell made some comments regarding special-education students and their effect on the aggregate test scores of public-school students throughout the state. In August, AL.com published an article written by Cameron Smith in which he addressed some of Bell's comments in the June 2017, ASBE meeting. At the conclusion of the article, AL.com included the following tagline: "Cameron Smith is a regular columnist for AL.com and vice president for the R Street Institute, a think tank in Washington, D.C." Immediately after the tagline, AL.com included the following statement: "Ella Bell's contact information may be found on the [ASBE] website" and contained an embedded link to the Web site of the ASBE. Following that statement, AL.com embedded a video of the discussion by ASBE members, which included Bell's comments that Smith addressed in the article. Bell alleged Smith made statements that he knew were false about Bell's comments in the June 2017 ASBE meeting. The Alabama Supreme Court found a fair reading of Smith's article revealed it to be an expression of opinion that did not mislead readers about the content of Bell's actual statements, it was not necessary for the circuit court to wait until the summary-judgment stage to dispose of the claims against Smith, ALM, and R Street. Therefore, the circuit court did not err in dismissing Bell's defamation suit. View "Bell v. Smith" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Tim Seriana sought mandamus relief to order the circuit court reverse its grant of a motion for change of venue filed by Joe Stevens, LLC. In 2015, Seriana and his wife, Karen, sued Joe Todd Stevens (and his LLC) and various fictitiously named defendants, alleging Stevens was a contractor who did business in northeast Alabama who negligently failed to barricade, cordon off, or otherwise warn pedestrians of a big ditch then excavated by Stephens. Seriana fell into the ditch, and sustained an injury. In his petition, Seriana argued the trial court erroneously transferred this case to Talladega County because, he contended, Stevens waived any objection it might have had to venue in Calhoun County when it answered the amended complaint without raising the defense of improper venue. The Alabama Supreme Court agreed, granted the writ of mandamus, and directed the trial court to vacate its motion for change of venue and transfer this case to Talladega County. View "Ex parte Tim Seriana." on Justia Law

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Respondents, Sharron Stevens and Tim Stevens, sued petitioners, Leon Wilson, in his official capacity as the former president of Alabama State University, and Quinton Ross, in his official capacity as the current president of Alabama State University. Petitioners filed a motion to dismiss the claims against them on the basis that they were immune from suit. The trial court denied the motion to dismiss, and petitioners filed a petition for a writ of mandamus requesting the Alabama Supreme Court direct the trial court to enter an order dismissing the claims asserted against them. The underlying lawsuit arose when a Sharon Steves tripped and fell at an exit at the Acadome shortly after their daughter's graduation ceremony. The Alabama Supreme Court determined there was no possibility the Stevenses could possibly prevail on their claims against petitioners: the Stevenses sued the petitioners solely in their official capacities and sought only monetary damages from petitioners.. Thus, petitioners were immune from suit and entitled to a dismissal of the claims against them. View "Ex parte Leon C. Wilson, in his official capacity as the former President of Alabama State University, and Quinton Ross, in his official capacity as the current President of Alabama State University." on Justia Law

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Hinkle Metals & Supply Company, Inc. ("Hinkle") was in the business of selling heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning supplies and equipment. Gabriel Butterfield was employed as a branch manager at Hinkle's Pelham office. In 2015, a GMC Sierra pickup truck owned and driven by Butterfield struck Diane Feltman as she was attempting to walk cross 20th Street in downtown Birmingham. As a result of that accident, Feltman sustained multiple injuries. Feltman sued Butterfield and Hinkle, alleging that Butterfield, while acting within the line and scope of his employment with Hinkle, had been negligent and wanton in causing the accident and that Hinkle was vicariously liable based on a theory of respondeat superior. Hinkle moved for summary judgment on all claims against it, arguing it was not vicariously liable for Butterfield's alleged actions because, it said, Butterfield was not acting within the line and scope of his employment with Hinkle at the time of the accident. The motion was denied, trial proceeded, and judgment was entered against Hinkle on vicarious liability. Hinkle's motion for judgment as a matter of law was denied, and a verdict was returned for $375,000 in favor of Butterfield. Finding that the trial court did not err in denying Hinkle's motion for judgment as a matter of law, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed judgment in Butterfield's favor. View "Hinkle Metals & Supply Company, Inc. v. Feltman" on Justia Law

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Clifford Wright ("Wright"), the administrator of the estate of Mary Evelyn Wright ("Mary") appealed a summary judgment entered in favor of Dawn Reid, Phyllis Harris, and Tuwanda Worrills (collectively referred to as "the nurses"), who, during all relevant times, were employed by the Cleburne County Hospital Board, Inc., d/b/a Cleburne County Nursing Home ("the Hospital Board"). Mary complained she suffered injuries from a fall while a resident of a nursing home operated by the Hospital Board. Mary allegedly died from her injuries the day after her complaint was filed. Wright was appointed the administrator of Mary's estate and was substituted as the plaintiff. As amended, Wright's complaint asserted claims against the nurses, the Hospital Board, and various fictitiously named parties under the Alabama Medical Liability Act. Wright's claim against the Hospital Board included 13 separate allegations of negligence. Wright's claims against each of the nurses included 13 separate allegations of negligence. Additionally, Wright alleged that the Hospital Board was vicariously liable for the actions of its agents, specifically, the actions of the nurses. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded the trial court exceeded its discretion in certifying the summary judgment in favor of the nurses as a final judgment pursuant to Rule 54(b). Accordingly, the trial court's Rule 54(b) certification was invalid; this appeal was from a nonfinal judgment; and the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal. View "Wright v. Harris, et al." on Justia Law

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Mercedes-Benz U.S. International, Inc. ("MBUSI"), petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for mandamus relief, ordering the circuit court to vacate an order denying change of venue from Jefferson County to Tuscaloosa. Gregory Nix was a resident of Jefferson County; he was employed as an assembly worker at MBUSI's manufacturing facility in Tuscaloosa County until June 23, 2017. Nix alleges that, during his employment with MBUSI, he suffered on-the-job injuries the cumulative effect of which have left him permanently and totally disabled. The Supreme Court determined there was not sufficient evidence before the trial court to support a conclusion that venue in Jefferson County was proper in this case. "The regular purchasing of parts or materials from a supplier located in a certain county, by itself, does not constitute '[doing] business by agent' in that county under section 6-3-7(a)(3), Ala. Code 1975." The Court therefore issued the writ granting mandamus relief. View "Ex parte Mercedes-Benz U.S. International, Inc." on Justia Law

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Ace American Insurance Company ("Ace"), an intervenor in the action below, appeals from the Baldwin Circuit Court's dismissal of the action filed by Ace's insured, Willie James Westbrook, against Rouse's Enterprises, LLC, d/b/a Rouses Markets ("Rouses Markets"). In August 2016, Westbrook sued Rouses Markets seeking to recover damages for injuries he sustained as the result of the allegedly negligent operation of a pallet jack by a Rouses Markets' employee while Westbrook was delivering goods to the Rouses Markets' location in Spanish Fort during the course of his employment with Cardinal Logistics Management Corporation ("Cardinal"). The Alabama Supreme Court has stated previously that, "'since dismissal with prejudice is a drastic sanction, it is to be applied only in extreme situations' and that, as a result, 'appellate courts will carefully scrutinize such orders and occasionally will find it necessary to set them aside.'" The Court could not say that the circumstances presented by this case presented an extreme situation in which dismissal of Ace's claim for want of prosecution was warranted. Accordingly, it reversed the judgment of the trial court dismissing Ace's claim and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Ace American Insurance Company v. Rouse's Enterprises, LLC, d/b/a Rouses Markets" on Justia Law