Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Alabama

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Margaret Hulgan tripped and fell at a Fourth of July celebration at a City of Guntersville-owned Civitan Park. She sued the City, and the City claimed immunity under Alabama recreational-use statutes. The trial court denied the City’s motion to dismiss, and the City appealed. Finding that the City demonstrated it had a clear legal right to immunity, and that Hulgan failed to present substantial evidence to overcome the City’s right to immunity, the Alabama Supreme Court granted the City mandamus relief, and ordered the trial court to enter summary judgment in favor of the City. View "Ex parte City of Guntersville." on Justia Law

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SSC Selma Operating Company, LLC, doing business as Warren Manor Health and Rehabilitation Center, and SavaSeniorCare Administrative Services, LLC, appealed a circuit court order denying their motion to compel arbitration of a retaliatory-discharge claim filed against them by Jackie Fikes. Fikes sued the companies, seeking to recover worker's compensation benefits pursuant to the Alabama Workers' Compensation Act, and alleging that the companies had discharged her from her employment in violation of Ala. Code 1975, sec. 25–5–11.1, solely because she had filed a claim for worker's compensation benefits. Fikes alleged that in 2013, she suffered a work-related injury when she attempted to lift a patient while working for the companies as a certified nurse assistant; that she underwent medical treatment for her work-related injury; and that she returned to work under light-duty restrictions until Spring 2014, at which time, she says, the companies wrongfully terminated her employment. Fikes requested in the complaint that the worker's compensation claim and the retaliatory-discharge claim be severed in order for the retaliatory discharge claim to be tried by a jury. The companies moved to compel arbitration of the retaliatory discharge claim pursuant to their employment-dispute resolution program ("the EDR program") under which Fikes had agreed to be bound. Fikes responded, arguing that the retaliatory-discharge claim was not covered by the EDR program. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court concluded Fikes failed to demonstrate her retaliatory-discharge claim was not covered by the EDR program. Accordingly, the Court reversed the trial court's order denying the companies' motion to compel arbitration of that claim. View "SSC Selma Operating Company, LLC v. Fikes" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Roger Firestone sued defendants Carl Weaver, Charles Tooley, L.C. Collins, Jr. ("L.C."), and Mickie Collins ("Mickie"), alleging that defendants conspired to and brutally assaulted and battered Firestone. Firestone appealed summary judgment entered in favor of Weaver, dismissing his claims as barred by an applicable statute of limitations. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court concluded that the trial court exceeded its discretion in certifying the summary judgment in favor of Weaver as final because proceedings were still pending against the other defendants, and issues in Weaver’s matter were so closely intertwined with those of the other defendants “that separate adjudication would pose an unreasonable risk of inconsistent results.” A non-final judgment would not support an appeal; therefore Firestone’s appeal was dismissed. View "Firestone v. Weaver" on Justia Law

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Laura Miller appeals from a summary judgment entered by the Jefferson Circuit Court ("the circuit court") in favor of the City of Birmingham ("the City"), Sandy Roberts, and Alice Crutchfield (collectively, "the City defendants"). Robert Miller, Laura's husband, was employed by the City as a firefighter. Unum Life Insurance Company of America ("Unum") issued a group life and accidental death and dismemberment policy. According to the summary of benefits, the policy included different life-insurance benefits for active employees and for retired employees. Under the policy, as an active employee, the City paid Robert's insurance premiums, thereby entitling him to a life-insurance benefit of $151,000. However, if Robert were to retire, he would be required to pay his life-insurance premiums and would be entitled to only a $50,000 life-insurance benefit. The summary of benefits specified that, in order to be eligible for a waiver of the life-insurance premiums, the insured had to "be disabled through your elimination period," which was nine months. In 2012, Robert was diagnosed with brain cancer and soon became unable to perform the duties of his job. Laura contended once the Millers learned of Robert's condition, they "sought to obtain information about [Mr. Miller's] life insurance benefit and all other benefits that might be available." The Millers did not have a copy of the policy or the summary of benefits at that time. The Millers and Ed Bluemly, Mrs. Miller's brother-in-law, met with Sandy Roberts, the assistant benefit administrator and the pension coordinator for the Jefferson County Personnel Board, and Alice Crutchfield, a personnel technician for the Jefferson County Personnel Board, to learn about the available benefits. The Millers asked for a copy of the policy, and there was a dispute over whether the Crutchfield gave the Millers a copy. The Millers ultimately sued the City for negligence with respect to the policy and collection of the benefits to which Robert was entitled. After review of this matter, the Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court's summary judgment in favor of the City insofar as the circuit court based its summary judgment in favor of the City on the City defendants' argument that the City was entitled to immunity from Laura's claim alleging wanton and reckless misrepresentation. However, the Court reversed the circuit court's summary judgment in favor of the City defendants in all other respects. The Case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Miller v. City of Birmingham et al." on Justia Law

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Andrew Barnwell appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of CLP Corporation ("CLP"). CLP owned and operated a McDonald's fast-food restaurant. In 2013, Barnwell visited the restaurant. Barnwell stated that after he entered the restaurant, he went straight to the restroom to wash his hands. Upon exiting the restroom, Barnwell alleged he slipped and fell, and complained of leg and back pain shortly thereafter. Barnwell sued CLP, asserting a claim of negligence. After a review of the facts entered in the trial court record, the Supreme Court held the circuit court erred in entering a summary judgment in favor of CLP. "CLP failed to present substantial evidence supporting its affirmative defense that the [floor's] condition that allegedly caused Barnwell to slip and fall was an open and obvious danger." View "Barnwell v. CLP Corporation" on Justia Law

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Officer J.C. Clifton and Officer Jason Davis, law enforcement officers for the City of Homewood, and the City of Homewood petitioned for a writ of mandamus to direct the Jefferson Circuit Court to enter a summary judgment in their favor on the ground of immunity. In 2013, the officers were dispatched to the Babies "R" Us retail store in the Wildwood Shopping Center in response to a shoplifting incident involving Bristinia Fuller and Bria Mines. When the officers arrived, they learned that Fuller and Mines were leaving the parking lot of the store in a vehicle being driven by Fuller. Officer Clifton and Officer Davis, driving separate patrol cars, attempted to stop the vehicle. Instead of stopping, Fuller eluded the officers by speeding through the parking area and onto Lakeshore Drive. The officers pursued. Fuller continued speeding and ran through multiple red traffic lights before losing control of her vehicle. The vehicle struck a light pole and a stopped vehicleat the intersection. Fuller was killed and Mines was seriously injured. 2015, Mines sued Officer Clifton and Officer Davis, both in their official and individual capacities, Homewood, and others alleging she was injured as a result of the negligent, reckless, and/or wanton conduct of the officers and Homewood during the officers' pursuit of Fuller's vehicle. She also alleged that Homewood was vicariously liable for the officers' conduct and was negligent in hiring and supervising the officers. After review, the Supreme Court concluded the officers established they were entitled to immunity as to Mines' claims against them in both their official and individual capacities. Moreover, because the officers were entitled to immunity, Homewood was also entitled to immunity. The Court therefore granted their petition and issued the writ, directing the trial court to enter a summary judgment for Officer Clifton, Officer Davis, and Homewood. View "Ex parte City of Homewood" on Justia Law

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Norfolk Southern Railway Company ("Norfolk Southern") applied for a rehearing of the Alabama Supreme Court’s decision which reversed the Morgan Circuit Court's summary judgment in favor of Norfolk Southern in Jeff Cottles's action under the Federal Employers' Liability Act ("FELA") On original submission, the Court held that Cottles presented substantial evidence of Norfolk Southern's negligence through the testimony of his expert, Joe Lydick, concerning what Norfolk Southern should have done to inspect the defective switch. Norfolk Southern failed to offer any direct attack on this conclusion. Instead, it relied upon the idea that Lydick's testimony was irrelevant because FRA regulations did not require Norfolk Southern to perform track-switch inspections the way Lydick stated it should have in this instance. “In essence, Norfolk Southern's application for rehearing turns on whether the FRSA precludes claims arising under FELA.” Because Norfolk Southern's arguments concerning preclusion are not well founded, its application for rehearing was overruled. View "Cottles v. Norfolk Southern Railway Co." on Justia Law

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Kevin McGough, then a firefighter employed by the City of Birmingham ("the city"), alleges that he sustained an injury to his left knee on April 30, 2011, during the course of his employment. For approximately one year after he injured his left knee, McGough received medical treatment from numerous doctors and continued to work as much as he was able. In 2012, McGough filed a claim with the Retirement System for extraordinary-disability benefits and ordinary-disability benefit to be paid out of the City Retirement and Relief System. The Retirement System denied McGough's request for extraordinary-disability benefits and granted McGough's request for ordinary-disability benefits. It was undisputed that the Retirement System did not notify McGough by certified mail of its decision. More than one year after the Retirement System's final decision denying McGough's application for extraordinary-disability benefits, the Retirement System sent McGough a certified letter. The parties submitted to the circuit court two different certified letters sent by the Retirement System to McGough, both dated December 3, 2013. One notified him of the Retirement System's November 14, 2012, decision to approve McGough's application for ordinary-disability benefits; the other notified him of the Retirement System's November 14, 2012, decision to deny McGough's application for extraordinary-disability benefits. The latter certified letter was delivered to McGough on December 5, 2013. In 2014, McGough filed a mandamus petition in an effort to challenge the Retirement System's decision denying his application for extraordinary-disability benefits. The circuit court denied the Retirement System’s motion to dismiss. The System thereafter petitioned the Supreme Court for mandamus relief to direct the circuit court to grant its motion. After review, the Supreme Court found that McGough’s mandamus petition was untimely, and as such, reversed the circuit court’s judgment. View "City of Birmingham Retirement & Relief System v. McGough" on Justia Law

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Robert Newell’s wife Lisa passed away at their home in 2013. Newell requested that Lisa's body be transported to Mobile Memorial Gardens Funeral Home. However, unbeknownst to Newell, Lisa's body was transported to Radney Funeral Home. The following day Newell, accompanied by his sister, two daughters, and a son-in-law, went to Mobile Memorial Gardens Funeral Home to make the final arrangements for Lisa. Richard Johnson III, an employee of Mobile Memorial Gardens, informed Newell at that time that Lisa's body had been transported to Radney Funeral Home instead of Mobile Memorial Gardens. According to Newell, Johnson informed him that Lisa's body had been transported to Radney because Radney was now a part of the Dignity Memorial Company (both a part of SCI Alabama Funeral Services, LLC) and because Mobile Memorial Gardens did not have a crematory service. Newell informed Johnson during the meeting that he wanted Lisa's remains cremated and that he wanted to conclude the process as soon as possible. Newell executed a contract providing for the disposition of Lisa's remains by cremation. Newell contended that after Lisa's memorial service, SCI did not return any of his telephone calls or e-mails inquiring as to the status of Lisa's remains. Newell eventually went to Radney Funeral Home, learning at that time that Lisa had not yet been cremated because the funeral home had not yet received the death certificate. Newell alleged that he was emotionally distraught over the state of Lisa’s remains, and ultimately sued SCI for negligence, wantonness, the tort of outrage, and fraud. SCI moved to compel arbitration, but Newell resisted, arguing the terms of the arbitration provision at issue were grossly favorable to SCI and that SCI had overwhelming bargaining power over a grieving husband. The trial court granted the motion. Newell appealed. Finding no error in the judgment granting SCI’s motion to compel arbitration, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Newell v. SCI Alabama Funeral Services, LLC" on Justia Law

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Austal USA, LLC filed two petitions for a writ of mandamus directing the Mobile Circuit Court to dismiss certain claims asserted against it by plaintiffs Michael Keshock, Martin Osborn, Richard Fitzgerald, Tyrone Lucas, Riley Bodiford, Tommie Brandon, Justin Reed, and William White. Austal operates a shipyard in Mobile that builds naval vessels. Each of the plaintiffs is an employee of Austal who claims to have been injured while working in the course of his or her employment. Specifically, each plaintiff claimed to have been injured by a tool known as a "Miller saw." After a review of the circuit court record, the Supreme Court concluded that Austal did not show a clear legal right to the relief sought. Accordingly, the Court denied Austal's petitions. View "Ex parte Austal USA, LLC." on Justia Law