Justia Injury Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Alabama
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The Health Care Authority for Baptist Health, an affiliate of UAB Health System ("HCA"), and The Health Care Authority for Baptist Health, an affiliate of UAB Health System d/b/a Prattville Baptist Hospital (collectively, "the HCA entities"), appealed a circuit court order denying their motion to compel arbitration in an action brought by Leonidas Dickson, II. In 2015, Dickson sustained injuries as a result of an automobile accident. Following the accident, Dickson was taken to Prattville Baptist Hospital ("PBH"), where he was treated and discharged. Dickson was partially covered by a health-insurance policy issued by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama, Inc. ("BCBS"). PBH was a party to a "Preferred Outpatient Facility Contract" ("the provider agreement") with BCBS, under which the medical care rendered to Dickson in the emergency department at PBH was reimbursable. In 2017, Dickson filed a complaint to challenge a reimbursement that PBH had received in exchange for Dickson's medical treatment. Dickson's complaint also sought to certify a class of people who were insured by BCBS and who had received care at any hospital operated by HCA's predecessor, Baptist Health, Inc. ("BHI"). After the HCA entities' motion to dismiss was denied, the HCA entities filed an answer to the lawsuit, but the answer did not raise arbitration as a defense. After a year of extensive discovery (including class certification and class-related discovery), the HCA entities moved to compel arbitration on grounds that Dickson's health-insurance policy with BCBS required all claims related to the policy to be arbitrated and that the provider agreement also provided for arbitration, contingent upon the arbitration requirements of the BCBS policy. The trial court denied the motion to compel without providing a reason for the denial. After a request for reconsideration was also denied, the HCA entities appealed. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded the HCA entities waived their right to arbitration, thus affirming the trial court order. View "The Health Care Authority for Baptist Health v. Dickson" on Justia Law

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Varden Capital Properties, LLC ("Varden"), appealed an interlocutory circuit court order denying Varden's motion for summary judgment based on the statute of limitations. Alexis Reese alleges that, on October 29, 2016, she suffered a fall on real property owned or maintained by Varden. On October 29, 2018, exactly two years later, on the last day before the statute of limitations expired, Reese sued Varden, alleging negligence and wantonness. Reese did not request the circuit clerk to serve the complaint and summons by certified mail. Instead, she submitted a summons along with her complaint indicating that a private process server would be used to accomplish service. A process server served the complaint and summons at an address in Montgomery on February 6, 2019, 100 days after the complaint was filed. The address to which the materials were served was not Varden's; notwithstanding, Varden learned of the suit and appeared for the sole purpose of filing a motion to quash service. The trial court gave Reese more time to serve Varden's agent at the correct address. On June 14, 2019, Reese served Varden by certified mail by the deadline set by the trial court. The Alabama Supreme Court reversed, finding that although Reese used a process server in an attempt to ensure that service was made at the correct address, she pointed to no evidence of intent, no evidence establishing when she hired a process server, and no evidence demonstrating that any steps at all were taken to discover the proper address for service. Indeed, even 100 days after filing the complaint, she simply served it at the incorrect address she had when the complaint was filed, "indicating that any effort to identify the correct address was minimal at best." View "Varden Capital Properties, LLC v. Reese" on Justia Law

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Mark Caton appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of the City of Pelham ("the City"), in his action alleging retaliatory discharge against the City. In approximately 2001, he was hired as a police officer by the City. In 2004, while he was still a police officer, Caton injured his neck when he was wrestling with a suspect. Caton did not receive treatment for his neck at the time, but the pain from the injury gradually increased. In April 2006, Caton transferred from the Police Department to the Pelham Fire Department. In 2012, Caton had a vertebrae-fusion surgery. In 2015 and 2016, Caton would have periods of excruciating pain leading to unexcused absences from work. He received reprimands and suspensions. Caton would consult with multiple doctors and pain specialists for rehabilitation therapy and pain management each time he was reinjured as a result of his work. In 2016, Caton was referred to Dr. Michelle Turnley, a physiatrist at the Workplace Occupational Health Clinic located on the campus of the University of Alabama at Birmingham ("UAB"). Dr. Turnley and Caton tell differing stories of an encounter at the UAB clinic September 2016. Caton testified that he asked Dr. Turnley for pain medication for the next time his pain became too intense, but Dr. Turnley reminded Caton that on his first visit he had not signed a pain contract and he had refused to provide a urine sample, so she declined to give him pain medication. Caton denied the doctor's account, but Dr. Turnley's clinical notes described her encounter with Caton as him being "fairly aggressive requesting pain medication... he was fairly loud and refused to leave the clinic and UAB police were called. ... He did not appear to have any functional deficits. Additionally, someone in the waiting room saw him sling the door open like he was about to 'pull it off the hinges'; therefore, obviously he has no strength deficits." In October, Dr. Turnley sent Caton a letter dropping him as a patient. By November, the City terminated Caton's employment, citing in part, the visit to Dr. Turnley's office. His unemployment application was denied because of his discharge from the City for misconduct. Caton sued, alleging procedural issues with the unemployment compensation hearing, adding a retaliatory-discharge claim. The trial court entered summary judgment in favor of the City, finding Caton had a full opportunity to litigate his retaliatory-discharge claim at the unemployment hearing, thus he was barred from raising it again by collateral estoppel. The Alabama Supreme Court determined application of collateral estoppel did not violate Caton's right to a trial by jury, and concurred estoppel barred his retaliatory-discharge claim against the City. "Caton does not present any other reason why the trial court's judgment should be reversed. Therefore, we affirm summary judgment in favor of the City." View "Caton v. City of Pelham" on Justia Law

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Winston Guthrie sued David Ray Fanning seeking damages for false arrest, malicious prosecution, and defamation. In August 2009, Guthrie entered a guilty plea to the charges of sodomy and sexual abuse of several minor boys, including Fanning's son ("the victim"). Guthrie was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment; that sentence was split and Guthrie served 1 year followed by 3 years' supervised probation. As a convicted sex offender, Guthrie was required to comply with all parts of the Alabama Sex Offender Registration and Community Notification Act ("the ASORCNA"). At issue in this appeal was section 15-20A- 16(c), Ala. Code 1975, a part of the ASORCNA, which provided that "[n]o sex offender shall make any harassing communication, directly or indirectly, in person or through others, by phone, mail, or electronic means to the victim or any immediate family member of the victim." Any person who knowingly violated section 15-20A-16(c) was guilty of a Class C felony. In April 2018, Guthrie sent a letter addressed to Fanning and Fanning's wife that Fanning perceived as harassing. A district-court magistrate issued a complaint against Guthrie charging him with the offense of harassing communications, a violation of section 13A-11-8(b)(1)(a), Ala. Code 1975, which is a Class C misdemeanor. The district attorney assigned to prosecute the case determined that Guthrie should not have been charged with the misdemeanor offense of harassing communications, instead, he should have been charged with the felony offense of contacting the victim's family with the intent to harass under the ASORCNA. At that time, Guthrie also had another indictment pending charging him with two counts of failing to properly register as a sex offender as required by the ASORCNA. Guthrie entered into a plea agreement as to the ASORCNA violations, and he was sentenced to eight years' imprisonment; that sentence was split, and Guthrie was ordered to serve one year in a community-corrections program followed by four years' probation. While serving time in the community-corrections program, acting pro se, Guthrie sued Fanning seeking the damages at issue in this appeal. The circuit court entered judgment in favor of Fanning in the defamation case. Finding no reversible error, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed judgment. View "Guthrie v. Fanning" on Justia Law

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Law firm Petway Olsen, LLC, petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Jefferson Circuit Court to set aside its order granting the motion filed by Mercedes-Benz USA, LLC ("MBUSA"), seeking to disqualify the firm from representing the plaintiffs in the underlying case and to enter an order allowing the firm to represent the plaintiffs. In 2017, Valisha Cartwell was driving a 1998 Mercedes ML320. As she was pulling into a parking space in front a dental office operated by Vital Smiles Alabama, P.C., the vehicle suddenly accelerated and crashed into the front of the dental office, killing a six-year-old child and injuring others. Grelinda Lee, as personal representative of the child's estate, sued Cartwell and the owner of the Mercedes ML320 (and other fictitiously named defendants) for wrongful death. An amended complaint added Mercedes-Benz USA, LLC. The second amended complaint was signed by D. Bruce Petway of Petway Olsen and included the names of other attorneys with different law firms who were also representing the plaintiffs. Both Mercedes-Benz U.S. International, Inc. ("MBUSI") and MBUSA asserted as a defense that Petway Olsen was "disqualified [from representing the plaintiffs] because one of its members [was] a former in-house attorney and general counsel for MBUSI." After review, the Supreme Court determined the trial court erred when it granted MBUSA's motion to disqualify Petway Olsen from representing the plaintiffs. The petition for mandamus relief was granted and the trial court directed to vacate its previous order granting MBUSA's motion. View "Ex parte Petway Olsen, LLC." on Justia Law

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Henry Bradshaw, a defendant in a personal–injury action, petitioned for mandamus relief to direct the circuit court to vacate its order denying his motion to dismiss the claims of plaintiff, Princeton Gregory, and to enter an order dismissing Gregory's claims against Bradshaw for lack of personal jurisdiction. The parties were involved in a car accident in Mississippi. Gregory was a resident of Mobile, Alabama; Bradshaw was a resident of Florida. Bradshaw entered a limited appearance in the negligence action brought against him for the purpose of asking the court to dismiss the claims. Bradshaw argued that Gregory's complaint failed to allege that Bradshaw's contacts with Alabama were sufficient to support personal jurisdiction over him. Relying on Bradshaw's deposition testimony, Gregory filed a further response in opposition to Bradshaw's amended motion to dismiss in which he argued that Bradshaw's connection to and activities in Alabama, as described above, were sufficient to suggest that Bradshaw should have anticipated that he might be sued in Alabama or, at the very least, created a jury question on the issue of general personal jurisdiction. The trial court apparently agreed and, following a hearing, denied Bradshaw's motion to dismiss. After review of the facts entered in the circuit court record, the Alabama Supreme Court disagreed with the circuit court's conclusion, finding Bradshaw demonstrated a clear lack of general personal jurisdiction over him in connection with Gregory's claims. The Court thus granted Bradshaw's petition for mandamus relief. View "Ex parte Henry W. Bradshaw." on Justia Law

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Dennis Borden, individually and as father and next friend of his son J.B. (minor), appealed the dismissal of his defamation, negligence, wantonness and wilfulness claims against Bobby Malone and Malone's counseling clinic, B.L. Malone and Associates, Inc. Borden and his then-wife, Kathy Smith, received marriage counseling from Malone at the clinic. Borden filed for divorce in 2010. The complaint here alleged that in the divorce proceedings Malone "served in the role of custody evaluator" and recommended to the court that Smith be given sole custody of J.B. Instead of following Malone's recommendation, the court awarded Borden and Smith joint custody. The divorce was finalized in 2012. In 2019, Smith petitioned for modification of custody, seeking sole custody of the child. Borden opposed the petition, alleging that "during the pendency of an adversarial custody dispute involving litigation," Malone began seeing J.B. for counseling at Smith's behest without Borden's consent. J.B. allegedly related to Malone in counseling sessions many deeply personal statements concerning the child's relationship with Borden. Borden's complaint alleged that Malone made numerous defamatory statements in a letter to Smith's custody attorney, that was eventually presented as evidence in the custody hearing (the letter was stricken from evidence because that court ruled the counselor-patient privilege applied). After review, the Alabama Supreme Court reversed the trial court's dismissal of defamation claims to the extent it precluded Borden from maintaining his claim that Malone and the clinic bore some culpability for the dissemination of the letter beyond those who had a direct or close relationship to the custody-modification proceeding. Furthermore, the trial court's dismissal of the count alleging negligence/wantonness/wilfulness was reversed to the extent that it precluded claims based on a breach of confidentiality on behalf of J.B., which were not foreclosed by the litigation privilege. The trial court's dismissal of the claims asserted in that count as to Borden was affirmed. View "Borden v. Malone" on Justia Law

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Defendants D.R.J. and his mother, Dana Sides, petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Circuit Court to vacate two orders holding that a pro tanto release executed in their favor was void, thus restoring them as defendants in the underlying lawsuit. Kathy and Barry King sued D.R.J. and Sides seeking damages for injuries the Kings sustained as a result of an automobile accident allegedly caused by D.R.J.'s negligence in driving Sides' vehicle. D.R.J. was a minor at the time of the accident. Defendants and their insurer, Alfa Mutual Insurance Company, offered to settle the Kings' claims for $95,000. Counsel for the Kings notified their insurer, State Farm, of the settlement offer, preserving its subrogation rights against defendants. State Farm responded by offering the Kings $25,000 to settle the UIM claim, which the Kings rejected. The Kings then accepted the $95,000 settlement offer without State Farm's consent, expressly reserving their UIM claim against State Farm. The Kings then moved to dismiss all claims against defendants, and the trial court entered an order dismissing defendants with prejudice. When State Farm learned of the pro tanto release, it moved the trial court for summary judgment, arguing the Kings forfeited their rights to UIM benefits by executing the pro tanto release without its consent. The trial court found State Farm validly objected to the Kings' settlement, made no ruling on State Farm's motion, and declared the pro tanto release void, thus restoring the "status quo" of the case. Defendants argued the trial court should have granted State Farm's motion and ended the litigation. The Supreme Court determined defendants' situation was not one in which they had a clear legal right to relief sought but the trial court refused to grant. They thus had not met their burden for the issuance of a writ of mandamus, and the Court denied their petition. View "Ex parte D.R.J." on Justia Law

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Deitrick Bryant ("Deitrick") committed suicide in his cell while he was an inmate at the Greene County, Alabama jail. Deitrick's mother, as the administrator of his estate, sued two jail employees, alleging that their negligence allowed Deitrick's suicide to happen. The trial court entered a summary judgment in favor of the jail employees, and Deitrick's mother appealed. "The controlling factor in determining whether there may be a recovery for a failure to prevent a suicide is whether the defendants reasonably should have anticipated that the deceased would attempt to harm himself." The Alabama Supreme Court determined Bryant failed to put forth evidence that would allow a factfinder to conclude that jail staff could have anticipated Deitrick's suicide. Accordingly, the summary judgment entered by the trial court was affirmed. View "Bryant v. Carpenter" on Justia Law

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Kathleen Hendrix ("Hendrix"), as administratrix of the estate of Kenneth Morris Hendrix, deceased, appeals a circuit court judgment dismissing Hendrix's medical-malpractice wrongful-death claim against United Healthcare Insurance Company of the River Valley ("United"). Kenneth, who was covered by a health-insurance policy issued by United, died after United refused to pay for a course of medical treatment recommended by Kenneth's treating physician. The trial court determined that Hendrix's claim was preempted by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA"), because the claim "relate[s] to" the ERISA-governed employee-benefit plan pursuant to which United had issued Kenneth's health-insurance policy. In October 2015, Kenneth was injured in an automobile accident. His physician recommended Kenneth be admitted to an inpatient-rehabilitation facility. Hendrix claimed United "imposed itself as [Kenneth's] health care provider, took control of [Kenneth's] medical care, and made a medical treatment decision that [Kenneth] should not receive further treatment, rehabilitation, and care at an inpatient facility." Instead, Hendrix contended United made the decision Kenneth should have been discharged to his home to receive a lower quality of care than had been ordered by his physicians. Kenneth died on October 25, 2015, due to a pulmonary thromboembolism, which, the complaint asserts, would not have occurred had United approved inpatient rehabilitation. The Alabama Supreme Court concurred with the circuit court that Hendrix's claim related to an ERISA-governed benefit plan, and thus preempted by the ERISA statute. View "Hendrix v. United Healthcare Insurance Company of the River Valley" on Justia Law