Justia Contracts Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Alabama
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This case challenged a circuit court default judgment against Muhammad Wasim Sadiq Ali and others in favor of Mike Williamson after a case ordered to private arbitration was remanded to the trial court. Williamson, Patrick Watson, Ali, and others formed RPM, a regional supplier of rental cranes based in Birmingham, in 2008. Williamson was employed as RPM's general manager. Ali was the primary investor and majority owner of RPM, and Ali and Watson allegedly represented to Williamson at the time RPM was formed that Williamson would own a 12% share of the company. In 2012, Watson and Ali told Williamson that, in order to accrue his 12% equity interest in RPM at the end of his five-year employment term, he needed to pay $1,000,000, and that, if Williamson could not pay, his employment would be terminated unless he signed an employment agreement. Williamson signed an employment agreement with RPM which contained an arbitration clause. The employment agreement also contained a noncompetition clause that prohibited Williamson, for two years following the termination of his employment with RPM, from competing with RPM and from being employed by any business that is in competition with RPM. In 2013, a dispute between Williamson and RPM arose concerning Williamson's insurance coverage with respect to RPM vehicles. RPM terminated Williamson's employment "for cause," citing his failure to obtain an appropriate certificate of insurance. In 2014, Williamson filed a complaint against RPM Cranes, LLC ("RPM"), asserting claims of breach of contract, unjust enrichment, conversion, unreasonable restraint of trade, and misrepresentation arising from his alleged ownership of, his employment with, and the termination of that employment with RPM. Ali contended the default judgment was void because the trial court lacked personal jurisdiction over him. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court agreed, and reversed and remanded. View "Ali v. Williamson" on Justia Law

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Defendant Beulah Jean James Moore ("Beulah") appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of plaintiff Billy Edward Moore ("Billy"), individually and as executor of the estate of his brother and Beulah's husband, Jimmy Lee Moore ("Jimmy"), in an action filed by Billy seeking the enforcement of a prenuptial agreement. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded summary judgment was appropriate. Beulah argued that language in the prenup discussing "spousal consents or waivers" granted her the proceeds of Jimmy's 401(k) plan and the pension plan unless a spousal waiver was executed . However, the Court found agreement made clear that Jimmy and Beulah agreed that the separate property each brought into the marriage--including the 401(k) plan and the pension plan--would remain separate. Jimmy and Beulah further agreed that neither of them would "claim, demand, assert any right to, take or receive any part of the property of the other as described on Schedules 1 and 2," which included the 401(k) plan and the pension plan. The second clause of section 4.4 allowed the owner of "an IRA or other plan account" to "direct" the "distribution of benefits" to one through a "beneficiary designation." Under this clause, Jimmy was permitted to name Billy as the designated beneficiary of the 401(k) plan and the pension plan, which he had done before he married Beulah, who had, in turn, renounced her claim to the plans. "Nothing in section 4.4 suggests that the failure to execute a spousal consent or waiver changes the parties' clear intent throughout the entire prenuptial agreement to renounce claims to the other's property; instead, the purpose of the requirement is to ensure that the parties' desires to retain control over the distribution of their accounts through a beneficiary designation is accomplished." Under those circumstances, Beulah breached the prenuptial agreement by retaining the benefits from the 401(k) plan and the pension plan. Thus, the trial court properly entered a summary judgment in favor of Billy. View "Moore v. Estate of Moore" on Justia Law

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Magic City Capital, LLC ("Magic City"), appealed the grant of summary judgment entered by the Madison Circuit Court in favor of Twickenham Place Partners, LLC ("Twickenham"). Because the Alabama Supreme Court determined events that occurred during the trial-court proceedings rendered the action moot and the trial court, therefore, was divested of subject-matter jurisdiction, the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal. View "Magic City Capital, LLC v. Twickenham Place Partners, LLC" on Justia Law

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S. Mark Booth petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the the trial court to dismiss an action filed against him by the City of Guin. In 2008, Booth and the City entered into a contract entitled "Commercial Development Agreement." The agreement provided that the City would sell Booth approximately 40 acres of real property located in Marion County at a price of $5,000 per acre. Booth, in turn, promised to subdivide the property into lots for commercial development. The agreement included a provision granting the City the right to repurchase the property should Booth fail to develop the land within three years following the execution of the agreement. In 2017, the City sued Booth, asserting a claim for specific performance pursuant to the agreement's repurchase option. The City alleged Booth failed to construct at least one commercial facility on the property within three years from the effective date of the agreement. The City alleged that it had "timely tendered the purchase price to [Booth] and requested a conveyance of the real property described in the contract but [that Booth] refused to accept the tender or to make the conveyance." Booth moved to dismiss, arguing that, although he had fulfilled his obligations under the agreement by developing a hotel on the property, the City's complaint seeking to specifically enforce the repurchase of the property pursuant to its option to repurchase in Section 4.4(b) of the agreement was time-barred by the two-year statutory limitations period for such options in 35-4-76(a), Ala. Code 1975. After review, the Supreme Court granted Booth's petition as to the City's claims for specific performance, and its claims alleging fraud and breach of contact; the trial court was ordered to dismiss those claims. The Court denied Booth's petition relating to the City's rescission claim. View "Ex parte S. Mark Booth." on Justia Law

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Dahyalal Patel filed an action seeking to enforce his ownership rights as a shareholder in Subway No. 43092, Inc. ("the corporation"), against shareholder Ashish Shah ("Shah"), Shah's father, Ramesh Shah ("Ramesh"); and the corporation (collectively,"the Shah defendants"). In 2007, Shah, the owner of eight Subway restaurants in and around Madison County, Alabama, prepared to open a ninth Subway restaurant in Huntsville ("the restaurant"). In July 2008, Shah formed the corporation for the purposes of owning and operating the restaurant. Shah owned 90 percent of the stock of the corporation and Ramesh owned 10 percent. In 2008, Patel met with Shah about Shah's plan to open the restaurant. At some point, Patel and Shah orally agreed that Patel would purchase a 25 percent ownership interest in the corporation. Because Shah estimated that start-up costs for the restaurant would be $240,000, Patel agreed to purchase a 25 percent interest in the corporation for $60,000, payable in monthly installments. After the restaurant opened in December 2008, Shah began making periodic distributions of profits to Patel. Patel eventually paid back the $60,000, and agreed to pay an additional $12,000 for an additional five percent interest. In September 2012, Patel sued the Shah defendants, alleging that Shah had misrepresented the start-up costs for the restaurant in calculating the price of Patel's 25 percent interest. Patel alleged that the actual start-up costs were $140,000 rather than $240,000, as Shah had represented. Accordingly, Patel alleged that he either overpaid for his interest or acquired more than a 50 percent interest in the corporation. Patel further alleged that the distributions of profits he received were not proportional to his interest, even assuming that his interest was 30 percent. In addition, he claimed that Shah had withheld Patel's share of franchise-sales commissions that the corporation received from its franchisor. The Shah defendants raised a number of defenses, among them, statute of frauds and statute of limitations. The trial court granted the Shaw defendants' motion for summary judgment, effectively dismissing Patel's claims. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed summary judgment in favor of the Shah defendants on Patel's tort claims, other than conversion, and on Patel's conversion claim insofar as Patel alleged conversion of profits, commissions, and his ownership interest in the corporation. The Court reversed the summary judgment on Patel's breach-of-contract and unjust-enrichment claims and on his conversion claim insofar as Patel alleged the conversion of corporate property. This case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Patel v. Shah" on Justia Law

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Jason Blanks, Peggy Manley, Kimberly Lee, Nancy Watkins, Randall Smith, Trenton Norton, Earl Kelly, Jennifer Scott, and Alyshia Kilgore (referred to collectively as "the customers") appealed the denial of a motion to compel arbitration and a declaratory judgment entered in an action brought by TDS Telecommunications LLC, and its two affiliates, Peoples Telephone Company, Inc., and Butler Telephone Company, Inc. (referred to collectively as "the Internet providers"). The customers subscribed to Internet service furnished by the Internet providers; their relationship was governed by a written "Terms of Service." The customers alleged that the Internet service they have received was slower than the Internet providers promised them. At the time the customers learned that their Internet service was allegedly deficient, the Terms of Service contained an arbitration clause providing that "any controversy or claim arising out of or relating to [the Terms of Service] shall be resolved by binding arbitration at the request of either party." In the declaratory-judgment action, the trial court ruled that the Internet providers were not required to arbitrate disputes with the customers. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the arbitration clause in the applicable version of the Terms of Service included an agreement between the Internet providers and the customers that an arbitrator was to decide issues of arbitrability, which included the issue whether an updated Terms of Service effectively excluded the customers' disputes from arbitration. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed the trial court's denial of the customers' motion to compel arbitration and its judgment declaring the updated Terms of Service "valid and enforceable," and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Blanks et al. v. TDS Telecommunications LLC" on Justia Law

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C. Randall Caldwell, Jr. worked for George Woerner, who owned several businesses headquartered in Foley. In 2009, Caldwell was promoted to president of Woerner Landscape, Inc., one of those businesses. Caldwell stated that, at that time, he was a licensed attorney in good standing in Alabama even though he was not engaged in private practice. During his employment with Woerner, the BP oil spill occurred in the Gulf of Mexico. Caldwell contacted an attorney with Cunningham Bounds, LLC, a law firm in Mobile, regarding the possibility of referring Woerner's businesses to Cunningham Bounds for Cunningham Bounds to handle their claims arising out of the spill. In April 2011, the Woerner companies retained Cunningham Bounds; Cunningham Bounds executed representation agreements with each of the Woerner companies. Those agreements provided that Cunningham Bounds would be paid a contingency fee for the work. In 2014, the Woerner companies retained Sirote & Permutt, P.C. to assist Cunningham Bounds in the BP oil-spill litigation. Additionally, each of the Woerner companies sent Caldwell a letter in which they stated that Caldwell had previously assisted with a BP oil-spill claim asserted on behalf of that Woerner company; that the claim had been principally handled by Cunningham Bounds; and that at the time Caldwell provided assistance he was working as in-house counsel for one or more of the Woerner companies. Each letter went on to assert that the claim would have to be reworked "based on newly announced guidelines from appellate courts hearing BP's objections to some of the previously filed claims"; that the owners and management of the Woerner companies felt that it would be in their best interest to retain a firm with experienced tax and business attorneys to assist in the claims; that the Woerner companies wished to continue their representation by Cunningham Bounds; that they were terminating the attorney-client relationship between Caldwell and the Woerner companies; and that they were retaining Sirote to assist Cunningham Bounds in reworking the claims asserted by the Woerner companies. After receiving this letter, Caldwell contacted one of the attorneys at Cunningham Bounds and told him that it was his position that he was entitled to the referral fees discussed in the representation agreements because, he said, he had referred the Woerner companies' claims to Cunningham Bounds. Summary judgment was ultimately entered in favor of Caldwell; the Alabama Supreme Court determined the trial court erred in finding Caldwell was owed a referral fee. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Sirote & Permutt, P.C. v. Caldwell" on Justia Law

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This dispute centered on whether Keith Arnold had to reimburse his former employer, Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama, LLC ("HMMA"), for expenses HMMA incurred in moving Arnold from Kentucky to Alabama to begin employment at HMMA's manufacturing facility in Montgomery. When he started his employment, Arnold signed an agreement obligating him to reimburse HMMA for his relocation expenses if he voluntarily left his employment with HMMA within 24 months. Just 16 months after beginning his employment, Arnold resigned his position with HMMA. After Arnold refused to reimburse HMMA for the relocation expenses it had paid on his behalf, HMMA sued him in the Montgomery Circuit Court, asserting a breach-of-contract claim. HMMA obtained a summary judgment against Arnold for $67,534 in damages, but the trial court denied HMMA's request for prejudgment interest, attorney fees, and expenses. Arnold appealed the summary judgment in favor of HMMA. HMMA cross-appealed, arguing that under the terms of the reimbursement agreement, it was entitled to $11,710 for prejudgment interest and $20,293 for attorney fees and expenses. The Alabama Supreme Court affirmed summary judgment entered by the trial court to the extent it held that Arnold was liable for breach of contract and awarded HMMA $67,534. Because HMMA established it had a contractual right to additional sums beyond the $67,534 awarded by the trial court, the Supreme Court reversed that portion of the judgment denying HMMA's request for those additional sums and remand the cause for the trial court to enter a final judgment in favor of HMMA for $99,537, an amount that fully compensated HMMA under the reimbursement agreement. View "Arnold v. Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama, LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs David and Lisa McDaniel petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Shelby Circuit Court to vacate its order staying the proceedings against defendants Southern Craftsman Custom Homes, Inc. ("SCCH"); Jeffrey Rusert; Larry Curry, Sr.; SouthFirst Bancshares, Inc., d/b/a SouthFirst Bank ("SouthFirst"); Mari Gunnels; and Danny Keeney. At the time of this opinion, Rusert was awaiting the outcome of a federal criminal investigation against him. In 2017, the McDaniels contacted Rusert for the purpose of entering into an agreement with SCCH to build a house. According to the McDaniels, Rusert represented himself as the president of SCCH. At some point, Rusert recommended that the McDaniels speak with Gunnels, who worked for SouthFirst, to secure a loan to pay for the construction of the new house. In November 2017, with Gunnels's assistance, the McDaniels began the process of applying for a construction loan with SouthFirst. The loan closing occurred on January 26, 2018. The McDaniels executed, among other agreements, a written construction-loan agreement, a promissory note, and a construction-loan disbursement agreement. The McDaniels met with Rusert to discuss some concerns they had with the ongoing construction. During that meeting, Rusert provided the McDaniels with a credit application from a local building-supply company and asked them to execute it so that, he said, he could use the McDaniels' credit to purchase building materials and supplies. The McDaniels learned that the company refused to do business with SCCH, Rusert, and Curry because all three had purportedly failed to pay significant amounts owed the company. The McDaniels immediately contacted Gunnels and placed a "stop-payment" order on the most recent draw request from SCCH and Rusert. Thereafter, the McDaniels sued SCCH, Rusert, Curry, SouthFirst, Gunnels, and Keeney. In their complaint, the McDaniels sought damages for negligence, suppression, fraudulent misrepresentation, civil conspiracy, conversion, and the infliction of emotional distress. The McDaniels further alleged breach-of-contract claims against SouthFirst, SCCH, Rusert, and Curry, as well as a claim of breach of fiduciary duties against SouthFirst. Finally, the McDaniels sought a judgment against SouthFirst, Gunnels, and Keeney declaring the loan agreement and mortgage void. Rusert and SCCH moved to stay the civil proceedings against them pending the outcome of a federal criminal investigation against Rusert, which the trial court granted. The Alabama Supreme Court determined, however, the McDaniels established a clear legal right to relief from the trial court's order. Accordingly, the Supreme Court granted the petition for a writ of mandamus and directed the trial court to vacate its order staying the underlying case. View "Ex parte David and Lisa McDaniel." on Justia Law

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Defendant Nationwide Mutual Fire Insurance Company ("Nationwide") appealed a judgment entered in favor of plaintiff The David Group, Inc. ("TDG"), which held TDG was entitled to coverage and indemnification under a commercial general- liability ("CGL") insurance policy issued by Nationwide. Under the terms of that CGL policy, Nationwide agreed to "pay those sums that the insured becomes legally obligated to pay as damages because of 'bodily injury' or 'property damage' to which this insurance applies." According to the policy, its coverage applied to "bodily injury" and "property damage" only if "[t]he 'bodily injury' or 'property damage' is caused by an 'occurrence.'" In October 2006, while TDG's CGL policy with Nationwide was in effect, Saurin and Valerie Shah purchased a newly built house from TDG. After they moved in, the Shahs began experiencing problems with their new house. Despite TDG's efforts at correcting the problems, however, in February 2008, the Shahs sued TDG. Although Nationwide initially defended TDG against the Shahs' action, Nationwide withdrew its defense after conducting its own investigation into the Shahs' allegations. It concluded that it had no duty either to defend or to indemnify TDG because, according to Nationwide, the damage the Shahs complained of did not constitute an "occurrence" so as to trigger coverage under the CGL policy. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded the trial court erred in finding that TDG was entitled to coverage and indemnification under its CGL policy with Nationwide. Thus, the Court reversed the trial court's judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Nationwide Mutual Fire Insurance Company v. The David Group, Inc." on Justia Law