Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Alabama

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Profit Boost Marketing, Inc., d/b/a Hometown Values Coupon Magazine ("HVCM"), one of the defendants in the underlying case, petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Marshall Circuit Court to vacate its order denying HVCM's motion to dismiss the claims filed against it by Mike Zak d/b/a Hometown Magazine ("Zak") and to direct that court to enter an order dismissing Zak's claims against it. HVCM was a Washington state based "print broker ... for direct mail advertising." Hometown Magazine was a coupon distributor; Mike Zak was its sole proprietor. In August 2013, Zak and HVCM entered into a "Print Brokerage Agreement" and related "Licensing Agreement" whereby Zak was to become an exclusive "Area Publisher" of HVCM's coupon magazine in three specified zones within Alabama. Zak obtained from the City of Arab ("the City") a business license to engage in "publishing industries." Zak ultimately published a single issue of a publication entitled Hometown Magazine. According to HVCM, "[i]nstead of publishing as [HVCM], Zak formed Hometown Magazine and used the [HVCM] trademark when he sold advertising to local business," i.e., allegedly, "Zak solicited ... clients as [HVCM], sold them advertising using the [HVCM] trademark ..., and never published a magazine as [HVCM]." This action resulted in a dispute between Zak and HCVM. As a result of a Facebook post, which Zak maintained "was entirely fallacious and possessed absolutely no truth," Zak allegedly began to receive queries from customers regarding the legality of his activities. Ultimately, according to Zak, his reputation was allegedly so "irreparably tarnished and damaged" that Zak was forced to close his business. Zak sued the City and various fictitiously named defendants. Specifically, Zak sought to recover both compensatory and punitive damages on various theories, including defamation, negligence, and "wantonness/gross negligence." After review of the trial court record, the Supreme Court held the trial court erred in denying HVCM's motion requesting dismissal of Zak's claims on statute-of-limitations grounds; therefore the Court granted HVCM's petition and issued a writ of mandamus directing the Marshall Circuit Court to vacate its January 3, 2017, order denying HVCM's motion and to enter an order dismissing HVCM as a defendant in the underlying action. View "Ex parte Profit Boost Marketing, Inc., d/b/a Hometown Values Coupon Magazine." on Justia Law

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The Maintenance Group, Inc. petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Madison Circuit Court to enter an order dismissing the claims against it based on lack of personal jurisdiction. This case arises from the sale of an aircraft. The purchaser alleged tortious conduct related to the sale of the aircraft negotiated and consummated outside Alabama by nonresident parties, including Maintenance. The only contact with Alabama being post-purchase travel into and out of Alabama. The Supreme Court concluded that, based on the evidence before the trial court, the purchaser did not establish a sufficient nexus between Maintenance's purposeful activity within Alabama and the claims made in its action sufficient to subject Maintenance to personal jurisdiction in an Alabama court. Accordingly, Maintenance has shown a clear legal right to the dismissal of the complaint on the ground that the trial court lacked personal jurisdiction over it. View "Ex parte The Maintenance Group, Inc." on Justia Law

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Jami Johnston appealed a judgment entered in favor of Castles and Crowns, Inc. ("Castles"). Castles was a children's clothing company formed by Julie Vickers and Amy Bowers. Brandi Stuart, Johnston's sister, worked for Castles from 2006 until 2011. From 2009 to 2010, while she was working with Castles, Stuart had 7,149 pounds of Castles' clothing shipped either to Johnston or to consignment companies used by Johnston. In January 2011, Vickers terminated Stuart's employment based on issues with her performance. In April 2011, Castles sued Stuart and Johnston, alleging conversion; civil conspiracy; "willfulness, negligence, and wantonness"; trespass to chattel; and unjust-enrichment against Johnston and Stuart. It also asserted fraudulent-misrepresentation and suppression claims against Stuart. Johnston answered, also asserting a counterclaim against Castles and a third-party complaint against Vickers. In her counterclaim and third-party complaint, Johnston alleged claims of defamation; "negligence, wantonness, and willfulness"; conspiracy; and tortious interference with business and contractual relations. She also sought recovery against Castles under the theory of respondeat superior. In this case, the trial court instructed the jury to consider Castles' unjust-enrichment claim against Johnston if it did not find against Johnston on the conversion and conspiracy claims. The jury found against Johnston on both the conversion and conspiracy claims. However, it then considered the unjust-enrichment claim and found against Johnston on that claim as well. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded the jury's verdict was inconsistent with the trial court's instructions and "was obviously the result of confusion on the part of the jury." After it had discharged the jury, the trial court acknowledged the inconsistency in the jury's verdict. The trial court attempted to cure that inconsistency by setting aside the award in favor of Castles on the unjust-enrichment claim. However, the Supreme Court found the trial court's attempt to reconcile the inconsistency in the jury's verdict was based on mere speculation about the jury's intent. Additionally, the jury failed to follow the trial court's instructions, and Johnston moved for a new trial on that ground. The Supreme Court concluded Johnston was entitled to a new trial because the jury failed to follow the trial court's instructions. For these reasons, the trial court erred when it denied Johnston's motion for a new trial. View "Johnston v. Castles & Crowns, Inc." on Justia Law

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Jimmy Nation, Oliver McCollum, James Pickle, James Nation, Micah Nation, and Benjamin Chemeel II (collectively referred to as "the defendants") appealed the circuit court's denial of their motion to compel arbitration of a breach-of-contract claim filed against them by the Lydmar Revocable Trust ("Lydmar"). Lydmar owned a 75% membership interest in Aldwych, LLC. In 2008, Lydmar and the defendants entered into an agreement pursuant to which Lydmar agreed to sell its membership interest in Aldwych, LLC, to the defendants. The defendants paid Lydmar a portion of the agreed price at the time the agreement was executed and simultaneously executed two promissory notes for the balance of the purchase price. By 2014, Lydmar sued defendants for breach of contract for failing to make the required payments. At the request of the parties, the circuit court delayed setting the matter for a bench trial until they had an opportunity to resolve the case without a trial. The parties' attempts failed. Thereafter, defendants filed a motion to compel arbitration of Lydmar's breach-of-contract claim. Lydmar did not file a response to the defendants' motion to compel arbitration. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court reversed, finding defendants submitted evidence showing that Lydmar signed a contract agreeing that all disputes between them related to the defendants' purchase of Lydmar's membership interest in Aldwych would be settled in arbitration and that the contract evidenced a transaction affecting interstate commerce. Lydmar did not refute that evidence, nor did it establish that the defendants waived their right to rely on those arbitration provisions. Therefore, the circuit court erred by returning the case to its active docket and effectively denying the defendants' motion to compel arbitration. View "Nation et al. v. Lydmar Revocable Trust" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Managed Health Care Administration, Inc. ("MHCA"), and Alabama Psychiatric Services, P.C. ("APS") appealed the denial of their motion to compel Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama ("Blue Cross") to arbitrate their claims. In 1986, Blue Cross contracted with APS, a subsidiary of MHCA, to provide mental-health services to Blue Cross's insureds. In 1991, Blue Cross's contract with APS was transferred to MHCA. In 1995, Blue Cross and MHCA entered into a new contract in which MHCA agreed to provide or arrange for mental-health services to Blue Cross's insureds. In 2006, Blue Cross and MHCA entered into yet another contract in which MHCA agreed to provide or arrange for mental-health services to Blue Cross's insureds. In late 2012, Blue Cross decided to replace MHCA, as its behavioral health benefits management vendor, with New Directions Behavioral Health, L.L.C. In 2013, Blue Cross and New Directions Behavioral Health, L.L.C. ("New Directions"), entered into a contract in which New Directions agreed to "arrange for the provision of all Covered Services to Members in accordance with the terms and conditions set forth in this Agreement," which gave New Directions authority to delegate certain services to third parties. pursuant to the authority granted it under the Blue Cross-New Directions 2013 contract and at the request of Blue Cross, New Directions entered into a contract which MHCA in which New Directions sub-delegated to MHCA certain of New Directions' obligations under the Blue Cross-New Directions 2013 contract. A disagreement arose concerning the amount of compensation MHCA was to receive for its services. In 2015, the plaintiffs sued Blue Cross and several fictitiously named defendants alleging fraudulent misrepresentation, fraudulent suppression, breach of an implied contract, and promissory estoppel, claims pertaining to plaintiffs' 2006 contract and for payments of delegated duties. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court concluded plaintiffs demonstrated they had a right to arbitration. The circuit court erred in denying the plaintiffs' motion to compel arbitration, and the Court reversed the circuit court's judgment denying the plaintiffs' motion to compel arbitration in its entirety. View "Managed Health Care Administration, Inc. v. Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Alabama" on Justia Law

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Dow Corning Alabama, Inc., Dow Corning Corporation, Rajesh Mahadasyam, Fred McNett, Zurich American Insurance Company ("Zurich"), and National Union Insurance Company of Pittsburgh, PA ("National Union"), all petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the trial court to transfer the underlying declaratory-judgment action to the Montgomery Circuit Court pursuant to Alabama's forum non conveniens statute. Dow Corning Alabama hired Alabama Electric Company, Inc., an independent contractor, to perform the electrical installation of a vacuum system at Dow Corning Alabama's facility in Montgomery. The contract contained a forum-selection clause. An employee of Alabama Electric was injured while working at Dow Corning Alabama's Montgomery facility. The employee sued the Dow defendants, which in turn tendered their request for defense and indemnity to Alabama Electric and National Trust, both of whom denied coverage. Zurich and National Union settled the Montgomery lawsuit through mediation, and the case was ultimately dismissed. Later, Alabama Electric and National Trust filed an action with the Houston Circuit Court seeking certain declarations concerning their duties and obligations under the master contract and/or the National Trust policy regarding the settlement. The Dow defendants moved to transfer the declaratory judgment action from Houston to Montgomery County pursuant to the forum noon conveniens statute. The Alabama Supreme Court denied the writ application, finding the Dow parties did not satisfy their burden at the trial-court level of demonstrating that a change in venue from Houston County to Montgomery County was warranted under the interest-of-justice prong. View "Ex parte Dow Corning Alabama, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Mary Hall, as personal representative of the estate of Adolphus Hall, Sr., and Anaya McKinnon, as personal representative of the estate of Wanzy Lee Bowman appealed the dismissal of their class-action claims against Environmental Litigation Group, P.C. ("ELG"). Plaintiffs alleged ELG agreed to represent hundreds of clients who had been exposed to asbestos, including their respective decedents. Plaintiffs alleged ELG charged its clients an excessive fee above and beyond the amount listed in their respective contracts. The trial court dismissed their case with prejudice. The Alabama Supreme Court disagreed with the trial court’s judgment, reversed and remanded. On remand, the trial court appointed a special master, who again recommended dismissal of plaintiffs’ claims. The trial court held that the attorney-employment agreement was ambiguous and that this ambiguity was fatal to the plaintiffs' class-allegation claims. Thus, the trial court dismissed the class claims before the class-certification process began. At this point in the proceedings and under the standard of review, the Supreme Court saw no ambiguity in the attorney-employment agreements, negating the trial court's contrary conclusion as to the individualized inquiry necessary with regard to the plaintiffs' contract claims. The Court therefore reversed the trial court's order dismissing the plaintiffs' claims for class-based relief and remanded the matter for further proceedings. View "Hall v. Environmental Litigation Group, P.C." on Justia Law

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Daphne Automotive, LLC, and its employee, Robin Sanders appealed a circuit court order denying their motion to compel arbitration of the claims filed against them by Eastern Shore Neurology Clinic, Inc. ("Eastern Shore"), and Rassan Tarabein. Tarabein owned Eastern Shore and another company, Infotec, Inc. Tarabein hired his nephew, Mohamad Tarbin, as an employee of Infotec. As part of the nephew's compensation, Tarabein agreed to provide him with the use of a vehicle for as long as he was employed with Infotec. Accordingly, Tarabein purchased, through Eastern Shore, a vehicle from Daphne Automotive. Tarabein, the nephew, and the dealership agreed that the dealership would arrange for the vehicle to be titled in the nephew's name, but that Eastern Shore would be listed on the title as lienholder. In conjunction with the sale, the nephew signed the sales contract, which contained an arbitration clause. Tarabein executed only the documents to establish Eastern Shore as lienholder on the title for the vehicle. In January 2014, the Department of Revenue issued an original certificate of title for the vehicle that listed no lienholders to the nephew. A few months later, the nephew was terminated from his job with Infotec, and Tarabein attempted to take back the vehicle, but the nephew refused. According to Tarabein, the dealership never informed him that it had failed to list Eastern Shore as a lienholder on the application for the certificate of title. As a result, the nephew held title to the vehicle free and clear, and Eastern Shore held a reissued certificate of title for the same vehicle, listing it as lienholder. Eastern Short attempted to repossess the vehicle; the nephew avoided being arrested by producing the free-and-clear title to the vehicle. According to Tarabein, he became aware of the existence of the second certificate of title after the attempted arrest. Tarabein thereafter sued the dealership for a variety of claims; the dealer moved to compel arbitration. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded the dealership failed to meet its burden of proving the existence of a contract calling for arbitration: the sales contract was limited in its scope with respect to disputes arising to parties to the contract and the agreements, here, between the nephew and the dealership. Accordingly, the Court found the trial court did not err in denying the dealership’s motion to compel arbitration. View "Daphne Automotive, LLC v. Eastern Shore Neurology Clinic, Inc." on Justia Law

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In case no. 1130590, Kathryn L. Honea appealed the denial of her motion to vacate an arbitration award entered in favor of Raymond James Financial Services, Inc. ("Raymond James"), and Bernard Michaud, an employee of Raymond James (collectively, "RJFS"). In case no. 1130655, RJFS appealed the trial court's denial of its motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction; that appeal was dismissed. Honea opened several investment accounts with Raymond James. Honea and Raymond James executed a "client agreement" that included an arbitration provision. Honea filed a complaint in the Jefferson Circuit Court asserting that she had opened four accounts with Raymond James and that Michaud had acted as her financial advisor as to those accounts. She alleged that RJFS engaged in "abusive brokerage practices" in that her investments were not diversified, "were far too risky," and "were of poor quality." The arbitration panel dismissed Honea's breach-of-fiduciary-duty, negligence, wantonness, fraud, and Alabama Securities Act claims and proceeded to hear the breach-of-contract claims. An arbitration panel entered an award in favor of RJFS. The arbitration panel found that "Michaud did not sufficiently know his client nor make sufficient inquiry to attempt to know his client, her holdings, and/or her investment experience. These failures contributed to losses in [Honea's] account." However, the arbitration panel "denied" Honea's breach-of-contract claims, stating that they were "barred by the applicable statutes of limitations." Although the Alabama Supreme Court found one contract appeared to govern this case and that RJFS breached its duties by failing to properly understand Honea's investment knowledge before March 2000, Honea contended that allegedly improper transactions--the excessive use of margin and overly aggressive, high-risk trading occurring after March 2000--represented independent breaches of the FINRA rules. Those claims accrued within the six-year limitations period before her complaint was filed. Further, any knowledge by Honea of her losses did not mean that the trading activity was proper. Thus, to the extent that any transactions after March 2000 would be considered separate breaches of contract unrelated to the failure to properly know Honea, her holdings, or her investment experience, or setting up an "unsuitable" account, the Court found Honea demonstrated probable merit--for purposes of a Rule 59(g) hearing--that those claims would not be barred by the statute of limitations. Honea demonstrated that, in relation to the certain breach-of-contract claims, she was entitled to a Rule 59(g) hearing on her motion to vacate the arbitration award. View "Honea v. Raymond James Financial Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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Jewels by Park Lane, Inc. ("JBPL"), and Kathy Cassidy, the national director for JBPL, sought a writ of mandamus compelling the Circuit Court to vacate its order denying their motion to dismiss an action against them on the ground of improper venue arising out of a forum-selection clause, and to enter an order dismissing the case. JBPL was a multilevel marketing company that sold jewelry through independent contractors who host parties offering JBPL's jewelry line for sale. Jennifer Miller became a “director” for LBPL. Miller sued JBPL and Cassidy, alleging JBPL promised to employ her for a 12-month period and to pay her $4,000 a month for that period. Miller set out claims alleging account stated, open account, breach of contract, and fraud. Miller sought compensatory damages, punitive damages, and attorney fees. The employment agreement contained a “forum selection clause” in which any disputes between the parties would be settled in accordance with the laws of Illinois. Miller admitted that the director agreement contained a forum selection clause but argued that she would not have entered into the agreement but for the fraud perpetuated by JBPL and Cassidy. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded JBPL and Cassidy have shown a clear legal right to have the action against them dismissed on the basis that venue in the Tallapoosa Circuit Court was, by application of the outbound forum-selection clause, improper. The trial court exceeded its discretion in denying their motion to dismiss Miller's action. View "Ex parte Jewels by Park Lane, Inc." on Justia Law