Justia Contracts Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Alabama

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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

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Jessie and Rickey Castleberry appealed a circuit court order dismissing their claims against Angie's List, Inc., based on a forum-selection clause in a contract between Angie's List and the Castleberrys. The Castleberrys, who are father and son, became members of Angie's List in 2014. They claim that they used their membership with Angie's List to locate a contractor, Dream Baths of Alabama, LLC ("Dream Baths"), which the Castleberrys hired to renovate a bathroom in Jessie Castleberry's house to make it handicapped accessible. According to the Castleberrys, Dream Baths was not properly licensed and poorly performed the work it contracted to do. The Alabama Supreme Court found the Castleberrys simply pointed out in the argument section of their brief that, in addition to suing Angie's List, they also sued Dream Baths. They asserted that "[t]his action pertains not only to the agreement between the Castleberrys and Angie's List, but to improper work performed upon a home located in Montgomery County, Alabama by defendant Dream Baths." The Castleberrys provided no significant discussion of the specific claims against Dream Baths and Angie's List. To the Supreme Court, it appealred that the Castleberrys' claims against Angie's List and Dream Baths were based on different categories of wrongdoing that were only tangentially related. The trial court, therefore, did not err in enforcing the forum-selection clause simply because the Castleberrys also sued Dream Baths. View "Castleberry v. Angie's List, Inc." on Justia Law

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Greenway Health, LLC, and Greenway EHS, Inc. (formerly EHS, Inc.) (collectively, "the Greenway defendants"), and Sunrise Technology Consultants, LLC, and Lee Investment Consultants, LLC (collectively, "the Sunrise defendants"), appealed separately a circuit court order denying their motion to compel the arbitration of certain claims asserted against them by Southeast Alabama Rural Health Associates ("SARHA"). Because the Alabama Supreme Court determined the Greenway defendants failed to establish the existence of a contract containing an arbitration provision, the Sunrise defendants' argument based on an intertwining-claims theory also failed. The Court therefore affirmed the trial court's denial of the Greenway defendants' and the Sunrise defendants' motions to stay proceedings and to compel arbitration. View "Greenway Health, LLC, and Greenway EHS, Inc. v. Southeast Alabama Rural Health Associates" on Justia Law

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Putnam County Memorial Hospital ("Putnam") appealed a circuit court denial of its motion to set aside a default judgment entered in favor of TruBridge, LLC ("TruBridge"), and Evident, LLC ("Evident"). In September 2015, Putnam entered into a "Master Services Agreement" with TruBridge ("the MSA agreement") and a license and support agreement with Evident ("the LSA agreement"). In the MSA agreement, TruBridge agreed to provide accounts-receivable management services for Putnam for five years. The MSA agreement provided that TruBridge would receive 5.65 percent of the "cash collections," as that term is defined in the MSA agreement, to be paid monthly, for its account and billing services. In the LSA agreement, Evident agreed to provide Putnam with Evident's electronic health-records system as well as maintenance and support for that system. According to Putnam, starting in 2016, Putnam entered into a series of agreements with Hospital Partners, Inc. ("HPI"), in which HPI agreed to manage and control the operations of the hospital and its facilities. TruBridge and Evident alleged that at that time, Putnam began entering patient information and billing services through a different computer system than the one provided by Evident pursuant to the LSA agreement and used by TruBridge for accounts receivable pursuant to the MSA agreement. When a TruBridge manager contacted Putnam to inquire about this drop in new-patient admissions into their system, Putnam claimed to have almost no new patients and that it was barely surviving. TruBridge and Evident alleged Putnam was deliberately false and that Putnam was, in fact, simply entering new patients into a different system. Putnam did not enter an appearance in the lawsuit brought by TruBridge and Evident for breach of contract. The circuit court entered a default judgment. Putnam's motion to set aside the judgment was denied. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded Putnam met its evidentiary threshold to trigger the statutory requirement the circuit court reconsider its motion to set aside and for reconsideration relating to the default judgment. Therefore, the Court reversed the circuit court and remanded for further proceedings. View "Putnam County Memorial Hospital v. TruBridge, LLC, and Evident, LLC" on Justia Law

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Lonnie Beal sued his former employer, Shoals Extrusion, LLC, an aluminum-extrusion business in Florence, Alabama after his employment there was terminated in November 2015. Beal alleged that Shoals Extrusion breached the terms of his employment agreement by refusing to give him severance compensation and benefits to which he claims he was entitled. The Circuit Court entered a summary judgment in favor of Beal and awarded him $80,800. The Alabama Supreme Court found, however, a genuine issue of material fact about whether Beal first breached the terms of the employment agreement and whether such breach excused further performance by Shoals Extrusion under that agreement. Accordingly, the summary judgment was reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings. View "Shoals Extrusion, LLC v. Beal" on Justia Law

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Alfa Insurance Corporation, Alfa Mutual General Insurance Corporation, Alfa Life Insurance Corporation, and Alfa Specialty Insurance Corporation (collectively, "Alfa") petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus requiring the Montgomery Circuit Court to vacate its May 23, 2018, orders: (1) denying Alfa's motion for a protective order as to materials Alfa contended were protected by the attorney-client privilege; and (2) compelling Alfa to produce such materials for in camera inspection and for discovery. The underlying suit arose out of a policy dispute in which one side invoked an arbitration clause in the policy at issue. The insured claimed Alfa breached the policy by refusing to provide a defense and/or indemnity coverage. After review, the Supreme Court was satisfied Alfa established the trial court exceeded its discretion when it disregarded the attorney-client privilege and entered the May 2018 orders denying Alfa's motion for a protective order and compelling Alfa to produce the materials sought for in camera inspection or for discovery. Accordingly, the Supreme Court granted Alfa's petition for the writ of mandamus and directed the trial court to vacate the May 2018 orders denying Alfa's motion for a protective order and compelling Alfa to produce the materials at issue. View "Ex parte Alfa Insurance Corporation et al." on Justia Law