Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Alabama

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Linda Unger, as personal representative of the estate of Marshall Unger ("Unger") deceased, appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of Wal-Mart Stores East, L.P., and its employees, Naomi Phillips (the store greeter) and Billy Odom (the store manager, collectively referred to as "the Wal-Mart defendants" or “defendants”). On May 20, 2014, Unger, who was 77 years old, and his wife, Linda, visited a Wal-Mart discount store in Mobile. In an attempt to dislodge a stuck shopping cart from the front of the store, Unger lost his balance and fell to the floor, allegedly suffering two fractured vertebrae in his thoracic spine. Several Wal-Mart employees went to Unger's assistance and offered to call an ambulance, but Unger told the employees that he did not require an ambulance. In January 2015, Unger sued Wal-Mart Stores East, L.P., Billy Odom, and fictitiously named defendants alleging that, on the day he was injured, Phillips, the store greeter, had been negligent and/or wanton in failing to "stage a clean [shopping] cart for easy access in violation of Wal-Mart's policies"; that "the Wal-Mart employee collecting carts from outside the store overloaded the machine used for collecting carts creating an unsafe condition that consumers would have no knowledge of"; and that Wal-Mart had been negligent and/or wanton in failing to train and/or supervise its employees. Unger died in April 2016, while his action was pending. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded plaintiff failed to establish by substantial evidence that Wal-Mart had a legal duty to provide Unger, a business invitee, with a staged shopping cart when he entered the store on May 20, 2014. Accordingly, the summary judgment in favor of the Wal-Mart defendants was affirmed. View "Unger v. Wal-Mart Stores East, L.P." on Justia Law

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Aqua Marine Enterprises, Inc. ("AME"), and AME's chief operating officer and vice president Brent Mitchell appealed a circuit court judgment in favor of K&B Fabricators, Inc. ("K&B"), following a bench trial in a dispute alleging the usurpation of corporate opportunities in the business of fabricating storm shelters. In 2006, Mitchell began discussions with Kendall Blaxton, who owned a welding-supply company used by AME, about starting a storm-shelter-fabrication business in Alabama because Mitchell believed it would be more efficient to deal with a local shelter fabricator. Those discussions led to the formation of K&B, a closely held corporation with three shareholders, Mitchell and two brothers, Kendall and Kenneth Blaxton. From 2006 to mid 2014, all of AME's steel storm-shelter orders were fabricated by K&B. AME entered into a non-compete/non-disclosure agreement with K&B. Kendall testified that in 2009 he and his brother had a dispute about how K&B was being managed, and Kendall ended up buying out Kenneth's ownership interest in K&B. Kendall then owned 90 percent of K&B's stock and Mitchell owned 10 percent. In early 2012, Kenneth formed Compliance Construction with two others; the company was to "take advantage of business opportunties that did not involve storm-shelter fabrication." By 2014, the relationship between AME and K&B had soured, and ended with AME accusing K&B of violating the noncompetition agreement between them. AME contended the trial court erred in concluding K&B did not violate the agreement. The Alabama Supreme Court found that AME failed to demonstrate Compliance's involvement in storm-shelter fabrication constituted a violation by K&B of the noncompetition agreement. The Court affirmed a finding of liability against Mitchell and its imposition of a constructive trust upon AME; the Court also affirmed the ruling in favor of K&B on AME's allegation of breach of the noncompetition agreement. The Court reversed, however, part of the trial court's judgment awarding damages, finding the award was not based upon the profits earned by AME in its fabrication. View "Aqua Marine Enterprises, Inc. v. K&B Fabricators, Inc." on Justia Law

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Brian Pipkin appealed a circuit court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Sun State Oil, Inc. on Pipkin's claim of conversion, negligence, and/or wantonness, and trespass with regard to Sun State's removal of gasoline pumps from Pipkin's property. IMAS Partnership, LLC ("IMAS"), purchased from William Rivers and Sybil Rivers a parcel of real property located at 15065 Highway 43 North, Bucks, Alabama ("the property"), on which was situated a convenience store and gasoline station. IMAS intended to operate the business as "Bucks Country Store." In anticipation of its acquisition of the property, IMAS entered into a "Petroleum Supply Agreement" with Sun State to procure a supply of gasoline to sell to customers of the store ("the PSA"). The PSA provided that Sun State would lease two gasoline pumps to IMAS for 10 years in exchange for IMAS purchasing a minimum of 6 million gallons of petroleum from Sun State over the 10-year term. At some point in 2012, Sun State stopped doing business with IMAS because it had heard the store was not making money would would go into foreclosure. Sun State did not reclaim the gas pumps immediately, to allow, as it described at trial, the owner to get a new tenant, yet retain the store as a customer. The Riverses executed a vendor's lien deed conveying the property to Pipkin; Pipkin testified that William Rivers made it clear when they negotiated the sale of the property that the gas pumps were included in the purchase price. By the summer of 2014, Sun State became concerned about vandalism at Pipkin's property and decided to retrieve the pumps, offering to reinstall them once Pipkin had a tenant to operate the store. Sun State declined to return the pumps, however. Pipkin subsequently filed suit against Sun State for the pumps. The Alabama Supreme Court found no evidence that Sun State filed an UCC-1 financing statement before Pipkin purchased the property. Sun State's unperfected security interest in the gasoline pumps did not have priority over Pipkin's ownership interest in the property. Accordingly, Pipkin acquired the pumps free and clear of Sun State's interest, and Sun State did not possess an ownership interest in the pumps when it removed them from Pipkin's property. Accordingly, the Alabama Supreme Court reversed summary judgment in favor of Sun State, and remanded this case for further proceedings. View "Brian Pipkin v. Sun State Oil, Inc., et al." on Justia Law

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Bert Nettles appealed summary judgment entered in favor of Rumberger, Kirk & Caldwell, P.C. ("Rumberger") and several attorneys with the firm. This case stemmed from the demise of the law firm of Haskell Slaughter Young & Rediker, LLC ("Haskell Slaughter"). Nettles and the individual defendants were all former members of Haskell Slaughter. In 2013, Haskell Slaughter was in financial distress, and members of the firm were in discussions as to what, if anything, could be done to save the firm. In December 2013, 10 lawyers, including the individual defendants, left Haskell Slaughter and joined Rumberger. Haskell Slaughter permanently closed in February 2014. In 2015, Bluebird Holdings, LLC ("Bluebird"), filed a complaint against Nettles and three other former members of Haskell Slaughter, seeking to collect on personal guarantee agreements executed by the former members. Nettles filed a third-party complaint in the Bluebird action against Rumberger and the individual defendants. Nettles sought damages from Rumberger and the individual defendants for alleged breach of fiduciary duty, fraud, conspiracy, and tortious interference with a contract. Nettles alleged that the individual defendants, in violation of fiduciary duties owed Nettles and Haskell Slaughter, conspired with each other and with Rumberger to orchestrate Rumberger's acquisition of two of Haskell Slaughter's most profitable practice groups. Nettles alleged that the loss of those practice groups "was the psychological and financial death blow to Haskell Slaughter" in that it thwarted plans for a potential firm-saving reorganization, caused the remaining members of the firm to leave, and resulted in the liquidation of Haskell Slaughter and ultimately the Bluebird action. The demise of Haskell Slaughter caused it to default on bank debt for which Nettles was a guarantor. Rumberger and the individual defendants filed a motion to dismiss Nettles's third-party complaint, arguing, among other things, that certain of Nettles's damages claims were not permissible under Rule 14, Ala. R. Civ. P. The trial court agreed and ruled that Nettles could recover only money that he may be required to pay as a result the personal guarantee agreement made the basis of the Bluebird action. As a result of that ruling, Nettles filed this suit, now before the Alabama Supreme Court. Finding no reversible error in the grant of summary judgment to the firm and individual defendants on all claims asserted, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's judgment. View "Nettles v. Rumberger, Kirk & Caldwell, P.C., et al." on Justia Law

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Dr. Tara Lynd, M.D. appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of Marshall County Pediatrics, P.C. ("MCP"), in her action seeking a judgment declaring the proper valuation of her shares in MCP. In July 1978, John Packard, M.D. filed articles of incorporation forming MCP, a medical practice specializing in pediatrics in Guntersville, Alabama. At the same time, MCP adopted bylaws. Those bylaws reference a separate "stockholder agreement," but one was never executed. Over time, Dr. Packard hired other physicians to work with him in MCP. In 2005, Dr. Packard hired Dr. Lynd as a pediatrician to work for MCP. In 2013, Dr. Packard retired from practice, and he sold MCP to four other physicians who were then working for MCP: Dr. David Chupp, Dr. Don Jones, Dr. Sarah Rhodes, and Dr. Lynd. At the time of sale, each physician paid Dr. Packard $1,000, with the understanding that he or she would pay Dr. Packard the remaining amount due for his or her shares, with interest, over a period of several years. At the time the four physicians acquired MCP from Dr. Packard, they accepted the bylaws without alteration. They did not execute a stockholder agreement. In 2014, Dr. Lynd telephoned each of the other physicians to inform him or her that she would be leaving MCP. Dr. Rhodes testified in her affidavit that, upon Dr. Lynd's severance from MCP, the other three physicians did not dispute that Dr. Lynd was owed her portion of the receivables/production bonuses generated by MCP. A dispute formed over the valuation of her shares. The Alabama Supreme Court determined Dr. Lynd failed to demonstrate that she should receive the fair value of her stock in MCP, and that the trial court did not err in denying her motion for a summary judgment. View "Lynd v. Marshall County Pediatrics, P.C." on Justia Law

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International Paper Company and three employees (Janet Pridgeon, Joni Harris, and Shawn Blenis) sought a writ of mandamus directing the Wilcox Circuit Court to rule upon a pending motion to dismiss a case against them for improper venue, based on an outbound forum-selection clause in a waste services agreement between International Paper and JRD Contracting & Land Clearing, Inc. ("JRD C & L"). After review, the Alabama Supreme Court determined the circuit court exceeded its discretion by failing to rule on, and instead "taking under advisement," the motion to dismiss the third-party complaint based on improper venue while allowing discovery on the merits to proceed and setting deadlines for summary-judgment motions and setting the trial date. Therefore, the Supreme Court issued the writ and directed the circuit court to issue an order addressing the merits of IPC's motion to dismiss based on improper venue. The Court expressed no opinion as to whether IPC's motion should or should not be granted; "[w]hile the writ [of mandamus] will issue to compel the exercise of discretion by a circuit judge, it will not issue to compel the exercise of discretion in a particular manner." View "Ex parte International Paper Company et al." 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 seeking review of an order entered by the Montgomery Circuit Court on December 18, 2015. Although Alfa set forth three issues for review, the Supreme Court reviewed only one: whether the circuit court had jurisdiction to enter the December 18, 2015, order and whether it exceeded its discretion by not setting that order aside. R.G. "Bubba" Howell, Jr., and M. Stuart "Chip" Jones were insurance agents for an Alfa insurance agency in Mississippi. Their agency agreements with Alfa included an arbitration provision, as well as a provision requiring Howell and Jones to purchase "errors and omissions" insurance coverage. In 2012, Alfa accused Howell and Jones of selling competing products in contravention of their agency agreements; Howell and Jones, however, alleged that their actions had been approved by Alfa. Regardless, Alfa forced Howell to resign his position as an Alfa agent on December 31, 2012, and discharged Jones on January 1, 2013. After review, the Supreme Court concluded the circuit court exceeded its discretion in entering the December 18, 2015, order compelling discovery pretermitted discussion of the other, two discovery issues. View "Ex parte Alfa Insurance Corporation et al." on Justia Law

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Terex USA, LLC ("Terex"), petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the Circuit Court to enforce an outbound forum-selection clause contained in a distributorship agreement between Terex and Cowin Equipment Company, Inc. ("Cowin"), and to dismiss Cowin's action against Terex based on improper venue pursuant to Rule 12(b)(3), Ala. R. Civ. P. Before August 2015, Cowin, a heavy-equipment dealer, had served as an authorized dealer of heavy equipment manufactured by the Liebherr Group for approximately 30 years. Cowin alleged Terex, a heavy-equipment manufacturer, began aggressively recruiting Cowin to become a dealer of its equipment in Alabama, Georgia, and Florida. At the time, Warrior Tractor & Equipment Company, Inc. ("Warrior"), was serving as the dealer for Terex's equipment in the region. Based on assurances from Terex that Cowin would be the only Terex dealer in the territory, Cowin allowed its relationship with Liebherr Group to expire. In August 2015, Cowin entered into a distributorship agreement with Terex to sell Terex heavy equipment in Alabama, Georgia, and Florida. Subsequent to entering into the distributorship agreement with Cowin, Terex entered into a new distributorship agreement with Warrior without providing notice to Cowin that Warrior would be reentering the heavy-equipment market. Cowin alleged Terex's failure to give it notice that Warrior would be reentering the market was contrary to common industry practices. Cowin sued Terex and Warrior, asserting various claims arising from Terex's alleged violation of the Alabama Heavy Equipment Dealer Act, sec. 8-21B-1 et seq., Ala. Code 1975 ("the AHEDA"). Terex moved the trial court pursuant to Rule 12(b)(3), Ala. R. Civ. P., to dismiss Cowin's complaint, arguing that venue in Jefferson County was improper because of the forum-selection clause in the distributorship agreement designating either the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia or the Georgia state court in Atlanta as the proper forum for any dispute between the parties arising from the distributorship agreement. "An outbound forum-selection clause is exactly the type of provision the legislature intended to prohibit because it would undermine the remedial measures and protections the legislature clearly intended to afford heavy-equipment dealers under the AHEDA; this is especially so as to the outbound forum-selection clause in this case, which also contains a choice-of-law provision designating Georgia law as controlling." The Alabama Supreme Court concluded Terex failed to establish a clear legal right to the relief it sought, so the Court denied its petition for a writ of mandamus. View "Ex parte Terex USA, LLC." on Justia Law

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Terex USA, LLC ("Terex"), petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the Circuit Court to enforce an outbound forum-selection clause contained in a distributorship agreement between Terex and Cowin Equipment Company, Inc. ("Cowin"), and to dismiss Cowin's action against Terex based on improper venue pursuant to Rule 12(b)(3), Ala. R. Civ. P. Before August 2015, Cowin, a heavy-equipment dealer, had served as an authorized dealer of heavy equipment manufactured by the Liebherr Group for approximately 30 years. Cowin alleged Terex, a heavy-equipment manufacturer, began aggressively recruiting Cowin to become a dealer of its equipment in Alabama, Georgia, and Florida. At the time, Warrior Tractor & Equipment Company, Inc. ("Warrior"), was serving as the dealer for Terex's equipment in the region. Based on assurances from Terex that Cowin would be the only Terex dealer in the territory, Cowin allowed its relationship with Liebherr Group to expire. In August 2015, Cowin entered into a distributorship agreement with Terex to sell Terex heavy equipment in Alabama, Georgia, and Florida. Subsequent to entering into the distributorship agreement with Cowin, Terex entered into a new distributorship agreement with Warrior without providing notice to Cowin that Warrior would be reentering the heavy-equipment market. Cowin alleged Terex's failure to give it notice that Warrior would be reentering the market was contrary to common industry practices. Cowin sued Terex and Warrior, asserting various claims arising from Terex's alleged violation of the Alabama Heavy Equipment Dealer Act, sec. 8-21B-1 et seq., Ala. Code 1975 ("the AHEDA"). Terex moved the trial court pursuant to Rule 12(b)(3), Ala. R. Civ. P., to dismiss Cowin's complaint, arguing that venue in Jefferson County was improper because of the forum-selection clause in the distributorship agreement designating either the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia or the Georgia state court in Atlanta as the proper forum for any dispute between the parties arising from the distributorship agreement. "An outbound forum-selection clause is exactly the type of provision the legislature intended to prohibit because it would undermine the remedial measures and protections the legislature clearly intended to afford heavy-equipment dealers under the AHEDA; this is especially so as to the outbound forum-selection clause in this case, which also contains a choice-of-law provision designating Georgia law as controlling." The Alabama Supreme Court concluded Terex failed to establish a clear legal right to the relief it sought, so the Court denied its petition for a writ of mandamus. View "Ex parte Terex USA, LLC." on Justia Law

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In 2014, Traci Salinas and Sharon Lee Stark, as shareholders of Sterne Agee Group, Inc. ("SAG") filed a shareholder-derivative action, on behalf of nominal defendant SAG, against James and William Holbrook and the nonHolbrook directors, who together composed the SAG board of directors. Salinas and Stark alleged that the Holbrooks had breached their fiduciary duty to the SAG shareholders by misusing, misappropriating, and wasting corporate assets and that the non-Holbrook directors had knowledge of, and had acquiesced in, the Holbrooks' alleged misconduct. In 2015, while Salinas and Stark's action was pending, SAG entered into a merger agreement with Stifel Financial Corp. ("Stifel") pursuant to which Stifel would acquire SAG ("the merger"). As a result of the merger, each share of certain classes of SAG stock was to be converted into a right of the shareholder to receive a pro rata share of merger consideration in cash and/or shares of Stifel common stock. The Holbrooks moved for summary judgment in which they argued that, under Delaware law, when a plaintiff in a shareholder-derivative action ceases to be a shareholder of the corporation on whose behalf the action was brought, the shareholder was divested of standing to continue prosecuting the derivative action. Thus, the Holbrooks argued, because Salinas and Wainwright were no longer SAG shareholders following the merger, they lacked standing to prosecute their derivative action and, the argument continued, the Holbrooks were entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. In response, Salinas and Wainwright amended their complaint to allege that a merger "cannot absolve fiduciaries from accountability for fraudulent conduct that necessitated the merger." Rather, they maintained, "such conduct gives rise to a direct claim that survives the merger, as the injury caused by such misconduct is suffered by the shareholders rather than the corporation, and thereby supports a direct cause of action." Subsequently, the parties filed a stipulation of dismissal in which they dismissed Salinas from the action, leaving Wainwright as the sole plaintiff. The Alabama Supreme Court determined that a May 2017 trial court order did not come within the subject-matter-jurisdiction exception to the general rule that the denial of a motion to dismiss or a motion for a summary judgment was not reviewable by petition for a writ of mandamus. “The petitioners have an adequate remedy by way of appeal should they suffer an adverse judgment. Accordingly, we deny the petitions.” View "Ex parte Jon S. Sanderson et al." on Justia Law