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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Candy Parkhurst ("Parkhurst"), personal representative of the estate of her husband, Andrew P. Parkhurst ("Andrew"), deceased, file suit to compel Carter C. Norvell and Parkhurst & Norvell, an accounting firm Norvell had operated as a partnership with Andrew ("the partnership"), to arbitrate a dispute regarding the dissolution of the partnership. Pursuant to an arbitration provision in a dissolution agreement Norvell and Andrew had executed before Andrew's death, the trial court ultimately ordered arbitration and stayed further proceedings until arbitration was complete. Subsequently, however, Parkhurst moved the trial court to lift the stay and to enter a partial summary judgment resolving certain aspects of the dispute in her favor. After the trial court lifted the stay and scheduled a hearing on Parkhurst's motion, Norvell and the partnership appealed, arguing that the trial court was effectively failing to enforce the terms of a valid arbitration agreement in violation of the Federal Arbitration Act. The Alabama Supreme Court determined there was no evidence in the record indicating that Norvell made such an agreement and he, in fact, denied doing so. In the absence of any evidence that would establish such an agreement, as well as any other evidence that would conclusively establish that Norvell clearly and unequivocally expressed an intent to waive his right to have the arbitrator resolve this dispute. As such, Parkhurst failed to meet her burden of showing that the arbitration provision in the dissolution agreement should not have been enforced. Accordingly, the trial court erred by lifting the arbitral stay in order to consider Parkhurst's motion for a partial summary judgment, and its judgment doing so was reversed and remanded. View "Norvell v. Parkhurst" 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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Defendants Robert Przybysz, Ingenuity International, LLC ("Ingenuity"), David Byker, and Global Asset Management Holdings, LLC ("GAM"), filed two petitions for a writ of mandamus. Both petitions sought a writ ordering the Jefferson Circuit Court to vacate the portion of its order requiring Przybysz, Byker, and GAM to dismiss an action they filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama against Nannette Smith alleging breach of a settlement agreement between the parties. Smith and B2K Systems, Inc. ("B2K Inc."), filed an action against the defendants and B2K Systems, LLC ("B2K LLC"), asserting various claims, and, at some point, GAM filed an action against B2K LLC. The two cases were consolidated. After years of litigation, the parties entered into a settlement agreement, settling both cases. As part of the settlement agreement, Byker and/or GAM were to make an initial payment to Smith and then additional payments over a 30-month period. In exchange, Smith agreed to provide a business asset, which was the object of the underlying litigation, to the defendants. Because the settlement agreement required payments to be made over a 30- month period, the circuit court did not enter a final judgment on the settlement agreement, but placed the case on its administrative docket with the intention of leaving it there until the payments to Smith were satisfied. There was no indication that a final judgment has been entered in the underlying cases. Przybysz, Byker, and GAM sued Smith in the federal district court asserting various claims based on Smith's alleged breach of the settlement agreement. The Alabama Supreme Court agreed with defendants: the circuit court did not have the authority to order Przybysz, Byker, and GAM to dismiss their federal action against Smith; the defendants demonstrated a clear legal right to the relief they sought. View "Ex parte Robert Przybysz" 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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Andrew Barnwell appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of CLP Corporation ("CLP"). CLP owned and operated a McDonald's fast-food restaurant. In 2013, Barnwell visited the restaurant. Barnwell stated that after he entered the restaurant, he went straight to the restroom to wash his hands. Upon exiting the restroom, Barnwell alleged he slipped and fell, and complained of leg and back pain shortly thereafter. Barnwell sued CLP, asserting a claim of negligence. After a review of the facts entered in the trial court record, the Supreme Court held the circuit court erred in entering a summary judgment in favor of CLP. "CLP failed to present substantial evidence supporting its affirmative defense that the [floor's] condition that allegedly caused Barnwell to slip and fall was an open and obvious danger." View "Barnwell v. CLP Corporation" on Justia Law

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Austal USA, LLC filed two petitions for a writ of mandamus directing the Mobile Circuit Court to dismiss certain claims asserted against it by plaintiffs Michael Keshock, Martin Osborn, Richard Fitzgerald, Tyrone Lucas, Riley Bodiford, Tommie Brandon, Justin Reed, and William White. Austal operates a shipyard in Mobile that builds naval vessels. Each of the plaintiffs is an employee of Austal who claims to have been injured while working in the course of his or her employment. Specifically, each plaintiff claimed to have been injured by a tool known as a "Miller saw." After a review of the circuit court record, the Supreme Court concluded that Austal did not show a clear legal right to the relief sought. Accordingly, the Court denied Austal's petitions. View "Ex parte Austal USA, LLC." on Justia Law

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PT Solutions Holdings, LLC ("PT Solutions"), petitioned for a writ of mandamus seeking an order directing the Barbour Circuit Court to vacate its order denying PT Solutions' motion to dismiss the underlying complaint filed by Laurie White based on an outbound forum selection clause and to grant the motion to dismiss. PT Solutions hired White as the clinic director of its Eufaula location. In September 2014, PT Solutions revised the employment agreements for its clinic directors. The letter agreement described a bonus structure, and included a noncompete clause. The agreement also contained a forum-selection clause, selecting Fulton County, Georgia as proper venue for disputes between the parties. White voluntarily resigned her position as clinic director of PT Solutions' Eufaula clinic and became clinic director for Eufaula Physical Therapy (EPT). She also recruited the office manager and two physical therapists who were working at PT Solutions' Eufaula clinic to come work at EPT. Because of White's actions on behalf of EPT, PT Solutions' counsel sent White a cease-and-desist letter in which he asserted that White had violated the noncompetition agreement. In response, White sued PT Solutions and fictitiously named defendants in the Alabama Circuit Court seeking a judgment declaring that the noncompetition agreement was unenforceable. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court found that White failed to clearly establish that enforcement of the forum-selection clause would be either unfair or unreasonable. PT Solutions demonstrated a clear legal right to have the action against it dismissed on the basis that venue in the Barbour Circuit Court was, by virtue of the forum-selection clause, improper. The circuit court exceeded its discretion in denying PT Solutions' motion to dismiss. Accordingly, the Supreme Court granted PT Solutions' petition and granted the writ. View "Ex parte PT Solutions Holdings, LLC." on Justia Law

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The Town of Mosses and its chief of police Jimmy Harris, separately petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the Lowndes Circuit Court to enter a summary judgment in their favor on certain claims asserted against them by Geraldine Grant Bryson. The Court consolidated their petitions for the purpose of writing one opinion. At the time of the events giving rise to this action, Bryson operated an entertainment venue known as "The Spot." Bryson described "The Spot" as a "community center for all activities." Bryson requested that the Town grant her a liquor license, but the Town's council denied her request. In 2010, Bryson rented "The Spot" to a deejay, who planned to host a "beer bash" on its premises. Approximately 200 people turned out for the event even though the entertainment portion of the event was ultimately canceled by the deejay. Although Bryson, who was at "The Spot" on the night of the event, testified that she did not see anyone consuming alcoholic beverages at the event, she acknowledged that the deejay hosting the event had brought alcohol that he planned to "give ... away [to] the community for showing support for the center." The mayor saw one of the deejay's flyers promoting the event. The mayor, in turn, notified Harris. Harris saw one of the flyers, organized a task force of officers from multiple law-enforcement agencies, and entered "The Spot," observing alcohol being consumed. Bryson was ultimately arrested for selling alcohol without a license. The charges against Bryson were later dismissed because the Town was unable to produce a witness who could testify to paying an admission to "The Spot" and drinking alcohol on the premises. Bryson sued the Town and Harris asserting claims of malicious prosecution, false arrest, false imprisonment, harassment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, libel, and slander. When the trial court denied the Town and Harris' motions to dismiss, they sought mandamus relief. The Alabama Supreme Court directed the trial court to vacate its order denying Harris's summary-judgment motion as to the false-arrest, false-imprisonment, and malicious-prosecution claims and to enter a summary-judgment for Harris on those grounds. To the extent Harris sought mandamus review of intentional infliction of emotional distress, harassment, libel, and slander, the petition was denied. The trial court was further directed to vacate its order denying the Town's summary-judgment motion and to enter a summary judgment for the Town as to each claim asserted against it. View "Ex parte Town of Mosses." on Justia Law