Justia Business Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Alabama
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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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Jerome Speegle and Anthony Hoffman, two members of Zieman Speegle, LLC, a law firm based in Mobile, petitioned for approval of dissolution of the firm. Thomas Zieman, Jr., previously a member of the law firm, appeared in the action, asserting a counterclaim against the law firm and a third-party complaint against Speegle and Hoffman. Without holding a hearing, the trial court entered a summary judgment on Zieman's counterclaim and third-party complaint in favor of the law firm, Speegle, and Hoffman. The trial court also identified the equity-holding members of the law firm and provided for the distribution of the assets of the law firm. Because the Alabama Supreme Court held the trial court should have held a hearing, it reversed the trial court's judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Zieman v. Zieman Speegle, 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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Valley National Bank ("VNB") petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Montgomery Circuit Court to dismiss a declaratory-judgment action filed against VNB by Jesse Blount, Wilson Blount, and William Blount. William owned a 33% interest in Alabama Utility Services, LLC ("AUS"). William also served as the president of WWJ Corporation, Inc. ("WWJ"), and WWJ managed AUS. Wilson and Jesse, William's sons, owned all the stock of WWJ. In May 2013, William transferred his 33% interest in AUS to WWJ, and WWJ then owned all of the interest in AUS. In July 2015, VNB obtained a $905,599.90 judgment against William in an action separate from the underlying action. On August 31, 2015, Asset Management Professionals, LLC, purchased from WWJ all the assets of AUS for $1,600,000. On July 17, 2018, the Blounts filed a declaratory-judgment action seeking a judgment declaring "that (a) William's transfer of his interest in AUS to WWJ was not fraudulent as to [VNB], (b) William was not the alter ego of AUS or WWJ, (c) the sale of AUS did not result in a constructive trust in favor of [VNB], and (d) the [Blounts] did not engage in a civil conspiracy." VNB responded by filing a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) and (b)(6), Ala. R. Civ. P., asserting the lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and the lack of a justiciable controversy. The parties were referred to mediation, which was unsuccessful. The Supreme Court determined that with regard to the Blounts' complaint, insofar as it sought a judgment declaring that William's transfer of his interest in AUS to WWJ was not fraudulent as to VNB and that the Blounts did not engage in a civil conspiracy, a declaratory-judgment action was inappropriate as a means of resolving those issues. Therefore, VNB had demonstrated a clear legal right to have its motion to dismiss granted as to those claims. With regard to the alter-ego claim and the constructive-trust claim, VNB did not demonstrate "a clear legal right" to have those claims dismissed. The Court therefore granted in part, and denied in part, the petition for mandamus relief. View "Ex parte Valley National Bank." on Justia Law

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The Health Care Authority for Baptist Health, an affiliate of UAB Health Systems ("the Authority"), and Simeon Penton (collectively, "Baptist Health") appealed a circuit court judgment compelling Baptist Health to disclose certain documents to Central Alabama Radiation Oncology, LLC ("CARO"), under the auspices of the Alabama Open Records Act. CARO was a Montgomery-area radiation-oncology practice; CARO provided radiation and oncology services at the Montgomery Cancer Center ("MCC"), a facility owned and operated by the Authority. The Authority and CARO executed a noncompetition agreement in May 2012. In 2017, the Authority submitted a letter of intent to file a certificate-of-need ("CON") application with the State Health Planning and Development Agency ("SHPDA"). The letter of intent indicated that the Authority sought to offer radiation-oncology services at the Prattville location of MCC. CARO alleged it then attempted to persuade the Authority to use CARO physicians for radiation-oncology services at the Prattville location of MCC but that the Authority rebuffed CARO's overtures. In February 2018, the Authority filed its CON. Then in March 2018, the Authority notified CARO of the termination of the noncompetition agreement. A dispute arose and ended up in court. Counsel for the Authority sent CARO a letter requesting that CARO dismiss its action because, the Authority asserted, CARO's review of Board minutes confirmed that the Authority had not breached the noncompetition agreement by recruiting or employing radiation oncologists to work at the Prattville location of MCC. CARO asserted that redactions in the minutes included information relating to arrangements with medical oncologists, the Medicare 340B program, and the Authority's other proposed projects in the Prattville area. Counsel for the Authority contended that the remainder of the Board minutes and other documents CARO requested were "confidential and privileged and/or not subject to production under [the ORA]." The circuit court ultimately ordered unredacted minutes to be produced. The Alabama Supreme Court determined that although the Authority allowed CARO's counsel to review the unredacted Board minutes, it steadfastly refused to provide a copy of those unredacted minutes to CARO. Thus, the Authority plainly did not sufficiently comply with the ORA with respect to the Board minutes, and the circuit court did not exceed the scope of the ORA in ordering the records disclosed. View "Health Care Authority for Baptist Health v. Central Alabama Radiation Oncology, LLC" 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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The issue this case presented for the Alabama Supreme Court’s review was who had the power to determine the location of an arbitration proceeding: an arbitrator or Circuit Court. The Court concluded that, under the facts of this case, the arbitrator had that power; thus, reversed and remanded. View "Alliance Investment Company, LLC v. Omni Construction Company, Inc., a/k/a OCC, Inc" on Justia Law

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International Paper Company and three of its employees (collectively, "IPC") petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Wilcox Circuit Court to vacate its order denying IPC's motion to dismiss the underlying third-party action against it without prejudice based on improper venue. In 2015, Caterpillar Financial Services Corporation ("Caterpillar") entered into various loan and guaranty agreements with JRD Contracting, Inc. ("JRD") for the purchase of certain equipment. That equipment was to serve as collateral for the loans between Caterpillar and JRD. According to Caterpillar, JRD failed to pay the amounts due under the loan agreements, and, in September 2015 and again in December 2015, Caterpillar notified JRD of its intention to accelerate the loans and to make demand for the return of the equipment. In the summer of 2016, a JRD subsidiary, JRD Land Contracting and Land Clearing, Inc. ("JRD C&L"), signed an agreement with International Paper in which JRD C&L agreed to dispose of International Paper's waste at its Pine Hill Mill for a period of five years. In 2016, Caterpillar sued JRD at the Wilcox Circuit Court alleging a claim of detinue and seeking damages for breach of contract and breach of the guarantees. After performing work for International Paper under a waste-services agreement for eight months, JRD C&L received written notice of International Paper's intent to terminate the waste-services agreement. The equipment Caterpillar sought was used for the JRD C&L contract; in the pending Wilcox Circuit Court action, JRD filed a third-party complaint against IPC and fictitiously named defendants seeking a declaration and damages for breach of contract, promissory estoppel, fraud, work and labor done, and indemnity. When International Paper terminated that agreement, JRD alleged, it could no longer afford to pay the loans from their lenders, including Caterpillar, although they had already defaulted on some of those loans. IPC moved to dismiss the third-party complaint based on improper venue. According to IPC, the waste-services agreement contained an outbound forum-selection clause that provided that the courts of Tennessee would have jurisdiction over any disputes arising out of or relating to that agreement. IPC also challenged whether JRD or Dailey had a right to bring the third-party action because, it argued, the third-party action had nothing to do with the transactions underlying Caterpillar's lawsuit. IPC argued that, generally, outbound forum-selection clauses were enforceable in Alabama and that the third-party plaintiffs did not establish that the enforcement of the clause would be unfair or unreasonable. According to IPC, because the third-party plaintiffs failed to meet their burden, the outbound forum-selection clause should have been enforced. The Alabama Supreme Court agreed with IPC and issued the writ. View "Ex parte International Paper Company." on Justia Law

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Somnus Mattress Corporation d/b/a Posturecraft Mattress Company ("Somnus") appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of Stephen Hilson and Crutchfield & Graves Insurance Agency, LLC ("CGIA"), on Somnus's claim that Hilson and CGIA were negligent in advising Somnus not to purchase insurance coverage for business interruption and loss of profits ("business-income coverage"). After review of the circuit court record, the Alabama Supreme Court concluded Hilson and CGIA did not have a duty to advise Somnus concerning the adequacy of its insurance coverage. Without such a duty, as a matter of law Somnus could not establish that Hilson and CGIA were negligent in their actions. Therefore, the circuit court did not err in entering a summary judgment in favor of Hilson and CGIA. View "Somnus Mattress Corp. v. Hilson" on Justia Law

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Maynard, Cooper & Gale, P.C. ("MCG"), petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Jefferson Circuit Court to vacate its July 30, 2018 order denying MCG's motion for a change of venue and to enter an order transferring the underlying action to the Madison Circuit Court on the basis of the doctrine of forum non conveniens. In late 2017, AAL USA, Inc. ("AAL"), a Delaware corporation doing business in Alabama, and Oleg Sirbu, a resident of Dubai, United Arab Emirates (collectively, "the plaintiffs"), sued MCG, asserting a claim of legal malpractice pursuant to the Alabama Legal Services Liability Act ("the ALSLA"), and seeking, among other relief, disgorgement of all attorney fees paid by the plaintiffs to MCG. AAL maintained, repaired, and overhauled helicopters through various government contracts or subcontracts on United States military bases. MCG represented the plaintiffs from 2014 through October 28, 2016; two MCG attorneys, Jon Levin and J. Andrew Watson III, were shareholders of MCG whose allegedly wrongful conduct was performed within the line and scope of their employment with MCG. The events giving rise to this litigation began in September 2016, when AAL received a "base-debarment" letter notifying it that it no longer had access to certain military bases outside the continental United States. MCG chief financial officer Keith Woolford forwarded this letter to MCG, and, according to the plaintiffs, MCG "immediately embarked in a central role in [MCG CEO Paul] Daigle's and Woolford's scheme to steal the assets of AAL." The complaint alleged that Levin worked closely with Woolford and Daigle to draft the APA pursuant to which Black Hall Aerospace, Inc., Daigle, and Woolford would purchase all of AAL's assets, as a way to cure the base-debarment problem. The plaintiffs alleged that MCG knew that the APA would "gut" the plaintiffs –- its current clients –- while simultaneously benefiting Daigle, Woolford, and BHA –- other clients of MCG -- and that this "clear and irreconcilable conflict of interest ... was never disclosed to [the plaintiffs]." The Alabama Supreme Court concluded MCG carried its burden of showing that Madison County's connection to the action was strong and that Jefferson County's connection to the action was weak. Thus, the circuit court exceeded its discretion in refusing to transfer the case to the Madison Circuit Court in the interest of justice. MCG's petition for a writ of mandamus was granted. View "Ex parte Maynard, Cooper & Gale, P.C." on Justia Law