Articles Posted in Alabama Supreme Court

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Elaine Dees sued Guyoungtech USA, Inc., alleging retaliatory discharge. A jury awarded Dees $1 million in compensatory damages and $2.5 million in punitive damages. The trial court denied Guyoungtech's post-trial motion for a judgment as a matter of law ("JML") or, alternatively, for a new trial but remitted the awards to $300,000 in compensatory damages and $900,000 in punitive damages, which Dees accepted. Guyoungtech appealed. Because the Supreme Court concluded that Guyoungtech is entitled to a new trial, it did not address the denial of its motion for a JML. View "Guyoungtech USA, Inc. v. Dees " on Justia Law

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This appeal arose from an accident that occurred on the Mobile River. Groton Pacific Carriers, Inc., and International Tanker Management Holding LTD. ("ITM") appealed a judgment in favor of Carl Jackson, as personal representative of the estate of Carl L. Williams, deceased, and as next friend of Camren Lamarcus Williams, Jayden Eugene Williams, and Cartez Labruce Williams, minors; and Edward L. Purdue. Purdue and Williams were working for Mo-Bay Shipping Services, Inc. as line handlers. In 2008, they were dispatched by Mo-Bay to meet the ocean-going tanker MT Glenross. They were to use a Mo-Bay boat to transport the Glenross's steel mooring lines from where the Glenross was anchored to shore-side bollards located a few hundred yards away. The accident occurred while Purdue and Williams were handling one of the Glenross's mooring lines. As a result of either a mechanical problem with the ship's winch or improper operation of the winch by the Glenross's crew, the mooring line continued to be reeled in, and the boat Williams and Purdue were in, which was connected to the line, was pulled out of the water and up the side of the Glenross's hull. Williams and Purdue held onto the boat as it was lifted from the water. The boat, however, broke free from the line, fell into the river, and capsized. Williams and Purdue, who were not wearing life vests, fell into the water. Purdue was able to climb atop the capsized boat and was rescued. Williams, who could not swim, drowned. Count one of the complaint alleged that Purdue and Williams were "Jones Act seamen" and asserted a Jones Act claim against Mo-Bay. Count one additionally alleged general maritime-law claims of negligence and unseaworthiness against Groton Pacific, ITM, and Cypress. Count one also made an alternative claim that Purdue and Williams were longshoremen and/or harbor workers entitled to recover from Groton Pacific, ITM, and Cypress under the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act. Count two of the complaint asserted claims under Alabama law, including a wrongful-death claim. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Jackson and Purdue. The jury also found Purdue and Williams guilty of 25% comparative fault. On appeal, Groton Pacific and ITM argued that the trial court erred in ruling before trial that Williams and Purdue were harbor workers. Groton and ITM argue that that ruling led the trial court into a number of subsequent legal errors, including incorrectly charging the jury, particularly with respect to the type of damages available, and refusing to allow the jury to apportion any fault to Mo-Bay. The Supreme Court concluded that the trial court erred in ruling as a matter of law that Williams and Purdue were harbor workers. The case therefore was reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Groton Pacific Carriers, Inc. v. Jackson" on Justia Law

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In this case, employees sued their employer alleging breach of contract, conversion, breach of fiduciary duty, and bad faith and the application of the doctrine of estoppel arising out of the defendants' recoupment of early retirement benefits they claimed the employees were not entitled to under the employer's retirement Plan. The employer filed a counterclaim seeking immediate repayment from the employees of the benefits, interest, and attorney fees arising out of the payment of the early-retirement benefits based on their fiduciary duty to the Plan. The factual underpinnings of the adjudicated claims were the same as those of the unadjudicated counterclaim of the defendants. The trial court's resolution of the employees' claims did not moot the defendants' counterclaim because the trial court had to decide whether immediate recoupment (less any amount already received through the actuarially reduced monthly benefits), interest, and attorney fees were owed the defendants for the early-retirement benefits received by the employees. The Supreme Court remanded the case to trial court to reconsider the facts relating to the recoupment of the benefits in determining the defendants' counterclaim, including determining whether the defendants were entitled to immediate recoupment, interest, and attorney fees. The Supreme Court concluded the trial court's certification of finality under Rule 54(b) was ineffective, and, because there was no final judgment, both the appeal and cross-appeal were dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. View "Fuller v. Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority" on Justia Law

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Hubert Norris appealed the grant of summary judgment to the Fayette County Commission and the dismissal of his petition for a writ of mandamus. Norris held the office of Sheriff of Fayette County for consecutive four-year terms beginning June 1974 until his resignation in May 1989. As sheriff, Norris participated in the county's supernumerary sheriffs' benefit program. During his fourth term in office, Norris resigned pursuant to a plea agreement in federal court. As part of the agreement, Norris pleaded guilty to multiple federal felonies, including racketeering, bribery, and tax evasion. Norris was convicted and sentenced to 37 months in prison. Norris later received a full pardon from the Alabama State Board of Pardons and Paroles, which restored all of his civil and political rights that had been forfeited by virtue of his conviction. Several years later, the then-Governor appointed Norris as supernumerary sheriff of Fayette County. The Commission petitioned to have Norris excluded from office. The Fayette Circuit Court issued the writ, and Norris appealed. On appeal, the Supreme Court held that Norris was precluded from serving as supernumerary sheriff after having received a pardon. Norris ran for and was reelected as Sheriff of Fayette County several years later. Norris served as sheriff, and he contributed to the supernumerary sheriffs' benefit program for each of those years. The State of Alabama again petitioned for a writ of quo warranto, alleging that Norris had unlawfully held his office, but this time the circuit court ruled in favor of Norris. Norris ended up serving out his term as sheriff. But toward the end of that term, the Commission sought a legal opinion from the attorney general regarding the county's obligation to pay Norris any supernumerary sheriff's benefits. Norris filed with then Governor Bob Riley a written declaration seeking to become a supernumerary sheriff for Fayette County at the end of his term as sheriff; Norris stated in that declaration that he met all the requirements to be appointed as a supernumerary sheriff. Governor Riley commissioned Norris as supernumerary sheriff of Fayette County. The Commission sought another legal opinion from the attorney general regarding whether Norris's appointment by Governor Riley affected the status of Norris with regard to his supernumerary benefits. The attorney general advised the Commission that, because Governor Riley had already appointed Norris as supernumerary sheriff, the question was moot. Months later Governor Riley's chief legal advisor purported to rescind Norris's appointment after learning of his felony conviction. Norris responded by filing a petition for a writ of mandamus compelling payment of past and future supernumerary sheriff's benefits. The trial court entered a summary judgment in favor of the Commission, concluding as a matter of law that Norris had not served as sheriff for the requisite number of years as required by law, and that Governor Riley's appointment of Norris as supernumerary sheriff was void ab initio; the trial court therefore dismissed Norris's petition for a writ of mandamus. Because the trial court correctly held that, as a matter of law, Norris did not meet the statutory requirements to be appointed a supernumerary sheriff, Norris was not entitled to the mandamus relief he requested. Accordingly, the Supreme Court concluded the trial court did not err in entering a summary judgment in favor of the Commission and in dismissing Norris's petition for a writ of mandamus. View "Norris v. Fayette County Commission " on Justia Law

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Roy Harbin started working as a police officer for the City in 1972. At that time, he started mandatory participation in the Policemen's and Firemen's Retirement Fund of the City of Gadsden ("the PFRF"). In 1975, the PFRF was modified by the Legislature, and a "sliding scale provision" was eliminated. The PFRF was modified again in 1980. In 2002, all PFRF funds were transferred to the Employees Retirement System of Alabama ("the ERS"), which then administered the retirement program for the City's police officers. Harbin retired in 2012 and received pension payments under the ERS. In 2007, Harbin sued the City, alleging breach of contract under the 1972 PFRF. He amended his complaint five time, with the last amendment in 2011. He eventually won on his breach of contract claim against the City. The City appealed the circuit court's denial of its motion to dismiss. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that Harbin had no presented sufficient evidence to establish that Harbin had a contract with the city. The Court therefore concluded the City was entitled to summary judgment. View "City of Gadsden v. Harbin " on Justia Law

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In consolidated appeals, defendants the Alabama Department of Corrections, various department officials, and Governor Robert Bentley, appealed in case no. 1111588, the trial court's determination limiting certain deductions from work-release earnings for inmates. In case no. 1120264, Jerry Mack Merritt (as sole representative of the plaintiff class) cross-appealed, raising numerous challenges to the trial court's final judgment. After its review, the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal in case no. 1120264 as untimely filed; in case no. 1111588, the Court reversed and remanded. The Court found that the department's interpretation of section 14-8-6 as permitting its collection of charges, which were not incident to the inmate's confinement, in excess of a 40% withholding cap established by that statute was both reasonable and consistent with the statutory language. View "Thomas v. Merritt" on Justia Law

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Afassco, Inc., a Nevada-based corporation, appealed a circuit court judgment that held a judgment Afassco obtained in a Nevada state court against former Afassco employee and Alabama resident Comer Ladon Sanders was void because the Nevada court lacked personal jurisdiction over Sanders. Afassco sued Sanders in a Nevada court. After Afassco domesticated the judgment in Alabama in an attempt to collect on it, Sanders moved an Alabama court for relief from the judgment, arguing that the Nevada court lacked personal jurisdiction over him. The Alabama court agreed and entered a judgment granting Sanders's motion. However, because Sanders filed a motion in the Nevada court asking it to dismiss Afassco's action based on the alleged lack of personal jurisdiction, he consented to the court's determination of that issue. He waived any right to subsequently litigate that issue in another forum. Because of that waiver, the Alabama Supreme Court concluded it was unnecessary to consider the substance of Sanders's argument that the Nevada court lacked personal jurisdiction over him, and we accordingly pretermitted all consideration of that issue. The judgment of the trial court was reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings. View "Afassco, Inc. v. Sanders " on Justia Law

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The City of Gadsden and certain members of the State Employees' Insurance Board appealed two circuit court orders that granted injunctive relief to John Boman. Boman worked as a Gadsden police officer from 1965 until he retired in 1991. In 2000, Gadsden elected to join the 'Local Government Health Insurance Plan,' a health benefit plan administered by the Board. When Boman turned 65 in 2011, he was receiving medical care for congestive heart failure and other ailments. After his 65th birthday, Blue Cross began denying his claims for medical treatment based on the failure to provide Blue Cross with a 'record of the Medicare payment.' However, Boman had no Medicare credits. When the dispute over coverage arose, Boman sought review by the Board. The Board denied Boman's request for an appeal. Boman and 18 other active and retired Gadsden police officers sued Gadsden, alleging, among other things, that they had 'been deprived of Social Security and Medicare protection which other police officers have been provided' and that, after 20 years of service, they were being required to pay a higher pension charge or percentage of base pay than their counterparts who were hired after April 1, 1986. In 2011, Boman filed a 'motion for immediate relief for medical care.' The Supreme Court found that the circuit court issued preliminary injunctive relief against Gadsden without requiring Boman to give security and without making any specific findings. As such, the Supreme Court had "no alternative but to reverse" the preliminary injunction issued against Gadsden and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "City of Gadsden v. Boman " on Justia Law

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Two police officers and the City of Birmingham petitioned for a writ of mandamus to direct the circuit court to vacate its judgment denying the petitioners' motion for a summary judgment and to enter a judgment in their favor based on State-agent immunity. Officers with the Birmingham Police Department (BPD) responded to a vehicle fire, as did James Higginbotham, a firefighter employed by the Birmingham Fire and Rescue Service (BFRS). The officers sustained injuries as a result of an accident between the first responders. The injured officers sued Higginbotham, the City, and several fictitiously named defendants, asserting claims of negligence and wantonness against Higginbotham and vicarious liability against the City. After review, the Supreme Court concluded that the petitioners demonstrated a clear legal right to a summary judgment based on State-agent immunity. Therefore, the Court granted the petition and issue the writ directing the circuit court to enter a summary judgment for one of the officers and for the City as to its liability based on the claims against that officer. View "In re: Whatley v. Higginbotham" on Justia Law

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The City of Bessemer and Bessemer City Councillors Jimmy Stephens, Dorothy Davidson, Sarah W. Belcher, and Albert Soles sought a writ of mandamus to direct the Circuit Court to dismiss a claim alleging bad-faith failure to pay legal bills and costs stemming from a complaint filed by former City Councillor Louise Alexander and the law firm of White, Arnold & Dowd, P.C. ("WAD"). The City councillors also sought to have a racial-discrimination claim dismissed. The plaintiffs alleged that in 2006 and 2007 Alexander received three donations from a Tuscaloosa real-estate developer, which were properly used for charitable projects in her district. In this same period (according to the complaint), Davidson and Belcher, received similar donations from the same individual for charitable projects in their respective districts. According to the complaint, beginning in the early spring of 2007, plaintiff Alexander opposed several projects the donor had proposed to the City and, the donor "vowed to retaliate." The complaint alleged that because of the donor's complaint to the Attorney General, a five-count indictment against Alexander was filed in August 2008 alleging violations of the Alabama Ethics Law. The complaint asserted that similar charges were not brought against Davidson and Belcher. WAD represented Alexander during her criminal proceedings. Alexander was ultimately acquitted. Alexander and WAD alleged that the City had a "policy and practice" of paying legal fees for city officials charged with crimes relating to their official duties if and when they were found not guilty. Upon review, the Supreme Court granted the petition for mandamus relief as it related to the bad-faith claim against the City. The Court denied the petition with regard to plaintiffs' claim against the City councillors regarding the racial discrimination claim: the councilors did not demonstrate entitlement to legislative immunity, and whether they were entitled to qualified immunity was a question requiring further consideration of facts outside of the pleadings. View "Alexander v. City of Bessemer" on Justia Law