Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Alabama Supreme Court

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Schnitzer Steel Industries, Inc. sought a writ of mandamus to direct the Jefferson Circuit Court to vacate its order compelling discovery of a post-accident investigation report related to an accident that occurred at the Birmingham facility of Schnitzer Southeast, LLC (a subsidiary). In 2008, Jason Jackson had part of his leg amputated as a result of a workplace accident that occurred at Schnitzer Southeast's metal-recycling facility in Birmingham. After the accident, Schnitzer Steel instigated a post-accident investigation. Josephine Cetta, who was a safety director at Schnitzer Steel at the time of Jackson's accident, conducted the investigation. Cetta testified in her deposition that in-house counsel at Schnitzer Steel reviewed and edited the report. She also testified that in-house counsel marked the report as privileged. Sometime after the accident but before Cetta's report was created, Jackson filed a worker's compensation claim with Schnitzer Southeast. In September 2010, Jackson and his wife, Latonya Jackson, filed a separate action against Schnitzer Steel and certain of its employees, seeking additional recovery for the injuries Jackson suffered. The trial court ordered Schnitzer Steel to produce, among other things, "reports of safety inspections." Here, the evidence before the Supreme Court indicated that, although anticipation of litigation may not have been the sole factor for preparing the report, it was "a significant factor" in the company's decision to have the report prepared. The Supreme Court concluded that the trial court exceeded its discretion by ordering Schnitzer Steel to produce the report, which was prepared in reasonable anticipation of litigation. Therefore, the Court granted Schnitzer Steel's petition and issued the writ. View "Jackson v. Schnitzer Steel Industries, Inc." on Justia Law

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Jessica Eastman, as the dependent widow of David Bentley, and on behalf of Bentley's three minor children, appealed a judgment entered in favor of R. Warehousing and Port Services Inc. On appeal to the Supreme Court, she argued: (1) that she was entitled to a judgment as a matter of law on R. Warehousing's affirmative defense based on the "loaned-servant" doctrine; and (2) she was entitled to a new trial because counsel for R. Warehousing implied during opening statements that she had recovered workers' compensation benefits from Richway Transportation Services,Inc. in violation of the collateral-source rule. Finding no error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Eastman v. R Warehousing & Port Services, Inc. " on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Fernando Rodriguez-Flores appealed the dismissal of his claims of retaliatory discharge and fraud brought against his former employer, U.S. Coatings, Inc. He worked as a painter. He stated that he suffered on the job injuries from paint-fume inhalation and other maladies. He sued the employer for workmans' compensation benefits, asserting retaliatory discharge and fraud based on his physical complaints and subsequent treatment. The trial court dismissed his complaint. Finding that the trial court did not err with regard to dismissing Plaintiff's fraud claim, the Supreme Court affirmed to that regard. However, the Court concluded the trial court erred with regard to the retaliatory-discharge claim. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Rodriguez-Flores v. U.S. Coatings, Inc. " on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Stanford Isbell sued M&J Materials, Inc. seeking workmans' compensation benefits. He also sought compensatory and punitive damages based on his claim of a retaliatory discharge. M&J denied liability, specifically averring that Plaintiff's employment was terminated for violating a workplace prohibition of carrying firearms. The parties settled their differences with regards to the workmans' compensation claims, leaving the retaliatory discharge to be heard by the trial court. The jury found in Plaintiff's favor, but the Court of Appeals reversed. Upon review of the matter, the Supreme Court concluded the appellate court erred in its analysis of the facts in record and the applicable law. Accordingly, the appellate court's judgment was reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings. View "M & J Materials, Inc. v. Isbell" on Justia Law

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Tommy Wiley appealed a circuit court judgment in favor of Bohannon Services, Inc. As a Bohannon employee, Wiley suffered a shoulder injury as a result of a work-related accident. Wiley filed a complaint requesting that the trial court set the issue of his right to receive total-disability benefits for an immediate hearing, order Bohannon to pay a 15% penalty and award any other benefits to which Wiley may be entitled. At a hearing, counsel for both parties informed the trial court that a settlement had been reached, and the terms of the settlement agreement were read into the record. Both parties were to separately file a proposed settlement agreement and obtain approval from the trial court. According to Bohannon, Wiley had failed to file a proposed settlement agreement as required by the trial court and had refused to sign the proposed settlement agreement submitted to the trial court by Bohannon. Wiley filed a response to Bohannon's motion in which he averred that he did not agree with certain provisions of the proposed settlement agreement that was submitted to the trial court by Bohannon, and he requested that the trial court set the matter for a hearing. The trial court entered an order purporting to grant Wiley's postjudgment motion to set aside the settlement agreement, provided that Wiley reimburse Bohannon for any settlement proceeds that Wiley had received and all costs and attorney fees that Bohannon had incurred during the course of this action. Subsequently, Wiley filed a motion requesting relief from the court's prior order and for leave to amend his original complaint. After a hearing, the trial court found that Wiley had failed to comply with the requirements of the set-aside order and therefore denied Wiley's requests for relief and enforced the previously entered settlement agreement. Wiley filed a motion styled as a "motion for new trial or in the alternative motion for relief from judgment or order and motion to alter, vacate or amend pursuant to Rule[s] 59 and 60," but that too was denied. Wiley then appealed to the Supreme Court. Upon review, the Supreme Court found that Wiley did not timely file a notice of appeal. Accordingly, the Court dismissed his appeal for lack of jurisdiction. View "Wiley v. Bohannon Services, Inc. " on Justia Law

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The Alabama Insurance Guaranty Association ("AIGA") filed an action against Mercy Medical Association, and Catholic Health East, Inc. ("CHE"), seeking to recover money it had paid on behalf of Mercy Medical and CHE on workers' compensation claims filed by employees of Mercy Medical as well as a judgment declaring its right to reimbursement of statutory benefits to be paid on the employees' claims in the future. AIGA, Mercy Medical, and CHE each moved for a summary judgment. The trial court entered a summary judgment in favor of Mercy Medical and CHE, determining: (1) that the 2000 AIGA Act applied because it was in effect at the time of the insolvency of Reliance National Insurance Company (CHE's workers' compensation insurer), and at the time the workers' compensation judgment was entered against Mercy Medical; (2) that the 2009 AIGA Act did not apply retroactively because the 2009 amendments to the AIGA Act substantively changed the law; and (3) that under the 2000 AIGA Act, Mercy Medical's net worth did not exceed $25,000,000, so AIGA could not recover any amounts it had paid on behalf of Mercy Medical. AIGA appealed. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that the applicable law governing the vesting of AIGA's right to reimbursement of claims paid was the law in effect on the date of the insurer's insolvency. Further, the Court also concluded that the addition of the net-worth definitions in the 2009 AIGA Act were substantive and did not apply retroactively in this case. Finally, the Court concluded that AIGA was not entitled to reimbursement from Mercy Medical or CHE because, under the 2000 AIGA Act, Mercy Medical's net worth did not exceed $25,000,000 and the payments were not made on behalf of CHE. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the trial court's judgment in favor of Mercy Medical and CHE. View "Alabama Insurance Guaranty Association v. Mercy Medical Association" on Justia Law

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The president of the University of South Alabama and several hospital administrators petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the circuit court to vacate an order that denied their motion for summary judgment, and to enter an order granting their motion. The underlying suit arose from a contract dispute between the University and the former dean of the College of Medicine, Dr. Richard Teplick. Changes in duties to University Hospital administration lead to the elimination of certain positions and a reassignment of Dr. Teplick's duties. Dr. Teplick was unhappy with the reassignment and the University's substitution. Dr. Teplick sued the University and administration in their official and individual capacities alleging among other things, a violation of his due process rights, bad faith, emotional distress, punitive damages, backpay and reinstatement (or "front pay" in lieu of reinstatement). The University answered Dr. Teplick's complaint, raising among other defenses, immunity under Article I of the Alabama Constitution. The University moved for summary judgment. The trial court entered an order denying the University's motion without making any findings of fact or conclusions of law. In a lengthy review of the circuit court record, the Supreme Court concluded the University demonstrated a clear legal right to the relief they requested. The Court granted the petition for the writ and directed the circuit court to enter summary judgment in the University's favor. View "In re: Teplick v. Moulton" on Justia Law

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Petitioners James Waltman and Progressive Casualty Insurance Company petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Perry Circuit Court to vacate its order that denied their respective motions to transfer the underlying action to the Tuscaloosa Circuit Court. The underlying case arose from a truck accident in which a utility trailer Waltman was towing disconnected from his vehicle and struck Respondent John Owens' truck. Owens was injured from the accident. Owens filed suit against Waltman, Progressive and GEICO Indemnity Company, including a workers' compensation claim against his employer Griffin Wood, alleging that he was working within the scope of his employment when the accident took place. Owens filed the action in Perry County because Griffin Wood's principal place of business was in Perry County. Waltman filed a motion to transfer venue, contending that a more appropriate forum would be Tuscaloosa since the accident took place in Tuscaloosa County. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that the circuit court exceeded its discretion in denying Waltman's and Progressive's motions for change of venue, and granted their petitions for the writ of mandamus. The Court directed the Perry Circuit Court to transfer the case. View "Owens v. Griffin Wood Company, Inc." on Justia Law

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MTA, Inc. appealed a circuit court order which held that its claims against Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc. were subject to an arbitration agreement and compelling MTA to arbitrate those claims. MTA entered into a deferred compensation agreement ("the DCA") with its employee, Yvonne Sanders. Pursuant to the terms of the DCA, MTA was obligated to pay Yvonne $270,000 in 120 equal monthly installments beginning the month following her 50th birthday or, in the event Yvonne died before reaching her 50th birthday, to pay her children, Tiffany Sanders and Roderick Dedrick, a total of $750,000 in 120 equal monthly installments beginning the month after her death. MTA thereafter obtained a $1,000,000 life insurance policy on Yvonne to fund the death benefit provided in the DCA in the event it became payable. On October 22, 1999, Yvonne died at the age of 43. MTA thereafter received the $1,000,000 it was owed under the life-insurance policy. However, MTA did not begin making payments to Tiffany and Roderick as called for by the DCA. Instead, Tiffany and Robert asked MTA to establish a rabbi trust to handle the payments, presumably to allow for more favorable tax treatment for Tiffany and Roderick. MTA executed a trust agreement with Thomas W. Dedrick, Sr., Tiffany and Roderick's uncle and a licensed broker employed by Merrill Lynch, establishing the trust and depositing into it an initial sum of $506,450. The trust agreement also provided that Thomas would act as trustee of the trust. Subsequent to the creation of the trust some intermittent payments were made from the trust to Tiffany and Roderick before payments ceased in late 2009. The sum total of the payments made did not equal $750,000. In 2011, Tiffany and Roderick filed an action against MTA asserting breach-of-contract and unjust-enrichment claims and seeking $213,777, the amount they allege was still due them pursuant to the DCA. Merrill Lynch moved to compel arbitration of MTA's claims against it pursuant to the arbitration provisions in the account-authorization form. MTA opposed that motion, arguing that it was not a party to those contracts, and, following a hearing on the matter, the trial court granted Merrill Lynch's motion to compel arbitration and dismissed MTA's third-party claims against Merrill Lynch. Upon review, the Supreme Court reversed that order, holding that MTA was not a signatory to those contracts and that the scope of the arbitration provisions in those contracts was too narrow to encompass disputes between Merrill Lynch and other entities not a party to those contracts. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "MTA, Inc. v. Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc." on Justia Law

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James Stanley Wilbanks appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of United Refractories, Inc. ("United"), a company supplying equipment used in the repair of coke-oven batteries, in Wilbanks's action against United seeking damages for personal injuries he sustained from an explosion involving a ceramic welding machine supplied to Wilbanks's employer by United. On the day of the accident, Wilbanks was a member of a three-person welding team engaged in the process of repairing a coke oven. However, as he attempted to remove a powder hose from the mixing chamber, an explosion occurred, causing the loss of his left hand and burns to other portions of his body. Wilbanks sued United alleging that Wilbanks was injured as the result of the "fail[ure]" of "the subject equipment" and that United had "negligently and/or wantonly fail[ed] to properly inspect and maintain the subject equipment and its component parts." Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that Wilbanks failed to produce evidence of any causal relationship between his injuries and any alleged acts or omissions of United. "United's summary-judgment motion was due to be granted. The judgment entered for United is, therefore, affirmed." View "Wilbanks v. United Refractories, Inc. " on Justia Law