Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Alabama

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James Wood, a retired circuit court judge, appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of: the State of Alabama; Luther Strange, in his capacity as Attorney General for the State of Alabama; David Bronner, in his capacity as chief executive officer of the Employees' Retirement System of Alabama; the Board of Control of the Employees' Retirement System of Alabama ("the Board of Control"); and Thomas White, Jr., in his capacity as Comptroller for the State of Alabama. At issue were increases in the rates of contributions judges and justices are required to pay into the Judicial Retirement Fund ("the Fund"), pursuant to section 12- 18-5, Ala. Code 1975. The Fund was established under the provisions of Act No. 1163, Ala. Acts 1973, codified at section 12- 18-1 et seq., Ala. Code 1975, to provide retirement benefits to qualified judges and justices. Judge Wood was serving his second official term when increases in contribution rates took effect. Judge Wood retired on January 15, 2013. In June 2012, Judge Wood, individually, and on behalf of a purported class of "all members" of the Fund, sued the State defendants, alleging that the mandatory increases in contributions to the Fund reduced Judge Wood's net pay without affording him any additional retirement benefits. He alleged that the increases in contributions violated the Judicial Compensation Clause of Art. VI, section 148(d), Constitution of Alabama of 1901 ("the Compensation Clause"). In his complaint, Judge Wood sought a judgment declaring the Act unconstitutional as violative of the Compensation Clause. Because Judge Wood's claim for money damages was not shown to be within the Alabama Supreme Court's subject-matter jurisdiction and his claim for prospective injunctive relief was moot, also defeating subject-matter jurisdiction, the Court did not address the constitutionality of the Act. Accordingly, the Court held the trial court's judgment upholding the Act against Judge Wood's constitutional challenge was void. Therefore, the Court dismissed the appeal, vacated the summary judgment in favor of the State defendants, and dismissed the action for failure to establish subject-matter jurisdiction as to the claim for monetary damages and on the basis of mootness as to the claim for prospective injunctive relief. View "Wood v. Alabama" 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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Jewels by Park Lane, Inc. ("JBPL"), and Kathy Cassidy, the national director for JBPL, sought a writ of mandamus compelling the Circuit Court to vacate its order denying their motion to dismiss an action against them on the ground of improper venue arising out of a forum-selection clause, and to enter an order dismissing the case. JBPL was a multilevel marketing company that sold jewelry through independent contractors who host parties offering JBPL's jewelry line for sale. Jennifer Miller became a “director” for LBPL. Miller sued JBPL and Cassidy, alleging JBPL promised to employ her for a 12-month period and to pay her $4,000 a month for that period. Miller set out claims alleging account stated, open account, breach of contract, and fraud. Miller sought compensatory damages, punitive damages, and attorney fees. The employment agreement contained a “forum selection clause” in which any disputes between the parties would be settled in accordance with the laws of Illinois. Miller admitted that the director agreement contained a forum selection clause but argued that she would not have entered into the agreement but for the fraud perpetuated by JBPL and Cassidy. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded JBPL and Cassidy have shown a clear legal right to have the action against them dismissed on the basis that venue in the Tallapoosa Circuit Court was, by application of the outbound forum-selection clause, improper. The trial court exceeded its discretion in denying their motion to dismiss Miller's action. View "Ex parte Jewels by Park Lane, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2015, RPM Cranes and its owner Muhammad Wasim Ali sued the defendants CraneWorks, Inc. and its owners, David Upton ("David") and Steve Upton ("Steve"), and Russell Brooks, Rick Yates, and Casey Markos, alleging that Brooks, Yates, and Markos had violated their employment agreements by going to work for CraneWorks and that CraneWorks' hiring of Brooks, Yates, and Markos likewise violated those employment agreements. David and Steve were named as defendants by virtue of their ownership of CraneWorks. RPM and Ali sought monetary damages and injunctive relief. The trial court entered a permanent injunction in favor of RPM and Ali and against the defendants. The Alabama Supreme Court found the injunction at issue in defendants' appeal was not specific in its scope: the order stated that the defendants were "permanently restrained and enjoined from contacting, in any way, whatsoever, any of those clients which are now clients of RPM Cranes." The order failed, however, to specify which clients were included in the injunction. RPM and Ali introduced no evidence as to who RPM's clients were or whether it had developed any clients of its own that Yates and Brooks did not bring onboard as a result of their previous jobs with other entities. In other words, the injunction was broad and vague rather than "specific in [its] terms." The Court reversed the trial court's order and remanded for further proceedings. View "Brooks v. RPM Cranes, LLC" on Justia Law

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SSC Selma Operating Company, LLC, doing business as Warren Manor Health and Rehabilitation Center, and SavaSeniorCare Administrative Services, LLC, appealed a circuit court order denying their motion to compel arbitration of a retaliatory-discharge claim filed against them by Jackie Fikes. Fikes sued the companies, seeking to recover worker's compensation benefits pursuant to the Alabama Workers' Compensation Act, and alleging that the companies had discharged her from her employment in violation of Ala. Code 1975, sec. 25–5–11.1, solely because she had filed a claim for worker's compensation benefits. Fikes alleged that in 2013, she suffered a work-related injury when she attempted to lift a patient while working for the companies as a certified nurse assistant; that she underwent medical treatment for her work-related injury; and that she returned to work under light-duty restrictions until Spring 2014, at which time, she says, the companies wrongfully terminated her employment. Fikes requested in the complaint that the worker's compensation claim and the retaliatory-discharge claim be severed in order for the retaliatory discharge claim to be tried by a jury. The companies moved to compel arbitration of the retaliatory discharge claim pursuant to their employment-dispute resolution program ("the EDR program") under which Fikes had agreed to be bound. Fikes responded, arguing that the retaliatory-discharge claim was not covered by the EDR program. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court concluded Fikes failed to demonstrate her retaliatory-discharge claim was not covered by the EDR program. Accordingly, the Court reversed the trial court's order denying the companies' motion to compel arbitration of that claim. View "SSC Selma Operating Company, LLC v. Fikes" on Justia Law

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Numerous issues of fact precluded the entry of a summary judgment in this case. Debra Foster introduced sufficient rebuttal evidence in support of her position that North American Bus Industries, Inc.'s ("NABI") stated reason for terminating Foster's employment was a pretext so as to create a genuine issue of material fact. NABI had what it referred to as a "no-fault, points-based attendance and absenteeism policy." Foster was injured on the job, diagnosed with a concussion. Foster continued to exhibit symptoms stemming from the diagnosis, and after having missed work due to ad hoc hospitalizations, NABI terminated Foster's employment, citing its absentee policy. The trial court entered an order granting NABI's motion for a summary judgment. The order offered no reasons for the decision, beyond stating that, "[a]fter reviewing all appropriate filings in this case and considering the oral arguments offered by each side at the hearing in this matter, the Court finds there exists no genuine issues of material fact." The Supreme Court reversed the trial court and remanded for further proceedings. View "Foster v. North American Bus Industries, Inc." on Justia Law

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Laura Miller appeals from a summary judgment entered by the Jefferson Circuit Court ("the circuit court") in favor of the City of Birmingham ("the City"), Sandy Roberts, and Alice Crutchfield (collectively, "the City defendants"). Robert Miller, Laura's husband, was employed by the City as a firefighter. Unum Life Insurance Company of America ("Unum") issued a group life and accidental death and dismemberment policy. According to the summary of benefits, the policy included different life-insurance benefits for active employees and for retired employees. Under the policy, as an active employee, the City paid Robert's insurance premiums, thereby entitling him to a life-insurance benefit of $151,000. However, if Robert were to retire, he would be required to pay his life-insurance premiums and would be entitled to only a $50,000 life-insurance benefit. The summary of benefits specified that, in order to be eligible for a waiver of the life-insurance premiums, the insured had to "be disabled through your elimination period," which was nine months. In 2012, Robert was diagnosed with brain cancer and soon became unable to perform the duties of his job. Laura contended once the Millers learned of Robert's condition, they "sought to obtain information about [Mr. Miller's] life insurance benefit and all other benefits that might be available." The Millers did not have a copy of the policy or the summary of benefits at that time. The Millers and Ed Bluemly, Mrs. Miller's brother-in-law, met with Sandy Roberts, the assistant benefit administrator and the pension coordinator for the Jefferson County Personnel Board, and Alice Crutchfield, a personnel technician for the Jefferson County Personnel Board, to learn about the available benefits. The Millers asked for a copy of the policy, and there was a dispute over whether the Crutchfield gave the Millers a copy. The Millers ultimately sued the City for negligence with respect to the policy and collection of the benefits to which Robert was entitled. After review of this matter, the Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court's summary judgment in favor of the City insofar as the circuit court based its summary judgment in favor of the City on the City defendants' argument that the City was entitled to immunity from Laura's claim alleging wanton and reckless misrepresentation. However, the Court reversed the circuit court's summary judgment in favor of the City defendants in all other respects. The Case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Miller v. City of Birmingham et al." on Justia Law

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Defendants were members of the Birmingham Board of Education and the superintendent of the Birmingham City School System. Defendants appealed the circuit court’s judgment in favor of twenty-four "classified employees" of the Birmingham Board of Education ("the plaintiffs"). The trial court held that the plaintiffs' salaries had been miscalculated and awarded them monetary relief. The defendants argued, among other things, that they were entitled to immunity from the plaintiffs' claims. The Supreme Court agreed that the defendants were entitled to immunity. For that reason, the trial court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction, and its judgment was void. Accordingly, the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal. View "Woodfin v. Bender" on Justia Law

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Andrew Hugine, Jr., Ph.D., Daniel Wims, Ph.D., and Mattie Thomas, Ph.D., petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the Circuit Court to vacate its order that denied their requests for qualified immunity and State-agent immunity from all claims filed against them in their individual capacities by Regina Colston in an action stemming from the termination of Colston's employment at Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University ("the University") and to enter a summary judgment in their favor. Colston was hired as an instructor at the University to teach telecommunications for the School of Arts and Sciences in the Department of English, Foreign Languages, and Telecommunications. She taught broadcast journalism and other similar classes at the University continuously for the next 32 years. It was undisputed that the University was facing budget problems when Hugine was hired as president in 2009. The University evaluated faculty for potential dismissal. In the case of Colston, the University found that she was not tenured, and she was placed on the list recommending dismissal. Colston filed a grievance upon being fired. Colson filed suit, and the trial court entered a summary judgment in favor of the defendant as to all claims by Colston seeking compensatory and/or punitive damages against any defendant in the defendant's official capacity. The trial court denied summary judgment as to all other claims. Subsequently, Hugine, Wims, and Thomas filed the present petition for a writ of mandamus in which they asked the Supreme Court to vacate the trial court's judgment. After review, the Supreme Court determined that the trial court erred in not holding that Wims and Hugine were entitled to qualified immunity from Colston's retaliation claims based on alleged violations of her free speech and free-association rights. The Court likewise concluded that Hugine, Wims, and Thomas were entitled to State-agent immunity with respect to Colston's state-law claims against them individually alleging wrongful termination, fraud, and tortious interference with a contractual relationship. View "Ex parte Andrew Hugine, Jr., et al." on Justia Law

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Kevin McGough, then a firefighter employed by the City of Birmingham ("the city"), alleges that he sustained an injury to his left knee on April 30, 2011, during the course of his employment. For approximately one year after he injured his left knee, McGough received medical treatment from numerous doctors and continued to work as much as he was able. In 2012, McGough filed a claim with the Retirement System for extraordinary-disability benefits and ordinary-disability benefit to be paid out of the City Retirement and Relief System. The Retirement System denied McGough's request for extraordinary-disability benefits and granted McGough's request for ordinary-disability benefits. It was undisputed that the Retirement System did not notify McGough by certified mail of its decision. More than one year after the Retirement System's final decision denying McGough's application for extraordinary-disability benefits, the Retirement System sent McGough a certified letter. The parties submitted to the circuit court two different certified letters sent by the Retirement System to McGough, both dated December 3, 2013. One notified him of the Retirement System's November 14, 2012, decision to approve McGough's application for ordinary-disability benefits; the other notified him of the Retirement System's November 14, 2012, decision to deny McGough's application for extraordinary-disability benefits. The latter certified letter was delivered to McGough on December 5, 2013. In 2014, McGough filed a mandamus petition in an effort to challenge the Retirement System's decision denying his application for extraordinary-disability benefits. The circuit court denied the Retirement System’s motion to dismiss. The System thereafter petitioned the Supreme Court for mandamus relief to direct the circuit court to grant its motion. After review, the Supreme Court found that McGough’s mandamus petition was untimely, and as such, reversed the circuit court’s judgment. View "City of Birmingham Retirement & Relief System v. McGough" on Justia Law