Articles Posted in Alabama Supreme Court

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This case arose from a contract between Roanoke Healthcare Authority (doing business as Randolph Medical Center) and Batson-Cook Company, a general contractor, to renovate the medical center, located in Roanoke. Batson-Cook received written notice from Roanoke Healthcare that work on the renovation project had been suspended. Batson-Cook notified one of its subcontractors, Hardy, of the suspension and stated that "[t]he contract has been suspended by [Roanoke Healthcare] through no fault of Batson-Cook ... or its subcontractors. [Roanoke Healthcare] is currently out of funding and has subsequently closed the facility while seeking a buyer." Liberty Mutual, the project's insurer, alleged in its answer that Roanoke Healthcare failed to pay Batson-Cook $241,940.51 for work performed pursuant to the contract. Batson-Cook sent Hardy a change order the change order deducted from the subcontract the $147,000 in equipment and materials another subcontractor Hardy hired, Johnson Controls, Inc. (JCI), had furnished for the renovation project and for which it has not received payment. JCI notified Liberty Mutual, Roanoke Healthcare, Batson-Cook, and Hardy by certified letters of its claim on a payment bond. The letters identified Batson-Cook as the general contractor and Hardy as the debtor. Liberty Mutual denied the claim. JCI sued Liberty Mutual, alleging JCI was entitled to payment on the payment bond Liberty Mutual had issued to Batson-Cook. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded JCI was a proper claimant on the payment bond. Therefore, the circuit court erred in entering a summary judgment in favor of Liberty Mutual and denying JCI's summary judgment motion. View "Johnson Controls, Inc. v. Liberty Mutual Insurance Company " on Justia Law

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Alfa Life Insurance Corporation ("Alfa") and Brandon Morris, an agent for Alfa, appealed a judgment entered against them following a jury verdict for Kimberly Colza, the widow of Dante Colza. In 2010, Morris met with Dante to assist him in completing an application for a life-insurance policy. There was disputed evidence as to whether Morris asked Dante whether he had had a moving traffic violation, a driver's license suspended, or an accident in the prior three years, it was undisputed that Morris entered a checkmark in the "No" box by that question. The evidence indicated that Dante applied for the Preferred Tobacco premium rate. Dante named Kimberly as the beneficiary under the policy. At the close of the meeting, Kimberly wrote a check payable to Alfa for $103.70, the monthly Preferred Tobacco premium rate. Kimberly testified at trial that Morris informed them that Dante would be covered as soon as they gave Morris the check. Dante was later examined by the medical examiner. During the examination, Dante informed the examiner that his family had a history of heart disease and that he had had moving traffic violations within the past five years. The day after he had his medical examination, Dante was killed in an accident. Two days later, Alfa received the medical examiner's report, which indicated that Dante's family had a history of heart disease, that Dante's cholesterol was above 255, and that Dante had had moving traffic violations in the past five years. In light of the report, Alfa's underwriters determined that Dante was not eligible for the Preferred Tobacco rate for which he had applied; rather, the proper classification would have been the Standard Tobacco rate (which had a higher premium). Additionally, in light of the moving vehicle violations, Dante was a greater risk to insure and a "rate-up" of $2.50 per $1,000 worth of coverage was required. Alfa notified Kimberly by letter that no life-insurance coverage was available for Dante's death "because no policy was issued and the conditions of coverage under the conditional receipt were not met." Kimberly sued Alfa seeking to recover under the terms of the conditional receipt (an acknowledgment of the policy). She alleged, among other claims, that Alfa had breached the contract and had acted in bad faith when it refused to pay life-insurance benefits on Dante's death. Kimberly also sued Morris, alleging, among other claims, that he had negligently failed to procure insurance coverage for Dante. After a trial, the jury found that Alfa had breached the contract and had in bad faith refused to pay the insurance benefits due, and that Morris had negligently failed to procure insurance. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded Alfa and Morris were entitled to a judgment as a matter of law on those claims, and the trial court erred by submitting the claims to the jury for consideration. View "Alfa Life Insurance Corporation v. Colza " on Justia Law

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Lambert Law Firm, LLC ("Lambert"), petitions the Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Circuit Court to set aside an order awarding respondent Shawn Brechbill a portion of certain funds filed with the Circuit Court clerk. Brechbill, was represented by the law firm of Morris, Conchin & King. He sued State Farm Fire and Casualty Company seeking damages for breach of contract and bad-faith failure to pay an insurance claim. The law firm filed the initial complaint, prepared various pleadings, conducted discovery, engaged experts, and filed a response to a motion for a summary judgment filed by State Farm. Later, the law firm withdrew its representation of Brechbill. The trial court held a hearing and issued an order stating that the law firm would have a lien against any settlement or judgment that became payable to Brechbill arising from his claims against State Farm. Ultimately, the law firm's interest in the lien was assigned to Gary Conchin, a partner in the law firm. Brechbill hired Lambert to continue the litigation. Brechbill ultimately received a judgment against State Farm on his breach-of-contract and bad-faith claims. At some point after the judgment was entered, Lambert withdrew from further representation of Brechbill, and the trial court entered an order granting Lambert a lien on any recovery Brechbill might be awarded. State Farm elected to appeal the verdict on the bad-faith claim, but paid one-half of the amount of the verdict in satisfaction of the verdict on the breach-of-contract claim to the circuit court clerk. While State Farm's appeal was pending, both Conchin and Lambert moved to "condemn" the funds held by the circuit clerk. Brechbill also moved the trial court to release the funds to him. Upon review of the competing claims for the money, the Supreme Court concluded that the trial court clearly acted within its discretion in refusing, at the time of the hearing, to determine the amount of the liens at issue. "However, given the mandatory nature of section 34-3-61, the priority of the two liens in this case, and the limited funds to which the liens attached, the trial court must first determine the amount of the fees owed to ensure that any preliminary disbursement would not divest the fund of money in which, by law, another party would have a priority in interest." The Court held that Lambert demonstrated a clear legal right to relief, and therefore directed the trial court to vacate its May 30, 2013, order and to hold further proceedings. View "Brechbill v. State Farm Fire & Casualty Co." on Justia Law

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Nationwide Retirement Solutions, Inc. ("NRS"), appealed a circuit court judgment awarding PEBCO,Inc. over a million dollars in attorney fees and $29,132.01 in expenses. In 2007, participants in the State of Alabama Public Employees Deferred Compensation Plan filed a class action against Nationwide Life Insurance Company ("NL"), NRS, the Alabama State Employees Association ("ASEA"), and PEBCO, Inc., alleging breach of fiduciary duty, conversion, and breach of contract in the administration of the Plan. The parties filed a "Stipulation of Settlement," which the trial court approved in its final order entered in 2011. Pursuant to the settlement, NL and NRS paid $15.5 million to the participants in the Plan and $2.9 million in attorney fees to settle class claims against all defendants, including ASEA and PEBCO. In its findings of fact, the trial court stated: "ASEA is being permitted to retain more than $12 million in sponsorship payments that it allegedly received unlawfully, and ASEA is receiving full release from any liability." A day before the parties filed their "Stipulation of Settlement," Nationwide moved for an order barring ASEA and PEBCO from filing any indemnification claims. The trial court granted the order except for claims for attorney fees and costs. "[I]n light of Nationwide's substantial contributions to the settlement," the court wrote that it was "fair and reasonable that ASEA and PEBCO be barred from pursuing any claims against Nationwide for reimbursement, indemnification, or contribution other than claims for attorney fees and costs ...." A month before entering its final order in the class action, the trial court ordered severance of ASEA and PEBCO's claim for fees and directed the Circuit Court clerk to docket that claim as "a separate and independent action," with ASEA and PEBCO as plaintiffs and NL and NRS as defendants. The trial court found that the indemnification clause in the agreement required that NRS pay the fees and costs incurred by ASEA and PEBCO in defending the class action. Noting that NRS "has contended, and still contends, that indemnification is improper based on the language of the agreement and the attending facts," the trial court stated that it "has held hearings on that issue and by prior order has ruled that indemnification is appropriate. The instant action was filed to enforce indemnification." The court ordered NRS to pay PEBCO $863,988.50 in attorney fees and $15,297.54 in expenses for the class-action litigation, and $210,039 in attorney fees and $13,834.47 in expenses for litigating the severed cross-claim. NRS timely appealed that decision to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded: "[b]ecause NRS did not fail to perform those duties under the agreement that ultimately gave rise to the class action, it did not, as a matter of law, breach the indemnification clause in the agreement. . . . Alabama does not permit a party to seek indemnification for defending against its own allegedly wrongful acts." View "Nationwide Retirement Solutions, Inc. v. PEBCO,Inc. " on Justia Law

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State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Clarke Circuit Court to vacate its order denying State Farm's motion to transfer this case to the Mobile Circuit Court and to enter an order granting the motion. The underlying action arose from an automobile accident that occurred in Mobile County in 2010. Sandra Banks, a resident of both Clarke and Mobile Counties, sued Robert Spray, a resident of Baldwin County, and State Farm. Banks alleged that she suffered injuries as a result of the wrongful, negligent, and/or wanton conduct of Spray when the vehicle he was driving and owned struck her vehicle. Additionally, Banks alleged that at the time of the accident she had a policy of insurance with State Farm, which included uninsured-/underinsured-motorist coverage, and that she was due proceeds under her coverage. Because both the "convenience of parties and witnesses" and the "interest of justice" prongs of the doctrine of forum non conveniens compelled the transfer of this case from Clarke County to Mobile County, the Supreme Court concluded the trial court abused its discretion in refusing to transfer the action. Therefore, the Court granted State Farm's petition and issued a writ directing the Clarke Circuit Court to vacate its order and to enter an order granting the motion. View "Banks v. Spray" on Justia Law

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In late 2005 or early 2006, Corey Culverhouse began constructing a house for himself on a five-acre lot in Hartford. He obtained a policy from Alfa Mutual Insurance Company to insure the house during the remainder of the construction process and after construction was completed. In 2009, a minor fire damaged the kitchen of the house. Culverhouse submitted a claim to Alfa, which paid for a remediation company to clean and repair the smoke damage caused by the fire. During this process, Culverhouse moved out of the house and into a barn on his property. After about two weeks of living in the barn, Culverhouse moved into a house he was constructing for eventual sale across the road from his house. Later that year, another fire damaged the house. This time, the fire could not be extinguished, and the house, its contents, and an adjacent swimming pool were completely destroyed. Culverhouse promptly informed Alfa. Alfa immediately questioned the Culverhouse's claim because he had not submitted with his claim an inventory of the contents of the house and supporting documentation, and he had not submitted any evidence supporting the large claim he had submitted for loss of use in the two-month period prior to the second fire. Culverhouse ultimately sued Alfa for payment of the claim. A hearing on the summary-judgment motion was held on in 2013, and the trial court granted Alfa's motion and dismissed each of Culverhouse's claims; the trial court also dismissed an Alfa counterclaim as moot. Culverhouse thereafter retained a new attorney and, on moved the trial court to alter, amend, or vacate its order. The trial court granted Culverhouse's motion in part and amended its summary-judgment order so as to exclude Culverhouse's breach-of-contract claim from the judgment, leaving it as the only remaining claim in the case. Alfa's argument on appeal did not relate to the merits of Culverhouse's breach-of-contract claim. Rather, it concerned only whether the trial court acted properly by amending its summary-judgment order to resurrect that claim in response to Culverhouse's motion to alter, amend, or vacate the judgment pursuant to Rule 59(e). Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's decision. View "ALFA Mutual Insurance Co. v. Culverhouse " on Justia Law

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Pennsylvania National Mutual Casualty Insurance Company filed suit against Roger D. Allen, Homeland Vinyl Products, Inc., and Deric Miner, individually and as the personal representative of the estate of Jane Miner, seeking a declaratory judgment that it owed no duty of defense or indemnity to Allen for claims arising out of a fatal automobile accident that occurred in New Jersey. Allen was a New Jersey resident, and moved to dismiss the claims against him for lack of personal jurisdiction. In response, the trial court dismissed the case in its entirety. The insurance company appealed that decision. But finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Pennsylvania National Mutual Casualty Insurance Company v. Allen " on Justia Law

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Safeway Insurance Company of Alabama, Inc. petitioned for a writ of mandamus to direct the Circuit Court to grant its Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss a bad-faith claim against it for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. Richard Kimbrough submitted a claim to Safeway for uninsured-motorist coverage when he was injured in an accident. A deer ran across the road, causing a truck in the southbound lane to swerve into the northbound lane, where Kimbrough was driving. According to Kimbrough, the truck struck his vehicle and ran him off the road and into a creek bed. The driver of the truck allegedly fled and was unknown. Kimbrough contended the driver of a "phantom vehicle" was an uninsured motorist. He sought the full policy limit of $50,000 because his expenses exceeded his coverage. The parties disputed whether Safeway denied the claim. After review of the matter, the Supreme Court disagreed with Safeway's argument that the Circuit Court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the case. As such, Safeway did not demonstrate a clear legal right to the writ of mandamus. The Court therefore denied the petition. View "Kimbrough v. Safeway Insurance Company of Alabama, Inc." 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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Safeway Insurance Company of Alabama, Inc. petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Circuit Court to grant its Rule 12(b)(1), Ala. R. Civ. P., motion to dismiss a bad-faith claim against it for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. Richard Kimbrough alleged that a deer ran across the road causing a truck traveling in the opposite direction to swerve into the Kimbrough's lane. According to Kimbrough, the truck struck his vehicle and ran him off the road and into a creek bed. The driver of the truck allegedly fled. Kimbrough broke his right femur, right hand, and nose. Kimbrough sued Safeway, asserting claims of breach of contract and bad faith, alleging that Safeway, without justification, had intentionally refused to pay Kimbrough's claim. Safeway moved to dismiss the case for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, arguing that the claim for uninsured-motorist benefits was not ripe for adjudication until liability and damages were established. The trial court denied the motion to dismiss, as well as Safeway's subsequent motion to reconsider. Upon careful consideration, the Supreme Court concluded Safeway did not clearly demonstrate this case was not ripe or that the trial court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction. Therefore, Safeway did not have a clear legal right to mandamus relief. View "Kimbrough v. Safeway Insurance Company of Alabama, Inc." on Justia Law