Articles Posted in Alabama Supreme Court

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Three appellate proceedings were consolidated for a single Supreme Court opinion. All three cases appealed the dismissal of their respective cases from the Etowah Circuit Court. The Appellants all sued Donald Stewart individually and as the trustee of the Abernathy Trust and the Abernathy Trust Foundation, in a line of cases arising out of a toxic tort action against Monsanto Company, its parent corporation and a spin-off. The Monsanto Corporations manufactured and disposed of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). A jury found the corporations liable on claims of wantonness, outrage, "suppression of the truth," negligence and public nuisance. After 500 trials on damages, the parties reached a settlement in 2003. $21 million was placed into a trust (the Abernathy Trust) established to pay health and education benefits for those Plaintiffs who qualified for assistance. Each plaintiff signed a retainer agreement and received and cashed his or her settlement check. Plaintiffs in this case challenged the settlement agreement and the award of attorneys fees. Further, they asked for a trust accounting regarding the use of the settlement funds. Upon review, the Supreme Court reversed the dismissal of the cases that asked for an accounting of the use of the trust's funds; one case was dismissed as moot; in the third case, the Court granted a writ of mandamus as to all portions of a circuit court order that sought review of the Abernathy trust document as compared to the terms of the settlement agreement. The circuit court was directed to lift any freeze of distributions from the trust. View "Bates v. Stewart" on Justia Law

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In these consolidated appeals, Carol Perdue, individually and as next friend and guardian of her daughter, Anna; William D. Motlow, Jr.; and Shane Sears (hereinafter collectively referred to as "the objectors"), all of whom were objecting class members in class-action litigation related to the Alabama Prepaid Affordable College Tuition ("PACT") Trust Fund a/k/a The Wallace-Folsom Prepaid College Tuition Trust Fund, appealed the trial court's judgment that approved a class-action settlement concluding the litigation. The objectors largely complained that as contributors or beneficiaries of the PACT fund, it was being mismanaged and underfunded to their detriment. While the case was pending, the Alabama Legislature changed the laws directly impacting the management and funding of the PACT program. The PACT Board responded to the change in the law by moving to dismiss the objectors' suit as moot. The issues on appeal before the Supreme Court involved terms of the settlement agreement: the objectors contended that the trial court permitted language in the agreement that ran afoul of the changed laws and disregarded objections of the complaining members of the class. Upon review, the Supreme Court vacated the trial court's judgment and remanded the case: "[t]he scope of the objections in the trial court was not the narrow question whether the order should bind only the objectors, but, on the contrary, the issue presented [was] the broader question whether the trial court's judgment approving the settlement agreement [was] due to be affirmed. . . . the objectors are allowed to appeal that aspect of the trial court's order that affects them - 'the [circuit court's] decision to disregard [their] objections.' If the judgment [was] affirmed, the settlement agreement affects them in that it binds them, as members of the class, to terms of a settlement agreement inconsistent with 16-33C-19." View "Perdue v. Green" on Justia Law

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Main & Associates, Inc., d/b/a Southern Springs Healthcare Facility, filed an action in the Bullock Circuit Court, on behalf of itself and a putative class of Alabama nursing homes, against Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama (BCBS), asserting claims of breach of contract, intentional interference with business relations, negligence and/or wantonness, and unjust enrichment and seeking injunctive relief. BCBS removed the case to the the federal court, arguing among other things, that Southern Springs' claims arose under the Medicare Act and that the Medicare Act, as amended by the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003 (the MMA) completely preempted Southern Springs' state-law claims. Southern Springs moved the federal court to remand the case to the circuit court, arguing that the federal court did not have jurisdiction over its claims. The federal court granted the motion and remanded the case to the Bullock Circuit Court. After remand, BCBS moved the circuit court for a judgment on the pleadings, arguing that Southern Springs had not exhausted its administrative remedies and that the circuit court did not have subject-matter jurisdiction over the case. The circuit court denied BCBS's motion, and BCBS petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the circuit court to dismiss Southern Springs' claims. Upon review, the Court concluded that Southern Springs' claims were inextricably intertwined with claims for coverage and benefits under the Medicare Act and that they were subject to the Act's mandatory administrative procedures and limited judicial review. Southern Springs did not exhaust its administrative remedies, and the circuit court did not have jurisdiction over its claims. Therefore, the Court granted BCBS's petition and issue a writ of mandamus directing the circuit court to dismiss the claims against BCBS. View "Main & Associates, Inc. v. Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Alabama" on Justia Law

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Oak Grove Resources, LLC, and Cliffs North American Coal, LLC (Oak Grove) appealed a trial court's order in favor of class Plaintiffs finding that Oak Grove failed to satisfy the requirements of a settlement agreement between the parties, and ordered the continued monitoring of air near Plaintiffs' properties for the presence of coal dust for one year. Plaintiffs sued Oak Grove in 1997 alleging that it operated a preparation plant in a manner that caused coal dust to become airborne and to migrate to their properties, where it settled, causing them to suffer both personal injury and property damage. In October 2002, the parties entered into a settlement agreement the 2002 settlement agreement provided for certain injunctive relief and the payment of attorney fees and expenses. The injunctive relief required Oak Grove to complete 14 specific remedial measures within 24 months of the execution of the 2002 settlement agreement. Oak Grove implemented the remedial measures at the Concord plant following the trial court's approval of the 2002 settlement agreement. However, Plaintiffs continued to complain that the Concord plant emitted coal dust onto their properties and that the remedial measures had not satisfactorily solved the problem. Upon review, the Supreme Court found that no objection was raised by Plaintiffs to the site locations until two months after testing began in July 2009. Furthermore, Plaintiffs' expert did not visit the air-monitoring sites until January 2010. The Court concluded that Plaintiffs inexcusably delayed in asserting their rights under a 2008 supplement and that Oak Grove would be unduly prejudiced if Plaintiffs were allowed to assert those rights. The Court reversed the trial court's award of injunctive relief, and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Oak Grove Resources, LLC v. White" on Justia Law

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Betty Bradberry and Inez T. Jones, as the "personal representatives of the heirs-at-law and/or wrongful death beneficiaries of" the decedents, Roland E. Bradberry and George D. Jones, respectively (Plaintiffs), appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of Carrier Corporation and multiple other defendants in the their wrongful-death action based on their decedents' exposure to asbestos in their work environment. Plaintiffs alleged that the defendants were jointly and severally liable for the death of their decedents through the contamination of the decedents' work sites. During the pendency of the proceedings, some of the defendants filed for bankruptcy. When those insolvent defendants moved to sever themselves from case due to the stay provisions under the bankruptcy code (and ultimately be dismissed), Plaintiffs fought to keep the action against all defendants together, arguing that the asbestos claims were one single cause of action that could not be split. The solvent defendants moved for a summary judgement to dismiss the case, arguing there was insufficient evidence to indicate the decedents had been exposed to any asbestos-containing projects manufactured or supplied by each defendant. The trial court ultimately granted summary judgment to all defendants, and Plaintiffs appealed. Upon careful review of the trial record and the applicable legal authorities, the Supreme Court affirmed the grant of summary judgment as to all defendants. View "Bradberry v. Carrier Corp." on Justia Law

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Students and former students of the University of Alabama, Auburn University, and the University of Alabama at Birmingham, filed three separate class-action lawsuits in the Jefferson Circuit Court challenging the legality of so-called "dining-dollars" programs implemented by the universities and pursuant to which all undergraduate students were required to pay a mandatory dining fee each semester, which was then credited back to the students in the form of "dining dollars" that could be spent only at on-campus dining outlets controlled exclusively by the food-service vendors for the universities - Aramark Educational Services, Inc., at UA; Compass Group, USA, Inc. (Chartwells) at Auburn; and Sodexo, Inc., at UAB. The trial court dismissed the three actions, and the students appealed. The Supreme Court consolidated the appeals for the purpose of writing one opinion and affirmed all three. The students sued the boards of trustees governing the universities and the food-service vendors, alleging that the dining-dollars programs violated: (1) state antitrust laws; (2) the Alabama Constitution inasmuch as it forbids the State from having an interest in a private enterprise; (3) the rule in 16-1-32(d) barring universities from charging excessive transaction fees to merchants that accept university-issued debit cards; and (4) the common-law prohibition on conversion. Because the boards of trustees are entitled to state immunity pursuant to section 14 of the Alabama Constitution, all claims against them were properly dismissed. The university administrators and foodservice vendors were entitled to immunity on the asserted antitrust claims as well, albeit state-action immunity as opposed to state immunity. Moreover, because the students lacked standing to pursue a cause of action for a violation of 16-1-32(d), and because the students did not and could not allege the necessary elements of a conversion claim, the trial court also properly dismissed the students' other claims.

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American Suzuki Motor Corporation petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the circuit court to grant its motion to dismiss the claims filed against it by John Burns and Jill S. Hearn. Plaintiffs sued Defendants American Suzuki, several local dealerships and the dealerships' owner, alleging breach of contract based on Suzuki vehicle warranties, diminution in value of their vehicles, fraudulent misrepresentations, and unjust enrichment. Plaintiffs purported to bring the action on behalf of themselves and all members of a class composed of individuals who had purchased Suzuki vehicles from Defendants and had active warranties or service contracts on those vehicles. According to the complaint, new Suzuki vehicles carried a manufacturer's warranty, and that Defendants also sold purchasers of Suzuki vehicles extended warranties and maintenance agreements. In early March 2009, "the defendants closed dealerships … and [that] there are no other Suzuki dealerships closer than Nashville, Tennessee, Murfreesboro, Tennessee, or Birmingham, Alabama, to perform service work on the warranted vehicles." As a result of the dealerships being closed, Plaintiffs alleged they were "constructively barred from obtaining warranty work on their vehicles." The complaint did not allege that Plaintiffs needed or sought service under the warranties on their vehicles or that any of the Defendants refused to honor the warranties on vehicles. American Suzuki filed a motion to dismiss alleging that Plaintiffs' claims should be dismissed for failing to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Upon review, the Supreme Court reversed the trial court's denial of American Suzuki's motion to dismiss, and remanded the case to the trial court to enter an order granting American Suzuki's motion.

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The United States Judicial Panel on Multi-District Litigation consolidated approximately 1800 cases involving claims that sought damages for personal injuries allegedly caused by exposure to welding fumes. Several dozen of these cases are governed by Alabama law, and the MDL court identified three issues of law that may be determinative in those cases. The Supreme Court responded in summary: (1) a plaintiff injured by long-term continuous exposure to a toxic substance is limited to recovering damages attributable to injuries occurring within the period of limitations; (2) a six-year statute of limitations applies to wantonness claims filed before the Court’s holding in "Ex parte Capstone" was released; and (3) a plaintiff injured by long-term continuous exposure to a toxic substance has the burden to establish what damages (if any) are attributable to his injuries occurring within the applicable limitation period.