Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Alabama

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Daphne Automotive, LLC, and its employee, Robin Sanders appealed a circuit court order denying their motion to compel arbitration of the claims filed against them by Eastern Shore Neurology Clinic, Inc. ("Eastern Shore"), and Rassan Tarabein. Tarabein owned Eastern Shore and another company, Infotec, Inc. Tarabein hired his nephew, Mohamad Tarbin, as an employee of Infotec. As part of the nephew's compensation, Tarabein agreed to provide him with the use of a vehicle for as long as he was employed with Infotec. Accordingly, Tarabein purchased, through Eastern Shore, a vehicle from Daphne Automotive. Tarabein, the nephew, and the dealership agreed that the dealership would arrange for the vehicle to be titled in the nephew's name, but that Eastern Shore would be listed on the title as lienholder. In conjunction with the sale, the nephew signed the sales contract, which contained an arbitration clause. Tarabein executed only the documents to establish Eastern Shore as lienholder on the title for the vehicle. In January 2014, the Department of Revenue issued an original certificate of title for the vehicle that listed no lienholders to the nephew. A few months later, the nephew was terminated from his job with Infotec, and Tarabein attempted to take back the vehicle, but the nephew refused. According to Tarabein, the dealership never informed him that it had failed to list Eastern Shore as a lienholder on the application for the certificate of title. As a result, the nephew held title to the vehicle free and clear, and Eastern Shore held a reissued certificate of title for the same vehicle, listing it as lienholder. Eastern Short attempted to repossess the vehicle; the nephew avoided being arrested by producing the free-and-clear title to the vehicle. According to Tarabein, he became aware of the existence of the second certificate of title after the attempted arrest. Tarabein thereafter sued the dealership for a variety of claims; the dealer moved to compel arbitration. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded the dealership failed to meet its burden of proving the existence of a contract calling for arbitration: the sales contract was limited in its scope with respect to disputes arising to parties to the contract and the agreements, here, between the nephew and the dealership. Accordingly, the Court found the trial court did not err in denying the dealership’s motion to compel arbitration. View "Daphne Automotive, LLC v. Eastern Shore Neurology Clinic, Inc." on Justia Law

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Family Security Credit Union ("FSCU") appealed the trial court's denial of its motions to compel arbitration in eight separate but closely related cases. Action Auto Sales ("Action Auto") was a car-financing group that financed the vehicle inventory of Pine City Auto ("Pine City"), a used-car dealership. Action Auto held titles to the vehicles in inventory, and released a title only when a vehicle was sold, and Pine City paid off a proportional amount of the inventory financing. Pine City eventually went out of business without paying off the inventory financing on some of the vehicles it had sold. Action Auto sued Pine City and the purchasers of eight vehicles who had purchased vehicles from Pine City and financed those purchases through FSCU. Action Auto sought possession of the vehicles and money damages. The purchasers each filed counterclaims and cross-claims against Action Auto and Pine City and third-party claims against FSCU, alleging negligence, wantonness, and conspiracy. The purchasers' third-party claims against FSCU were based on FSCU's alleged failure to perfect its security interest in the vehicles before financing the purchasers of the vehicles. FSCU moved for each of those third-party claims to be submitted to arbitration. The purchasers opposed the motions to compel arbitration, but they did not submit any evidence. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court concluded the trial court erred in denying FSCU's motions to compel arbitration in each of the eight cases, and remanded all for further proceedings. View "Family Security Credit Union v. Etheredge" on Justia Law

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Complete Cash Holdings, LLC ("Complete Cash"), appealed a judgment entered on a jury verdict in favor of Lola Mae Powell. This case arose out of Complete Cash's repossession of Powell's 2002 Chevrolet Avalanche truck based on a forged title-pawn agreement. Although the trial court granted Complete Cash's motions for a JML as to some of Powell's claims against Complete Cash, the trial court allowed the remainder of the claims, including Powell's claim under the FDCPA, to be submitted to the jury. The jury then returned a general verdict for Powell, awarding her compensatory damages and punitive damages. The jury's verdict was general, but it also included a special interrogatory indicating that the jury specifically found that Complete Cash was a debt collector under the FDCPA. After the trial court entered a judgment on the jury's verdict, Complete Cash, in a renewed motion for a JML, renewed its arguments that there was insufficient evidence from which to conclude that Complete Cash was a debt collector. Based on these facts, the Supreme Court concluded that Complete Cash adequately challenged Powell's FDCPA claim. Furthermore, the Court concluded that based on the jury's express finding that Complete Cash was a debt collector under the FDCPA, that the jury's award of compensatory damages was based, at least in part, on Powell's claim that Complete Cash had violated section 1692f(6). Accordingly, there was no question that the jury's verdict was based on a "bad count." Because the FDCPA does not provide for the award of punitive damages, the Court presumed the jury's verdict was based in part on Powell's claims of conversion or wantonness. "This, however, does not save the jury's verdict because we know, based on the special interrogatory, that the jury based its general verdict in part on a bad count. For this reason, we must reverse the entirety of the compensatory-damages award." Further, this reversal of the jury's compensatory-damages award mandated reversal of the punitive damages award. Therefore, the trial court's judgment had to be reversed in its entirety and the case remanded for a new trial. View "Complete Cash Holdings, LLC v. Powell" on Justia Law

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University Toyota and University Chevrolet Buick GMC (collectively referred to as "the University dealerships") appealed a circuit court order allowing Beverly Hardeman and Vivian Roberts to pursue their claims against the University dealerships in arbitration proceedings. conducted by the American Arbitration Association ("the AAA") instead of the Better Business Bureau of North Alabama ("the BBB"), the entity identified in the controlling arbitration agreements. In conjunction with their purchases of new vehicles from the University dealerships’ predecessor, Jim Bishop, Hardeman and Roberts purchased service contracts entitling them to no-cost oil changes for as long as they owned their respective vehicles. When the Jim Bishop dealerships were sold and rebranded as the University dealerships, initially the University dealerships honored the no-cost oil-change service contracts sold by the Jim Bishop dealerships. However, they eventually stopped providing no-cost oil changes to customers who held those contracts. On October 29, 2015, Hardeman and Roberts filed a demand for arbitration with the BBB, the dispute-resolution entity identified in arbitration agreements they had executed when they purchased their vehicles, on behalf of themselves and all similarly situated individuals, based on the University dealerships' refusal to honor the service contracts. Because a trial court can compel arbitration only in a manner consistent with the terms of the applicable arbitration agreement, the Supreme Court reversed the trial court's order compelling arbitration and remanded the case for the entry of a new order compelling Hardeman and Roberts to arbitrate their claims against the University dealerships before the BBB if they chose to pursue those claims. View "University Toyota v. Hardeman" on Justia Law

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James Cherry appealed the grant of summary judgment entered against him and in favor of Pinson Termite and Pest Control, LLC, and Jerry Pinson. In 2011, Cherry purchased a home. The sales contract required the seller to provide a "Wood Infestation Inspection Report (WIIR)." A termite-services contract with Pinson Termite ("termite bond") was transferrable from the seller to Cherry, but it was disputed whether the bond actually transferred to Cherry. In late 2011, Cherry began remodeling him home when he discovered extensive termite damage. A State inspector confirmed the damage and sent Pinson a letter that it had "observed findings of subterranean termite damage" that were not mentioned on the WIIR and that, although the WIIR "indicates the structure was treated by your company, ... we did not observe all mechanics of subterranean control work." The State inspector monitored Pinson's re-treatment of the house. At about the same time, Cherry and Pinson signed a contract for an extension of the termite bond. Shortly thereafter, cherry hired an attorney, who sent Pinson a letter offering to settle his claim for the re-treatment of his home. The State inspector sent Cherry a letter advising that it had supervised Pinson's re-treatment of the house and that if Cherry had any question he should contact the State within 10 days of receiving the letter. If he did not contact, the letter stated the State would "assume that the matter has been resolved." There was no record of any further contact between Cherry and State inspector. Approximately one year after the State letter, Cherry sued Pinson Pest, and Pinson alleging fraud; negligence; negligent hiring, training, and supervision; and breach of contract and seeking "equitable relief pursuant to the 'made whole' doctrine." When summary judgment was granted in favor of Pinson, Cherry appealed arguing that the trial court erred. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court agreed that the trial court erred in entering summary judgment in favor of Pinson, reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Cherry v. Pinson Termite & Pest Control, LLC" on Justia Law

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U.S. Bank National Association ("USB"), successor in interest to Bank of America, N.A., which was the successor by merger to LaSalle Bank, National Association, as trustee for Structured Asset Investment Loan Trust, Mortgage Pass-Through Certificates, Series 2004-4 ("the Trust"), and Bank of America, N.A. ("BOA"), separately appealed a $3.9 million judgment entered against them on trespass and wantonness claims asserted by Chester and Emily Shepherd. USB also appealed the trial court's judgment in favor of the Shepherds on its claims related to an alleged error in a mortgage executed by the Shepherds upon which the Trust had foreclosed. The Alabama Supreme Court reversed. "'Every single one of these cases . . . rejects the availability of negligence and wantonness claims under Alabama law under comparable circumstances to those identified by the [plaintiffs]. Every one of these cases undercuts the legal viability of [the plaintiffs' negligence and wantonness claims], and rejects the very arguments articulated by the [plaintiffs] in opposing dismissal of those causes of action. ... the mortgage servicing obligations at issue here are a creature of contract, not of tort, and stem from the underlying mortgage and promissory note executed by the parties, rather than a duty of reasonable care generally owed to the public. To the extent that the [plaintiffs] seek to hold defendants liable on theories of negligent or wanton servicing of their mortgage, [those negligence and wantonness claims] fail to state claims upon which relief can be granted.'" View "U.S. Bank National Ass'n v. Shepherd" on Justia Law