Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Alabama

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At issue in this appeal were denials of motions to compel arbitration filed by Locklear Chrysler Jeep Dodge, LLC ("Locklear CJD"), and Locklear Automotive Group, Inc. ("Locklear Group"), in actions filed by plaintiffs who alleged they were victims of identity theft resulting from personal information they had provided Locklear CJD in order to explore the possibility of financing the purchase of a vehicle from Locklear CJD. In case no. 1160435, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the trial court order denying the motion to compel arbitration; in the other appeals, the Court reversed the trial court's orders and remanded for further proceedings. Plaintiffs in these cases purchased vehicles from Locklear CJD. All the plaintiffs signed an arbitration agreement as part of their vehicle purchases; the operative language of those arbitration agreements was the same. And all the plaintiffs alleged that they were the victims of identity theft that resulted from providing personal information to Locklear CJD when they filled out credit applications for the vehicle purchases. With respect to Case 1160435, the Supreme Court determined that on the face of the arbitration agreement, its terms did not apply to the interaction of the Lollars and the defendants that occurred in 2015. The Lollars purchased their vehicle in 2013; vehicle purchase to which the 2013 arbitration agreement referred and related was one transaction. The Lollars' 2015 visit to the dealership for the purpose of exploring whether to enter into an entirely different transaction with Locklear CJD (and their provision of financial information to Locklear CJD during that visit) was an unrelated matter to which the arbitration clause did not apply. View "Locklear Chrysler Jeep Dodge, LLC v. Hood" on Justia Law

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Locklear Chrysler Jeep Dodge, LLC, and Locklear Automotive Group, Inc. (collectively, "Locklear"), sought a writ of mandamus to order the Bibb Circuit Court to vacate certain discovery orders in actions filed against Locklear by Rhonda Cook, James McKinney, and James Daniel Parker (collectively, "the purchasers"), who alleged that they were victims of identity theft by a Locklear employee. In July and August 2016, each purchaser alleged that the employee used the personal information from the purchaser's credit application to purchase thousands of dollars in cellular-telephone services. They asserted claims of negligence, wantonness, invasion of privacy, conversion, fraud, tort of outrage, civil conspiracy, violations of Alabama's Consumer Identity Protection Act, and breach of fiduciary duty. Shortly after filing their lawsuits, the purchasers sought general discovery, including interrogatories, requests for production of documents, requests for admissions, and notices of deposition. In response to the three actions, Locklear filed a motion in each action seeking an order compelling arbitration staying the action. The trial court held a hearing on the motions, but did not rule on them. Subsequently, each of the purchasers filed a motion to compel Locklear's responses to their discovery requests and to deem admitted their requests for admissions. The trial court granted the purchasers' motions. Locklear then filed three petitions for mandamus review. While the mandamus petitions were pending, the trial court granted Locklear's motions to stay discovery. The Alabama Supreme Court noted that, in the instant case, the issue presented for its review was not to review the trial court's order denying a motion to compel arbitration; the trial court has not yet ruled on Locklear's motion to compel. The Supreme Court was reviewing the trial court's general discovery orders, and concluded the trial court exceeded its discretion by allowing general discovery before the resolution of the issue whether the purchasers must arbitrate their claims. Furthermore, because it would be unfair to require Locklear conduct merit-based discovery prior to deciding the arbitration issue, and because Locklear could not be afforded the relief it seeks after that discovery has been conducted, Locklear does not have an adequate remedy by ordinary appeal. Accordingly, the Court granted the petitions and issued the writs, directing the trial court to vacate its orders requiring Locklear to respond to the purchasers' discovery requests, including the requests for admissions and to sit for depositions. View "Ex parte Locklear Chrysler Jeep Dodge, LLC" on Justia Law

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Action Auto Sales, Inc. ("AAS"), petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Clarke Circuit Court to vacate orders denying AAS' objection to L.M. Stewart and Cathy Cargile's notice of intent to serve subpoenas on nonparties Merchants Bank and accountant Eddie Nicholes and denying AAS's motion for a protective order. The underlying dispute arose out of Stewart and Cargile's purchase of an automobile, still encumbered by a security interest by AAS. AAS, a financing company, made loans to Pine City Motors, LLC; Pine City sold the vehicle to Steward and Cargile. Steward and Cargile alleged that after they took possession of the car, Pine City failed to satisfy its debt to AAS, and AAS or Pine City retained physical possession of the certificate of title for the vehicle. Thereafter, AAS sued Pine City, Stewart, and Cargile, requesting damages and a judgment directing Stewart and Cargile to return the vehicle to AAS. Stewart and Cargile filed a counterclaim against AAS and a cross-claim against Pine City. Pointing to various Alabama statutes, Stewart and Cargile asserted that their rights in the vehicle are superior to AAS's and that AAS or Pine City improperly retained possession of the certificate of title for the vehicle. Stewart and Cargile also demanded compensatory and punitive damages, asserting theories of negligence and wantonness and conspiracy between AAS and Pine City. The Supreme Court found Stewart and Cargile were not entitled to the discovery of the nonparties, and the trial court erred in not granting the motion for a protective order. The Court therefore granted AAS' petition and issued the writ. View "Ex parte Action Auto Sales, Inc." on Justia Law

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The City of Selma ("the City") filed a petition for a writ of mandamus requesting the Alabama Supreme Court direct the Dallas Circuit Court to enter a summary judgment in its favor, based on State-agent immunity, as to claims Gregory Pettaway filed against it. Pettaway financed the purchase of a 2006 Nissan Armada sport-utility vehicle. Subsequently, Santander Consumer USA, Inc. ("Santander"), took over the loan. Santander contracted with Par North America, Inc. ("Par"), to handle repossessions for it and that Par used Central Alabama Recovery Systems ("CARS") to carry out the actual repossessions. Early on November morning in 2010, two men from CARS came to Pettaway's residence and told him that they were there to repossess the vehicle. By the time Pettaway got dressed and walked outside, the men had already hooked the Armada up to the tow truck and lifted it. Pettaway objected and telephoned the Selma Police Department; Officer Jonathan Fank responded to the call. After Officer Fank told Pettaway that the repossession was a civil matter and that he could not do anything because the vehicle was already hooked up to the tow truck, Pettaway again called the Selma Police Department to ask that Officer Fank's supervisor come to the scene. Pettaway filed a complaint against Santander, Par, CARS, and the City, alleging conversion, negligence, wantonness, and trespass claims. Although he stated conversion, negligence, wantonness, and trespass claims, Pettaway admitted that his only complaint against the City was that the officers told the repossession men to take the vehicle. The City admitted that officers were called to the scene at Pettaway's request to keep the peace but denied the remaining allegations as to the actions of its officers, raising the affirmative defense of immunity. The City argued the trial court erred in denying its motion for a summary judgment: at the time of the incident that formed the basis for Pettaway's complaint, Officers Fank and Calhoun were performing discretionary functions within the line and scope of their law-enforcement duties and that, therefore, they would be entitled to State-agent immunity. The Supreme Court concluded the City established that it has a clear legal right to a summary judgment in its favor based on State-agent immunity. View "Ex parte The City of Selma." on Justia Law

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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