Justia Trusts & Estates Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Alabama Supreme Court
Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company v. Wood
Nationwide Mutual Fire Insurance Company and State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company filed a declaratory-judgment action in the federal district court seeking, among other things, a determination of the status of a settlement agreement they had reached with D.V.G., a minor, resolving her claims for coverage stemming from injuries she received in an automobile accident, following her death in a subsequent unrelated automobile accident. The federal district court ultimately concluded that the issue presented involved a question of Alabama law for which there was no clear controlling precedent, and it certified the following question to the Alabama Supreme Court: "Under Alabama law, is an insurance company bound to a settlement agreement negotiated on behalf of an injured minor, if that minor dies before the scheduling of a pro ami hearing which was intended by both sides to obtain approval of the settlement?" The Court answered in the affirmative: "an insurance company is bound to a settlement agreement negotiated on behalf of an injured minor, even if that minor dies before the scheduling of the court hearing that all parties agreed was necessary to obtain approval of the settlement agreement. In accordance with the parties' understanding, such a hearing is still required, and the minor's death does not render that hearing impossible." View "Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company v. Wood" on Justia Law
MTA, Inc. v. Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc.
MTA, Inc. appealed a circuit court order which held that its claims against Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc. were subject to an arbitration agreement and compelling MTA to arbitrate those claims. MTA entered into a deferred compensation agreement ("the DCA") with its employee, Yvonne Sanders. Pursuant to the terms of the DCA, MTA was obligated to pay Yvonne $270,000 in 120 equal monthly installments beginning the month following her 50th birthday or, in the event Yvonne died before reaching her 50th birthday, to pay her children, Tiffany Sanders and Roderick Dedrick, a total of $750,000 in 120 equal monthly installments beginning the month after her death. MTA thereafter obtained a $1,000,000 life insurance policy on Yvonne to fund the death benefit provided in the DCA in the event it became payable. On October 22, 1999, Yvonne died at the age of 43. MTA thereafter received the $1,000,000 it was owed under the life-insurance policy. However, MTA did not begin making payments to Tiffany and Roderick as called for by the DCA. Instead, Tiffany and Robert asked MTA to establish a rabbi trust to handle the payments, presumably to allow for more favorable tax treatment for Tiffany and Roderick. MTA executed a trust agreement with Thomas W. Dedrick, Sr., Tiffany and Roderick's uncle and a licensed broker employed by Merrill Lynch, establishing the trust and depositing into it an initial sum of $506,450. The trust agreement also provided that Thomas would act as trustee of the trust. Subsequent to the creation of the trust some intermittent payments were made from the trust to Tiffany and Roderick before payments ceased in late 2009. The sum total of the payments made did not equal $750,000. In 2011, Tiffany and Roderick filed an action against MTA asserting breach-of-contract and unjust-enrichment claims and seeking $213,777, the amount they allege was still due them pursuant to the DCA. Merrill Lynch moved to compel arbitration of MTA's claims against it pursuant to the arbitration provisions in the account-authorization form. MTA opposed that motion, arguing that it was not a party to those contracts, and, following a hearing on the matter, the trial court granted Merrill Lynch's motion to compel arbitration and dismissed MTA's third-party claims against Merrill Lynch. Upon review, the Supreme Court reversed that order, holding that MTA was not a signatory to those contracts and that the scope of the arbitration provisions in those contracts was too narrow to encompass disputes between Merrill Lynch and other entities not a party to those contracts. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "MTA, Inc. v. Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc." on Justia Law
S & M, LLC v. Burchel
S & M, LLC, d/b/a Huntsville Cab Company ("Huntsville Cab"), petitioned the Supreme Court for certiorari review of a decision of the Court of Civil Appeals which affirmed a judgment in favor of Kevin Burchel, as personal representative of the estate of Roy William Burchel on Huntsville Cab's claim against the estate damages for loss of use of a commercial vehicle. The issue before the Court was whether the measure-of-damages rule set forth in "Hunt v. Ward," (79 So. 2d 20 (1955)), was consistent with the purpose of compensatory damages, which is "'to make the plaintiff whole by reimbursing him or her for the loss or harm suffered.'" Because the Court concluded that the rule stated in "Hunt" was not consistent with this purpose, the Court modified the rule, reversed the Court of Civil Appeals' judgment, and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "S & M, LLC v. Burchel " on Justia Law
Snider v. Morgan
Jeff Snider ("Jeff"), as administrator of the estate of Thelma June Smith Snider, appealed the trial court's dismissal of his complaint against Marquita S. Morgan ("Morgan"), both as executrix of the estate of Troy Ray Snider and on behalf of the estate of Harold Snider and First Bank of Boaz for failing to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The matter stemmed from accusations over the execution of a power of attorney, the "seizure" of the decedents' estates and the repayment of loans from the estates. Upon review of the lower court's record, the Supreme Court affirmed the Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal of Jeff's claim against Troy's estate for money had and received (count IV) and the portion of count III representing Jeff's unjust-enrichment claim against Harold's estate. The trial court's judgment of dismissal of the remaining counts, however, were reversed and the case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Snider v. Morgan" on Justia Law
SSC Selma Operating Company, LLC v. Gordon
SSC Selma Operating Company, LLC, doing business as Warren Manor Health & Rehabilitation Center ("SSC"), and Bernard Turk, the administrator of Warren Manor Health & Rehabilitation Center ("Warren Manor") (referred to collectively as "the Warren Manor defendants"), appealed a circuit court judgment denying their joint motion to compel arbitration of the medical-malpractice wrongful-death claims asserted against them by Ethel Gordon ("Gordon"), the administratrix of the estate of Jimmy Lee Gordon, Gordon's husband, pursuant to an arbitration agreement they allege Gordon had entered into with SSC. Upon review, the Supreme Court affirmed, finding that the circuit court properly denied the Warren Manor defendants' motion to compel arbitration of Gordon's claims against them because the trial court had yet to conduct a trial to resolve the issue identified by the Supreme Court in "Gordon I" — whether a valid arbitration agreement existed between Gordon and SSC. "Only if that issue is answered in the affirmative may the Warren Manor defendants properly move to compel arbitration. If that trial results in a judgment holding that there is no valid arbitration agreement, then the Warren Manor defendants may file a timely appeal challenging the trial court's ruling excluding any evidence they wished to submit at trial." View "SSC Selma Operating Company, LLC v. Gordon" on Justia Law
Boys & Girls Clubs of South Alabama, Inc. v. Fairhope-Point Clear Rotary Youth Programs, Inc.
The Boys & Girls Clubs of South Alabama, Inc. ("the Club"), a nonprofit corporation, appealed a judgment entered in favor of the Fairhope-Point Clear Rotary Youth Programs, Inc. ("Rotary Inc."), and the Ruff Wilson Youth Organization, Inc. ("Wilson Inc."), in their action against the Club seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. In 1996, B.R. Wilson, Jr., one of the incorporators of the Club and a principal benefactor, executed a "gift deed," transferring to the Club approximately 17 acres of real estate ("the property"). In March 2000, the Club sold the property and deposited the proceeds into three separate accounts, two of which were separately earmarked for the Daphne Club and for the Fairhope Club. However, in 2009, the Club discontinued its operations in Daphne and Fairhope, citing "operating deficits" as a contributing factor. It transferred the remainder of the proceeds from the sale of the property to an account in the Community Foundation of South Alabama ("the bank"). Later that year, the facilities in Daphne and Fairhope were reopened by volunteers and former Club personnel, who began operating the youth centers under their own independent management structures. Subsequently, some of these individuals incorporated Rotary Inc. and Wilson Inc., under which they continued to operate the facilities in Fairhope and Daphne, respectively. Rotary Inc. and Wilson Inc. sued the Club, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief, alleging that the Club "ha[d] used," or, perhaps, was "anticipat[ing] using," the proceeds for its own operations, rather than for the use of the facilities then being operated by Rotary Inc. and Wilson Inc. They sought a judgment: (1) declaring that the "desire and understanding" of B.R. Wilson expressed in the letter controlled the disposition of the funds, and (2) enjoining the use of the proceeds for anything but the benefit of the youth facilities as operated by Rotary Inc. in Fairhope and by Wilson Inc. in Daphne. The court ordered the termination of the "trust" and the disbursal of the remainder of the proceeds to Rotary Inc. and Wilson Inc., respectively. The Club appealed, challenging, among other things, the standing of Rotary Inc. and Wilson Inc. to sue over distribution of the proceeds of the sale of the property. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that Rotary Inc. and Wilson Inc. failed to show that they had standing to challenge the Club's disposition of the proceeds of the sale of the property donated to the Club by B.R. Wilson, Jr. Therefore, the trial court's judgment was void for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. Accordingly, the Court vacated the judgment and dismissed the case and the appeal. View "Boys & Girls Clubs of South Alabama, Inc. v. Fairhope-Point Clear Rotary Youth Programs, Inc." on Justia Law
Boudreaux v. Pettaway
Defendants Randall Boudreaux, M.D., Don Ortego, and Coastal Anesthesia, P.C. appealed a $4,000,000 judgment against them, following a remittitur of a $20,000,000 jury verdict in favor of Paula Pettaway, as administratrix of the estate of Paulett Pettaway Hall, on her wrongful-death/medical-malpractice claim. Upon review of the case, the Supreme Court concluded that the trial court correctly denied the defendants' request for a new trial and appropriately refused to further remit the jury's punitive damages award. Accordingly, the judgment was affirmed. View "Boudreaux v. Pettaway" on Justia Law
In re: Estate of S.L. Wilson, Sr.
Carolyn Wilson Floyd petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing Judge Thomas ap R. Jones of the Hale Circuit Court to set aside his order denying her motion to dismiss the will contest filed by Carlean Wilson Wakefield on the ground that the action was barred by section 43-8-199, Ala. Code 1975, which provides that an action to contest a will must be filed within six months after the admission of the will to probate. Upon review of the matter, the Court concluded that Floyd properly invoked the jurisdiction of the Court, and showed a clear legal right to the dismissal of the will contest because the circuit court lacked jurisdiction over the contest. Accordingly, the petition for a writ of mandamus was granted and the circuit court was directed to grant Floyd's motion to dismiss Wakefield's will contest. View "In re: Estate of S.L. Wilson, Sr." on Justia Law
Hoff v. Goyer
Eliot Hoff appealed a circuit court order that remanded the administration of the conservatorship of his grandmother, Susan Bibb Kidd, to the Jefferson Probate Court. In 2006, the probate court adjudged Kidd to be an incapacitated person and appointed Mark Goolsby as conservator of her estate. Sometime in August 2008, Goolsby sold some personal property in Kidd's estate to Anita Kidd Goyer, one of Kidd's three daughters. When another of Kidd's daughters, Susan Louis Hoff, and her son Hoff found out about the sale, they filed an objection in the probate court. Meanwhile, on September 29, 2009, Kidd died. On February 21, 2011, the probate court issued an order that, among other things, approved the August 2008 sale of Kidd's personal property to Goyer. The Hoffs promptly moved the probate court to reconsider. An initial hearing on their motion was held on June 8, 2011; however, the matter was continued and another hearing scheduled for September 15, 2011. On June 24, 2011, Goolsby petitioned the probate court to be appointed administrator of Kidd's estate because he could not conduct business as conservator after her death. The Hoffs thereafter also filed a motion to continue the hearing scheduled for September 15, 2011. The probate court ruled on those motions, setting the hearing on the Hoffs' motion to reconsider and denying Goolsby's motion to be appointed administrator of Kidd's estate. Instead, the probate court, on its own motion, appointed attorney Elizabeth W. McElroy, the general administrator for Jefferson County, as administrator of Kidd's estate. Hoff appealed the order entered by the circuit court remanding the administration of the conservatorship of his grandmother to the probate court, arguing that he had properly petitioned for removal. Upon review of the matter, the Supreme Court concluded Hoff did not have standing to seek removal, that the circuit court's order of remand was properly entered. View "Hoff v. Goyer " on Justia Law
Pynes v. Jackson Hospital
Defendant Noland Hospital Montgomery, LLC ("NHM"), petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Montgomery Circuit Court to vacate its order denying NHM's motion for a summary judgment and to enter a summary judgment in NHM's favor. NHM contended that it was entitled to a summary judgment on the basis that the applicable statute of limitations for this wrongful-death action barred the claims asserted against it by Wheatton K. Pynes, individually and as executor of the estate of Houston Earl Pynes. "The disposition of this petition require[d] an interpretation of the interplay between Rule 9(h), Ala. R.Civ. P., relating to fictitiously named parties, and Rule 15(c), pertaining to the relation back of amendments to pleadings." Upon review, the Supreme Court granted the petition and issued the writ. View "Pynes v. Jackson Hospital" on Justia Law