Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Alabama

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In consolidated appeals, Randolph Clay Cooper ("Clay") appealed two summary judgments entered in favor of his siblings, Garland Terrance Cooper ("Terry") and Rebecca Cooper Bonner ("Becky"). Case no. 1170270 concerned a petition for letters of administration for the estate of Carol Evans Cooper ("Mrs. Cooper"), who was their mother. Case no. 1170271 concerned Clay's petition to distribute any assets remaining in a trust created by the will of their father, Nolan P. Cooper ("Mr. Cooper"). After review, the Alabama Supreme Court determined summary judgment was appropriate in Case no. 1170270, but that the district court erred in granting summary judgment in 1170271: in the 2012 litigation regarding the administration of his mother’s estate, Clay attempted to sue Becky in her capacity as "administratrix of the will and/or estate of Carol Evans Cooper," among other capacities. However, that attempt was ineffective because no administration of Mrs. Cooper's estate had yet been commenced and no estate administrator was appointed until after the 2012 litigation had concluded on October 1, 2014. The parties in the two cases were not the same or substantially identical (letters of administration had been previously granted to Harry D’Olive, Jr.), and the circuit court erred by entering a summary judgment in favor of Becky and Terry based on their argument that the administration of Mrs. Cooper's estate was barred by the doctrine of res judicata. View "Cooper v. Cooper" on Justia Law

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Evangela Skelton ("Angel"), as personal representative of the estate of Brian Lee Skelton, Sr. ("the estate"), requested the Alabama Supreme Court issue a writ of mandamus directing the Circuit Court (1) to vacate its order denying her motion to dismiss an action filed in the circuit court by Joshua Council ("Joshua") and (2) to enter an order dismissing Joshua's action on the ground of abatement. Frederick Skelton, Jr. ("Frederick Jr."), died on June 7, 1979. Frederick Jr. was survived by his wife, Rheta Skelton ("Rheta"), and four children: Brian Lee Skelton, Sr. ("Brian Lee"), Frederick Tildon Skelton III ("Frederick III"), Loretta Skelton ("Loree"), and Cindy Skelton ("Cindy"). The original trustee of the trust was Rheta. The trust named Frederick III as successor trustee to Rheta and Brian Lee as successor trustee to Frederick III. The trust named no successor trustee to Brian Lee. Rheta died on December 13, 2015. Rheta was predeceased by Frederick III, who died on January 1, 2014. Thus, Brian Lee became the successor trustee of the trust following Rheta's death. However, Brian Lee died on July 2, 2016, before dividing the trust property into shares and distributing those shares pursuant to the terms of the trust and before making a final settlement of the trust. Brian Lee was survived by his wife, Angel, by two adult children, Brian Lee Skelton, Jr. ("Brian Jr."), and Taylor Skelton Madsen ("Taylor"), and by a minor child, Olivia Jade Skelton ("Olivia"). Brian Lee's adult children sought appointment such that the Family Trust shares could be distributed. Joshua, as beneficiary, petitioned for termination, alleging that the trust should have terminated on Rheta's death, and asked the circuit court to distribute the trust assets. Angel moved to dismiss, which was ultimately denied. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the circuit court erred in denying Angel's motion, reversed the Circuit court and directed it to enter an order dismissing Joshua's action. View "Ex parte Evangela Skelton, as the personal representative of the Estate of Brian Lee Skelton, Sr., deceased." on Justia Law

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Kimberly Blalock appealed a circuit court order holding Crimson Sutphin was the rightful beneficiary of a policy insuring the life of Loyd Sutphin, Jr. ("Loyd"), issued by New York Life Insurance Company. Loyd took out a $250,000 individual whole life-insurance policy, naming his daughter, Sutphin, as the sole beneficiary. In October 2012, Loyd married Blalock, and they lived together at his home in Henegar. Soon after, in December 2012, Loyd submitted a change-of-beneficiary-designation form to New York Life, designating Blalock and Sutphin each as a 50% beneficiary under the policy. A few years later, in February 2016, Loyd and Blalock divorced; however, the life-insurance policy was not addressed in the divorce judgment, and Loyd never changed the beneficiary designation following the divorce. Loyd died later that year on December 23, 2016. In April 2017, Sutphin filed a action seeking a judgment declaring that she was the rightful beneficiary of the entire proceeds of the New York Life policy because, she asserted, pursuant to section 30-4-17, Ala. Code 1975, Blalock's beneficiary designation had been revoked upon her divorce from Loyd. Blalock moved to dismiss the action, arguing that Tennessee, not Alabama, law should govern and, thus, that the DeKalb Circuit Court did not have subject-matter jurisdiction to hear the case. The circuit court denied the motion to dismiss; Blalock filed a motion to reconsider the denial. At an evidentiary hearing on her motion to reconsider, Blalock again argued that the DeKalb Circuit Court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction but also asserted that the application of 30-4-17 in this instance violated section 22 of the Alabama Constitution of 1901; the circuit court denied Blalock's motion to reconsider. The case proceeded to a bench trial, at which Blalock argued that she and Loyd had established a common-law marriage after their divorce and before his death, thereby reviving her beneficiary designation under the policy. The circuit court heard testimony from numerous witnesses on this issue, most of whom testified on Blalock's behalf. In 2018, the circuit court issued a final order in the case, holding that Sutphin was the rightful beneficiary under the policy because Blalock's beneficiary designation had been revoked by virtue of 30-4-17 and no common-law marriage existed to revive that designation before Loyd's death. Finding that Blalock's beneficiary designation was revoked under 30-4-17 by virtue of her divorce, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court. View "Blalock v. Sutphin" on Justia Law

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Patricia Campbell appeals from an order of the Mobile Circuit Court adjudicating J.R.C., J.L.C., R.L.C., and J.H.S., minor children, as the heirs of the estate of her son, Remano Campbell. Remano died intestate in October 2011, the victim of a homicide perpetrated by his wife, Eugenia Campbell. At the time of his death, Remano was the insured under a $200,000 life-insurance policy issued by United of Omaha Life Insurance Company ("Omaha"). Because Eugenia was not considered to be Remano's surviving spouse, the proceeds of the insurance policy would pass to Remano's issue; if there was no surviving issue, then to his parent or parents equally. Remano and Eugenia were legally married in June 2002. During their marriage, Remano and Eugenia had three children, J.R.C., J.L.C., and R.L.C. Eugenia also had another child, J.H.S., who was born approximately 18 months before her marriage to Remano and who lived with Remano and Eugenia throughout their marriage. In January 2017, the administrator ad litem of Remano's estate filed a complaint in the interpleader action, seeking a judgment declaring that the Campbell children and J.H.S. were Remano's heirs and thus were entitled to the life insurance proceeds. After a hearing, the circuit court entered an order adjudicating the Campbell children and J.H.S. to be Remano's heirs and further finding that Patricia lacked standing to challenge the paternity of the children. Accordingly, the circuit court ordered disbursement of the insurance proceeds in the interpleader action and directed that the estate administration be remanded to the probate court. Patricia filed a postjudgment motion, which was denied. This appeal followed. Finding no reversible error in the circuit court’s judgment, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed adjudication of the children as Remano’s heirs. View "Campbell v. J.R.C." on Justia Law

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William Norvell appealed the grant of summary judgment in an action he filed against his brothers Carter and Samuel Norvell. This case arose from a dispute concerning a transaction in which their mother, Martha, sold Carter a certain house on lakefront property ("the lake house"). Martha established a revocable trust ("the trust") and executed a deed transferring title to the lake house to the trust. Carter was both the trustee and the beneficiary of the trust. Martha also executed a will that, because her husband has preceded her in death, divided her estate in equal shares among three of her four sons, Carter, Samuel, and Neal Norvell, expressly excluding William. A few years later, Martha executed a "revocation of trust agreement" pursuant to which she revoked the trust and expressed her desire to transfer title to the lake house from the trust to herself; shortly thereafter, Carter, as the trustee, executed a deed transferring title to the lake house to Martha. Martha also executed a codicil to her will to devise and bequeath her assets to Carter, Samuel, Neal, and William in equal shares and to appoint Carter and William co-personal representatives of her estate. The Alabama Supreme Court determined William failed to demonstrate the circuit court erred by entering a summary judgment in the defendants' favor on his "interference-with-inheritance-expectancy" and undue influence claims. Accordingly, the Court affirmed summary judgment with respect to those claims. However, the circuit court erred by entering a summary judgment in the defendants' favor based on William's lack of "standing" to prosecute his declaratory-judgment, breach-of-fiduciary-duty, and conspiracy claims. Accordingly, the Court reversed summary judgment with respect to those claims and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Norvell v. Norvell" on Justia Law

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Rhonda Stephan as the personal representative of the Estate of Bobby Gene Hicks, appealed an order granting a motion to compel arbitration filed by Millennium Nursing and Rehab Center, Inc. Stephan contends that Hicks, her father, died in 2015 while he was a resident at Millennium Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, a skilled-nursing facility owned and operated by Millennium ("the Rehab Center"). During Hicks's hospitalization at Crestwood Medical Center ("Crestwood"), Stephan signed all the paperwork arranging for her father to be discharged from the hospital and transferred to the Rehab Center; however, she did not hold a power of attorney or other actual legal authority to act on Hicks's behalf or to contract in his name. Hicks did not sign any of the paperwork, but he is named as a party to the contracts included within that paperwork. On October 26, 2015, Hicks was transferred from Crestwood to the Rehab Center. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded Stephan could not be bound to the arbitration provision in her capacity as personal representative to Hicks' estate when she signed the agreement at issue here in her capacity, in what amounted to, Hicks' relative or next friend. View "Stephan v. Millennium Nursing and Rehab Center, Inc." on Justia Law

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A jury entered a verdict against defendant HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital of Gadsden, LLC in a medical malpractice case brought by plaintiff Regina Honts, as personal representative of the estate of Doris Green. HealthSouth Gadsden then filed a postjudgment motion seeking a judgment as a matter of law ("a JML"), a new trial, or a remittitur of the damages award. After an evidentiary hearing as to the request for a remittitur, the trial court denied the postjudgment motion. HealthSouth Gadsden appealed; Honts cross-appealed, challenging rulings on discovery issues. As to HealthSouth Gadsden's appeal, case no. 1160045, the Alabama Supreme Court reversed the trial court's judgment and remand the case for a new trial. As to Honts' cross-appeal, case no. 1160068, the Court affirmed. Honts' complaint pinpointed the start of Green's decline at a time during her residency at HealthSouth Gadsen, a nurse administered medication to Green that Green later had an adverse reaction to. Honts sought discovery of the nurse's personnel file; the trial court determined Honts failed to show what would have been in the personnel file that could establish a breach of the standard of care by HealthSouth Gasden with respect to Green. The Supreme Court determined the trial court erred in instructing the jury on the hospital standard of care, reversed the jury verdict as to that issue, and remanded for a new trial. View "HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital of Gadsden, LLC v. Honts" on Justia Law

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William Barrett ("Bill") appealed a circuit court order entering summary judgment in favor of George Harvey Barrett ("George") and the trustees of the George Harvey Barrett Trust--Gail Ledbetter Cole Kaphan, Curtis L. Barrett, Jr., and Charles Ledbetter (collectively, "the trustees"). He also challenged the denial of his motion for a partial summary judgment on the basis that the circuit court lacked the authority to modify the trust. In 1999, Ben and Janet Barrett died in a plane crash. The Barretts' wills, the applicable provisions of which were identical, established the "Children's Trust" for the benefit of George and his two younger siblings and provided that each child would receive his or her portion of the trust proceeds upon reaching age 25 and that the trust would terminate when the youngest child reached age 25. In June 2000, the circuit court, on the petition of the trustees, modified the Children's Trust to establish separate trusts for each Barrett child and to provide that the trustees "are required to pay 40% of the trust assets to each Barrett child upon his or her attainment of 25 years of age and the remaining 60% of said trust assets upon the attainment of 35, at which time said Trust shall terminate." The trust assets were largely Central Alabama Bancshares, Inc. stock. In August 2014, George offered to sell a share of his bank stock to his cousin Bill because the trustees refused to give him enough money from the trust to meet his financial needs. While George was an inpatient at a rehabilitation center, Bill's attorney wrote a letter to Curtis informing Curtis that George would be turning 35, and requested the trustees transfer either to Bill or to George the bank stock and all dividends that had been paid on the stock since August 22, 2014. The trustees informed Bill that they would not turn over the bank stock to him absent a court order. George was discharged with instructions that he have a conservator, due to his memory and attention impairments. The trustees thereafter petitioned to modify the trust because George was unable to manage his financial affairs. The trustees did not name Bill as a necessary party to the trust-modification proceeding despite knowing that he had a claim against the trust assets. The Alabama Supreme Court found that the circuit court erred in finding the agreement between Bill and George void ab initio, thereby precluding Bill from enforcing his rights under that agreement. "The circuit court's interpretation of the shareholders agreement does not comport with the plain language of the agreement, and, in fact, dictates an inequitable result." View "Barrett v. Barrett" on Justia Law

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Appellants Beverly Burns, Michael Ashley, and Debbie Elrod appealed the denial of their will contest, admitting to probate the will of Rheba Ashley, and issuing letters testamentary to James Ashley. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the only action the probate court took with respect to James' petition to probate Rheba's will was the appointment of an administrator ad colligendum of the estate. This appointment was insufficient to initiate the general administration of the estate, thus the circuit court could not assume jurisdiction over the administration. Accordingly, the circuit court's purporting to remove the administration of Rheba's estate from the probate court and its judgment relating to the admission of Rheba's will to probate and issued letters testamentary to James, were void for lack of jurisdiction and were therefore vacated. View "Burns v. Ashley" on Justia Law

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The estate of Ray Wendell Williams appeals a circuit court judgment ordering it to make a monthly payment of $1,000 to Williams's daughter Kimberly Loveless pursuant to a provision in Williams's will directing WTW Enterprises, Inc. ("WTW"), a trucking business operated by Williams before his death, to commence paying Loveless a monthly salary of "no less than $1,000" upon his death. The Alabama Supreme Court dismissed this appeal, finding: a party petitioned the probate court to transfer the administration of an estate to the circuit court; the probate court granted that petition and took action purporting to transfer administration of the estate to the circuit court; and the circuit court thereafter took over administration of the estate without entering an order of its own authorizing the removal. Such a transfer is improper, and the circuit court never properly acquired subject-matter jurisdiction over the administration of Williams's estate. Accordingly, all actions the circuit court purported to take in this case –– including the judgment the estate has appealed concerning the validity of the directive in Williams's will requiring WTW to pay Loveless a $1,000 monthly salary –– were void due to the lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. View "Estate of Ray Wendell Williams v. Kimberly Loveless" on Justia Law