Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Alabama

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Alice Lynn Harper Taylor ("Alice") petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directed to the Monroe Probate Court, requesting that court enter orders: (1) reinstating her petition to probate a will allegedly executed by Alice Earle Harper in 2007; (2) reinstating her petition contesting the 2007 will; and (3) transferring her contest of the 2007 will to the Monroe Circuit Court pursuant to 43-8-198, Ala. Code 1975. The decedent died in 2013. Alice filed to probate the decedent’s 1995 will in Monroe County. Approximately one year later, one of Alice’s brothers, William, moved to dismiss Alice’s petition, and filed in Escambia County a will drafted in 2007, purporting to revoke the 1995 will. Alice challenged the validity of the 2007 will; William challenged the 1995 will. The Probate court determined Monroe County was the proper venue, but ruled in favor of William and the 2007 will. The Alabama Supreme Court found neither the 1995 will nor the 2007 will was determined to be the decedent’s last will. Where several wills and will contests are filed, the Supreme Court has approved of the consolidation of such proceedings. Monroe County was the proper venue to hear the matter. The Court found the Monroe Probate Court erred in dismissing Alice’s petition to probate the 2007 will and her contest of that will. There was no dispute at to whether Alice made the prima facie showing required under 43-8-198. Thus, she was entitled to an order transferring that will contest to the Monroe Circuit Court. View "Ex parte Alice Lynn Harper Taylor." on Justia Law

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Janice Pickens appealed a probate court order denying the admission to probate of a will on the basis that the will was not signed by at least two witnesses as required by section 43-8-131, Ala. Code 1975. The Alabama Supreme Court found section 43-8-131 was not ambiguous, and that there was “simply nothing in the statute that would prohibit a notary public from serving as a witness. Indeed, the fact that Ingram signed the will in her capacity as a notary public is immaterial to her qualification to serve as a witness to the will because 43-8-131 does not require that the signatures of the testator or the witnesses be notarized. The important fact here is not the capacity in which Ingram executed the document, i.e., as a notary public, but rather that she observed [the testator’s] signing of the document and affixed her signature thereto. We see no reason to exclude Ingram as a witness simply because she signed in her official capacity as a notary public.” View "Pickens v. Estate of Donald Harrison Fenn" on Justia Law

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Darlene Slamen, Charles Martin, Wilhelmina Martin, and Harris Partnership, LLP ("Harris LLP") (collectively "the defendants"), appealed a circuit court order granting Herbert Slamen's motion for a preliminary injunction. Herbert and Darlene married in 1981 and later formed Harris LLP, of which Herbert, Darlene, Charles, and Wilhelmina each owned a 25% share. In 2008, Herbert was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and, in 2010, he moved to Thailand because, Darlene said, he wanted "to enjoy what remained of his life." After moving to Thailand, Herbert was dependent upon Darlene to send him the proceeds generated from his assets so that he could pay for living expenses and medical treatment. Payments in an agreed amount were deposited in a checking account in Thailand set up in Herbert's name. In addition to his interest in Harris LLP, Herbert's assets included a house in Alabama, a house in Florida, and an interest in the dental practice from which Herbert had retired. In 2013, Herbert, via his attorney in fact, established the Herbert A. Slamen Revocable Living Trust ("the trust") to facilitate the management of his assets, and he thereafter transferred his assets, including his interest in Harris LLP, to the trust. Herbert was the beneficiary of the trust, and both he and Darlene were the appointed cotrustees. In 2016, Herbert sued the defendants, alleging that he had revoked the trust but that Darlene, purportedly under her authority as cotrustee, had nevertheless transferred the assets of the trust to herself. As a result, Herbert alleged, the defendants had "failed to distribute proceeds from [Harris LLP] to [Herbert] and instead made all payments directly to Darlene." Herbert filed a motion for a preliminary injunction in which he requested that the trial court enjoin the defendants "from disbursing funds and profits from [Harris LLP] and requiring [the defendants] to keep all funds and profits in the regular business account of [Harris LLP] until the resolution of this case." The motion was granted, and the defendants appealed. The Alabama Supreme Court reversed, finding the underlying causes of action asserted in Herbert's complaint were actions at law that alleged only monetary loss and sought only to recover monetary damages for that alleged loss. Thus, Herbert's alleged injury was not irreparable, given that it can be adequately redressed with the monetary damages he sought if he was able to prove that the defendants wrongfully divested him of the proceeds generated from his assets. View "Slamen v. Slamen" on Justia Law

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Edwyna Ivey ("Edwyna") appealed a circuit court judgment denying her petition for an omitted-spouse share of the estate of her late husband, R.E. Ivey ("R.E."). In 1975, R.E. executed a will leaving the entirety of his estate to his first wife, Nancy, or, in the event Nancy preceded him in death, to his and Nancy's four children: Sharyl Eddins ("Sharyl"), William "Robbie" Ivey, Dell Moody, and Ty Ivey, in equal shares. R.E.'s 1975 will was the only will he ever executed and that he never executed a codicil to that will. Sharyl was named executor of R.E.'s estate. Even though Sharyl offered evidence indicating that R.E. and Edwyna had agreed that "what was hers would stay hers and what was his would stay his" in an attempt to prove that R.E. intentionally omitted Edwyna from his will, the Alabama Supreme Court determined she failed to offer evidence proving either that R.E.'s will indicated that Edwyna's omission was intentional or that R.E. intentionally disinherited Edwyna because he had made nontestamentary transfers to her intended to be in lieu of a testamentary provision. By failing to prove that either exception enumerated in section 43-8- 90, Ala. Code 1975 applied, Sharyl failed to prove that the omission of Edwyna from R.E.'s will was intentional, despite what other evidence might have indicated. The Court's reversal of the denial of Edwyna's omitted-spouse claim is therefore in accord with the legislature's intent in enacting 43-8-90 –- to avoid the unintentional disinheritance of a spouse who marries a testator after the execution of the testator's will. View "Ivey v. Estate of R.E. Ivey" on Justia Law

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Mark Robert Engel and Daniel Michael Engel appealed a probate court’s order disqualifying them as co-executors of their mother's estate and appointing a third party to administer the estate. Some of their siblings alleged Mark and Michael had been selling some of their mothers’ personal property without express permission to do so. Mark and Daniel argued the probate court stated that it was disqualifying them because the heirs, which included them, did not get along and for "efficiency of administration," which they claimed were not proper grounds for disqualifying them from serving as co-executors. The Alabama Supreme Court found no reversible error and affirmed the probate court. View "Engel v. Amonett" on Justia Law

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This action concerned a piece of real property located in Calhoun County, Alabama. Lynda Newman, individually and as personal representative of the estate of Oscar Newman, deceased, appealed the summary judgment entered in favor of Michael and Rhonda Howard. The Howards owned the property in 2003 and in April 2003 mortgaged the property to secure a note. In 2007, the Howards conveyed the property by general warranty deed to Lynda and Oscar Newman; Oscar, Lynda's husband, subsequently died. It was undisputed that, unbeknownst to the Newmans, the 2003 mortgage was not satisfied by the Howards before the conveyance and remained an encumbrance on the property. The Newmans and the Howards were involved in litigation concerning numerous claims against one another, as well as others, involving deeds, financing agreements, mortgages, and contracts between the various parties concerning several pieces of real property, including the property at issue in this case. Before a final judgment was reached in that litigation, in December 2014 the parties dismissed the lawsuit and entered into a "settlement agreement and mutual release agreement." Also in December 2014, shortly after Lynda signed the agreement, she attempted to sell the property at issue here. During the process of closing on the sale of the property, Lynda's attorney conducted a title search of the property and discovered that the property was encumbered by the 2003 mortgage. Lynda requested that the Howards satisfy the mortgage pursuant to the terms of the May 16, 2007, warranty deed. The Howards refused. Following a hearing, the circuit court granted the Howards' summary-judgment motion on the sole basis that Lynda had released any claims she may have had against the Howards. Lynda appealed. The Alabama Supreme Court reversed, finding Lynda timely objected to the Howards' reliance on the affirmative defense of settlement and release in their summary-judgment motion and equally clear that an amendment to specially plead that affirmative defense was not made by the Howards. The circuit court erred in granting the Howards' summary-judgment motion based on an unpleaded affirmative defense of release. View "Newman v. Howard" on Justia Law

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In 2008, Kimberly Bond sued her former attorney, James McLaughlin, alleging legal malpractice. The trial court entered a summary judgment in favor of McLaughlin. In February 2006, Bond hired McLaughlin to provide legal services involving the estate of her husband, Kenneth Pylant II, who was killed in a motorcycle accident in 2005. McLaughlin allegedly failed to properly contest a copy of Pylant's will that was admitted to probate on November 29, 2005, and, as a proximate result of McLaughlin's breach of duty, Bond was injured and suffered damage. The Supreme Court found that Bond did not contest the will before probate, and, because of McLaughlin's negligence, she did not properly contest the will within six months after probate by filing a complaint with the circuit court. The Supreme Court determined that Bond presented evidence sufficient to overcome summary judgment, and accordingly reversed the circuit court’s order. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Bond v. McLaughlin" on Justia Law

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Charles Breland was a developer of real property, with properties in Alabama and Florida. In 2002, Breland hired David Hudgens to provide legal services for him and his companies. According to Hudgens, Breland informed him early during their professional relationship that he "was suffering significant cash flow problems." As a result, Hudgens says, the various law firms with which Hudgens worked while providing Breland and his companies with legal services delayed billing "a significant portion of the attorneys' fees and costs" for those services. Breland disputed that, claiming that he and/or his companies paid Hudgens more than $2.7 million for Hudgens's legal services between 2004 and 2010. In 2009, Breland filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition. Breland filed the required schedules, required disclosure statement, and a proposed plan of reorganization that identified Hudgens & Associates, LLC ("H&A") as an unsecured creditor holding a $1 million claim and identified ETC as an unsecured creditor holding a $390,000 claim. Hudgens filed a proof of claim in the Breland bankruptcy on behalf of H&A for "legal fees" in the amount of $2,334,987.08 and filed proofs of claim on behalf of ETC for "guaranty of note" in the amounts of $879,929.55. Breland did not make payments according to the bankruptcy reorganization plan. Breland conveyed property to Gulf Beach Investment Company of Perdido, LLC which Hudgens alleged was in violation of the reorganization plan. Hudgens filed suit against Breland and Gulf Beach seeking enforcement of the plan, monies owed under the plan, and to void transfer of the property to Gulf Beach. The trial court entered a judgment on the parties' motions for a partial summary judgment, noting that it was not addressing the plaintiffs' "mortgage claim" because it had denied that claim in a September 2015 order. After setting forth extensive findings of fact and conclusions of law, the trial court awarded the plaintiffs $2,189,342.96 (consisting of $1.5 million in principal, plus interest); "denied and dismissed" the defendants' fraud, breach-of-contract, and slander-of-title claims; and certified the judgment as final pursuant to Rule 54(b). The trial court denied the defendants' postjudgment motion, and the defendants appealed. That case was assigned case no. 1150876, and the Alabama Supreme Court consolidated case nos. 1150302 and 1150876 for the purpose of writing one opinion. After review, the Court dismissed both appeals, finding the trial court exceeded its discretion in certifying as final the underlying appeals. View "Equity Trust Co. v. Breland" on Justia Law

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Melissa Bain, in her capacity as the personal representative of the estate of her deceased husband Christopher Heath ("Heath"), appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of Colbert County Northwest Alabama Health Care Authority d/b/a Helen Keller Hospital ("HKH"). Dr. Preston Wigfall was the emergency-room physician working at the hospital on the night Heath was taken to the emergency room. Dr. Wigfall ordered certain tests to be run, but he was unable to determine from the results of those tests the cause of Heath's symptoms. Heath was discharged approximately six hours after his arrival with an "unspecified" diagnosis with instructions to follow up with his primary-care physician. Approximately 20 days after his visit to the emergency room at the hospital, Heath died when a 45-millimeter ascending aortic aneurysm dissected. Bain, in her capacity as the personal representative of Heath's estate, filed a medical-malpractice action against HKH and several other defendants, arguing that that the emergency-department nurses at the hospital and Dr. Wigfall breached the applicable standards of care when they treated Heath; that Dr. Wigfall, at all relevant times, was acting within the line and scope of his duties and employment as an actual or apparent agent or employee of HKH; and that HKH was vicariously liable for the actions of its nurses and Dr. Wigfall. After review, the Supreme Court concluded Bain failed to demonstrate that the trial court erred in entering a summary judgment in favor of HKH as to all of Bain's claims and affirmed the circuit court's judgment. View "Bain v. Colbert County Northwest Alabama Health Care Authority" on Justia Law

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Sherri Hurst and Brenda Ray had been friends and neighbors for approximately 20 years before the incident that is the basis of the underlying action. One day in 2013, Ray telephoned Hurst and asked her to accompany her to a Wal-Mart. Ray was taking Nona Williams, her elderly aunt, to purchase Williams's medication and other merchandise that day, in preparation for Williams's move to Ohio. Williams testified that Ray asked Hurst to accompany them to the Wal-Mart because "both [Ray] and I had limited mobility, and [Ray] wanted [Hurst] to come along in case either of us needed help moving around." When they arrived at the Wal-Mart, Ray pulled her vehicle along the curb in front of the store to allow Williams to get out of the vehicle at the entrance. After Williams got out of the vehicle, Ray asked Hurst to stand with Williams on the curb while she parked the car. Hurst then began to get out of the vehicle, but, before she had completely exited the vehicle, Ray pulled the vehicle forward, causing Hurst to fall to the ground. Hurst sustained injuries when the back tire of the vehicle ran over her leg. Hurst sued Ray's estate ("the estate"), alleging negligence and seeking to recover damages for her injuries. The estate answered the complaint, raising as a defense, among other things, the Alabama Guest Statute. The estate moved for a summary judgment, arguing that Hurst's negligence claim was barred by the Guest Statute. The trial court entered an order granting the estate’s motion and denying Hurst’s cross-motion for a summary judgment. The Alabama Supreme Court found that the Guest Statute did not apply in this matter, reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Hurst v. Sneed" on Justia Law