Articles Posted in Alabama Supreme Court

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Two petitions for a writ of mandamus came before the Supreme Court. Both sought review of orders that found plaintiffs lacked of standing and, in turn, found the trial courts lacked subject-matter jurisdiction. In case no. 1111567, U.S. Bank National Association ("U.S. Bank"), sought a writ to require the Walker Circuit Court to dismiss an action filed by Walker County. In case no. 1111370, MERSCORP, Inc. ("MERSCORP"), and Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc. ("MERS") sought a writ to require the Barbour Circuit Court to dismiss an action filed by Barbour Probate Judge Nancy Robertson. Upon careful consideration of the underlying trial court cases, the Supreme Court concluded that these cases did not fall within the subject-matter-jurisdiction exception to the general rule that the Supreme Court would not engage in mandamus review of a trial court's denial of a motion to dismiss. The Court therefore denied the request for mandamus relief in both of the cases. View "Robertson v. MERSCORP, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court consolidated two cases for the purposes of this opinion. Each of the plaintiffs in these cases attended a foreclosure auction, was the successful bidder at that auction, paid money for the auctioned property, and received a foreclosure deed to the property. Each plaintiff brought an ejectment action under Alabama law, claiming good title to the property at issue and the right to eject the original debtor. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that the trial courts had subject-matter jurisdiction over these cases, including any issue as to the validity in fact of the plaintiffs' title to the property (this being one of the elements of proof required in an ejectment action). The Supreme Court reversed the trial court in the "Strudivant" case, but affirmed in the "Harris" case. View "Sturdivant v. BAC Home Loans Servicing, LP" on Justia Law

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In case no. 1111525, M & F Bank ("M & F") appealed a summary judgment entered in favor of First American Title Insurance Company ("FATIC") on negligence, breach-of-contract, and bad-faith-failure-to-pay claims M&F asserted against FATIC related to a title-insurance policy ("the title policy") FATIC issued M & F in connection with a mortgage loan made by M & F to a developer of property in Auburn. In case no. 1111568, FATIC appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of M & F on FATIC's counterclaims asserting abuse of process, conspiracy, breach of contract, and negligence. Upon review of both cases, the Supreme Court affirmed both judgments. View "M & F Bank v. First American Title Insurance Company " on Justia Law

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In 2011, Sterling Bank sued Christopher Sanspree for nonpayment on a promissory note. Sanspree answered, raised counterclaims of fraudulent misrepresentation, fraudulent concealment, negligence and negligent supervision. The bank moved for summary judgment on the nonpayment issue only. Sanspree responded to the motion arguing the bank's claim should not be adjudicated separately from his counterclaims. The trial court entered summary judgment in favor of the bank on its claim without mention of Sanspree's counterclaims. Sanspree then moved the trial court to certify the summary judgment as final. Once the court certified the motion, Sanspree appealed to the Supreme Court. The high court found the trial court erred in certifying the summary judgment motion as final and dismissed the appeal. View "Sanspree v. Sterling Bank " on Justia Law

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Fred and Nancy Eagerton petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Circuit Court to enter a judgment as a matter of law in their favor and against SE Property Holdings, LLC, consistent with the Court's mandate in "Eagerton v. Vision Bank," (99 So. 3d 299 (Ala. 2012)). SE Property Holdings, LLC, is the successor by merger to Vision Bank. The underlying suit arose from a loan that the Eagertons personally guaranteed, secured by a mortgage on property within the Rock Creek Tennis Club in Fairhope. The bank declared the original and second loans in default and accelerated balances due under both. The bank sued the primary obligor, and the Eagertons as person guarantors on one of the original loans. The primary obligor declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The reorganization plan consolidated the two loans. The obligor eventually defaulted on the terms of the reorganization plan. The bankruptcy was dismissed, the property foreclosed, and the money obtained in the foreclosure sale was applied to the consolidated loan. The Eagertons argued that the Chapter 11 reorganization of the debts of primary obligor (the consolidation of the original loan with the second loan), created a new indebtedness not encompassed by their guaranty contracts. The Eagertons therefore argued that the creation of this new indebtedness, without their knowledge or consent, operated to discharge them from any further obligations under their guaranty contracts. The bank, on the other hand, argued, among other things, that the consolidated loan was a replacement note contemplated by the guaranty contracts and that the Eagertons had waived the material-modification defense. The Supreme Court in "Eagerton v. Vision Bank" concluded that the Eagertons' guaranty contracts were unambiguous; that based on the language in the guaranty contracts the Eagertons did not intend to guarantee any indebtedness other than that indebtedness arising out of the original loan and any extensions, renewals, or replacements thereof; and that, once the Eagertons' original loan was modified pursuant to the Chapter 11 reorganization of Dotson 10s, the Eagertons were at that point discharged from any further obligations under their guaranty contracts. Because the circuit court did not follow the mandate in the Court's prior decision in "Vision Bank," the Supreme Court granted the Eagertons' petition and issued the writ. View "SE Property Holdings, LLC v. Eagerton" on Justia Law

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First Commercial Bank of Huntsville appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of various defendants on claims alleged by the Bank against those defendants. Because the summary judgment did not resolve all claims against all parties and because no part of the summary judgment was certified as final pursuant to Rule 54(b), Ala. R. Civ. P., the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal as being from a nonfinal judgment. View "First Commercial Bank of Huntsville v. Nowlin, III." on Justia Law

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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

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BancorpSouth Bank petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the trial court to vacate its order denying the bank's motion to strike a jury demand in the complaint filed against it by Plaintiff Thomas L. Busby and to enter an order granting the Bank's motion, thereby enforcing Busby's waiver of a jury trial. The dispute arose from a construction loan to which Plaintiff Busby guaranteed. The loan agreement contained the jury trial waiver in the event of a dispute between the parties. The borrower defaulted on the loan, and the bank sought payment from Plaintiff. Plaintiff sued the bank, alleging multiple counts of fraud, misrepresentation and breach of contract. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that the bank demonstrated that it had a clear legal right to have the jury demand stricken. Accordingly the Court granted the petition, issued the writ, and directed the trial court to enter an order granting the bank's motion. View "Busby v. BancorpSouth Bank" on Justia Law

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According to Braden Furniture Company, Inc., between 2003 and 2010, Bonnie Manning, an assistant bookkeeper, accessed Braden Furniture's accounting program and created over 200 unauthorized checks, totaling over $470,000, that she then deposited in her account at Union State Bank. The majority of the checks did not identify a payee. Braden Furniture sued Union State Bank, RBC Bank, and Manpower, Inc., alleging common-law negligence and wantonness and violations of sections 7-3-404(d), 7-3-405(b), and 7-3-406, Ala. Code 1975. Union State Bank moved for a summary judgment. The trial court entered summary judgment for the Bank. Upon review, the issue before the Supreme Court was whether provisions in the Alabama Uniform Commercial Code ("the UCC") displaced common-law claims of negligence and wantonness when a drawer seeks to recover the loss of payment for unauthorized checks. Braden Furniture contended that the trial court erred in holding that the provisions of the UCC displaced its common-law claims of negligence and wantonness because, allowing its common-law claims to proceed did not "create rights, duties and liabilities inconsistent" with the UCC. The Supreme Court concluded that the trial court did not err in entering a summary judgment for Union State Bank in this regard. View "Braden Furniture Company, Inc. v. Union State Bank " on Justia Law

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Morgan Keegan & Company, Inc. and Regions Bank (hereinafter referred to collectively as "Regions") appealed an order of the Baldwin Circuit Court which granted in part and denied in part their motions to compel arbitration in an action filed against them by Baldwin County Sewer Service, LLC ("BCSS"). In 2001 BCSS began discussing with AmSouth Bank ("AmSouth"), the predecessor-in-interest to Regions Bank, options to finance its existing debt. AmSouth recommended that BCSS finance its debt through variable-rate demand notes ("VRDNs").1 In its complaint, BCSS alleged that in late 2008 it received a notice of a substantial increase in the variable interest rates on its 2002, 2003, 2005, and 2007 VRDNs, which constituted BCSS's first notice that the interest-rate-swap agreements recommended by Regions did not fix the interest rate on the VRDNs but, instead, exposed BCSS to "an entirely new increased level of market risk in the highly complex derivative market." BCSS sued Regions Bank and Morgan Keegan asserting that Regions falsely represented to BCSS that swap agreements fixed BCSS's interest rates on all the BCSS debt that had been financed through the VRDNs. Following a hearing on the motions to compel arbitration, the trial court entered an order in which it granted the motions to compel arbitration as to BCSS's claims concerning the credit agreements but denied the motions to compel arbitration as to BCSS's claims concerning the failure of the swap transactions to provide a fixed interest rate. The trial court reasoned that the "Jurisdiction" clause in a master agreement, in combination with its merger clause, "prevent[ed] any argument that the VRDN arbitration agreement applies to disputes concerning the swap agreements" and that those clauses demonstrated that it was "the parties' intention, as it relates to the interest-swap agreement and any transaction related to that agreement, that the parties would not arbitrate but instead [any dispute] would be resolved by proceedings in a court of competent jurisdiction." Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that Regions presented evidence of the existence of a contract requiring arbitration of the disputes at issue. The Court reversed the order of the trial court denying the motions to compel arbitration of BCSS's claims concerning the master agreement and the swap agreement and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Regions Bank v. Baldwin County Sewer Service, LLC " on Justia Law