Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Alabama
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The HuffingtonPost.com, Inc. ("HuffPost"), petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct a circuit court to vacate its order denying HuffPost's motion for a summary judgment based on the immunity provided in the Communications Decency Act of 1996, 47 U.S.C. § 230, and to enter a summary judgment in its favor pursuant to the immunity provided in 47 U.S.C. § 230. K.G.S. petitioned to adopt Baby Doe; the birth mother contested the adoption. The birth mother contacted Mirah Ruben, a contributor to HuffPost, and shared her version of events leading to her contesting the adoption. HuffPost published two online articles about Baby Doe’s adoption, including the full name of the birth mother, K.G.S. and included images of Baby Doe. After the articles were published, Claudia D’Arcy, a resident of New York, created a Facebook page dedicated to reuniting the birth mother and Baby Doe, which attached the HuffPost articles. The Facebook page also identified the birth mother and K.G.S. by name, and images of Baby Doe. After the creation of the Facebook page, K.G.S. stated she was “inundated with appallingly malicious and persistent cyber-bullying.” K.G.S.’ attorney compelled Facebook to take down the page because it violated Alabama’s Adoption Code. Then K.G.S. sued HuffPost, Mirah Riben, and a number of other defendants alleging that the defendants had made statements relating to the adoption that subjected them to civil liability and had unlawfully disclosed confidential information about the adoption "to create a sensationalized, salacious, and scandal-driven trial in the court of public opinion to pressure K.G.S. into relinquishing her custody of Baby Doe." After review of the circumstances of this case, the Alabama Supreme Court concluded HuffPost demonstrated a clear legal right to mandamus relief, and its petition was granted. View "Ex parte The HuffingtonPost.com" on Justia Law

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David Roberson appealed a circuit court's dismissal of his claims against Balch & Bingham, LLP ("Balch"), on the basis that those claims were barred by the limitations periods contained in the Alabama Legal Services Liability Act ("the ALSLA"). After review of the trial court record, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed, but on grounds that differed from the trial court's. "[T]he gravamen of Roberson's claims against Balch involved the provision of legal services. However, both Roberson and Balch assert that Roberson was not Balch's client, and those assertions are borne out in the third amended complaint, which indicates that Balch was engaged by Drummond, not personally by Roberson. ... Roberson's claims against the law firm Drummond engaged, Balch, are barred by the ALSLA because Roberson cannot meet an essential element of an ALSLA claim -- namely, he was not Balch's client -- and thus Balch owed no duty to Roberson. ... the circuit court's rationale was based on the applicability of the ALSLA's limitations periods." View "Roberson v. Balch & Bingham, LLP" on Justia Law

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The Alabama Department of Revenue ("DOR") petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to order Judge Eddie Hardaway to recuse himself from an appeal challenging a decision of the Alabama Tax Tribunal in favor of Greenetrack, Inc. In 2009, the DOR determined Greentrack owed $75 million in sales taxes and consumer-use taxes for its electronic-bingo activities for the period from January 1, 2004, through December 31, 2008. In 2013, the Alabama Department of Revenue moved for Judge Hardaway to recuse himself, arguing that recusal was required because Judge Hardaway had recused himself two months earlier from another case on a related matter involving these same parties. In the present dispute, the DOR asked Judge Hardaway to recuse himself. This time the circuit court denied the request without providing any specific rationale or reasoning in its order, finding the "cases and authorities relied upon by the Alabama Department of Revenue do not support recusal under the facts and circumstances of this case." Finding the DOR demonstrated a clear, legal right to the recusal of Judge Hardaway in this matter, the Alabama Supreme Court granted its petition and directed Judge Hardaway to recuse himself. View "Ex parte Alabama Department of Revenue." on Justia Law

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QHG of Enterprise, Inc., d/b/a Medical Center Enterprise ("QHG"), appealed a circuit court's judgment awarding Amy Pertuit ("Amy") $5,000 in compensatory damages and $295,000 in punitive damages. Leif Pertuit ("Leif") had been married to Deanna Mortensen; they had one child, Logan. Leif and Mortensen divorced in 2007. At some point, Mortensen was awarded sole physical custody of Logan, and Leif was awarded visitation. Leif later married Amy, a nurse. At the time of their marriage, Leif and Amy resided in Mobile, Alabama, and Mortensen resided in Enterprise. Eventually, tensions arose between Leif and Mortensen regarding the issue of visitation. In March 2014, Mortensen began sending text messages to Leif accusing Amy of being addicted to drugs. Around that time, Mortensen visited the attorney who had represented her in divorce from Leif. Mortensen expressed concern that Logan was in danger as a result of the visitation arrangement and asked her attorney to assist with obtaining a modification of Leif's visitation. In April 2014, Mortensen contacted Dr. Kathlyn Diefenderfer, a physician whom QHG employed as a hospitalist at Medical Center Enterprise. Mortensen had been Dr. Diefenderfer's patient, and Dr. Diefenderfer's son played sports with Logan. Mortensen informed Dr. Diefenderfer that Logan was scheduled to ride in an automobile with Amy from Enterprise to Mobile for Leif's visitation and expressed concern regarding Amy's ability to drive, given her belief that Amy was using drugs and had lost her nursing license. Dr. Diefenderfer used a hospital computer to check on Amy's drug prescriptions. After reviewing that information,Dr. Diefenderfer told Mortensen: "All I can tell you is I would not put my son in the car." Mortensen went back to her attorney, informing him that Dr. Diefenderfer had acquired the necessary proof of Amy's drug use. Amy received a copy of the modification petition, and was convinced her private health information had been obtained in violation of HIPAA, and filed complaints to the Enterprise Police Department, the US Department of Health and Human Services, the Alabama Bar Association, and the Alabama Board of Medical Examiners. A grand jury indicted Mortensen and Dr. Diefenderfer, which were later recalled, but the two entered diversion agreements with the district attorney's office. Amy then filed suit alleging negligence and wantonness, violation of her right to privacy, the tort of outrage and conspiracy. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the trial court erred by denying QHG's motion for a judgment as a matter of law with respect to Amy's asserted theories of respondeat superior; ratification; and negligent and wanton training, supervision, and retention because there was not substantial evidence indicating that QHG was liable to Amy as a consequence of Dr. Diefenderfer's conduct under any of those theories. The trial court's judgment awarding Amy $5,000 in compensatory damages and $295,000 in punitive damages was reversed, and judgment rendered in favor of QHG. View "QHG of Enterprise, Inc., d/b/a Medical Center Enterprise v. Pertuit" on Justia Law

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Michael Hubbard was charged with 23 counts of violating Alabama's "Code of Ethics for Public Officials, Employees, Etc.," sections 36-25-1 to -30, Ala. Code 1975 ("the Ethics Code"). The Circuit Court entered a judgment on a jury verdict convicting Hubbard on 12 of the 23 counts. Hubbard appealed to the Court of Criminal Appeals, which affirmed the convictions on 11 counts and reversed the conviction on 1 count. Hubbard petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for certiorari review of the 11 counts affirmed by the Court of Criminal Appeals, which was granted. After that review, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals as to Hubbard's convictions on six counts, but reversed as to the convictions on five counts because they were based on insufficient evidence or incorrect interpretations of the Ethics Code. View "Ex parte Michael Gregory Hubbard." on Justia Law

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Jimmy Leftwich, Jr., appealed a circuit court's denial of his motion for a new trial in his negligence action against Steven Brewster. Leftwich alleged that Brewster breached a duty to competently inspect a house that Leftwich purchased. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Brewster. On appeal, Leftwich contended the trial court erred in failing to disqualify two jurors for cause and that the trial court erroneously excluded vital evidence that provided estimated costs to repair the home. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court found no reversible error and affirmed the judgment of the trial court. View "Leftwich v. Brewster" on Justia Law

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The estate of Ed Young, deceased, by and through its personal representative, Fannie Pollard, appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of H.C. Partnership d/b/a Hill Crest Behavioral Health Services ("Hill Crest") in a wrongful-death action alleging medical malpractice. On May 7, 2017, the estate of Ed Young sued Hill Crest alleging that Hill Crest caused Young's death on May 9, 2015, by improperly administering the antipsychotic drugs Haldol and Thorazine to Young as a chemical restraint without taking a proper medical history and evaluating him. The style of the complaint indicated that it was filed by the "Estate of Ed Young and Fannie M. Pollard as personal representative of the Estate of Ed Young." On May 8, 2017, the probate court appointed Fannie M. Pollard as administrator of Young's estate. On May 9, 2017, the two-year limitations period under Alabama's wrongful-death act expired. On June 15, 2017, the estate filed an amended complaint, adding additional claims against Hill Crest. The amended complaint listed as plaintiffs the estate and Pollard as the personal representative of the estate. The parties then engaged in discovery. In 2019, Hill Crest moved for summary judgment, arguing that Pollard was not the personal representative of the estate when the complaint was filed, and therefore she lacked capacity to bring suit. Furthermore, Hill Crest argued the complaint was a nullity and there was no properly filed underlying action to which Pollard's subsequent appointment as personal representative could relate. The Alabama Supreme Court found Hill Crest's argument regarding the relation-back doctrine as unavailing: "the relation-back doctrine 'simply recognizes and clarifies what has already occurred' in that application of the doctrine does not extend the limitations period but merely allows substitution of a party in a suit otherwise timely filed." Summary judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Pollard v. H.C. Partnership d/b/a Hill Crest Behavioral Health Services" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Warner Wiggins appeals a circuit court's order compelling him to arbitrate his claims against Warren Averett, LLC. Warren Averett was an accounting firm. Eastern Shore Children's Clinic, P.C. ("Eastern Shore"), a pediatric medical practice, was a client of Warren Averett. In September 2010, while Wiggins, who was a medical doctor, was a shareholder and employee of Eastern Shore, Warren Averett and Eastern Shore entered an agreement pursuant to which Warren Averett was to provide accounting services to Eastern Shore ("the contract"). The contract contained an arbitration clause. Thereafter, Wiggins and Warren Averett became involved in a billing dispute related to the preparation of Wiggins's personal income-tax returns. In 2017, Wiggins filed a single-count complaint alleging "accounting malpractice" against Warren Averett. Warren Averett filed an answer to Wiggins's complaint, asserting, among other things, that Wiggins's claims were based on the contract and were thus subject to the arbitration clause. A majority of the Alabama Supreme Court concluded the determination of whether Wiggins' claims were covered under the terms of the arbitration clause was delegated to an arbitrator to decide. Therefore, it affirmed the trial court's order. View "Warner W. Wiggins v. Warren Averett, LLC" on Justia Law

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Sonya C. Edwards and Edwards Law, LLC (collectively, "Edwards"), petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct a trial court to enter a summary judgment in their favor in an action filed against them by Ivan Gray. Sonya previously represented Gray in proceedings in federal court. In 2015, after mediation and a settlement, those proceedings concluded with the entry of a final judgment. Thereafter, Gray sought to set aside the settlement, and Sonya terminated her representation of Gray. In 2017, Gray sued Edwards alleging Edwards had entered into a contract with Gray in June 2014 in which Sonya agreed to represent Gray in the federal proceedings in exchange for a contingency fee of 50%. Gray alleged that he paid a total retainer fee in the amount of $14,380.85 to cover expenses. According to Gray's complaint, when his federal case concluded, Edwards disclosed that the actual expenses amounted to $4,516.77, therefore, he felt he was entitled to a refund of $9,864.08. When the refund was not forthcoming, Gray alleged Edward converted his retainer and breached the contract between the two. The Supreme Court determined the "act or omission or failure giving rise to the claim" occurred on September 16, 2015, and that was the operative date from which to measure the applicable two-year limitations period. Gray did not file his action until October 27, 2017, which was beyond the two-year limitations period. Accordingly, Edwards has demonstrated a clear legal right to have a summary-judgment entered in her favor. View "Ex parte Sonya C. Edwards and Edwards Law, LLC." on Justia Law

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Antoinette Belle, as personal representative of the estate of Edith Mitchell, deceased, sued various health-care providers that treated Mitchell while she was hospitalized in April 2009. Belle eventually reached settlements with all of those health-care providers except two physicians. The trial court entered a summary judgment against Belle and in favor of the two physicians, bringing the medical-malpractice action to a close. Belle then filed a legal-malpractice case against four attorneys and three law firms that had represented her at varying times in the medical-malpractice action, alleging they had been negligent in representing her. Belle later brought an additional claim of fraudulent concealment. The attorneys and law firms denied the allegations against them, arguing that Belle's claims were untimely and that they had no factual or legal basis. The trial court agreed and entered judgments in favor of the attorneys and law firms. Belle appealed. Finding no reversible error, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed judgment in the attorneys and law firms. View "Belle v. Goldasich, Jr., et al." on Justia Law