Starnes Davis Florie


Starnes Davis Florie Achieves Multiple Appellate Victories

June 13, 2024 Starnes Davis Florie Achieves Multiple Appellate Victories

Alabama Supreme Court Win in Mandamus Petition filed by Sybil Newton, Amber Whillock, and Warren Butler Involving Enforcement of Outbound Forum Selection Clause: The Alabama Supreme Court granted the Petition for Writ of Mandamus filed by Defendant, a FL company that sells portable storage containers, in this contract dispute with a Mobile based moving and storage company. The Court reversed the trial court’s denial of the Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss, holding that ruling exceeded the trial court’s discretion. Instead, the Alabama Supreme Court agreed with the Defendants that dismissal of the case was required because venue was improper in Mobile Circuit Court since the agreement at issue contains a mandatory and enforceable outbound forum-selection clause that requires disputes between the parties be brought in Miami-Dade County, FL.

Alabama Supreme Court Win in Mandamus Petition filed by Sybil Newton, Amber Whillock, and Warren Butler in Property Dispute with Environmental Impact: This case involved a property dispute over an “intertidal mound” which is part of the an Alabama coastal island canal system and which serves a vital environmental purpose for the island. The Plaintiff/landowner claimed to be the owner of the mound and sought to construct structures on it which the Property Owner’s Association maintain are directly prohibited by restrictive covenants applicable to all property on the island. The Property Owners Association issued a stop Work Order to the contractor, and the Plaintiff commenced this litigation seeking a TRO as well as compensatory and punitive damages. After a two day bench trial, the trial court disposed of all pending claims in favor of the Property Owners Association, holding in part, that regardless of who is the rightful owner of the subject property, that property is nonetheless expressly and impliedly subject to the restrictive covenants imposed for the benefit of all property owners along the island canal system, enjoining the Plaintiffs from modifying or using the island in a manner inconsistent with the covenants. The Plaintiff appealed. The Alabama Supreme Court affirmed in part, holding that while title to the property did not actually vest with the POA, the mound is nonetheless both expressly and impliedly burdened by the covenants which ensure the canal’s pristine condition, as contended by the POA, and holding the construction which sought to undertake on the mound is in fact prohibited by the restrictive covenants.

Eleventh Circuit Affirms Dismissal of Trademark Infringement Claims: On May 31, 2024, Amber Whillock, Sybil Newton, and Warren Butler obtained a favorable ruling from the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirming complete dismissal of all claims asserted against a national manufacturer of consumer care and animal grooming products arising out of the use of the phrase “pet friendly formula” on the company’s product packaging. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision that the plaintiff failed to properly allege ownership of a registered trademark, unregistered mark, or valid copyright for the phrase “pet friendly” so as to establish a trademark or copyright infringement claim.

Alabama Supreme Court Win for Mike Wright, George Newton, Sybil Newton, and Drew Tucker Involving Expert Qualification Issue in Medical Malpractice Case: In this wrongful death/pulmonary embolus case filed against a board certified general surgeon, the Plaintiff called into question the Defendant’s failure to prescribe post-operative anticoagulants. The Plaintiff’s sole expert (board certified in general and vascular surgery), who had practiced strictly as a vascular surgeon since 2003, admitted he had not practiced general surgery or been in charge of post-operative care of a patient following bowel obstruction/hernia surgery for decades prior to the care at issue. The Defendant argued the expert therefore did not meet the definition of a “similarly situated” health care provider under ALA. CODE § 6-5-548 and moved to preclude him from testifying at trial. The trial court reserved ruling but ultimately granted the motion to preclude on the third day of trial. The trial court’s ruling came after the Plaintiff’s expert admitted on the stand that postoperative management of potential vascular complications is within the scope of practice of general surgery and depends heavily on the surgery performed. After precluding the Plaintiff’s only expert, the trial court granted the Defendant’s Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law and dismissed the case. In reaching this finding, the trial court enlisted the Medlin v. Crosby analysis and applied § 6-5-548(c) since the Defendant was practicing within his specialty of general surgery at the time of the alleged breach, ultimately holding the Plaintiff’s expert was not qualified as a “similarly situated health care provider” given his lack of having practiced general surgery including surgical care for patients like the decedent during the year preceding this surgery. On appeal, the Plaintiff argued the breach of the standard of care at issue was related to vascular medicine/treatment of a hospitalized patient for risk of clotting and was unrelated to the surgery itself such that § 6-5-548(b) applied. The Plaintiff contended the trial court erred in applying § 6-5-548(c) and failed to apply the proper Medlin analysis. The Alabama Supreme Court disagreed, affirming without opinion the trial court’s ruling and the judgment in favor of the Defendant.

Alabama Supreme Court Win for Joe Miller, Sybil Newton and Tyler McIntyre in Medical Malpractice Case Affirming Summary Judgment for all Defendants: The Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the Defendants in this wrongful death case following the Plaintiff’s failure to make his experts available for deposition. The ruling further affirmed the trial court’s denial of the Plaintiff’s request to continue the summary judgment hearing and/or the upcoming trial setting. The Plaintiff argued on appeal, unsuccessfully, that the trial court unfairly applied deadlines from the Scheduling Order to the Plaintiff only, exceeded its discretion by denying the Plaintiff’s Rule 56(f) filing, and exceeded its discretion in denying the Plaintiff’s post-judgment motions. The Defendants demonstrated that the Rule 56(f) filing was insufficient and untimely, and that the trial court was well within its discretion to control its docket and enforce deadlines and trial settings of which all parties had ample notice. The Alabama Supreme Court agreed, affirming without opinion all of the trial court’s rulings.

Alabama Supreme Court Win for Bob MacKenzie, Stephen Still, and Sybil Newton in Landmark Methodist Church Case: This lawsuit (filed along with an application for a TRO and Motion for Preliminary Injunction) was brought by 45 churches seeking disaffiliation from the United Methodist Church by way of a court-imposed congregational vote to potentially allow those churches to depart the UMC amid growing tensions within the UMC over issues of human sexuality. The Plaintiffs also sought money damages in excess of $50,000,000.00. The Defendants moved to dismiss the case, arguing the trial court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over the dispute since the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution ensures the right of churches to establish their own rules and governance free from secular court oversight. In an effort to avoid the provisions of the First Amendment, the Plaintiffs attempted to characterize this as merely a “secular property dispute” governed by the “neutral principles of law” approach rather than a dispute over ecclesiastical matters. After a hearing on the injunctive relief sought, the trial court dismissed the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Plaintiffs appealed. The Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s dismissal, holding that because the issues raised centered on ecclesiastical questions and would require interpretation of the UMC Book of Discipline, the trial court lacked jurisdiction over them. The Court was clear in its holding that, even when deciding cases touching on property disputes, civil courts cannot resolve controversies involving religious doctrine or practice.

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