Alabama Appellate Opinions Released June 14, 2019
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Alabama Appellate Opinions Released 
June 14, 2019
Alabama Supreme Court
Court Holds Insurance Agent Is Independent Contractor for Purposes of Vicarious Liability 

Donaldson v. Country Mutual Insurance Company 

In Donaldson v. Country Mutual Insurance Company , Gregory Ryan Johnston collided with Daniel Kyle Donaldson in his vehicle, while Donaldson was working in a construction zone in Madison County. As a result of the collision, one of Donaldson’s legs was seriously injured and had to be amputated. Donaldson filed a Complaint in Madison Circuit Court asserting claims of negligence and wantonness against Johnston and vicariously liability against Country Mutual Insurance Company (“Country Mutual”).

At the time of the accident, Johnston worked as an insurance agent for Country Mutual under an “agent’s agreement.” Pointing to the agent’s agreement, Country Mutual filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that Johnston was an independent agent and was neither its agent nor its employee. The circuit court granted Country Mutual’s motion for summary judgment. The case proceeded to trial and a jury verdict was returned in Donaldson’s favor on his negligence and wantonness claims against Johnston. After the verdict, Donaldson appealed and challenged the summary judgment in favor of Country Mutual.

On appeal, the threshold issue before the Alabama Supreme Court was whether Johnston was an employee of Country Mutual or an independent contractor. Ultimately, the Court affirmed and held that Johnston was an independent contractor because the evidence submitted to the circuit court failed to show that Country Mutual retained the right to control Johnston’s time or his day-to-day activities. In reaching this conclusion, the Court noted that Johnston owned his own office, determined his own work schedule and the hours of operation for his office. The Court also noted that Johnston’s agency managers at Country Mutual did not “have authority over him in a typical supervisory capacity.”
Court Reverses Award of Post-Judgment Interest Under Ala. Code §8-8-10

Pope, McGlamry, Kilpatrick, Morrison & Norwood, P.C. v. DuBois

Section 8-8-10 of the Alabama Code authorizes the accrual of post-judgment interest for “money judgments.” In the case Pope, McGlamry, Kilpatrick, Morrison & Norwood, P.C. v. DuBois , the Alabama Supreme Court was faced with the issue as to whether an interplead settlement fund was a “money judgment” that would permit the accrual of post-judgment interest pursuant to §8-8-10.

Jason DuBois was represented by two attorneys of Pope, McGlamry, Kilpatrick, Morrison & Norwood, P.C. (“the firm”) in an action involving workers' compensation and tort claims against various defendants. While the action was pending, these two attorneys ended their employment at the firm. Although DuBois terminated the firm’s representation, the attorneys continued to represent Dubois in the underlying action. After DuBois terminated the firm, it intervened in the action and asserted an attorney-lien fee, claiming attorney fees and expenses.

DuBois settled with the defendants in the underlying action but the firm’s claim for attorney’s fees and expenses remained pending. After a bench trial on the attorney-fee dispute, the circuit court entered judgment denying the firm attorney’s fees and expenses. Once certificates of judgment were entered, DuBois filed a motion seeking disbursement of the settlement funds and a motion seeking post-judgment interest pursuant to Ala. Code §8-8-10, both of which were ultimately granted by the circuit court. The firm appealed the circuit court’s award of post-judgment interest.

Relying on Ala. Code §8-8-10, the firm argued on appeal that there was no “money judgment” on which interest could accrue. DuBois argued, however, that the firm was seeking relief involving the payment of money, entitling DuBois to post-judgment interest. The Alabama Supreme Court agreed with the firm and held that the interplead settlement fund “was not money that [the firm] owed to [DuBois] pursuant to any note, mortgage, judgment, or other indebtedness, nor was it awarded as a result of any legal claims against [the firm].” Therefore, the interplead settlement fund was not a “money judgment” and the Alabama Supreme Court reversed the award of post-judgment interest.
Alabama Court of Civil Appeals
Court Rules on Rule 54(b) Certification

Machen v. SCI Funeral Services

Joseph Machen filed a Complaint in Etowah Circuit Court against SCI Funeral Services, doing business as Collier-Butler Funeral Home (“SCI”), alleging that SCI contracted with Machen, pursuant to a written contract, for the installation of a metal roof and carpentry services. Machen asserted claims of “open account,” “stated account,” “work and services provided,” breach of contract, unjust enrichment, and fraudulent misrepresentation against SCI. Machen claimed that he discontinued his work and services because he had not been paid a certain sum of money for the work that he had performed. Machen also claimed that SCI indicated that it had paid a certain portion of funds to the Alabama State Treasurer as unclaimed funds to be held in an escheatment account for Machen’s benefit.

SCI filed a motion for summary judgment on all of Machen’s claims based on the theory that Machen was not a licensed contractor at the time he entered into the contract with SCI. Machen filed a motion in opposition, arguing that Machen discontinued work on the project based on SCI’s failure to pay and that SCI should be estopped from relying on the fact that he was an unlicensed contractor because SCI was aware of this fact from the outset. The circuit court granted SCI partial summary judgment on part of Machen’s claims and certified the judgment under Rule 54(b), Ala. R. Civ. P. This case was ultimately transferred to the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals by the Alabama Supreme Court after the circuit court denied Machen’s post-judgment motion to vacate.

The main issue before the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals was whether the circuit court erred in certifying its judgment as final pursuant to Rule 54(b). Machen argued that the Rule 54(b) certification was improper because the circuit court did not fully dispose of any one of his claims against SCI. Citing to the case Scrushy v. Tucker, 955 So. 2d 988, 996 (Ala. 2006), the Court noted that justification for Rule 54(b) certification requires that a claim be viewed as separate and apart from other claims in a complaint rather than a variation on a single theme. SCI attempted to categorize Machen’s claims – (1) claims to direct payment and (2) claims to the funds in the escheatment account – and argued that these two categories of claims were discrete enough for Rule 54(b) certification. The Court disagreed and emphasized that Machen’s claims to direct payment and the funds held in the escheatment account could not be separated or categorized for purposes of Rule 54(b) because they represented a portion of the full contract. Thus, because Machen’s claims to these two amounts were a variation on a single theme, the Court held that the circuit court’s Rule 54(b) certification was improper. 
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