This week’s Alabama Law Weekly Update discusses two decisions recently entered by the Alabama Supreme Court. In the first case, the Court considered a summary judgment entered in Tuscaloosa Circuit Court in favor of a defendant accused of civil assault and battery. In the second, the Court weighed the merits of issuing a writ of mandamus with regard to claim of improper venue.

Sarah Grimes v. Kristen Saban, No. 1130758 (Ala. December 12, 2014) (reversing summary judgment after finding genuine issues of material fact regarding plaintiff’s civil assault and battery claims)

Plaintiff Sarah Grimes sued Defendant Kristen Saban in Tuscaloosa Circuit Court seeking damages for an alleged assault and battery. The actions made the subject of the suit arose, as described by the Supreme Court of Alabama, in the “early morning hours of August 29, 2010” after the Plaintiff and Defendant returned home from a Tuscaloosa bar where they “had been drinking alcohol.” According to the opinion, words were exchanged and offensive Facebook messages were posted, igniting a physical altercation. Following the altercation, the Plaintiff went to a local hospital to receive treatment for her injuries. Those injuries led to the lawsuit under consideration.

After denying a motion to dismiss filed by the Defendant, the Circuit Court took up the Defendant’s summary judgment motion, in which the Defendant argued that she had acted in self-defense. The Circuit Court found the Defendant’s argument compelling and granted summary judgment, explaining that the Defendant’s “actions were justified and necessary to repel the use of physical force against her.” According to the Circuit Court, Ala. Code § 13A-3-23 provided the Defendant an evidentiary presumption which the Plaintiff failed to rebut.  Plaintiff appealed.

On appeal, the Plaintiff argued that genuine issues of material fact existed with regard to the Defendant’s assertion of self-defense under § 13A-3-23. The Supreme Court agreed, specifically citing a dispute as to the Defendant’s argument (and the Circuit Court’s conclusion) that the Plaintiff instigated the altercation as contrasted with the Plaintiff’s assertions to the contrary. The Supreme Court reversed the Circuit Court’s entry of summary judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings.

Ex Parte WMS, LLC, et al., No. 1131216 (Ala. December 12, 2014) (granting a mandamus petition and issuing a writ to the Chambers County Circuit Court to transfer the case to the Jefferson County Circuit Court)

In Ex Parte WMS, LLC, the Supreme Court considered a petition for a writ of mandamus filed by the law firm of Mudd, Simms, Luke & Wells and several of its former members (the “Defendants”). The subject of the mandamus petition, in part, was an allegation of improper venue of a lawsuit filed in the Circuit Court of Chambers County by Plaintiff Keri Donald Simms against the Defendants. The underlying dispute arose out of the Plaintiff’s split from practicing law with the Defendants, including issues related to certain clients and cases of the former firm, and regarding sums allegedly owed among the parties.

The Plaintiff sued the Defendants in Chambers County Circuit Court alleging defamation, libel, oppression of minority shareholder, misrepresentation, outrage, deceit, fraud, tortious interference, breach of contract, and accounting irregularities. The Defendants responded by moving to dismiss the case, in part, for improper venue. The Defendants argued that Jefferson County was the appropriate venue for the case because the Defendants were not residents of Chambers County and the acts serving as the basis for the complaint did not occur in Chambers County. The Chambers County Circuit Court disagreed and denied the transfer motion, prompting the Defendants’ mandamus petition.

In granting the mandamus petition, the Supreme Court determined that Ala. Code § 6-3-2 governed the venue question because the Defendants (composed of several people and the law firm’s LLC) were considered individuals for venue purposes. See Ex parte Miller, Hamilton, Snider & Odom, LLC, 942 So. 2d 334, 336-38 (Ala. 2006) (determining that a law firm’s LLC was a partnership for purposes of venue and that § 6-3-2(a)(3) governed any venue questions related to it). Under that Code section, venue would only be proper as against the Defendants in Chambers County if “one of the individual defendants reside[d] in Chambers County or any of the acts or omissions of which [the Plaintiff] complain[ed of] occurred in Chambers County.” After considering various arguments of counsel for the parties, the Court determined that neither prerequisite to proper venue in Chambers County was present, necessitating its transfer. Therefore, the mandamus petition was granted and a writ was issued instructing the Chambers County Circuit Court to transfer the case to Jefferson County.