Appeal from Madison Circuit Court. (CV-91-1846). Joseph L. Battle, TRIAL JUDGE.
Released for Publication March 4, 1995. As Substituted.
Robertson, Presiding Judge. Yates, J., concurs. Thigpen, J., concurs in the result only.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Robertson
ROBERTSON, Presiding Judge
On August 26, 1991, Brian Ray Stewart filed a complaint in the Madison County Circuit Court, seeking workmen's compensation benefits *fn1 for an injury that, he alleged, had arisen out of and in the course of his employment as an environmental technician with ATEC Associates, Inc. (ATEC), and had resulted in his permanent and total disability. Specifically, Stewart alleged that his exposure to toxic gasoline fumes while working for ATEC had caused him to develop leukemia. In a separate count pursuant to § 25-5-11(b), Ala. Code 1975, Stewart sought actual and punitive damages from co-employees Arzie Grimes and Russell H. Grimes, his supervisors, alleging that willful conduct on their part had caused him to develop leukemia.
On May 28, 1992, ATEC and the Grimeses filed a motion, pursuant to Rule 42(b), Ala.R.Civ.P., requesting that the trial court order separate trials on Stewart's claim for workmen's compensation benefits and his claim for damages based on his allegation of willful conduct by the Grimeses. On June 15, 1992, the trial court granted the Rule 42(b) motion, directing the parties to try the "jury aspects" (i.e., the willful conduct claim) first.
On October 23, 1992, after a lengthy trial on the willful conduct claim, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Stewart and against the Grimeses in the amount of $8,250,000, which included $3,000,000 in punitive damages. The Grimeses filed a motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV), a motion for a new trial, and a motion for a remittitur. On February 17, 1993, the trial court remitted the judgment against the Grimeses to $7,000,000, but denied their motions for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict and for a new trial.
The Grimeses appealed to the Supreme Court of Alabama, contending, among other things, that the trial court had erred in denying their motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict because, they argued, the evidence had been insufficient to submit Stewart's claim against them to a jury. Stewart cross-appealed, seeking relief from the remittitur imposed by the trial court.
In an opinion released on September 3, 1993, our supreme court held that the trial court had erred in denying the Grimeses' motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict. Grimes v. Stewart, 628 So. 2d 467 (Ala. 1993). Our supreme court dismissed Stewart's cross-appeal, reversed the judgment against the Grimeses, and remanded the case to the trial court. On remand, the trial court set aside its previous judgment, granted the Grimeses' motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict, and dismissed with prejudice Stewart's claim against the Grimeses.
Stewart's claim against ATEC for workmen's compensation benefits went forward. The parties agreed to submit Stewart's workmen's compensation claim to the trial Judge on the record compiled in the willful conduct case against the Grimeses and on the deposition of Dr. Jeremy K. Hon, Stewart's treating physician. On February 18, 1994, the trial Judge entered a judgment in favor of ATEC and against Stewart on his claim for workmen's compensation benefits. The judgment provided, in pertinent part:
"In Stewart v. Grimes... the Supreme Court for the State of Alabama said ... that the 'medical evidence introduced at trial ... did not establish any causal link between the kind of limited contact experienced by Stewart (contact with gasoline fumes) and leukemia, much less the rare form of leukemia he developed.' Thus, in the opinion of the State Supreme Court, there is no causal connection between [Stewart's] employment and his medical condition. Because of the foregoing language, the law of the case dictates a finding by this Court that [Stewart] is not entitled to an award of workmen's compensation benefits."
Stewart appeals, contending that he had not, as a matter of law, failed to prove medical causation in his claim for workmen's compensation benefits against ATEC.
Our supreme court has stated:
"It is well established that on remand the issues decided by an appellate court become the 'law of the case,' and that the trial court must comply with the appellate court's mandate. The trial court's duty is to comply with the mandate according to its true intent and meaning, as determined by the directions given by the reviewing court. ...