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Richardson v. Chambless

Supreme Court of Alabama

June 15, 2018

Philip Richardson
Rosemarie Chambless

          Appeal from Jefferson Circuit Court (CV-11-1781)

          BRYAN, Justice.

         Philip Richardson appeals from a partial summary judgment entered by the Jefferson Circuit Court ("the trial court") in the action Richardson filed against Ben Chambless ("Ben"); Rosemarie Chambless ("Rosemarie"); Alaspec Residential Inspections, LLC ("Alaspec"); and Good Cents Home Inspections & Energy Management, LLC ("Good Cents"). For the reasons set forth herein, we dismiss the appeal.

         Facts and Procedural History

         In 2011, Richardson filed a complaint against Ben, Alaspec, and Good Cents in which he requested a jury trial on multiple claims arising from an allegedly faulty inspection the defendants had performed on a house Richardson was in the process of purchasing.[1] In June 2012, the trial court entered a default judgment against Good Cents for failure to answer and, following a hearing, entered an order in July 2012 awarding Richardson $80, 281.28 against Good Cents based on findings that the inspection report failed to disclose material defects in the house and that Richardson would not have purchased the house if the inspection report had disclosed those defects.[2]

         In March 2013, Richardson amended his complaint to add Rosemarie, who was Ben's wife at the time, as a defendant. In his amended complaint, Richardson alleged that, in December 2012, Ben had transferred his interest in the Chamblesses' marital residence to Rosemarie ("the transfer") and that Ben had made the transfer because, Richardson said, Ben "knew he was going to incur ... a foreseeable judgment in the lawsuit filed by ... Richardson" and knew that making the transfer "would impair his ability to pay this ... judgment."[3] Given those allegations, Richardson asserted a claim against Ben and Rosemarie under the Alabama Fraudulent Transfer Act, § 8-9A-1 et seq., Ala. Code 1975 ("the AFTA"), and sought as relief an order voiding the transfer, enjoining any further encumbrance or disposition of Ben's interest in the marital residence, and attaching that interest for the satisfaction of any judgment Richardson might obtain against Ben. Richardson also asserted against Ben and Rosemarie a conspiracy-to-commit-fraud claim arising from the transfer and, pursuant to § 6-6-180, Ala. Code 1975, sought to compel Ben and Rosemarie "to produce an itemized list ... of all of their assets" to "be subject to the payment of [Richardson's] claims/judgments/debts."

         In October 2017, Rosemarie filed a motion for a summary judgment on Richardson's claims against her. On November 16, 2017, the trial court entered a judgment in which it found that there were no genuine issues of material fact as to Richardson's claims against Rosemarie and that Rosemarie was therefore entitled to a judgment as a matter of law on those claims. Richardson's claims against Ben and Alaspec remained pending, but the trial court, finding that there was no just reason for delay, certified its partial summary judgment as final pursuant to Rule 54(b), Ala. R. Civ. P. Richardson appealed.


         On appeal, Richardson argues that there are genuine issues of material fact that preclude a summary judgment as to his claims against Rosemarie. However, before reaching the merits of the parties' arguments, we must first determine whether the trial court's Rule 54(b) certification was proper, because, if it was not, then the trial court's partial summary judgment is not a final judgment and will not support Richardson's appeal. See Stephens v. Fines Recycling, Inc., 84 So.3d 867, 872 (Ala. 2011) ("'[I]f a Rule 54(b) certification is determined to have been improperly entered, the judgment so certified is considered to be nonfinal and therefore unable to support an appeal.'" (quoting Allen v. Briggs, 60 So.3d 899, 904 (Ala. Civ. App. 2010))); Kirksey v. Johnson, 166 So.3d 633, 643 (Ala. 2014) (dismissing an appeal as one arising from a nonfinal judgment after concluding that the trial court's Rule 54(b) certification was improper); and Dzwonkowski v. Sonitrol of Mobile, Inc., 892 So.2d 354 (Ala. 2004) (same).[4]

         "Rule 54(b) provides, in part:

"'When more than one claim for relief is presented in an action, whether as a claim, counterclaim, cross-claim, or third-party claim, or when multiple parties are involved, the court may direct the entry of a final judgment as to one or more but fewer than all of the claims or parties only upon an express determination that there is no just reason for delay and upon an express direction for the entry of judgment.'
"This Court recently explained [in Centennial Associates v. Guthrie, 20 So.3d 1277, 1279 (Ala. 2009), ] the appropriate standard for reviewing Rule 54(b) certifications, stating:
"'"If a trial court certifies a judgment as final pursuant to Rule 54(b), an appeal will generally lie from that judgment." Baugus v. City of Florence, 968 So.2d ...

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