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Ex parte Eustace

Supreme Court of Alabama

April 5, 2019

EX PARTE Ralph EUSTACE et al. In re Ralph Eustace et al.
v.
James Ray Wilbourn et al.

         Jackson Circuit Court, CV-04-150, Court of Civil Appeals, 2161079

          Daryl R. Eustace , Scottsboro, for petitioners.

          William W. Tally of Tally & Tally, Scottsboro, for respondents James Ray Wilbourn and Karen K. Wilbourn.

          Thomas J. Saunders , Montgomery, for amicus curiae Alabama Forestry Association, in support of the petitioners.

          E. Hamilton Wilson and Miland F. Simpler III of Ball, Ball, Matthews & Novak, P.A., Montgomery, for amicus curiae Alabama Association of Realtors, in support of the petitioners.

         BOLIN, Justice.

         Ralph Eustace, Linda Eustace, and Daryl Eustace sued James Ray ("Ray")

Page 34

Wilbourn and his wife Karen Wilbourn in the Jackson Circuit Court ("the trial court"), alleging a trespass to land and conversion of timber. The Wilbourns filed a counterclaim, seeking to establish title to the subject land and to recover in tort for intentional interference with a contractual relationship. The trial court entered a judgment in favor of the Eustaces on the trespass and conversion-of-timber claims and determined that the Eustaces were entitled to recover compensatory damages on those claims. The trial court also entered a judgment in favor of the Wilbourns on the claim asserting an intentional interference with a contractual relationship and determined that the Wilbourns were entitled to an award of compensatory damages on that claim.

         The Court of Civil Appeals affirmed the judgment of the trial court, without an opinion. Eustace v. Wilbourn, 285 So.3d 787 (Ala. Civ. App. 2018)(table). The Eustaces petitioned this Court for a writ of certiorari, asserting that the Court of Civil Appeals' decision affirming the trial court's judgment on the Wilbourns' claim of tortious interference with a contractual relationship was in conflict with this Court's decision in Merchants National Bank of Mobile v. Steiner, 404 So.2d 14 (Ala. 1981). We granted the petition and, upon review, determine that the Court of Civil Appeals lacked jurisdiction over the case, because the appeal was taken from a nonfinal judgment.

         Factual and Procedural History

         In 2002, the Wilbourns purchased approximately 300 acres of land from Ollie Fowler. Before the Wilbourns purchased the property, Fowler had showed the Wilbourns what Fowler thought were the boundary lines of the property. The land purchased by the Wilbourns adjoined land owned by Ralph Eustace. Ralph Eustace had lived on his property for 82 years, excepting the time he spent in the military.

         In 2004, the Wilbourns entered into an auction contract with Fowler Auction and Real Estate Service, Inc. ("Fowler Auction Company"), pursuant to which Fowler Auction Company agreed to auction the Wilbourns' property for a fee of $14,000. Before the property was auctioned, the Wilbourns had the timber on their property cut. Ray Wilbourn testified that he told the loggers to stay 150 feet away from what he thought was the property line between his property and the Eustaces' property. While Wilbourn was having the timber cut from his property, he also had a surveyor on the property surveying it for the upcoming auction. Ray Wilbourn testified that one evening the surveyor informed him that Ray Wilbourn had a "problem," because Wilbourn had cut timber on land owned by Ralph Eustace. Wilbourn immediately ceased cutting timber that evening and contacted Ralph Eustace the following morning to explain that his crew had cut a significant amount of timber on Ralph Eustace's side of the property line. In order to survey the area together, Ray Wilbourn testified that he and Ralph Eustace rode to the area where the timber had been cut. After learning of the error, Ray Wilbourn did not cut any additional timber on Ralph Eustace's property.

         Ralph Eustace testified that approximately $40,000 worth of timber had been mistakenly cut from his property. The Eustaces presented testimony from a certified forester that indicated that the value of the timber removed from the property was approximately $35,810. Ralph Eustace further testified that his property was valued at approximately $97,000 before the timber was cut from the property ...


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