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Woodruff Brokerage Co., Inc. v. Beatty

Supreme Court of Alabama

November 22, 2019

Woodruff Brokerage Company, Inc.
v.
Patricia Beatty

          Appeal from Chambers Circuit Court (CV-18-900043)

          WISE, Justice.

         Woodruff Brokerage Company, Inc., the remaining defendant below, appeals from the trial court's denial of its motion to set aside the default judgment entered in favor of Patricia Beatty, the plaintiff below. We reverse and remand.

         Procedural History

         On April 23, 2018, Beatty sued "Woodruff Brokerage Company d/b/a The River and formerly d/b/a Crest Club Apartments," Ricky Dabbs, "Century 21," and fictitiously named defendants.[1] In her complaint, Beatty alleged that she had lived in Crest Club Apartments; that Woodruff Brokerage owned and operated Crest Club Apartments; that, on or about May 1, 2016, she had symptoms of fatigue, nausea, and weakness from prolonged exposure to carbon monoxide from a leaking natural-gas line beneath her bedroom; and that she had been permanently injured as a result of that exposure. Beatty asserted that Woodruff Brokerage had negligently and/or wantonly failed to maintain the premises at Crest Club Apartments in a safe condition. She also asserted that, in December 2016, she began to experience additional symptoms of fatigue, nausea, and weakness; that she "was permanently injured by continuous carbon monoxide exposure when the hot water heater in her apartment burst, causing her grave injuries"; and that Woodruff Brokerage had negligently and/or wantonly maintained and/or failed to maintain the premises at Crest Club Apartments. Beatty further alleged in the complaint that Woodruff Brokerage had failed to adequately warn her of the defective condition. She also asserted a claim of negligence per se. Beatty requested that the circuit clerk serve the defendants by certified mail. The complaint included the following address for Woodruff Brokerage:

"Woodruff Brokerage Company
c/o Genevieve Green
1800 Lakewood Drive
Phenix City, AL 36867"

         However, the return receipt for the certified mail was addressed to:

"Woodruff Brokerage Co.
1800 Lakewood Drive
Phenix City, AL 36867"

         Ryan Miles signed the certified-mail return receipt on April 27, 2018. The agent box was not checked.

         On May 30, 2018, Beatty filed a motion for a default judgment against Woodruff Brokerage. Beatty asserted that Woodruff Brokerage had been served with a copy of the complaint and summons on April 27, 2018, and that it had failed to plead, answer, appear, or otherwise defend against her action. Beatty asked the trial court to enter a default judgment against Woodruff Brokerage with leave to prove damages. On May 31, 2018, the trial court granted Beatty's motion and entered a default against Woodruff Brokerage. It also scheduled a hearing for Beatty to prove damages against Woodruff Brokerage.

         On June 9, 2018, after a hearing, the trial court entered a default judgment against Woodruff Brokerage and awarded Beatty $500, 000 in damages. On November 13, 2018, Beatty filed writs of ...


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