Cathedral of Faith Baptist Church, Inc. v. Moulton, SC-2022-0447

CourtSupreme Court of Alabama
Writing for the CourtSELLERS, JUSTICE
PartiesCathedral of Faith Baptist Church, Inc., and Lee Shefton Riggins v. Donald Moulton, Sr., and Broken Vessel United Church
Docket NumberSC-2022-0447
Decision Date23 September 2022

Cathedral of Faith Baptist Church, Inc., and Lee Shefton Riggins
v.

Donald Moulton, Sr., and Broken Vessel United Church

No. SC-2022-0447

Supreme Court of Alabama

September 23, 2022


Appeal from Jefferson Circuit Court (CV-19-902687)

SELLERS, JUSTICE

Cathedral of Faith Baptist Church, Inc., and Lee Shefton Riggins ("the plaintiffs") appeal from a judgment of the Jefferson Circuit Court

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dismissing their complaint against Donald Moulton, Sr., and Broken Vessel United Church ("the Broken Vessel defendants") pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), Ala. R. Civ. P., on the basis that the claims asserted in the complaint against the Broken Vessel defendants are barred by the applicable statute of limitations. We reverse and remand.

Facts

On June 14, 2019, the plaintiffs filed a complaint against the Broken Vessel defendants and others, alleging, in relevant part, the following: Riggins was a stockholder and the chairman of the board of Cathedral of Faith Baptist Church, Inc. ("Cathedral"), which owned property located in Birmingham where it operated Cathedral Church. Worship services were conducted at Cathedral Church until the Church's membership dwindled and its services were discontinued; legal title to the Cathedral Church property ultimately vested in Riggins. In 2014, Riggins leased the Cathedral Church property to Moulton, the pastor of Broken Vessel United Church ("Broken Vessel"). Moulton and Broken Vessel agreed to pay the commercial-liability insurance that Cathedral maintained with Planter's Insurance. In July 2016, Moulton and Broken Vessel changed the insurance carrier from Planter's Insurance to

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Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company without Cathedral and Riggins's knowledge or consent. The application for insurance that Moulton submitted to Nationwide contained multiple false statements. On November 26, 2016, Cathedral Church was destroyed by a fire. Moulton made a claim to Nationwide regarding the Cathedral Church property and its contents. In August 2017, Riggins discovered a "property settlement with Nationwide." Riggins subsequently discovered both a general warranty deed, dated January 1, 2012,[1] that had been filed in the Jefferson County Tax Assessor's office on January 16, 2015, purporting to convey title to Cathedral Church from Riggins to Broken Vessel for $150,000, as well as a corrected deed that had been filed in January 2018. Deficiencies existed on the face of both the original warranty deed and the corrected deed.

Based on the foregoing allegations, the plaintiffs asserted claims against the Broken Vessel defendants alleging forgery (count one), fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud (count two), conversion (count three), and unjust enrichment (count four). The trial court ultimately entered an

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order dismissing the claims against the Broken Vessel defendants pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) on the basis that the claims asserted against the Broken Vessel defendants were barred by the applicable statute of limitations; the trial court certified its order as a final judgment, pursuant to Rule 54(b), Ala. R. Civ. P.

Standard of Review

This Court reviews a dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) de novo. Harris v. Dubai Truck Lines, Inc., [Ms. 1200426, Aug. 20, 2021] So.3d (Ala. 2021). A dismissal for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted is warranted only when the allegations of the complaint, viewed most strongly in favor of the pleader, demonstrate that the pleader can prove no set of facts that would entitle the pleader to relief. Id.[2]

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Discussion

Although the trial court dismissed all the claims against the Broken Vessel defendants based on the applicable statute of limitations, the plaintiffs challenge only the dismissal of count one, which, they say, asserts a claim for a declaratory judgment regarding the validity of the warranty deed. The Broken Vessel defendants, however, argue that the complaint does not state a claim for a declaratory judgment because, they say, the gravamen of the complaint sounds in fraud, seeks money

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damages, does not request return of the Cathedral Church property, and does not mention the word "declaratory judgment." The Broken Vessel defendants therefore argue that the plaintiffs' claim, which the Broken Vessel defendants assert is essentially a fraud-based tort claim, is barred by the applicable statute of limitations. Although the Broken Vessel defendants do not point to a particular statute of limitations, we note that the limitations period for fraud claims is two years from the aggrieved party's discovery of facts constituting the fraud. See Ala. Code 1975, § 6-2-38(l) and § 6-2-3. Accordingly, the issues on appeal are whether count one of the complaint sufficiently pleads a claim for a declaratory judgment under the notice-pleading requirements of Rule 8(a), Ala. R. Civ. P., and, if so, whether the trial court erred in dismissing that claim on the basis that it was barred by the...

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