Dolgencorp, LLC v. Smith, 1190570

CourtSupreme Court of Alabama
Writing for the CourtMENDHEIM, Justice.
PartiesDolgencorp, LLC, d/b/a Dollar General, and Martin Sauceda v. Sakeena Rena Smith
Docket Number1190570
Decision Date05 November 2021

Dolgencorp, LLC, d/b/a Dollar General, and Martin Sauceda

Sakeena Rena Smith

No. 1190570

Supreme Court of Alabama

November 5, 2021

Appeal from Calhoun Circuit Court (CV-16-900444.80)

MENDHEIM, Justice.[1]



See Rule 53(a)(1) and (a)(2)(B) and (F), Ala. R. App. P.

Wise, Bryan, Sellers, Stewart, and Mitchell, JJ., concur.

Parker, C.J., and Bolin and Shaw, JJ., dissent.


SHAW, Justice (dissenting).

Dolgencorp, LLC, d/b/a Dollar General ("Dollar General"), and Martin Sauceda, the defendants in a tort action below, appeal from a judgment entered on a jury verdict in favor of the plaintiff, Sakeena Rena Smith. Because I would reverse the trial court's judgment and remand the case, I respectfully dissent.

In July 2016, Smith went to a Dollar General store in Anniston to purchase a beverage and a can of chili. While in the store, an altercation occurred between Smith and Sauceda, the assistant store manager. Smith and Sauceda provided differing accounts regarding the altercation.

According to Sauceda, Smith passed by him while walking through the store cursing as Sauceda was stocking shelves. When he asked Smith if she needed help finding anything, Smith cursed at him in saying that she did not need his help. Sauceda stated that he "let her go on her way" and that he went back to stocking the shelves.

After locating her items to purchase, Smith proceeded to the front of the store to check out. When Sauceda got to the front of the store, he told Smith that she could check out at his register, but Smith responded


with curses and indicated that she was fine where she was. Sauceda then told Smith that "that's no way to speak in the store" and asked her to "calm down." According to Sauceda, at that point, Smith "became more agitated and aggravated" and "just kept cussing, throwing a lot of F words here and there." As their exchange continued, Smith threatened to "knock the hell out of [Sauceda] with [her] can of chili" and that she was going to "whoop [his] ass."

Sauceda told Smith that if she did not calm down, she would have to leave the store or he would call the police. At some point, Smith grabbed a store telephone that was near the register and threatened to call the police herself. According to Sauceda, this scared him because that telephone was his only means of contacting law-enforcement officers if Smith attempted to harm him. Sauceda eventually walked around the register and tried to retrieve the telephone from Smith. As he did so, Sauceda stated, Smith grabbed him by the hair and began repeatedly hitting him in the face and head with the can of chili. Evidence in the record clearly indicates that Sauceda was beaten on the face with the can. Sauceda admitted to hitting Smith back but said that he felt that he had


to do so to defend himself. At some point, Sauceda's coworker tried to separate Smith and Sauceda but was unable to do so. The altercation ended with all three of them falling on the ground.

Shortly thereafter, Smith got up and left the store, and Sauceda called the police. While he was on the phone, Sauceda said, Smith came back into the store acting like "she was ready for round two" and told him that he was "in f*****g trouble." She then left. When law-enforcement officers arrived, Sauceda told them what had occurred, but Smith was no longer there. Smith did not contact law-enforcement officers after she left.

Smith testified that, when she first entered the store, she recognized Sauceda as a store employee who had previously accused her of shoplifting, and Smith decided to avoid him. After locating the items she needed, Smith proceeded to the front of the store to check out. When Sauceda opened another register and told her to check out there, Smith told Sauceda that she was fine where she was. Smith claimed that Sauceda then walked over to where she was and began moving her items to his register. Smith said that Sauceda also told her that if she did not come to his register, she would need to leave the store. According to


Smith, Sauceda's actions "made [her] feel angry," and she told him that he could not make her leave. At that point, Smith said that Sauceda pointed his finger in her face and told her, once more, to either come to his register or leave the store. Smith also indicated that he called her a "b***h." She told Sauceda that if he did not leave her alone she would "knock the hell out of him with [her] can of chili."

Smith said that she felt uncomfortable, so she took the store phone so that she could call the police. Sauceda then tried to grab the phone from Smith's hands. As he did so, Smith said, she turned her back toward him. Smith testified that Sauceda eventually put all of his weight on her, which resulted in her falling to the ground. As she tried to push Sauceda off of her, Smith said, he started hitting and kicking her. In an effort to defend herself, Smith said, she hit Sauceda with her can of chili. At that point, Smith said, she hit her head on the floor and Sauceda continued to hit and kick her. When the altercation finally ended, Smith said, she got up and left.

Smith later commenced a tort action against Dollar General and Sauceda ("the defendants"). Following a jury trial, Smith received a


verdict in her favor and was awarded $75, 000 in compensatory damages and $225, 000 in punitive damages. After the trial court entered judgment on the jury's verdict, the defendants filed a postjudgment motion in which they argued, among other things, that they were entitled to a new trial because one of the jurors, Q.M., had failed to give a necessary response to a question during voir dire. That motion was denied by operation of law pursuant to Rule 59.1, Ala. R. Civ. P. The defendants appealed.

A challenge alleging juror misconduct because of a juror's failure to properly answer a question during voir dire may be raised for the first time in a motion for a new trial. See, e.g., Hood v. McElroy, 127 So.3d 325, 327 (Ala. 2011), and Holly v. Huntsville Hosp., 925 So.2d 160, 161 (Ala. 2005). In addressing the standard for determining whether juror misconduct warrants a new trial, this Court has previously stated:

"The proper standard ..., as set out by this Court's precedent, is whether the misconduct might have prejudiced, not whether it actually did prejudice, the [complaining party]. See Ex parte Stewart, 659 So.2d 12 (Ala. 1993). ... The 'might-have-been-prejudiced' standard, of course, casts a 'lighter' burden on the [complaining party] than the actual-prejudice standard. See Tomlin v. State, ... 695 So.2d [157] at 170 [(Ala.Crim.App.1996)]. ...
"It is true that the parties in a case are entitled to true and honest answers to their questions on voir dire, so that they may exercise their peremptory strikes wisely. ... However, not every failure to respond properly to questions propounded during voir dire 'automatically entitles [the complaining party] to a new trial or reversal of the cause on appeal.' Freeman v. Hall, 286 Ala. 161, 166, 238 So.2d 330, 335 (1970). ... As stated previously, the proper standard to apply in determining whether a party is entitled to a new trial in this circumstance is 'whether the [the complaining party] might have been prejudiced by a veniremember's failure to make a proper response.' Ex parte Stewart, 659 So.2d at 124."

Ex parte Dobyne, 805 So.2d 763, 771-72 (Ala. 2001)." 'The determination of whether the complaining party was prejudiced by a juror's failure to answer voir dire questions is a matter within the discretion of the trial court and will not be reversed unless the court has abused its discretion.'" Holly, 925 So.2d at 162 (quoting Union Mortg. Co. v. Barlow, 595 So.2d 1335, 1342 (Ala. 1992)).

In the present case, during voir dire, Smith's counsel posed the following question to the veniremembers:

"Now, as far as the altercation in this case, it was something that started as a verbal altercation, and then it became physical. I am going to ask

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