Ex parte Liberty Nat. Life Ins. Co.

Decision Date17 December 1993
Citation631 So.2d 865
PartiesEx parte LIBERTY NATIONAL LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY and Torchmark Corporation. (Re Elsie T. ADAMS, et al. v. LIBERTY NATIONAL LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, et al.). Ex parte Eunice W. LONG, et al. (Re Charles Frank ROBERTSON, individually, and in a representative capacity v. LIBERTY NATIONAL LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY). Ex parte Theda S. ENFINGER. (Re Charlie Frank ROBERTSON, individually, and in a representative capacity v. LIBERTY NATIONAL LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY). 1921440, 1921852 and 1930001.
CourtAlabama Supreme Court

James W. Gewin, Brittin T. Coleman and Michael R. Pennington of Bradley, Arant, Rose & White, Birmingham, Horace G Jere L. Beasley, Frank W. Wilson and James Allen Main of Beasley, Wilson, Allen, Main & Crow, P.C., and Walter R. Byars of Steiner, Crum & Baker, Montgomery, for named plaintiff and class representative Charlie Frank Robertson.

Williams, Eufaula, and Joseph C. Sullivan, Jr., James W. Tarlton III and David A. Boyett III of Hamilton, Butler, Riddick, Tarlton & Sullivan, P.C., Mobile, for petitioners Liberty Nat. Life Ins. Co. and Torchmark Corp.

William C. Roedder, Jr., W. Alexander Moseley and George M. Walker of Hand, Arendall, Bedsole, Greaves & Johnston, Mobile, for petitioners Eunice W. Long, et al.

John D. Richardson and David F. Daniell of Richardson, Daniel, Spear & Upton, P.C., Mobile, for petitioners David L. Lynd, et al.

W. Boyd Reaves, Norman E. Waldrop, Jr. and M. Kathleen Miller of Armbrecht, Jackson, DeMouy, Crowe, Holmes & Reeves, Mobile, for petitioners Willard C. Griffith, et al.

Larry U. Sims, Champ Lyons, Jr., Joseph D. Steadman and Todd S. Strohmeyer of Helmsing, Lyons, Sims & Leach, P.C., Mobile, for petitioners Theda S. Enfinger, et al.

Larry U. Sims, Champ Lyons, Jr., Joseph D. Steadman and Todd S. Strohmeyer of Helmsing, Lyons, Sims & Leach, P.C., Mobile, for respondents Elsie T. Adams, et al. and respondent Judge Douglas I. Johnstone.

William C. Roedder and George M. Walker of Hand, Arendall, Bedsole, Greaves & Johnston, John D. Richardson and G. Randall Spear of Richardson, Daniel, Spear & Upton, P.C., W. Boyd Reeves, Norman E. Waldrop, Jr. and M. Kathleen Miller of Armbrecht, Jackson, DeMouy, Crowe, Holmes & Reeves, Stephen R. Windom, Steven L. Nicholas and Michael A. Youngpeter of Sirote & Permutt, J. Cecil Gardner and William H. Reece of Gardner, Middlebrooks & Fleming, Mobile, for amici curiae Robertson-defined class members.

On Application for Rehearing

INGRAM, Justice.

This Court's opinion dated October 29, 1993, is withdrawn, and the following is substituted therefor.

These three mandamus proceedings were consolidated for purposes of oral argument. They arise out of a class action filed in the Barbour Circuit Court on October 2, 1992, asserting claims against Liberty National Life Insurance Company ("Liberty National") concerning cancer insurance policy exchange programs.

Case Number 1921440

This mandamus proceeding arises because two circuit courts exercised jurisdiction over the same controversy, resulting in an immediate irreconcilable conflict in the orders of two circuit courts. Liberty National petitions this Court to direct the Mobile Circuit Court to transfer the case of Adams v. Liberty National Life Insurance Co. from the Mobile Circuit Court to the Barbour Circuit Court, where the class action was originally filed, or to dismiss, or to stay proceedings in, that Mobile action.

A summary of the facts leading to this mandamus proceeding follows:

In October 1992, Charles Frank Robertson filed a class action in Barbour County, alleging that Liberty National, fraudulently and by misrepresentation, had instituted exchange programs whereby Liberty National offered to replace certain existing cancer insurance policies with new cancer insurance policies. On March 10, 1993, the Barbour Circuit Court certified the class pursuant to A.R.Civ.P.Rule 23(b)(2).

Approximately three weeks after the Barbour Circuit Court certified the class action, Margaret Adair, Elsie T. Adams, and others ("hereinafter the Mobile plaintiffs") filed an action in Mobile County. The complaint in that action expressly acknowledged the prior class certification in the Barbour County action and the definition in the Barbour County action of the class that included the Mobile plaintiffs. However, in the Mobile County action, the complaint stated that the Mobile plaintiffs were seeking to challenge the validity of the Barbour County class certification. The allegations in the Mobile County complaint are virtually identical to those in the Barbour County complaint. Liberty National The law on the extraordinary writ of mandamus in Alabama is well settled. A writ of mandamus will be issued only where there is (a) a clear legal right in the petitioner to the order sought, (b) an imperative duty upon the respondent to perform his duty, (c) a lack of another adequate remedy open to the petitioner, and (d) properly invoked jurisdiction of the court. Ex parte Townsend, 589 So.2d 711 (Ala.1991). Mandamus is an appropriate remedy when there is a clear showing that the trial judge abused his discretion by exercising it in an arbitrary and capricious manner. Ex parte Rogers, 533 So.2d 245 (Ala.1988).

filed a motion to dismiss the Mobile County action. The Mobile Circuit Court denied that motion, and Liberty National filed this mandamus petition.

Liberty National argues that as a result of the assumption by the Mobile Circuit Court of jurisdiction in the Adams case, it is subject to contradictory, conflicting, and inconsistent orders issued by the Barbour Circuit Court in the previously certified class action, on the one hand, and the Mobile Circuit Court in a separate action collaterally attacking the class certification, on the other hand. Liberty National contends that it will apparently be in violation of the orders of one circuit court no matter what action it takes.

The law is clear that the circuit court in which jurisdiction over a controversy is first invoked has exclusive jurisdiction over that controversy until that controversy is concluded, subject only to appellate review. Ex parte Burch, 236 Ala. 662, 184 So. 694 (1938).

"It is uniformly held that where two or more courts have concurrent jurisdiction, the one which first takes cognizance of a cause has the exclusive right to entertain and exercise such jurisdiction, to the final determination of the action and the enforcement of its judgment or decrees....

"... 'It is a familiar principle that when a court of competent jurisdiction has become possessed of a case its authority continues, subject only to the appellate authority, until the matter is finally and completely disposed of, and no court of co-ordinate authority is at liberty to interfere with its action....'

"... 'All the authorities recognize the importance of carefully preserving the boundary line between courts of concurrent jurisdiction, in order to prevent conflicts, and to preserve in harmony their relations to each other.' "

Ex parte Burch, 236 Ala. 662, 665, 184 So. 694, 697 (1938).

These principles have been restated numerous times:

"[W]here two courts have equal and concurrent jurisdiction, the court that first commences the exercise of its jurisdiction in a matter has the preference and is not to be obstructed in the legitimate exercise of its powers by a court of coordinate jurisdiction."

Ex parte State ex rel. Ussery, 285 Ala. 279, 281, 231 So.2d 314, 315 (1970); See also Ala.Code 1975, § 6-5-440.

The Barbour Circuit Court initially exercised jurisdiction over this matter, and it must be permitted to retain jurisdiction without any interference by any other circuit court. It appears from the express language of their complaint and their arguments in the Mobile Circuit Court...

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  • Adams v. Robertson
    • United States
    • Alabama Supreme Court
    • December 22, 1995
    ...the one that takes cognizance of the action first retains exclusive jurisdiction until a final determination. Ex parte Liberty Nat'l Life Ins. Co., 631 So.2d 865 (Ala.1993). Liberty National and counsel for the class began settlement negotiations. On June 16, 1993, Liberty National and the ......
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    ...B. Remedy for the Race to Certification The remedy for the race-to-certification problem is found in Ex parte Liberty National Life Insurance Co., 631 So.2d 865 (Ala.1993). That case, like FNB of Jasper I, involved competing class actions. The first action containing class allegations was c......
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    ...class actions, the court in which the second class action is filed has no subject matter jurisdiction. 8 (Citing Ex parte Liberty Nat'l Life Ins. Co., 631 So.2d 865 (Ala.1993)). This deprivation of subject matter jurisdiction appears to constitute a common-law abatement identical to the aba......
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