Synergies3 Tec Servs., LLC v. Corvo

Decision Date21 August 2020
Docket Number1170765
Citation319 So.3d 1263
CourtAlabama Supreme Court
Parties SYNERGIES3 TEC SERVICES, LLC, and DIRECTV, LLC v. Lisa M. CORVO, Thomas Bonds, and State Farm Fire and Casualty Company

Joseph D. Thetford, Jr., of Chason & Chason, P.C., Bay Minette, for appellants.

Barry V. Frederick of The Frederick Firm, Birmingham, for appellees Lisa Corvo and Thomas Bonds.

STEWART, Justice.

Synergies3 Tec Services, LLC ("Synergies3"), and DIRECTV, LLC ("DIRECTV"), appeal from a judgment of the Baldwin Circuit Court ("the trial court") entered, following a jury trial, in favor of Lisa M. Corvo and Thomas Bonds and against Synergies3 and DIRECTV based on the doctrine of respondeat superior and a claim alleging negligent hiring, training, and supervision. For the reasons discussed below, we reverse the judgment in part, affirm it in part, and remand the cause with instructions.

Facts and Procedural History

Corvo and Bonds, Corvo's fiancé, sued Daniel McLaughlin, Raymond Castro, and DIRECTV in the trial court, asserting claims of conversion and theft as to a diamond that had been removed from an engagement ring and $160 cash that, they alleged, had been taken from the master bedroom of Corvo's house on Ono Island when McLaughlin and Castro, employees of Synergies3, installed DIRECTV equipment in Corvo's house. Corvo and Bonds asserted the conversion and theft claims against DIRECTV under the doctrine of respondeat superior and, in addition, asserted claims against DIRECTV of negligent and wanton hiring, training, and supervision. They also sought damages for mental anguish and punitive damages. In June 2015, Corvo and Bonds amended their complaint to add Synergies3 as a defendant.1

McLaughlin and Castro failed to file an answer to the complaint. Corvo and Bonds filed a motion for the entry of a default judgment against McLaughlin and Castro. The trial court granted the motion, entered a default judgment against McLaughlin and Castro, and reserved the determination of the amount of damages for a jury trial.

At trial, Corvo testified that she contacted DIRECTV to initiate satellite television services in her house. On February 20, 2013, Corvo and Bonds were working from home when Castro and McLaughlin arrived. Corvo testified that Bonds let them both inside the house, advised them where to install the equipment, and then resumed working. Corvo testified that Castro and McLaughlin were in the house for three and one-half hours. At one point, she and Bonds experienced an interruption in their Internet access, and, as a result, Bonds went to check with Castro and McLaughlin regarding the Internet access. Corvo noticed that the door to the master bedroom was "pushed to," i.e., almost closed, which she thought was "really odd." Corvo hit the bedroom door with the laundry basket to open it, which, she testified, startled McLaughlin, who was standing behind the door. Corvo testified that she did not see McLaughlin again and that she assumed he went outside. Corvo testified that she returned to her work station and that Internet access was thereafter restored. When the installation was complete, Castro provided Corvo and Bonds with a lengthy overview of the services. Corvo and Bonds finished paperwork associated with the installation, and Castro left.

Corvo testified that, after Castro left, she went to the master bedroom to retrieve her handbag, jewelry, and shoes, and she noticed that the three-carat diamond was missing from the center of her engagement ring. Corvo testified that the prongs on the ring were sticking out and were bent. Corvo told Bonds, who, in turn, telephoned Castro. Meanwhile, Corvo called local law enforcement and Ono Island security in an attempt to stop Castro and McLaughlin from leaving the island. Corvo and McLaughlin, however, had already left the island.

Corvo testified that she did not know whether Castro or McLaughlin stole the diamond but that she and Bonds had been more suspicious of McLaughlin because of Corvo's encounter with him in the master bedroom.

Corvo testified that she and Bonds had become engaged in Paris, France, without an engagement ring. Corvo also testified that they specially designed and ordered the engagement ring to have a band that resembled the Eiffel Tower and that they found a diamond to fit into that setting.

Corvo testified that she felt "completely violated" and "sickened" by the theft of her diamond, and she opined that a person "shouldn't have to worry about people that are hired by companies to come into your home." Corvo testified that she had worried that McLaughlin and Castro might return to her house to steal additional items. According to Corvo, she suffered mental anguish and lost sleep and her sense of security as a result of the theft, but she did not seek treatment. Corvo testified that her symptoms had resolved by May 2013.

Bonds testified that he had purchased the diamond for $40,000. He had since purchased a replacement ring for Corvo at a cost of $36,200, $31,000 of which was for the diamond. Bonds testified that he heard Corvo's testimony and that it was an accurate description of what had transpired the day Castro and McLaughlin were in the house. Bonds testified that, when he let Castro and McLaughlin into the house, they were wearing DIRECTV badges and had told Bonds that they had been sent by DIRECTV to initiate service to the house. Bonds testified that he telephoned Castro after Corvo discovered that the diamond was missing and that Castro told Bonds that he did not take the diamond.

Stacy Castro testified that she and Castro were married but that they had been separated for three years at the time of the trial. Stacy testified that Mike Tucker, one of the owners of Synergies3, had worked with Castro for a company called MasTec in Texas. According to Stacy, in approximately 2006 or 2007, Castro told her that he had "a problem stealing." Castro also told her that Tucker had suspended him while he was working for MasTec because a customer alleged that he had stolen a ring from her house while installing equipment. Stacy also testified that she had previously discovered a bag of women's jewelry in Castro's truck that he told Stacy he had obtained "off the street" from a drug addict. Stacy testified that, at the time of the trial, Castro was in jail in Texas.

Before resting their case, Corvo and Bonds's attorney admitted, over objection, a certified copy of Castro's January 31, 2001, conviction for writing worthless checks in North Carolina.

Corvo and Bonds admitted into evidence portions of the deposition of Patrick Thompson, a representative from DIRECTV. In his deposition testimony, Thompson indicated that DIRECTV had a responsibility to ensure that customers could rely on their technicians being safe, trustworthy, and law-abiding. Thompson acknowledged that Synergies3 was an agent for DIRECTV, and he testified that the technicians hired by Synergies3 were subjected to the same background and drug checks that were administered to DIRECTV's in-house employees. Thompson was asked in his deposition what criminal acts would disqualify a person from working for DIRECTV, and he acknowledged that writing worthless checks is theft and would disqualify an applicant.

Synergies3 and DIRECTV called Thompson to testify. Thompson testified that he had worked for MasTec. Thompson testified that, at the time of the trial, he was working for AT&T, which owns DIRECTV, and that he supervises all the technicians within a certain region. Thompson explained that DIRECTV has a contract with Synergies3 to provide installation services.2 Thompson testified that DIRECTV uses a company named "Sterling" to perform background checks for DIRECTV's potential employees and that DIRECTV has a department that reviews the background-check information Sterling provides. According to Thompson, an applicant is not assigned a "tech number" until passing a background check. Thompson testified that, once DIRECTV received a report about Corvo and Bonds's missing diamond, one of his managers contacted Synergies3 to look into the matter. Synergies3 ensured that the police were notified and that Castro and McLaughlin were "pulled" from work pending the results of the investigation. Thompson testified that DIRECTV had not received any complaints about Castro or McLaughlin before the date they installed the equipment in Corvo's house.

Eric Atchley, one of the two owners of Synergies3, testified that he lived in San Antonio. Atchley testified that he worked for MasTec when Tucker and Castro were employed there and that he had never heard anything regarding Castro's being suspended for stealing a ring. Atchley testified that Tucker left his employment with MasTec in 2005. Atchley testified that Tucker had been his partner when they started Synergies3 but that Tucker left Synergies3 in 2014. Atchley testified that he had talked to Tucker earlier that day.

Atchley testified that Synergies3 has approximately 800 technicians located nationwide who install equipment for DIRECTV. Atchley testified that Synergies3 obtains background checks on all of its applicants for technician positions and that the cost of those background checks ranges from $100 to $1,000, depending on the number of cities in which the applicant has lived. Atchley testified that McLaughlin's background check indicated that he had one traffic violation and that Castro's background check indicated that he had no criminal history.

Atchley testified that the following would disqualify an applicant from working for Synergies3:

"Three speeding tickets in a three-year period, any felony whatsoever and just about every misdemeanor, because a traffic ticket is also a misdemeanor, so just about any -- any theft, any assault, because sometimes those can be misdemeanors as well. But pretty much all of those would restrict you from having an eligible rating."

Atchley testified that, when he received notification regarding Corvo's missing diamond, he immediately...

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