Teitel v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

Decision Date20 October 2003
Docket NumberNo. CIV.A. 02-A-1054-S.,CIV.A. 02-A-1054-S.
Citation287 F.Supp.2d 1268
PartiesEdward R. TEITEL, et. al., Plaintiffs, v. WAL-MART STORES, INC., Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Middle District of Alabama

J. Timothy Coyle, J. Tim Coyle, P.C., Birmingham, AL, for Plaintiffs.

Dorman Walker, Balch & Bingham, Montgomery, AL, Scott Borden Grover, James Aubrey Bradford, Balch & Bingham, Birmingham, AL, for Defendant.


ALBRITTON, Chief Judge.


This case is before the court on a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Drs. Edward R. Teitel, David Drennen, and Chris Classen ("the Plaintiffs") on July 23, 2003 (Doc. # 28), and a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. ("the Defendant" or "Wal-Mart") on July, 24 2003 (Doc. # 30).

The Plaintiffs filed their Complaint before this court on September 13, 2002. The Plaintiffs raise claims for continuous trespass (Count I), negligence (Count III),1 willful and wanton conduct (Count IV), tortious interference with business relations (Count V), fraud (Count VI), and breach of contract (Count VII). This court's jurisdiction is based upon diversity and exercised pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332.


Under Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is proper "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986).

The party asking for summary judgment "always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the `pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any,' which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Id. at 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548. The movant can meet this burden by presenting evidence showing there is no dispute of material fact, or by showing the district court that the non-moving party has failed to present evidence in support of some element of its case on which it bears the ultimate burden of proof. Id. at 322-23, 106 S.Ct. 2548.

Once the moving party has met its burden, Rule 56(e) "requires the nonmoving party to go beyond the pleadings and by [its] own affidavits, or by the `depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file,' designate `specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Id. at 324, 106 S.Ct. 2548. To avoid summary judgment, the nonmoving party "must do more than show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986).

In resolving the present cross-Motions for Summary Judgment the court will construe the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmovant when the parties' factual statements conflict or inferences are required. Barnes v. Southwest Forest Industries, 814 F.2d 607, 609 (11th Cir.1987).


The submissions of the parties establish the following:

James Rudd owned property adjacent to U.S. Highway 231 in Dale County, Alabama, within the city limits of Ozark, Alabama. He divided this land into two parcels, selling the parcel closest to the highway to Wal-Mart. In January of 1994, Mr. Rudd and Wal-Mart entered into a Reciprocal Passage Easement Agreement that provided for a vehicular and pedestrian easement on both parcels of land.

Mr. Rudd later sold the 18 acre back parcel, which was farther removed from the highway to the Ozark Physicians Group, L.L.C. (OPG). The Plaintiffs, who were principals in OPG, personally guaranteed a note in order to secure a mortgage for the back parcel. In selecting a location, OPG considered several properties. The group decided to purchase the back parcel for a number reasons, including proximity to the high traffic volume of U.S. Highway 231, placement upon a berm that provided for good visibility of the site, and the presence of an access road or easement that was built from U.S. Highway 231 to the site. The group planned to use this site for a multi-speciality clinic, which was designed to compete with medical facilities in Dothan and Montgomery.

That was the plan, however, two of the physicians employed by OPG began embezzling company funds. They were convicted, and OPG went bankrupt defaulting on its note, leaving the Plaintiffs responsible as the personal guarantors of the loan. According to the Defendant, the Plaintiffs "paid off the debt owed by OPG to Community Bank [ & Trust of Southeast Alabama] and received an assignment from the bank of the OPG note and mortgage." Defendant's Memorandum of Law in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment at 5. The Plaintiffs assert that for the Bank "to be able to force the Plaintiffs to exercise their personal guarantees, [it] had to officially foreclose on the property, offering the site at a public auction on the Dale County Courthouse steps." Plaintiffs' Brief in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment at 4-5.

The Plaintiffs hired the law firm of Burr & Forman to represent them in matters relating to a foreclosure sale to be held on July 22, 2002. Before the auction, the firm became aware that Mr. Robert Harry was interested in purchasing the property. The Plaintiffs, who were individually liable on the loan, were "enthusiastic as to Mr. Harry's potential purchase." Complaint at para. 10. While the Plaintiffs were concerned with buyers for the back parcel, Wal-Mart was starting an expansion project at its Ozark store. With the Defendant's local engineer uncertain as to the ownership of the easement/driveway, and with Dr. Drennen, one of the Plaintiffs, contacting the Defendant to claim ownership thereof, Wal-Mart began an investigation. The Defendant hired local counsel, Mary Hawkins of the law firm of Correti, Newsom & Hawkins, to investigate the ownership of the property and driveway. Ms. Hawkins communicated several times with Dr. Drennan and Dr. Teitel. She obtained copies of the Easement Agreement, the deed from Mr. Rudd to OPG, the assignment of the mortgages to the Plaintiffs, and other relevant documents, which she transmitted to Wal-Mart.

When the Plaintiffs learned of Wal-Mart's expansion plans, they were concerned that the Defendant might destroy the driveway/easement to the back parcel before the auction. The Plaintiffs were also concerned that a relocated easement would "cloud the title to the back parcel, ... could make it difficult for large vehicles to traverse[,] ... [that] there would be no access for Mr. Harry or other potential buyers to inspect the property[,] ... [and that] uncertainty [as to] the adequacy of an acceptable replacement could disrupt the property's sale." Complaint at para. 11. Thus, "Plaintiffs [allegedly] notified Wal-Mart, through Wal-Mart's counsel, that the construction on the Ozark store might hurt their chance to sell their property, if Wal-Mart interfered with the easement." Plaintiffs' Amended Brief in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment at 9.

In response to the Plaintiffs' concerns about the easement, Ms. Hawkins sent an electronic mail message ("e-mail") to Dr. Teitel, one the Plaintiffs, to notify him that "Wal-Mart has advised me that it will be able to complete the expansion of its store and parking lot in Ozark, Alabama, without disturbing the Reciprocal Passage Easement which traverses its property." Defendant's Exhibit O. Shortly before sending this message to the Plaintiffs, Ms. Hawkins and Mr. Clint Connell, a Wal-Mart real estate manager, communicated regarding whether the easement would be disturbed. One or both of these two parties was arguably confused, misunderstood, or engaged in deception depending upon whose interpretation of events one accepts. Mr. Connell either did or did not tell Ms. Hawkins that the easement would be disturbed. Regardless of what was told to Ms. Hawkins, it is undisputed that after this conversation she assured the Plaintiffs that the easement would not be disturbed. This assurance allegedly proved inaccurate as Wal-Mart destroyed the easement road.

The Plaintiffs, who stated that they were unaware of Wal-Mart's interference with the easement, allegedly continued negotiations with Mr. Harry as to the purchase of the back parcel. The Plaintiffs were confused, when on July 22, 2002, Mr. Harry failed to bid on the property. Dr. Teitel contacted Mr. Harry to seek an explanation. Allegedly, Mr. Harry went by the property before the auction, only to find that the "nice, curbed direct access road had been torn up and destroyed, and there was no way to even get back to see the property." Plaintiff's Brief in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment at 5; see also Plaintiffs' Exhibit 7. After learning that Mr. Harry did not bid because of the condition of the easement, Plaintiffs' counsel in the foreclosure proceeding, Mr. Derek Meek of Burr & Forman, contacted Ms. Hawkins on July 23, 2002.

Ms. Hawkins responded on July 24, 2002, writing the Plaintiffs to inform them that the easement was being relocated. This communication contained materials that showed the existing easement and the route for a new easement, which Wal-Mart would build. The Plaintiffs have been informed that Wal-Mart will complete a new road to the Plaintiffs' property.


The Plaintiffs and Defendant seek summary judgment as to all claims brought before this court. For reasons to be discussed, both the Plaintiffs' and the Defendant's Motions for Summary Judgment are due to be denied as to each claim.

A. Continuous Trespass

"Trespass has been defined as any entry on the land of another without express or implied authority, and a...

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