Tiffin Motor Homes, Inc. v. Valloze (In re Valloze)

Decision Date27 September 2013
Docket Number1111368,and 1111378.,1111337,1111335
Citation142 So.3d 504
PartiesEx parte John VALLOZE et al. (In re Tiffin Motor Homes, Inc. v. John Valloze et al.) Ex parte Freightliner Custom Chassis Corporation et al. (In re Tiffin Motor Homes, Inc. v. John Valloze et al.) Ex parte State Farm Mutual Auto Insurance Company (In re Tiffin Motor Homes, Inc. v. State Farm Mutual Auto Insurance Company et al.) Ex parte Freightliner Custom Chassis Corporation (In re Tiffin Motor Homes, Inc. v. State Farm Mutual Auto Insurance Company et al.)
CourtAlabama Supreme Court

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

Kori L. Clement and Stephanie White Schmidt of Hare, Clement & Duck, P.C., Birmingham, for petitioners John Valloze, Judith Valloze, and Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company.

John D. Herndon of Huie, Fernambucq & Stewart, LLP, Birmingham, for petitioner Freightliner Custom Chassis Corporation; James F. Walsh and Lisha L. Graham of Rumberger, Kirk & Caldwell, P.C., Birmingham, for petitioner Allison Transmission, Inc.; and Matthew T. Dukes and Robert V. Wood, Jr., of Wilmer & Lee, P.A., Huntsville, for petitioner Cummins Atlantic, LLC.

Jack P. Russell, Roderick K. Nelson, and Thomas S. Hiley of Spain & Gillon, L.L.C., Birmingham, for petitioner State Farm Mutual Auto Insurance Company.

Jeffrey L. Bowling of Bedford, Rogers & Bowling, P.C., Russellville, for respondent Tiffin Motor Homes, Inc.

MURDOCK, Justice.

John and Judith Valloze and Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company (“Nationwide”); State Farm Mutual Auto Insurance Company (“State Farm”); Freightliner Custom Chassis Corporation (“Freightliner”); Freightliner, Allison Transmission, Inc. (“Allison Transmission”); and Cummins Atlantic, LLC (“Cummins”), separately petition this Court for writs of mandamus directing the Franklin Circuit Court to dismiss the declaratory-judgment actions filed against them by Tiffin Motor Homes, Inc. (“Tiffin”). We grant the petitions and issue the writs.

I. Facts and Procedural History

Tiffin manufactures and sells custom-made motor homes. Its principal place of business is Red Bay, Franklin County, Alabama. Before us are four petitions for a writ of mandamus regarding two declaratory-judgment actions filed by Tiffin in the Franklin Circuit Court. The first action concerns a motor home purchased from Tiffin by the Vallozes, case no. CV–12–005 (“the Valloze action”), and the second concerns a motor home purchased from Tiffin by Karen Katnich, case no. CV–12–0026 (“the Katnich action”).

In its complaint in the Valloze action, Tiffin alleged that the Vallozes, who reside in Florida, purchased from Tiffin in Florida a Tiffin Allegro Red motor home that was manufactured by Tiffin in Red Bay. The sales contract between the Vallozes and Tiffin contained a forum-selection clause, which provided that the Vallozes and Tiffin

“agree that exclusive jurisdiction of any proceeding hereunder shall be in the state court of general jurisdiction in and for Franklin County, Alabama, or in the Federal District Court Division that includes Franklin County, Alabama. [The Vallozes] and Tiffin agree to submit themselves, in any legal action or proceeding between them relating to this limited warranty or otherwise to the state or federal court for Franklin County, Alabama, and consent that any action or proceeding shall be brought in such courts, and hereby waive any objection that each may now or hereafter have to the venue of any action or proceeding in any such court.”

On October 1, 2011, in or near the City of Summerton, Clarendon County, South Carolina, the Vallozes' motor home caught fire and was declared a total loss. Nationwide insured the Vallozes' motor home, and it paid the Vallozes $212,188.54 plus towing charges for their loss. On October 5, 2011, Nationwide subrogation specialist Kathleen Styer sent Tiffin a letter that stated, in pertinent part:

“Please be advised that Nationwide is the insurance carrier for the above-named insured, who sustained fire damage to his motorhome on the above date of loss. Our preliminary investigation reveals that this fire may have resulted from a defect in the unit[;] therefore we are placing you on notice of a potential claim against you, as well as providing you with the opportunity to inspect the same.

“Please contact the undersigned upon receipt of this notice to advise your intentions regarding attendance of a joint inspection of the motorhome.”

On January 5, 2012, Tiffin filed a complaint in the Franklin Circuit Court against the Vallozes, Nationwide, Freightliner, Allison Transmission, and Cummins. The complaint described Allison Transmission and Cummins as manufacturers of component parts for Tiffin, “specifically the engine/mechanical portion of the motor home where the fire at issue is alleged to have originated.” The complaint stated that Freightliner sold Tiffin the chassis used in the subject motor home. Tiffin alleged that all of these corporations are foreign corporations that have sufficient minimum contacts with the State of Alabama so that including them as defendants comports with due process. In the complaint, Tiffin noted that “Nationwide has put Tiffin on written notice of a potential claim in this matter arising from the subject fire loss.” As a result of this notice, Tiffin alleged that [a] real, present justiciable controversy exists between the parties to this action as to the issues of the cause and origin of the subject fire, which party or parties is at fault and liable for the subject fire loss, and the amount of damages arising from said fire loss.” Tiffin requested that the trial court “take jurisdiction of this matter pursuant to the Alabama Declaratory Judgment Act and that it “proceed to adjudicate the respective rights and liabilities of all the parties hereto.”

On February 15, 2012, Cummins filed a motion to dismiss the complaint as to it in the Valloze action. On March 15, 2012, the Vallozes and Nationwide filed a motion to dismiss. On the same date, Allison Transmission filed a motion to dismiss. Freightliner filed a motion to dismiss on March 21, 2012. All of those motions were based on an allegation of a lack of subject-matter jurisdiction on the basis, they asserted, that a “bona fide justiciable controversy” did not exist because no action had been filed by Nationwide against any defendant based on the subject fire loss. On May 9, 2012, the Vallozes and Nationwide filed an amended motion to dismiss in which they argued, in addition to the ground stated in their first motion, that the trial court lacked in personam jurisdiction over the Vallozes because the Vallozes lacked sufficient minimum contacts with the State of Alabama.

Tiffin filed a response to these motions on May 9, 2012,1 in which it contended that “a present and real controversy clearly exists” in this case because “Nationwide and Valloze would have immediate standing to file suit against [Tiffin] for the subject fire loss, in which case [Tiffin] would have immediate standing to bring in its suppliers.” It argued that “Tiffin does not have to stand by and wait to be sued in order to create a justiciable controversy.”

The trial court held a hearing on the motions on June 7, 2012. The following day the trial court entered orders denying the motions to dismiss filed by Nationwide, the Vallozes, Cummins, and Allison Transmission. On June 21, 2012, the trial court entered an order denying Freightliner's motion to dismiss. The trial court did not provide reasons for its rulings.

In its complaint in the Katnich action, Tiffin alleged that Karen Katnich purchased a 2011 Tiffin Phaeton motor home from Tiffin in Virginia. On June 1, 2011, in or near the city of Dudley, North Carolina, the motor home caught fire and allegedly suffered a total loss. The sales contract between Tiffin and Katnich contained a forum-selection clause identical to the one in the Vallozes' sales contract. On January 23, 2012, an attorney for State Farm sent Tiffin a letter that states, in pertinent part:

“This office represents State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company in connection with an incident in which Karen Katnich's 2011 Phaeton motor home caught fire in Dudley, North Carolina on June 1, 2011. I believe that you are aware of this situation and have been dealing with Rob McGraw, an engineer retained by State Farm, concerning the matter.

“I am writing first to place Tiffin on notice that State Farm intends to commence litigation if this matter cannot be resolved. All of the evidence we have seen shows that the motor home caught fire due to a defect in its manufacture, for which Tiffin would be liable. The motor home has been preserved and can be made available for joint destructive examination.

“However, State Farm believes that this dispute might be best resolved through means other than litigation. At the time of the fire Ms. Katnich's Phaeton had been driven approximately 1,600 miles. State Farm proposes that Tiffin purchase the vehicle from State Farm, which is now its owner as the motor home was declared a total loss, for the vehicle's market value immediately before the fire. Alternatively, State Farm would be willing to allow Tiffin to repair the motor home at Tiffin's own expense, and to reimburse State Farm the difference in value the motor home would have on the market due to its having been declared a total loss.

We believe that litigation of this matter will be expensive and time-consuming for all concerned, and that these alternatives would best serve Tiffin and State Farm. Please consider whether this proposal suits your company's interests. Otherwise, we will schedule a destructive examination in North Carolina and provide notice to Tiffin and other potentially responsible parties, and commence suit within the next sixty days.”

On February 14, 2012, Tiffin filed a complaint in the Franklin Circuit Court against State Farm, Custom Automated Services, Inc. (“Custom”), Waterway, Inc. (“Waterway”), ABC Warehouse (“ABC”), Maxzone Auto Parts Corporation (“Maxz...

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3 books & journal articles
  • The Shifting Sands of Mandamus Review
    • United States
    • Alabama State Bar Alabama Lawyer No. 76-5, September 2015
    • Invalid date
    ...trial court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, and mandamus is available to review a refusal to dismiss the action. See Ex parte Valloze, 142 So.3d 504 (Ala. 2013) (trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over action seeking declaration of non-liability of potential tort defendants);......
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    • United States
    • Alabama State Bar Alabama Lawyer No. 81-2, March 2020
    • Invalid date
    ...for fraud and for non-liability for civil conspiracy are inappropriate actions for declaratory judgment under Ex parte Valloze, 142 So. 3d 504 (Ala. 2013), and thus petitioner (judgment creditor) had clear legal right to dismissal of those claims. However, claims for declaratory judgment re......
  • The Appellate Corner
    • United States
    • Alabama State Bar Alabama Lawyer No. 80-5, September 2019
    • Invalid date
    ...Transfer Act and for non-liability for civil conspiracy are inappropriate actions for declaratory judgment under Ex parte Valloze, 142 So. 3d 504 (Ala. 2013). However, claims for declaratory judgment regarding veil piercing and for constructive trust were appropriate for DJ action. This is ......

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