Tom Gaillard and Bill Watts help secure victory for client at United States Supreme Court

Tom Gaillard and Bill Watts successfully represented the City of Satsuma, Alabama, in a case that made its way to the United States Supreme Court. In that lawsuit, Plaintiff Halima Culley filed suit against the City of Satsuma and the State of Alabama asserting due process violations pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 as a result of the seizure of a vehicle she owned. Culley, a Georgia resident, alleged that the vehicle was being used by her son while he was a student at a local university and that it was seized after he was arrested while operating the vehicle in possession of marijuana and an illegal firearm. After the State of Alabama instituted civil asset forfeiture proceedings related to the vehicle and other items seized as a result of the arrest, Culley filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the procedures followed in Alabama for an individual to contest the seizure of their property in these circumstances.

Gaillard and Watts defended the City of Satsuma, and the Alabama Attorney General’s office represented the state. The United States District Court for the Southern District of Alabama ruled in favor of the city and the state and Culley filed an appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. At that point, the case was consolidated with another similar case from the Northern District of Alabama.

After briefing, the Eleventh Circuit ruled in favor of the city and the state and upheld the determination that there was no constitutional violation involved in the civil asset forfeiture proceeding. Culley then filed a Petition for Writ of Certiorari to the United States Supreme Court. The court granted that Petition on April 17, 2023, to address a split among the United States Courts of Appeal on the question about what type of process is due in these civil asset forfeiture proceedings. Gaillard and Watts worked with Ed Haden of the Balch & Bingham law firm to brief this issue before the United States Supreme Court. They also worked with the Alabama Solicitor General, Edmund G. LaCour, who ultimately argued the case on behalf of the City of Satsuma and the State of Alabama before the United States Supreme Court on October 30, 2023.

After hearing oral argument, the United States Supreme Court issued its opinion on May 9, 2024, upholding the earlier victories for the city and the state and affirming that the process provided under Alabama law in this type of civil asset forfeiture proceeding provides sufficient due process protections under the law.

Justice Kavanaugh authored the majority opinion for the court affirming the decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit and dismissing the case. See, Culley v. Marshall, 144 S.Ct. 1142, ___ U. S. ___ (2024).

Casey Pipes to present on recent Supreme Court opinion to Counselors of Real Estate group

Casey Pipes will explain the recent United States Supreme Court opinion in Sheetz v. County of El Dorado and its implications on state and local government programs and initiatives to the members of the Counselors of Real Estate at the State and Local Tax (SALT) Specialty Interest Group on Thursday, May 16, 2024. The implications of the Sheetz holding go far beyond just impact fees, and they will provide additional headwinds on affordable housing initiatives throughout the country. The future of these types of affordable housing and inclusionary zoning set-aside programs will depend on more traditional public participation (such as in the form a development agreement or a public-private partnership) rather than as an exaction or development condition for most types of projects.

Firm secures fair compensation from the Alabama Department of Transportation for convenience store developer

Casey Pipes represented a convenience store developer in a land condemnation action brought in Mobile County Circuit Court by the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT). The site had been acquired years previously by a different convenience store developer, and the current owner came into ownership through a stock acquisition of the prior owner. The site had never developed, and it was raw land at the time of the taking. A new round-about project took over 1.25 acres from the 2.1-acre parcel and damaged the fair market value of the remaining land. ALDOT’s initial offer was $103,320. The case did not settle at mediation, and the issue of the amount of just compensation owed to the owner went to a jury trial in March of 2024. The final recovery was $382,165–3.7 times the amount of ALDOT’s initial offer.

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Defense Verdict for Local Hospital Affirmed on Appeal

On March 15, 2024, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed a jury verdict in favor of a local hospital in a case involving a visitor who was injured in a fall caused by an eloping psychiatric patient. The underlying case was tried to a defense verdict in a four-day trial in January of 2023 by the Helmsing Leach team of Ryan Luna, Win Stuardi, and Karen Tucker in Mobile County, Alabama. On appeal, the plaintiff raised substantive and procedural issues, and the appellate team, led by Bill Watts, successfully defended against the plaintiff’s assertions that the trial court erred in its rulings on numerous issues, including jury selection and the admissibility of evidence.

Helmsing Leach Team Obtains Defense Verdict for Local Hospital

The Helmsing Leach trial team of Russell Buffkin, Karen Tucker, and Win Stuardi, along with co-counsel Susan Cooley of Schell Cooley, recently obtained a defense verdict in a six-day trial in Baldwin County, Alabama for a local hospital in a medical malpractice case arising out of the death of the patient. In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs alleged that the patient’s death was caused by the negligence of the telemetry technician in failing to notify the nursing staff of a change in the patient’s oxygen saturation level. At trial, the hospital established, through well-developed testimony from the hospital’s staff, the patient’s treating physicians, and retained experts, that there was no breach of the standard of care because there was no physician order requiring the telemetry technician to monitor the patient’s oxygen saturation level. Through these same witnesses, the hospital also established that the patient’s death was not caused by any breach of the standard of care by the hospital, but instead was the unfortunate but unavoidable consequence of the patient’s end stage lung and heart disease. In closing, the plaintiffs requested the jury award $2 to $3 million in punitive damages; however, the testimony from the defense witnesses was sufficient to overcome the plea to the jury’s emotions, and the 12-member jury rendered a unanimous defense verdict after 25 minutes of deliberation.

Ryan Luna and Samantha Gunnoe Win Defense Verdict at Jury Trial

Helmsing Leach attorneys Ryan Luna and Samantha Gunnoe successfully represented defendant State Farm Fire and Casualty Company in a breach of contract case tried to a jury in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Alabama. The plaintiff’s claim was based on a first-party insurance claim for property damage caused by Hurricane Sally. The jury returned their verdict in our client’s favor in under six minutes of deliberation.

 

Casey Pipes to speak at National Eminent Domain Seminar in New Orleans

Helmsing Leach partner Casey Pipes will be on the faculty of the ALI-CLE Eminent Domain and Land Valuation Litigation seminar taking place February 1-3, 2024 in New Orleans. Casey will be presenting along with Patria McGarr, an appraiser with CohnReznick, and Philip Sanchez, a lawyer from New York, on a program titled, Art or Science? Demystifying Appraisal Practice for Juries, Judges, and Clients. For more information about this seminar, please visit https://www.ali-cle.org/course/Eminent-Domain-and-Land-Valuation-Litigation-2024-CF004.

Tom Gaillard Wins Appeal at the Alabama Supreme Court

Tom Gaillard successfully represented a municipal police chief and local municipality in a case involving claims for false arrest and improper prosecution. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the municipality and its police chief, and the plaintiff then filed an appeal to the Alabama Supreme Court. In a recent ruling in favor of our clients, the Alabama Supreme Court upheld the order of the trial court dismissing these claims against the city and its police chief.

Robert Rouse named Lawyer of the Year in Business Organizations & Tax Law

Helmsing Leach’s Robert Rouse was named Best Lawyers’ 2024 Lawyer of the Year in Business Organizations and Lawyer of the Year in Tax Law (Mobile, Ala.). Each year, Best Lawyers recognizes the top lawyers around the country via an extensive peer review. Only one attorney can be named a Lawyer of the Year in each location and practice area. Robert was also recognized by Best Lawyers for his Trusts and Estate practice this year.

Robert has been recognized by Best Lawyers since 2007.

For more information about the firm’s Tax, Trusts, Estate and Probate practice, visit this link.

Joe Babington, Jim Newman, and Jeffery Hartley recognized as 2024 Benchmark Litigation Stars

Benchmark Litigation, a definitive guide to the world’s leading litigation firms and lawyers, has named Helming Leach partners Joe Babington, Jim Newman, and Jeffery Hartley Litigation Stars for 2024. Litigation Stars are identified through extensive interviews with litigators, dispute resolution specialists and their clients. Helmsing Leach is also distinguished as a recommended firm.