Failure to Cite Authority Defeats Appellants in Two Cases

The Alabama Supreme Court affirmed decisions in two cases, partly because the appellants had not cited legal authority on key points of their arguments. Retail Developers of Ala., LLC v. East Gadsden Golf Club, Inc., No. 1060370 (Ala. Nov. 16, 2007); Chapman Nursing Home, Inc. v. McDonald, No. 1060543 (Ala. Nov. 16, 2007). Though the pertinent reasoning in these cases is brief, the lesson is of obvious import.

Retail Developers involved an aborted commercial real estate sale. The trial court declared that the sales agreement had been terminated and awarded the would-be seller the earnest money the buyer had placed in escrow.

On appeal, the buyer argued that the seller had not diligently performed its contractual obligations. The Alabama Supreme Court observed, though, that the buyer “[did] not cite any legal authority for” its “implicit argument that the trial court erred in finding that the [sales] agreement is no longer in force.” (If this is a bit vague, apology is made to the present reader; the court’s opinion is not a model of clarity on this point.) The court then reminded the parties that

Where an appellant fails to cite any authority for an argument, this Court may affirm the judgment as to those issues, for it is neither this Court’s duty nor its function to perform all the legal research for an appellant.

The trial court’s decision on this point was accordingly affirmed.

The state’s high court repeated this lesson in Chapman Nursing Home. This case centered on a fired employee’s attempt to obtain jobless benefits in the face of her employer’s accusation that she had embezzled funds. An earlier administrative action had cleared her of this charge and found that she was entitled to unemployment benefits. The employer later filed a civil action to recover the allegedly stolen funds. The worker argued that the later case was barred as res judicata by the prior administrative proceeding. The circuit court agreed and granted summary judgment for the employee.

The Supreme Court of Alabama affirmed that decision. The employer argued, among other things, that res judicata did not apply because the administrative and civil proceedings did not entail the “same cause of action.” Specifically, the employer insisted that a higher standard of proof had governed the administrative case; the normal (and hypothetically lower) “preponderance of evidence” standard that controlled the civil suit kept the two proceedings from being the same for purposes of res judicata.

The appellate court wrote:

[The defendant] does not cite any statute or caselaw that demonstrates that the standard of proof in [administrative] unemployment-compensation proceedings is higher than the preponderance-of-evidence standard in civil cases.

The court was not obligated to conduct the employer’s legal research, and so, on this issue, as on the res judicata point generally, the court affirmed the decision of the circuit court.