Judgment for Plaintiff Reversed Where Plaintiff Failed to Dismiss Claims against Defendant’s Agents, and Trial Court did not Give Jury Charge Relating to Agent’s Conduct; Omission Tantamount to Judgment on the Merits for Agents

The Alabama Supreme Court reversed a vicarious liability judgment against the defendant manufactured home seller and rendered judgment for the defendant on plaintiff’s fraud, conversion and wantonness claims.  H & S Homes, L.L.C. v. McDonald, No. 1051556 (Ala. July 6, 2007).   The vicarious liability judgment could not stand without a finding that the defendant’s agents engaged in the misconduct that plaintiff alleged. Although plaintiff abandoned his claims against the agents, he did not obtain a formal dismissal of the claims, and the jury charge did not address the plaintiff’s claims against the agents.

In deciding whether the judgment against the defendant could stand as a matter of law, the Court first examined the record to determine whether the plaintiff had dismissed his claims against the defendant’s agents without prejudice. Although plaintiff argued that he had dismissed the claims, the Court stated that it was bound by the record on appeal, and the record contained no indication that plaintiff filed a stipulation of dismissal pursuant to Rule 41(a)(1) or obtained an order of dismissal pursuant to Rule 41(a)(2). Consequently, plaintiff’s claims against the agents were viable at the time of trial. The Court reasoned that “[t]he omission of the claims against [the agents] from the jury charge was tantamount” to judgment as a matter of law on plaintiff’s claims against the agents. “Thus, although [defendant] has been held vicariously liable for the torts of its agents, the agents have been exonerated on the merits as a matter of law.” Necessarily then, defendant was entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the vicarious liability claims against it.