Hernandez et al v. Hankook Tire America Corporation et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER re 51 Joint MOTION for Summary Judgment Ford and Wal-Mart Defendants' Joinder and Motion for Partial Summary Judgment and 49 MOTION for Partial Summary Judgment ; For reasons as noted within, th e court finds that defendants are not entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the issue of plaintiffs standing to pursue her wrongful death claim. The motion for partial summary judgment is DENIED. Signed by Judge William M Acker, Jr on 10/30/13. (SAC )
2013 Oct-30 PM 03:37
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
GREGORIA HERNANDEZ HERNANDEZ, }
HANKOOK TIRE AMERICA
CORPORATION, et al.,
Case No. 2:12-CV-03618-WMA
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Before the court is the motion for partial summary judgment
filed by Hankook Tire America Corporation and Hankook Tire Company,
Ltd., and joined in part by Ford Motor Company, Wal-Mart Stores,
Inc., and Wal-Mart Stores East, L.P. (collectively “defendants”).
Defendants seek summary judgment on the wrongful death claim
administrator ad litem for the estate of Valente Santiago Garcia,
deceased, based on lack of standing.1
Defendants’ motion will be
denied because, as explained more fully below, Alabama law grants
standing to administrators ad litem to pursue wrongful death claims
and prohibits collateral attacks upon the orders appointing the
administrators ad litem except on the basis of lack of jurisdiction
in the appointing authority.
Hankook Tire America Corp. and Hankook Tire Co. also sought summary
judgment on the failure to warn claims by Paloma Santiago Hernandez and
Gregoria Hernandez Hernandez. Ford Motor Co., Wal-Mart Stores, and Wal-Mart
Stores East did not join in that part of the motion. The failure to warn
claims were later dismissed, so the court need not consider them. Doc. 57.
The parties do not dispute the material facts relating to
plaintiff’s appointment as administrator ad litem.
appointed administrator ad litem for the estate of Valente Santiago
Garcia, deceased, by the Circuit Court of Shelby County, Alabama,
on January 30, 2012. Def.’s Mot. Summ. J. Ex. D.
specifies that the appointment is “for the limited purpose of
bringing a wrongful death cause of action.” Id.
the instant wrongful death action on October 16, 2012.
To grant summary judgment, a court must determine that no
genuine dispute of material fact exists and that movant is entitled
to judgment as a matter of law. F. R. CIV. P. 56.
For the purposes
of summary judgment, the court views all admissible evidence in the
reasonable inferences in that party’s favor. Scott v. Harris, 550
U.S. 372, 378 (2007) (quoting United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369
U.S. 654, 655 (1962)).
As noted above, the parties do not dispute
administrator ad litem. Accordingly, the motion centers on whether
these facts entitle defendants to judgment as a matter of law.
Defendants make two primary arguments for summary judgment.
First, they argue that all administrators ad litem lack standing to
pursue wrongful death claims in Alabama.
Second, they argue that
plaintiff’s appointment as administrator ad litem was improper
because the order pre-dated any related proceedings.
finds, first, that the Supreme Court of Alabama has unambiguously
ruled that administrators ad litem do have standing to pursue
collaterally attack the appointment order here on the basis that it
pre-dates any related proceedings.
The below sections provide the
Standing of Administrators Ad Litem
Two Alabama statutes pertain to defendants’ argument that
administrators ad litem lack standing to pursue wrongful death
The first statute,
ALA. CODE § 43-2-250 (1975), mandates
that courts appoint an administrator ad litem when a decedent’s
administrator exists or where the executor or administrator has an
interest adverse to the estate.
The second statute,
decedent to file a wrongful death action.
ALA. CODE § 6-
The latter statute does
not make clear whether an administrator ad litem qualifies as a
“personal representative” so as to have standing to file a wrongful
death action. See id.
Although the statutes are silent on the questions raised, the
Supreme Court of Alabama has ruled that administrators ad litem do
have standing to file wrongful death actions. Affinity Hospital,
LLC v. Williford, 21 So. 3d 712, 718 (Ala. 2009).
Supreme Court in Williford acknowledged that the statutes neither
expressly grant nor expressly deny administrators ad litem the
concluded that the plaintiff in that case, “acting in her capacity
as an administrator ad litem, was a ‘personal representative’
therefore, vested with the authority conferred by that section to
Williford unambiguously holds that administrators ad litem have
standing to pursue claims identical to the claim pursued here. Id.
This being a diversity case, this court is bound by Williford.
Defendants emphasize the contrary conclusion that was drawn by
a single justice of the Supreme Court. Def.’s Mot. Summ. J. 19–21
(citing Golden Gate Nat. Senior Care, LLC v. Roser, 94 So. 3d 365
(Ala. 2012) (Bolin, J., concurring)).
Defendants’ arguments in
support of Justice Bolin’s position would be better addressed to
the Supreme Court.
Until the Supreme Court changes its mind, this
court must adhere to Williford.
Accordingly, the court finds that
plaintiff has standing to pursue her wrongful death claim.
Plaintiff’s Appointment as Administrator Ad Litem
Defendants also contend that plaintiff lacks standing because
her appointment was improper. Def.’s Mot. Summ. J. 18-19.
alleged impropriety derives from the fact that the appointment pre4
dated the filing of the instant action, admittedly a related
The applicable statute, ALA. CODE § 43-2-250 (1975), requires
appointment of an administrator ad litem “when, in any proceeding
in any court,” a decedent’s estate needs representation and either
administrator has an interest adverse to the estate.
does not speak directly to the timing of the appointment, i.e.,
whether it must occur in the course of an existing proceeding in
order to be effective.2 See id.
The Supreme Court has not expressly ruled on whether the
appointment of an administrator ad litem must occur during an
existing proceeding in order to be proper and to give standing to
the administrator. See Affinity Hospital, LLC v. Williford, 21 So.
3d 712, 718 n.4 (Ala. 2009).
The language quoted by defendants
purporting to limit appointments to existing proceedings comes from
a concurrence and does not bind this court. Def.’s Mot. Summ. J.
18-19 (quoting Golden Gate Nat. Senior Care, LLC v. Roser, 94 So.
3d 365, 370 (Ala. 2012) (Bolin, J., concurring)).
The fact that
the Supreme Court has allowed administrators ad litem to pursue
wrongful death claims, even when their appointments pre-dated
The language “in any proceeding” may support the interpretation that
the appointment must be made during an existing proceeding. See § 43-2-250.
However, that interpretation would greatly limit the statute’s coverage,
effectively redefining “any proceeding” to mean only those proceedings that
have already begun. See id. The ambiguous language “in any proceeding” does
not justify such a significant limitation on the statute’s coverage. See id.
related proceedings, gives indirect if not direct guidance toward
the finding of a valid appointment. See Williford, 21 So. 3d at
Defendants’ argument is answered, if not by its lack of merit,
Defendants are disputing and purporting to attack the Shelby County
court’s appointment order in a subsequent wrongful death action.
An Alabama judgment or order is “conclusive on collateral attack”
if it appears “regular on its face and indicates subject matter and
personal jurisdiction.” Randolph Cnty. v. Thompson, 502 So. 2d 357,
362 (Ala. 1987) (citation omitted); see also Greenhill v. Bear
Creek Dev. Auth., 519 So. 2d 938, 939 (Ala. 1988).
Norfolk Southern Railway Company, 679 So. 2d 214 (Ala. 1996)
applies this limiting principle to collateral attacks on orders
appointing administrators ad litem.
In Franks, the defendant in a
wrongful death action disputed the probate court’s appointment of
the administrator ad litem. Id.
The defendant had not directly
attacked the appointment order in probate court or filed an appeal
from the appointment order. Id. at 215–16. The Supreme Court first
noted that collaterally attacking the appointment order in the
wrongful death action could not succeed unless the record showed on
its face that the probate court lacked jurisdiction to make the
appointment. Id. at 217–18 (quoting Meriwether v. Reynolds, 289
Ala. 361, 364 (1972)). When the Supreme Court thereupon found that
probate courts and circuit courts both have jurisdiction to appoint
administrators ad litem, the order of appointment was presumed
valid and could not be collaterally attacked in the subsequent
wrongful death action. Id.
Similarly, in the instant case, defendants cannot attack
plaintiff’s appointment order as a means of attacking her standing.
Defendants did not seek to vacate the appointment order in circuit
court and did not appeal the order, even though the order recited
the express purpose of authorizing the administrator ad litem to
“bring a wrongful death cause of action.” See Def.’s Mot. Summ.
J. Ex. D.
Defendants do not and cannot allege that the appointment
order is void because the circuit court lacked jurisdiction to
issue it. See Franks, 679 So. 2d at 217-18 (both circuit courts and
probate courts have jurisdiction to appoint administrators ad
Absent a defect that renders it void, the appointment
order is deemed conclusive regardless of the merit of defendants’
argument that appointments must occur during existing proceedings
to be proper.
Last but not least, it seems to the court that defendants’
position translates to “there is no redress for this decedent’s
death even if we caused it.” Defendants conspicuously do not argue
that plaintiff or any representative of the decedent’s estate could
have found their way to court but failed to know how to accomplish
Instead, defendants imply that the redressability of a
wrongful death in circumstances requiring an administrator ad litem
depends entirely on serendipity— whether a related proceeding
happens to be pending when someone seeks to be named administrator
In and of itself, this observation does not mean that
administrators ad litem, in order to be effective, must occur
during existing proceedings. See Clapper v. Amnesty Intl. USA, 133
S.Ct. 1138, 1154 (2013) (citation omitted) (“[t]he assumption that
if respondents have no standing to sue, no one would have standing,
is not a reason to find standing”).
However, the hypertechnical
interpretation that defendants place on § 43-2-250 would preclude
administrators ad litem but that happen to occur when no related
proceeding is pending.
Would defendants be satisfied if the case
were stayed while plaintiff obtains a redundant appointment as
administrator ad litem while this case is pending?
creation of an administrator ad litem must come before the said
administrator can file a suit.
The horse ordinarily goes before
defendants are not entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the
issue of plaintiff’s standing to pursue her wrongful death claim.
The motion for partial summary judgment is DENIED.
DONE this 30th day of October, 2013.
WILLIAM M. ACKER, JR.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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