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Lauderdale County Appeal Reverses Civil Judgments Over Irrelevant Highly Prejudicial Evidence

by William L. Pfeifer, Jr. on November 13, 2012

in Appeals

Earlier this year, our office handled an appeal out of Lauderdale County involving the Alabama Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act (AUFTA). At issue in the appeal was the trial court’s admission of irrelevant and highly prejudicial evidence that should have been excluded from trial.

Our clients were accused of having participated in the fraudulent transfer of multiple parcels of real estate. These transfers were alleged to be the result of their father trying to get land out of his name before being found liable in a civil lawsuit for causing massive injuries to a young woman in an arson incident. There was no claim that our clients had anything to do with the arson, but merely that they had assisted their father in divesting himself of his assets by accepting property transfers into their names. At trial, the defendants were ordered to pay over a half million dollars in damages.

During the trial, the trial court permitted presentation of extensive graphic evidence of the young woman’s physical injuries caused not by a conveyance of property, but by a fire in which our clients indisputably played no role. This evidence was irrelevant to the issues on trial, had no probative value in determining whether there had been a violation of the Alabama Fraudulent Transfers Act, and served solely to inflame the passions of the jury to the point that it was impossible for our clients to receive a fair trial. In other words, the jury was so focused on the injuries caused to the young woman by someone else, they couldn’t fairly evaluate whether our clients had engaged in improper business dealings with their father.

Fortunately for our clients, the Alabama Supreme Court agreed with us that the trial court made a mistake. In an opinion released in September, the Alabama Supreme Court cited Rule 401 of the Alabama Rules of Evidence for the rule that for evidence to be relevant it must concern a fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action. An erroneous ruling on the admissibility of evidence by a trial court creates reversible error only if the error has probably injuriously affected substantial rights of the appealing parties. In this case, the Alabama Supreme Court said the affect was obvious, commenting that “The evidence had an undue tendency to suggest decision on an improper basis.” Therefore, the Alabama Supreme Court reversed the civil judgment and remanded the case back to Lauderdale County for a new trial.

To learn more about this complicated case, you can read the full text of the Alabama Supreme Court’s opinion here.

If you have received a civil judgment against you and you want to challenge it on appeal, please contact our office to discuss whether we can assist you.

Alabama State Bar rules require the following disclaimer in all attorney advertisements: “No representation is made that the quality of legal services to be performed is greater than the quality of services provided by other attorneys.”

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