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Pretrial Conference - Due Process

Casey v. Bingham, [Ms. 2170045, May 11, 2018] __ So. 3d __ (Ala. Civ. App. 2018). This unanimous decision by Judge Pittman reverses a judgment for the plaintiffs in an unlawful detainer action which had been appealed from district court to circuit court. At a scheduled pretrial conference, the circuit judge reviewed certain evidentiary exhibits and entered an order prior to trial ruling in favor of the plaintiffs on the merits. Ms. *8-9. The court reversed, finding an abuse of discretion. The court noted that “‘the pretrial procedure established by Rule 16, [Ala.] R. Civ. P., is designed to clarify and simplify the issues to be tried.’” Ms. *14, quoting Arfor-Brynfield, Inc. v. Huntsville Mall Assocs., 479 So. 2d 1146, 1149 (Ala. 1985). The court further held that “‘pretrial conferences are not intended to be a forum in which the parties present evidence.’” Ms. *14, quoting Brown v. Brown, 896 So. 2d 573, 575 (Ala. Civ. App. 2004).

The court found prejudice to the defendants because the circuit court in this case implicitly concluded, after a review of evidentiary materials and other matters at a pretrial conference, that Bingham and her husband had met their substantive burden so as to entitle them to relief, yet the court did not thereby afford Casey his due-process rights to notice and a hearing on the merits of the controversy in accord with that notice in ruling in their favor. Ms. *17 (internal quote marks omitted).

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