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Relocation-Reimbursement Agreement; Attorney Fees, Interest, and Costs

Arnold v. Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama, LLC, [Ms. 1170974, 1171026, July 12, 2019] __ So. 3d __ (Ala. 2019). In Case No. 1170974, the Court (Mitchell, J., and Parker, C.J., and Bolin, Wise, Sellers, Mendheim, and Stewart, JJ., concur; Bryan, J., concurs in the result) affirms a judgment of the Montgomery Circuit Court requiring a former employee to reimburse his former employer, Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama, for expenses the employer incurred in moving the employee from Kentucky to Alabama to begin employment at Hyundai's manufacturing facility in Montgomery. The Court held that the undisputed evidence revealed the former employee owed the reimbursement pursuant to a standard relocation-reimbursement agreement because the former employee resigned his employment within 24 months of acceptance of the position. Following the de novo review of the facts before the trial court, the Court holds the former employer established each of the predicate elements of a breach-of-contract claim, and that evidence of working under duress was irrelevant to the trial court's determination that the former employee resigned within the 24-month period specified in the relocation-reimbursement agreement.

In Case No. 1171026, the Court (Mitchell, J., and Parker, C.J., and Bolin, Sellers, Mendheim, and Stewart, JJ., concur; Bryan, J., concurs in the result; Wise, J., dissents) accepted Hyundai's argument in its cross-appeal that the trial court erred by failing to award it pre-judgment interest, attorney fees, and expenses all as provided by the relocation-reimbursement agreement when the employee failed to timely reimburse Hyundai for amounts that became due under that agreement. Noting that while generally the decision to award attorney fees and costs is within the discretion of the trial court, Classroomdirect.com, LLC v. Draphix, LLC, 992 So. 2d 692 (Ala. 2008), recognized an exception when such claims are made pursuant to a contract. Because the sums due for attorney fees, interest, and costs were readily apparent from the record and the reasonableness of such sums was not challenged by the former employee on appeal, the Court remanded the cause to the trial court to enter a judgment in favor of the former employer, which included specified sums for pre-judgment interest, attorney fees, and costs.

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