Criminal Contempt Sanctions For Violating Mediation Order


Allstate Property and Cas. Ins. Co. v. Harbin, [Ms. 1190792, Feb. 19, 2021], ___ So. 3d ___ (Ala. 2021). The Court (Shaw, J.; Parker, C.J., concurs; Bryan, J., concurs in the result; Mendheim and Mitchell, JJ., concur in part and concur in the result) reverses the challenged portion of the Madison Circuit Court’s imposition of over $620,000 in sanctions against Allstate for violation of a mediation order. Allstate challenged the circuit court’s order to the extent it imposed sanctions in excess of the $57,516.36 Plaintiff Harbin sought in his motion for sanctions. Ms. *14.

The standard of review of a finding of criminal contempt is

“The essential elements of the criminal contempt for which punishment has been imposed ... are that the court entered a lawful order of reasonable specificity, [the alleged contemnor] violated it, and the violation was wilful. Guilt may be determined and punishment imposed only if each of these elements has been proved beyond a reasonable doubt.” [United States v.] Turner, 812 F.2d [1552] at 1563 [11th Cir. 1987]. The Turner court also stated, quoting Gordon v. United States, 438 F.2d 858, 868 n. 30 (5th Cir. 1971):

“The test is whether the evidence is sufficient to justify the trial judge, as trier of the facts, in concluding beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was guilty, and that such evidence is inconsistent with any reasonable hypothesis of his innocence. Such is the substantial evidence test.” ... “[A]bsent an abuse of discretion, or unless the judgment of the trial court is unsupported by the evidence so as to be plainly or palpably wrong, the determination of whether a party is in contempt is within the sound discretion of the trial court.” C.D.M. v. W.B.H., 140 So. 3d 961, 967 (Ala. Civ. App. 2013).

Ms. **23-24 (some internal quotation marks omitted). The Court reverses the finding that Allstate violated the mediation order

The only evidence offered by Harbin ... was the apparent lack of back-and-forth settlement negotiations during mediation, a fact that Harbin terms “the archetype of failing to send someone with authority.” However, Allstate’s alleged failure to extend a settlement offer to Harbin during mediation does not demonstrate a lack of settlement authority. ... Instead, as Allstate’s counsel also explained to the trial court, it became apparent that the parties’ settlement expectations were so disparate that compromise was unlikely. ... Because the record before this Court fails to show any evidence indicating that Allstate violated the trial court’s mediation order, the trial court exceeded its discretion by issuing the sanctions Allstate challenges.

Ms. **28-29.

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