Nichols v. HealthSouth CorporationAnnotate this Case
Employee-shareholders Steven Nichols, Deborah Deavours, Terry Akers, Thomas Dryden, and Gary Evans appealed a circuit court’s dismissal of their action against HealthSouth Corporation ("HealthSouth"). The employee shareholders at one time were all HealthSouth employees and holders of HealthSouth stock. In 2003, the employee shareholders sued HealthSouth, Richard Scrushy, Weston Smith, William Owens, and the accounting firm Ernst & Young, alleging fraud and negligence. The action was delayed for 11 years for a variety of reasons, including a stay imposed until related criminal prosecutions were completed and a stay imposed pending the resolution of federal and state class actions. In their original complaint (and in several subsequent amended complaints) the employee shareholders alleged that HealthSouth and several of its executive officers mislead investors by filing false financial statements of HealthSouth from 1987 forward. When the employee shareholders filed their action, the Alabama Supreme Court's precedent held: (1) that "[n]either Rule 23.1[, Ala. R. Civ. P.,] nor any other provision of Alabama law required stockholders' causes of action that involve the conduct of officers, directors, agents, and employees be brought only in a derivative action," and (2) that claims by shareholders against a corporation alleging "fraud, intentional misrepresentations and omissions of material facts, suppression, conspiracy to defraud, and breach of fiduciary duty" "do not seek compensation for injury to the [corporation] as a result of negligence or mismanagement," and therefore "are not derivative in nature." In the present case, the Alabama Supreme Court concluded the employee shareholders' claims were direct rather than derivative and that, the trial court erred in dismissing the employee shareholders' claims for failure to comply with Rule 23.1, Ala. R. Civ. P. Furthermore, the Court found employee shareholders' eighth amended complaint related back to their original complaint and thus the claims asserted therein were not barred by the statute of limitations. Accordingly, the judgment of the trial court was reversed and the cause remanded for further proceedings.