Hoffman v. Chandler

In Hoffman v. Chandler, 431 So. 2d 499 So. 2d (Ala. 1983), the trial court submitted three alternative verdict forms to the jury, but this Court held that the trial court erred in failing to submit a fourth alternative. In that case, the plaintiff sued an ERISA trust and the two trustees, alleging breach of fiduciary duty and willful misconduct in their nonpayment of insurance benefits due under the benefit plan. A default had been entered against the Trust, and the three alternative verdict forms permitted the jury to find 1) against the Trust and in favor of both of the trustees; 2) against the Trust and against both trustees; or 3) against the Trust and to "have a hung jury and mistrial" as to the two trustees. (431 So. 2d at 504.) The Court held in Hoffman that the trial court should have permitted the jury to find in favor of one individual trustee and against the other. The trial court's failure to offer this alternative constituted reversible error. In its holding, this Court stated: "Although joint liability was authorized, it was not mandated under the pleadings and proof of this case. Each defendant was sued in his individual capacity, based upon his particular role in Plaintiff's alleged factual scenario. While we express no opinion as to what result should obtain from the record before us, we are clear to the conclusion that one of the viable options available to the jury was foreclosed by the verdict forms and the trial court's oral instruction relative thereto. By this procedure, the trial court erred to reversal." (431 So. 2d at 505.)