Justia Alabama Supreme Court Opinion Summaries
Blankenship et al. v. City of Irondale
The Jefferson County, Alabama Board of Education ("the Board") and several of its employees sought to avoid the application of an occupational tax imposed by the City of Irondale ("City"). The Board and its employees argued that public-school employees were exempt from the occupational tax because, they contended they provided an essential government service. "But the importance of a state employee's role, even a role as important as a public-school employee, does not remove that employee's obligation to pay a duly owed occupational tax." The Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's judgment in favor of the City. View "Blankenship et al. v. City of Irondale" on Justia Law
Fagan v. Warren Averett Companies, LLC
Plaintiff Gerriann Fagan appealed a circuit court order granting defendant Warren Averett Companies, LLC's motion to compel arbitration. Fagan was the owner of The Prism Group, LLC, a human-resources consulting firm. In February 2015, Warren Averett approached her and asked her to join Warren Averett and to build a human-resources consulting practice for it. In February 2015, she agreed to join Warren Averett, entering into a "Transaction Agreement" which provided that: Fagan would wind down the operations of The Prism Group; Fagan would become a member of Warren Averett; Warren Averett would purchase The Prism Group's equipment and furniture; Warren Averett would assume responsibility for The Prism Group's leases; and that Warren Averett would assume The Prism Group's membership in Career Partners International, LLC. The Transaction Agreement further provided that Fagan would enter into a "Standard Personal Service Agreement" ("the PSA") with Warren Averett; that Fagan's title would be president of Warren Averett Workplace; and that Fagan would be paid in accordance with the compensation schedule outlined in the PSA. Fagan alleged that she subsequently resigned from Warren Averett when she was unable to resolve a claim that Warren Averett had failed to properly compensate her in accordance with the PSA. On or about February 28, 2019, Fagan filed a demand for arbitration with the American Arbitration Association ("AAA"). The employment-filing team of the AAA sent a letter dated March 4, 2019, to the parties informing them of the conduct of the arbitration proceedings. On April 18, 2019, the employment-filing team notified the parties that Warren Averett had failed to submit the requested filing fee and that it was administratively closing the file in the matter. On April 30, 2019, Fagan sued Warren Averett in circuit court. The Alabama Supreme Court determined Warren Averett's failure to pay the filing fee constituted a default under the arbitration provision of the PSA. Accordingly, the trial court erred when it granted Warren Averett's motion to compel arbitration. View "Fagan v. Warren Averett Companies, LLC" on Justia Law
Ledbetter v. Ledbetter
Laurie Ann Ledbetter ("Laurie Ann") and Warren Lewis Ledbetter ("Warren") sued their brother, William Russell Ledbetter ("Russell") alleging he improperly used money placed in an oral trust by their deceased mother, Lois Ann Ledbetter ("Lois"). The circuit court entered a summary judgment in favor of Russell. Laurie Ann and Warren appealed, contending that they presented substantial evidence of the existence and terms of the oral trust. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court agreed and reversed the circuit court. View "Ledbetter v. Ledbetter" on Justia Law
Ex parte Marshall, as Attorney General of the State of Alabama, et al.
Petitioners Alabama Attorney General Steven Marshall and circuit judges Michael Bradley Almond, Ruth Ann Hall, Brandy Hambright, Jacqueline Hatcher, and Bert Rice, all in their official capacities, petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Montgomery Circuit Court ("the trial court") to grant their motion to dismiss a complaint for a declaratory judgment filed by respondents Michael Belcher, Peter Capote, Derrick Dearman, Lionel Francis, Brett Yeiter, and Benjamin Young, all prisoners on death row. Respondents were all convicted of capital offenses and sentenced to death after August 1, 2017, the effective date of the Fair Justice Act ("FJA"), Act No. 2017-417, Ala. Acts 2017 (codified at Ala. Code 1975, section 13A-5-53.1). Respondents alleged the FJA was unconstitutional because it denied them access to courts to present arguments their convictions and sentences were not imposed in an arbitrary and capricious manner in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and Alabama law and other established constitutional guarantees. The complaint went on to allege that, because of the FJA's alleged prohibition on seeking discovery in postconviction proceedings for death-penalty petitioners, respondents would be unable to assert in their Rule 32 petitions any "Brady" claims for the alleged withholding of potentially exculpatory evidence or to raise any claims of ineffective assistance of counsel that require access to the prosecution's file to establish or to allege many juror claims that require rigorous investigation. Petitioners moved to dismiss on grounds the trial court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded respondents' claims were not ripe for adjudication in this declaratory-judgment action because their claims are inherently fact-specific and must be raised within the context of their six individual Rule 32 proceedings. Therefore, the trial court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the respondents' complaint. Petitioners' petition was granted and the Court issued the writ. View "Ex parte Marshall, as Attorney General of the State of Alabama, et al." on Justia Law
Parris v. Ballantine et al.
The issue this case presented for the Alabama Supreme Court's review centered on whether, under the terms of a particular trust instrument, a person adopted as an adult was considered a lineal descendant of a beneficiary of the trust and, thus, a beneficiary. James Parris, G.D. Varn III, James V. Searse, Jr., and Samuel S. Parris appealed a partial summary judgment in favor of Phyllis Ballantine, Scott Harrison and Renee DuPont Harrison. The siblings argued that the use of the phrase "hereafter born" in defining "lineal descendants" in the 1971 trust implied that "adopted" descendants were excluded and demonstrated the trustors' intent that the 1971 trust benefit biological descendants only. The siblings also asserted the trustors defined "lineal descendants" in a manner different than the generic legal definition, while they defined "heirs" as all persons entitled to take by intestacy -– the primary, generic legal meaning. The Alabama Supreme Court found that at the time the 1971 trust was executed, there was no provision in the law authorizing the adoption of adults. "Although the Alabama Legislature enacted the Adult Adoption Act in 1973 authorizing the adoption of an adult for inheritance purposes, that act came into being two years after the 1971 trust was executed. ... [T]hose Code sections were repealed effective January 1, 1991, and replaced by the Alabama Adoption Code, section 26-10A-1 et seq., Ala. Code 1975. Accordingly, the probate court's judgment was affirmed on grounds that the law at the time the 1971 trust was executed did not allow adult adoption, that Samuel's adoption as an adult in 2016 did not make him a "lineal descendant" as that term was defined in the 1971 trust, and that, therefore, Samuel was not a beneficiary of the trust. View "Parris v. Ballantine et al." on Justia Law
Ex parte Beverlee Gardner.
Beverlee Gardner petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for certiorari review of a Court of Criminal Appeals' decision in Gardner v. Alabama, [Ms. CR-18-0368, Sept. 20, 2019] which affirmed the trial court's denial of her motion to suppress certain evidence Gardner contended was seized during an illegal search. Gardner was charged with unlawful possession of a controlled substance. Gardner filed in the trial court a motion to suppress evidence of the 0.2 grams of methamphetamine that formed the basis of the charge against her. Using a confidential informant ('CI'), officers had completed "[c]ontrolled drug buys for heroin" at the residence at which Gardner was staying with two others. The CI had indicated that, during one of the controlled buys of heroin from the two other women in the residence, there was a third person at the back, and the CI did not know who it was. Because Gardner's name was unknown to police before the search, she was not named in the search warrant. Officers found drugs on Gardner following a pat-down search. Before the Court of Criminal Appeals, Gardner argued that the search exceeded the scope authorized for officer safety because, she argued, the detective "grabbed" the item in Gardner's pocket. Gardner argued the methamphetamine found in her pocket was not detected during a reasonable "Terry" search because, she says, the incriminating nature of the methamphetamine was not immediately apparent to the detective. This was so, according to Gardner, because the detective had to "grab a hold of" the "bulge" in Gardner's pocket before she realized that the bulge was consistent with the feeling of methamphetamine. Gardner argues that a "grab" was an "impermissible manipulation" and not a permissible patdown search. The Supreme Court concurred with this argument after a review of the trial court record: officers are not permitted to squeeze or otherwise to manipulate a suspect's clothing to find contraband that the officer knows is not a weapon. Based on testimony, "that appears to be exactly what Detective Dailey did, and Detective Dailey did not testify at the suppression hearing to explain or to provide additional context. Accordingly, based on the facts in the record, the methamphetamine was illegally seized and evidence of it should have been suppressed." View "Ex parte Beverlee Gardner." on Justia Law
QHG of Enterprise, Inc., d/b/a Medical Center Enterprise v. Pertuit
QHG of Enterprise, Inc., d/b/a Medical Center Enterprise ("QHG"), appealed a circuit court's judgment awarding Amy Pertuit ("Amy") $5,000 in compensatory damages and $295,000 in punitive damages. Leif Pertuit ("Leif") had been married to Deanna Mortensen; they had one child, Logan. Leif and Mortensen divorced in 2007. At some point, Mortensen was awarded sole physical custody of Logan, and Leif was awarded visitation. Leif later married Amy, a nurse. At the time of their marriage, Leif and Amy resided in Mobile, Alabama, and Mortensen resided in Enterprise. Eventually, tensions arose between Leif and Mortensen regarding the issue of visitation. In March 2014, Mortensen began sending text messages to Leif accusing Amy of being addicted to drugs. Around that time, Mortensen visited the attorney who had represented her in divorce from Leif. Mortensen expressed concern that Logan was in danger as a result of the visitation arrangement and asked her attorney to assist with obtaining a modification of Leif's visitation. In April 2014, Mortensen contacted Dr. Kathlyn Diefenderfer, a physician whom QHG employed as a hospitalist at Medical Center Enterprise. Mortensen had been Dr. Diefenderfer's patient, and Dr. Diefenderfer's son played sports with Logan. Mortensen informed Dr. Diefenderfer that Logan was scheduled to ride in an automobile with Amy from Enterprise to Mobile for Leif's visitation and expressed concern regarding Amy's ability to drive, given her belief that Amy was using drugs and had lost her nursing license. Dr. Diefenderfer used a hospital computer to check on Amy's drug prescriptions. After reviewing that information,Dr. Diefenderfer told Mortensen: "All I can tell you is I would not put my son in the car." Mortensen went back to her attorney, informing him that Dr. Diefenderfer had acquired the necessary proof of Amy's drug use. Amy received a copy of the modification petition, and was convinced her private health information had been obtained in violation of HIPAA, and filed complaints to the Enterprise Police Department, the US Department of Health and Human Services, the Alabama Bar Association, and the Alabama Board of Medical Examiners. A grand jury indicted Mortensen and Dr. Diefenderfer, which were later recalled, but the two entered diversion agreements with the district attorney's office. Amy then filed suit alleging negligence and wantonness, violation of her right to privacy, the tort of outrage and conspiracy. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the trial court erred by denying QHG's motion for a judgment as a matter of law with respect to Amy's asserted theories of respondeat superior; ratification; and negligent and wanton training, supervision, and retention because there was not substantial evidence indicating that QHG was liable to Amy as a consequence of Dr. Diefenderfer's conduct under any of those theories. The trial court's judgment awarding Amy $5,000 in compensatory damages and $295,000 in punitive damages was reversed, and judgment rendered in favor of QHG. View "QHG of Enterprise, Inc., d/b/a Medical Center Enterprise v. Pertuit" on Justia Law
Hannah v. Naughton, M.D., et al.
Regina Hannah appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of Michael Naughton, M.D.; Michael Naughton, M.D., Ph.D., LLC; Terisa Thomas, M.D., and and Terisa A. Thomas, M.D., P.C. (collectively, "the defendants"), on Hannah's claims alleging medical malpractice. In 2005, Hannah was seen by Dr. Thomas, a board-certified general surgeon, for a female health-care examination. Hannah was 32 years old at the time, and complained of fatigue, weight gain, heavy menstrual cycles, cramping, and painful sexual relations. Hannah also reported a significant family medical history of cervical cancer and stated that she was fearful of getting cancer. Hannah stated that her mother, grandmother, and sister had suffered from cervical cancer. Dr. Thomas ordered a number of tests, including a pelvic ultrasound and a Pap smear. Dr. Thomas received the results of Hannah's Pap smear, which indicated an "abnormal" result: "Epithelial Cell Abnormality. Atypical Squamous Cells Cannot Exclude High Grade Squamous Intraepithelial Lesion (HSIL)." Dr. Thomas stated that this was not a diagnosis of cancer but, rather, that she considered it an abnormal finding indicative of an "increased risk" of cancer. Dr. Thomas related to Dr. Naughton that she had a patient she wanted to refer to him for a second opinion following an abnormal Pap smear. Dr. Naughton testified that Hannah chose the most aggressive option for treatment, specifically stating that she wanted "it all out:" a hysterectomy, including her ovaries. Dr. Naughton had Hannah execute a "surgical-awareness" form indicating that she accepted full responsibility for her decision to have the surgery. Hannah underwent surgery; there was no indication of any diagnosis of cervical cancer mentioned in the surgical record. Hannah's surgery was completed without complication. Hannah would have one more follow up appointment with Dr. Naughton; she also met with Dr. Thomas. Frustrated with a lack of response from additional calls to Dr. Naughton's office, Hannah consulted with Dr. Max Austin, a gynecologic oncologist. After review of her medical records, Dr. Austin told Hannah she "never had nor did she have cervical cancer." Hannah then filed suit against Drs. Thomas and Naughton, alleging they breached their standard of care by falsely informing her she had cervical cancer based on the abnormal Pap-smear, and by advising her to undergo a hysterectomy. The Alabama Supreme Court found no reversible error in the trial court's judgment and affirmed it. View "Hannah v. Naughton, M.D., et al." on Justia Law
Alabama v. Epic Tech, LLC, et al.
Two appeals were consolidated for the purposes of this opinion: case no. 1180675 ("the Lowndes County case"), the State appealed the Lowndes Circuit Court's order granting the motions to dismiss filed by Epic Tech, LLC; White Hall Enrichment Advancement Team d/b/a Southern Star Entertainment; White Hall Entertainment; and the White Hall Town Council (collectively, "the Lowndes County defendants"); case no. 1180794 ("the Macon County case"), the State appealed the Macon Circuit Court's order granting the motions to dismiss filed by Epic Tech, LLC, and K.C. Economic Development, LLC, d/b/a VictoryLand Casino ("KCED")(collectively, "the Macon County defendants"). In 2017, the State sued the Lowndes County defendants asserting a public-nuisance claim. In a second amended complaint, the State asserted it was seeking declaratory and injunctive relief to abate a public nuisance of unlawful gambling through continued operation of illegal slot machines and other "unlawful gambling devices." The Lowndes County defendants moved to dismiss, raising, amongst other defenses, that the State failed to join the operators of two Wind Creek casinos. The Lowndes Circuit Court ultimately granted the motion to dismiss, finding it did not have subject-matter jurisdiction to grant the relief the State requested. The State also sued defendants in Macon County Circuit court, again alleging public nuisance from operation of illegal slot machines. Again, the State requested declaratory and injunctive relief. The Macon County court likewise dismissed on grounds it lacked subject-matter jurisdiction.The State argued on appeal to the Alabama Supreme Court that the circuit courts erred in concluding they lacked subject matter jurisdiction over their respective cases. The Supreme Court concurred with the State and reversed the circuit courts. The matters were remanded for further proceedings. View "Alabama v. Epic Tech, LLC, et al." on Justia Law
Bryant v. Carpenter
Deitrick Bryant ("Deitrick") committed suicide in his cell while he was an inmate at the Greene County, Alabama jail. Deitrick's mother, as the administrator of his estate, sued two jail employees, alleging that their negligence allowed Deitrick's suicide to happen. The trial court entered a summary judgment in favor of the jail employees, and Deitrick's mother appealed. "The controlling factor in determining whether there may be a recovery for a failure to prevent a suicide is whether the defendants reasonably should have anticipated that the deceased would attempt to harm himself." The Alabama Supreme Court determined Bryant failed to put forth evidence that would allow a factfinder to conclude that jail staff could have anticipated Deitrick's suicide. Accordingly, the summary judgment entered by the trial court was affirmed. View "Bryant v. Carpenter" on Justia Law