Justia Alabama Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Constitutional Law
In re: Dennis v. Alabama)
This case stemmed from a cold-case murder that took place in 1981. An armed robber broke into a gas station where Russell Douglas was working, shot him several times, robbed the station, and fled. Douglas's murderer eluded capture. Then, some 30 years later, forensic scientists retested DNA evidence found at the crime scene and turned up a match to the respondent here, Nathaniel Dennis, who was serving a 600-year sentence in Virginia for an unrelated crime. In 2011, an Alabama grand jury indicted Dennis for the murder of Douglas, and he was transferred to Alabama to stand trial. In 2019, after a series of pretrial delays, Dennis was convicted of murder made capital because it was committed during a burglary. Dennis appealed, arguing that the delay between his indictment and trial violated his right to a speedy trial. The Court of Criminal Appeals agreed, holding that the over-eight-year period between 2011 and 2019 required the trial court to "presume" that the delay prejudiced Dennis's liberty interests -- even though Dennis had not put forward any affirmative evidence of prejudice and likely could not have done so because he was already serving a 600-year sentence in Virginia. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded this was error: the speedy-trial inquiry turns on how much delay has been caused by the government, not the bare amount of time between the indictment and trial. In this case, the portion of the delay caused by government negligence fell well short of the amount needed to justify a presumption of prejudice. Absent that presumption, Dennis' speedy-trial claim failed. The Court reversed the appellate court's judgment and remanded for consideration of the other arguments Dennis raised in his appeal. View "In re: Dennis v. Alabama)" on Justia Law
Turner and the State of Alabama ex rel. Angela Turner v. Ivey, et al.
In 2019, the Alabama Legislature passed -- and Governor Kay Ivey signed -- House Bill 380 ("H.B. 380"), which became Act No. 2019-393, Ala. Acts 2019. As enacted, H.B. 380 amended various Code provisions, including § 15-22-21(a), Ala. Code 1975, creating the position of director of the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles ("the Bureau"), and § 15-22-20(b), Ala. Code 1975, addressing the nomination and appointment processes for the members of the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles ("the Board"). After H.B. 380 was enacted, Governor Ivey appointed Leigh Gwathney as chair of the Board pursuant to the new procedures set forth in § 15-22-20(b). In November 2020, the three-member Board convened and held a parole-consideration hearing for Angela Turner, an inmate who was serving a life sentence for murder. Following a review of Turner's file, the Board unanimously denied Turner's parole request. Around that same time, Governor Ivey appointed Cam Ward as the new director of the Bureau. In response to the Board's denial of parole, Turner filed suit against Governor Ivey, Ward, Gwathney, and the other members of the Parole Board, in which she sought a judgment declaring that Governor Ivey's appointment of Ward and Gwathney to their respective positions pursuant to the changes created by H.B. 380 violated the Alabama Constitution of 1901. She also, on behalf of the State of Alabama, petitioned for writs of quo warranto pursuant to § 6-6-591, Ala. Code 1975, alleging that Ward and Gwathney unlawfully held their respective positions. Finally, she alleged a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim against all the defendants on the basis that she had been denied due process during her parole-consideration hearing. The circuit court dismissed Turner's claims with prejudice. Finding no reversible error in the circuit court's order, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed. View "Turner and the State of Alabama ex rel. Angela Turner v. Ivey, et al." on Justia Law
Dixon v. City of Auburn, et al.
Plaintiff Steven Dixon appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants the City of Auburn ("the City"); Ron Anders, in his official capacity as the mayor of the City; and Beth Witten, in her official capacity as an Auburn City Council member who served as mayor pro tempore of the City. The underlying action arose from a dispute between Dixon and defendants over Ordinance No. 3288, which amended the City's zoning ordinance to expressly regulate short-term rentals of residential property within the City's geographical limits. Dixon claimed that the adoption and enforcement of the short-term-rental ordinance violated his right to due process and also violated his right to equal protection as guaranteed by the Alabama Constitution. Finding that the trial court properly entered summary judgment in defendants' favor, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed. View "Dixon v. City of Auburn, et al." on Justia Law
Hanes et al. v. Merrill, et al.
Plaintiffs Tommy Hanes, David Calderwood, and Focus on America appealed a circuit court judgment dismissing their claims against John Merrill, in his official capacity as the Alabama Secretary of State, and Bill English, Wes Allen, Clay Crenshaw, Jeff Elrod, and Will Barfoot, in their official capacities as members of the Alabama Electronic Voting Committee ("the committee"). In May 2022, plaintiffs filed suit seeking declaratory and injunctive relief relating to the general use of electronic-voting machines in the November 2022 general statewide election and in all future elections. Plaintiffs primarily sought to enjoin the usage of electronic-voting machines to count ballots. They specifically sought an order requiring that the 2022 election be conducted by paper ballot, with three individuals as independent counters who would manually count each ballot in full view of multiple cameras that could record and broadcast the counting proceedings, among other measures. Plaintiffs claimed the use of electronic voting machines was so insecure, both inherently and because of the alleged failures defendants in certifying the machines, that it infringed upon their constitutional right to vote, or, in the case of Focus on America, the right to vote of those persons it represented. Defendants moved to dismiss, citing Rule 12(b)(1) and Rule 12(b)(6), Ala. R. Civ. P. They argued plaintiffs lacked standing, that the claims were moot, that State or Sovereign immunity under Art. I, § 14, of the Alabama Constitution barred the claims, that the complaint failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, and that the court lacked jurisdiction pursuant to § 17-16-44, Ala. Code 1975. The circuit court found that the jurisdiction-stripping statute barred the plaintiffs' action, that the plaintiffs lacked standing, that the complaint failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, and that sovereign immunity barred the plaintiffs' claims. Finding plaintiffs lacked standing to pursue their claims, thus depriving the circuit court of jurisdiction over their complaint, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed dismissal. View "Hanes et al. v. Merrill, et al." on Justia Law
Hudson v. Ivey, et al.
This case concerned the reallocation of a circuit-court judgeship from the 10th Judicial Circuit located in Jefferson County, Alabama to the 23d Judicial Circuit located in Madison County. Tiara Young Hudson, an attorney residing in Jefferson County, had been a candidate for appointment and election to the Jefferson County judgeship before its reallocation to Madison County. Hudson filed suit at the Montgomery Circuit Court ("the trial court") seeking a judgment declaring that the act providing for the reallocation of judgeships, § 12-9A-1 et seq. ("the Act"), Ala. Code 1975, violated certain provisions of the Alabama Constitution of 1901. Hudson also sought a permanent injunction removing the Madison County circuit judge that had been appointed to fill the reallocated judgeship from office and directing the governor to appoint a new person nominated by the Jefferson County Judicial Commission to fill the judgeship in Jefferson County. The trial court dismissed the action on the ground that it did not have subject-matter jurisdiction to grant the requested relief. Finding no reversible error in that dismissal, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed. View "Hudson v. Ivey, et al." on Justia Law
Brighton Ventures 2 LLC v. Alabama
In consolidated appeals, Brighton Ventures 2 LLC and the St. John Life Center ("the Life Center") appealed a circuit court judgment order forfeiting $446,897.19 that was found to have been used as bets or stakes as part of an illegal gambling operation. The City of Brighton ("the City") had an ordinance permitting the establishment of charitable bingo operations within its city limits. In early 2019, an application for a charity-bingo business license was submitted to the City on behalf of Super Highway Bingo ("the casino"); the Life Center was listed as the named charity. In February 2019, the City issued the requested business license, and, in March 2019, the casino officially opened. According to the record, Brighton Ventures was responsible for the day- to-day operations of the casino and, in exchange for its management services, received 85% of the casino's profits. The Life Center, in return, received 15% of the casino's profits. Around the time the casino opened, the Alabama Attorney General's Office began an investigation into "electronic bingo" activity occurring there. "Electronic bingo is illegal in Alabama." An undercover investigator from the Attorney General's office was able to play electronic bingo games at the casino. The State executed multiple search warrants at the casino during which it seized, among other things, over 200 "electronic bingo" machines and large sums of cash. Relevant to these appeals, the State then initiated separate actions, petitioning the circuit court for an in rem civil forfeiture of the $446,897.19. Brighton Ventures and the Life Center denied that the funds seized were "used as bets or stakes in gambling activity" as described in § 13A-12-30(c) and argued that the State had unlawfully seized the funds. They also asserted counterclaims in which they alleged, among other things, that forfeiture of the funds constitutes an "excessive fine" in violation of the Excessive Fines Clause of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The Alabama Supreme Court found no error in the circuit court's judgment and affirmed the order ordering the forfeiture. View "Brighton Ventures 2 LLC v. Alabama" on Justia Law
Gulf Shores City Board of Education, et al. v. Mackey, et al.
Plaintiffs Gulf Shores City Board of Education and Kelly Walker appealed a circuit court's dismissal of their complaint seeking certain declaratory and mandamus relief against the Superintendent of the Alabama State Board of Education; the Revenue Commissioner of Baldwin County; certain Baldwin County Commissioners; the Baldwin County Board of Education; a Baldwin County Circuit Judge; the Baldwin County District Attorney; and Coastal Alabama Community College ("CACC"). This case involved the interplay among § 16-13-31(b), § 40-12-4, and § 45-2-244.077, Ala. Code 1975, a part of § 45-2-244.071 et seq., Ala. Code 1975 ("the local-tax act"), which authorized the Baldwin County Commission to levy a 1% sales tax in Baldwin County paralleling the state sales tax found in § 40-23-1 through § 40-23-4, Ala. Code 1975. In 2017, the Gulf Shores Board was created to oversee an independent city school district pursuant to a resolution adopted by the City of Gulf Shores. The Gulf Shores Board and the Baldwin County Board entered into negotiations that resulted in a separation agreement pursuant to which the Gulf Shores Board obtained certain assets and assumed certain liabilities of the Baldwin County Board. Additionally, the separation agreement provided that taxes collected specifically to fund public schools in Baldwin County would be apportioned according to the apportionment provisions in § 16-13-31(b) and § 40-12-4(b) so as to include the Gulf Shores Board as a recipient. However, the separation agreement did not address apportionment of the proceeds of the local tax. The president of the Gulf Shores Board stated in his affidavit that the "parties specifically agreed to disagree [as to] whether the [local] tax was required to be apportioned." The Gulf Shores Board demanded but did not receive a share of the local-tax proceeds. Plaintiffs filed their initial complaint against the superintendent, the revenue commissioner, and the county commissioners, seeking mandamus relief requiring that the local-tax proceeds be apportioned to include the Gulf Shores Board as a recipient and/or a judgment declaring that the local-tax act was unconstitutional. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded the Gulf Shores Board lacked standing to bring its constitutional claim, and Walker could not show that the local tax was a levy of special taxes on her as a citizen of a definite locality expended in some other locality. Accordingly, dismissal was affirmed. View "Gulf Shores City Board of Education, et al. v. Mackey, et al." on Justia Law
Gaines v. Smith
Dalen Gaines sought monetary and equitable relief against Walker County law-enforcement officers for their role in what Gaines claimed was a delayed bond hearing. After Gaines failed to appear at the Walker Circuit Court to answer criminal charges, the court issued a warrant for his arrest. Three months later, Walker County Sheriff's Deputy Christopher Doeur executed the warrant and took Gaines into custody. Afterward, Deputy Doeur filed a certificate of execution, informing the Circuit Court that he had arrested Gaines and placed him in the County jail. After about a month, Gaines remained incarcerated and had not yet appeared in court. The trial court granted the law-enforcement officers' motion to dismiss Gaines complaint here, and Gaines asked the Alabama Supreme Court to overturn that decision. The Court declined to do so, and affirmed dismissal. View "Gaines v. Smith" on Justia Law
Young Americans for Liberty at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, et al. v. St. John IV, et al.
Joshua Greer, a student at the University of Alabama in Huntsville ("the University"), and Young Americans for Liberty, a student organization at the University ("the plaintiffs"), appealed a judgment dismissing their action challenging the legality of the University's policy regulating speech in outdoor areas of the University's campus ("the policy"). The policy allowed University students and student organizations, among others, to reserve and use outdoor spaces on campus to engage in speech. Whether a reservation is required depends on the nature of the students' activities and expression. The general rule was that students had to make reservations for activities that make use of the outdoor areas of campus. No reservation was needed for "casual recreational or social activities," a term that the policy did not define. Similarly, no reservation was needed for "spontaneous activities of expression, which are generally prompted by news or affairs coming into public knowledge less than forty-eight (48) hours prior to the spontaneous expression." The policy then lists 20 designated areas on campus where spontaneous speech was allowed. Plaintiffs alleged that the policy violated the "Alabama Campus Free Speech Act" insofar as the policy generally required reservations for speech, creates the exception for "spontaneous" speech, and creates designated areas on campus for that spontaneous speech. The Alabama Supreme Court reversed the judgment dismissing the action on two grounds: (1) the policy plainly violates the Act insofar as the policy creates designated areas for spontaneous speech; and (2) there is at least one unresolved factual issue concerning the evaluation of the policy's time, place, and manner restrictions. View "Young Americans for Liberty at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, et al. v. St. John IV, et al." on Justia Law
Ex parte Dennis Morgan Hicks.
Dennis Morgan Hicks was convicted of one count of capital murder for the killing of Joshua Duncan. The murder was made capital because Hicks committed it while he was under a sentence of life imprisonment. Hicks was also convicted of one count of second-degree theft of property. By a vote of 11-1, the jury recommended that Hicks be sentenced to death on the capital-murder conviction. The Circuit Court followed the jury's recommendation and sentenced Hicks to death on the capital-murder conviction; it sentenced him to time served on the second-degree theft-of-property conviction. Hicks appealed to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, and, on original submission, that court affirmed Hicks's conviction but remanded the case for the trial court to address some sentencing issues. The Court of Criminal Appeals ultimately affirmed the death sentence. To the Alabama Supreme Court, Hicks argued the Court of Criminal Appeals erred: (1) in holding his right to counsel was not violated at the time of a pretrial mental evaluation; and (2) in holding that Dr. Karl Kirkland's testimony regarding Hicks' pretrial mental evaluation was admitted properly. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the appellate court's judgment. View "Ex parte Dennis Morgan Hicks." on Justia Law