Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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Clinton Carter, in his official capacity as Director of Finance of the State of Alabama, and Chris Roberts, in his official capacity as director of the Alabama Office of Indigent Defense Services petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Jackson Circuit Court to transfer the underlying action to Montgomery County, where, they argued, venue was proper. In January 2015, the Jackson Court, pursuant to section 15-12-21, Ala. Code 1975, appointed two attorneys to represent Barry Van Whitton, an indigent, in a noncapital-murder case. While the criminal case against Whitton was pending, the attorneys filed a motion seeking a declaration that section 15-12-21 was unconstitutional; an order allowing them to exceed the statutory fee cap set in the statute; and, in the alternative, an order reimbursing them for their overhead expenses incurred in the defense of the case. The trial court entered an order, which, among other things, declared section 15-12-21 unconstitutional and "no longer of any force or effect" ("the Whitton order). The attorney general did not appeal the Whitton order or otherwise challenge it. The issue presented in this petition did not concern the validity of the Whitton order or whether that order was enforceable. Rather, the only issue presented for the Supreme Court's review was whether venue for the civil action was proper in Montgomery County. The civil action was brought against the State defendants in their official capacities, and there was no waiver of objections to venue in the civil action. Thus, under the Court's holding in "Ex parte Neely," it concluded the State defendants demonstrated a clear legal right to mandamus relief. View "Ex parte Clinton Carter" on Justia Law

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James Wood, a retired circuit court judge, appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of: the State of Alabama; Luther Strange, in his capacity as Attorney General for the State of Alabama; David Bronner, in his capacity as chief executive officer of the Employees' Retirement System of Alabama; the Board of Control of the Employees' Retirement System of Alabama ("the Board of Control"); and Thomas White, Jr., in his capacity as Comptroller for the State of Alabama. At issue were increases in the rates of contributions judges and justices are required to pay into the Judicial Retirement Fund ("the Fund"), pursuant to section 12- 18-5, Ala. Code 1975. The Fund was established under the provisions of Act No. 1163, Ala. Acts 1973, codified at section 12- 18-1 et seq., Ala. Code 1975, to provide retirement benefits to qualified judges and justices. Judge Wood was serving his second official term when increases in contribution rates took effect. Judge Wood retired on January 15, 2013. In June 2012, Judge Wood, individually, and on behalf of a purported class of "all members" of the Fund, sued the State defendants, alleging that the mandatory increases in contributions to the Fund reduced Judge Wood's net pay without affording him any additional retirement benefits. He alleged that the increases in contributions violated the Judicial Compensation Clause of Art. VI, section 148(d), Constitution of Alabama of 1901 ("the Compensation Clause"). In his complaint, Judge Wood sought a judgment declaring the Act unconstitutional as violative of the Compensation Clause. Because Judge Wood's claim for money damages was not shown to be within the Alabama Supreme Court's subject-matter jurisdiction and his claim for prospective injunctive relief was moot, also defeating subject-matter jurisdiction, the Court did not address the constitutionality of the Act. Accordingly, the Court held the trial court's judgment upholding the Act against Judge Wood's constitutional challenge was void. Therefore, the Court dismissed the appeal, vacated the summary judgment in favor of the State defendants, and dismissed the action for failure to establish subject-matter jurisdiction as to the claim for monetary damages and on the basis of mootness as to the claim for prospective injunctive relief. View "Wood v. Alabama" on Justia Law

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Sheila Ingle ("Ingle") appealed a circuit court order dismissing her claims against Jason Adkins, individually and in his capacity as superintendent of the Walker County School System; the Walker County Board of Education ("the Board"); and Bradley Ingle, William Gilbert, Dennis Reeves, James Rigsby, and Sonia Waid, members of the Board. Ingle brought this action "in the name of the State of Alabama on the relation of Sheila Mote Ingle ... in her individual capacity as a resident citizen and taxpayer in Walker County, Alabama." Ingle sought a declaration that Adkins's July 2013 salary increase was unconstitutional, illegal, and void; that the December 2014 "employment contract" was unconstitutional, illegal, and void; and that the November 2015 modification of the employment contract was unconstitutional, illegal, and void. Ingle sought to compel the Board members "to vacate and/or rescind" the "employment contract." Further, Ingle sought to recover for the taxpayers of Walker County the allegedly illegal compensation that had already been paid to Adkins, and she sought to recover on her own behalf attorney fees. Additionally, Ingle alleged that, even if the employment contract was not determined to be unconstitutional and void, the Board had overpaid Adkins's travel stipend, and, thus, Ingle sought to recover that overpayment. Later, Ingle amended her petition to withdraw her claim for attorney fees. The Alabama Supreme Court has held that taxpayers have standing to seek an injunction against public officials to prevent illegal payments from public funds. “This standing is based on the fact that taxpayers have an equitable ownership in the public funds and will be responsible for replenishing the public funds if those funds are misappropriated, and, thus, a taxpayer suffers an injury when public funds are illegally spent.” The Court determined that Ingle had standing as a taxpayer to seek an injunction against Adkins and the Board members in their official capacities. The Court reversed the circuit court’s order dismissing Ingle’s claims against the Board members and Adkins with respect to Adkins’ then-current agreement with the Board. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Ingle v. Adkins" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Johnny Mack Morrow, a member of the Alabama House of Representatives, and Jim Zeigler, auditor for the State of Alabama appealed a circuit court judgment dismissing their complaint filed against Robert Bentley, individually and in his official capacity as governor of the State of Alabama; Gunter Guy, individually and in his official capacity as commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources; Luther Strange, individually and in his official capacity as attorney general for the State of Alabama; William Newton, individually and in his official capacity as director of the Alabama Department of Finance; and Cooper Shattuck, individually and in his official capacity as executive director of the University of Alabama System's Gulf State Park Project. Relevant to the plaintiffs' claims was the Gulf State Park Projects Act, 9-14E-1 et seq., Ala. Code 1975 ("the Act"), which was enacted to facilitate the construction of a hotel/conference center in Gulf State Park ("the project"). Alabama received National Resource Damage Assessment funds, however, the United States District Court for the Southern District of Alabama enjoined use of those funds on the project until the defendants in the district court complied with certain federal requirements. The plaintiffs' complaint alleged that, given the district court's order, the defendants were "[w]ithout any lawful funds to spend upon the [p]roject." Nevertheless, the plaintiffs alleged, the defendants "boldly, unlawfully and hastily proceeded" to fund the project with moneys received from British Petroleum Exploration & Production, Inc. ("BP"), as a result of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Defendants moved to dismiss, arguing plaintiffs lacked standing to pursue their claims. The circuit court agreed with defendants and dismissed the complaint. The Alabama Supreme Court found that because the issue of the plaintiffs' standing in their individual capacities was not preserved for appellate review and because the plaintiffs did not have standing to prosecute their action in their official capacities, the trial court did not err in dismissing the complaint. Accordingly, the judgment was affirmed. View "Morrow v. Bentley" on Justia Law

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The United States Supreme Court vacated the Alabama Supreme Court's earlier judgment in Ex parte Williams, 183 So. 3d 220 (Ala. 2015). Jimmy Williams, Jr., was convicted of murder made capital because it was committed during a robbery in the first degree; the offense was committed when Williams was 15 years old. The trial court sentenced Williams to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, the only possible sentence and one that was mandatory. In June 2013, Williams petitioned the Montgomery Circuit Court for a new sentencing hearing, asserting that his life-without-the possibility-of-parole sentence was unconstitutional and unlawful in light of Miller v. Alabama, 132 S.Ct. 2455 (2012). The circuit court, the Court of Criminal Appeals, and this Court disagreed, each holding that Williams was not entitled to a new sentencing hearing because the rule in Miller did not apply retroactively to cases such as Williams's, which were final when Miller was decided. Williams petitioned the United States Supreme Court for certiorari review. While Williams's petition for certiorari review was pending, the United States Supreme Court issued its opinion in Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S.Ct. 718 (2016)., which clarified its holding in Miller, stating that "Miller announced a substantive rule that is retroactive in cases on collateral review." The Alabama Court vacated the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals and remanded this case directly to the circuit court for proceedings consistent with Miller and Montgomery. View "Ex parte Jimmy Williams, Jr." on Justia Law

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Jewels by Park Lane, Inc. ("JBPL"), and Kathy Cassidy, the national director for JBPL, sought a writ of mandamus compelling the Circuit Court to vacate its order denying their motion to dismiss an action against them on the ground of improper venue arising out of a forum-selection clause, and to enter an order dismissing the case. JBPL was a multilevel marketing company that sold jewelry through independent contractors who host parties offering JBPL's jewelry line for sale. Jennifer Miller became a “director” for LBPL. Miller sued JBPL and Cassidy, alleging JBPL promised to employ her for a 12-month period and to pay her $4,000 a month for that period. Miller set out claims alleging account stated, open account, breach of contract, and fraud. Miller sought compensatory damages, punitive damages, and attorney fees. The employment agreement contained a “forum selection clause” in which any disputes between the parties would be settled in accordance with the laws of Illinois. Miller admitted that the director agreement contained a forum selection clause but argued that she would not have entered into the agreement but for the fraud perpetuated by JBPL and Cassidy. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded JBPL and Cassidy have shown a clear legal right to have the action against them dismissed on the basis that venue in the Tallapoosa Circuit Court was, by application of the outbound forum-selection clause, improper. The trial court exceeded its discretion in denying their motion to dismiss Miller's action. View "Ex parte Jewels by Park Lane, Inc." on Justia Law

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On January 23, 2015, Judge Callie Granade of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Alabama, issued an order declaring unconstitutional both the Alabama Sanctity of Marriage Amendment, and the Alabama Marriage Protection Act, as violating the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Thereafter, the federal court entered an injunction prohibiting the Alabama Attorney General from enforcing any Alabama law that prohibited same-sex marriage. The injunction was to allow time for an appeal of that decision to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. On January 27, 2015, Roy Moore, Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, sent a letter, on Supreme Court of Alabama letterhead, to then Governor Robert Bentley regarding Judge Granade’s orders, expressing "legitimate concerns about the propriety of federal court jurisdiction over the Alabama Sanctity of Marriage Amendment." In his three-page letter, Chief Justice Moore laid out his arguments as to why Judge Granade’s federal-court orders were not binding upon the State of Alabama, and ultimately directed Alabama’s probate judges not to recognize marriage licenses for same-sex couples. Months later, the Alabama Supreme Court released a per curiam opinion ordering the probate judges named as respondents to discontinue issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in compliance with Alabama law. Chief Justice Moore’s name did not appear in the vote line of this opinion, nor did he author or join any of the special writings. On June 26, 2015, the United States Supreme Court issued its opinion in “Obergefell,” holding that "same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry in all States" and that "there is no lawful basis for a State to refuse to recognize a lawful same-sex marriage performed in another State on the ground of its same-sex character." The Court of the Judiciary ultimately suspended Chief Justice Moore for his defiance of the laws. He appealed, and the Alabama Supreme Court determined it was “obligated to follow prior precedent” that it had no authority to disturb the sanction imposed by the Court of the Judiciary: “[b]ecause we have previously determined that the charges were proven by clear and convincing evidence and there is no indication that the sanction imposed was plainly and palpably wrong, manifestly unjust, or without supporting evidence, we shall not disturb the sanction imposed.” View "Moore v. Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission" on Justia Law

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Jerry Nix appealed the entry of summary judgment which found he was an adult in need of protective services under the Adult Protective Services Act of 1976. The Franklin County Department of Human Resources ("DHR") alleged that Nix, then 78 years old, was an "adult in need of protective services." The petition claimed that Nix had not been taking his medications for diabetes and hypertension and that he had been the victim of a postal scam costing him thousands of dollars. DHR further alleged that Nix urgently required nursing-home care to protect his health and safety and that, otherwise, Nix was in immediate danger. DHR requested emergency-protective placement for Nix and that the court set a hearing to determine Nix's need for protective services. The trial court thereafter ordered DHR to provide protective services for Nix, appointed a guardian ad litem to represent Nix in the proceedings, and appointed Nix's son, Darren Nix, as conservator of Nix's estate and guardian of his person. While the Alabama Supreme Court did not question that all involved in this case desired the best for Nix, it was troubled by the "apparent lack of urgency and attention to statutory formalities in the prosecution of this petition for protective services," finding the trial court granted DHR's emergency petition on December 7, 2015; Nix was entitled to a hearing within 30 days. Seven months passed before the trial court entered the summary judgment finding Nix to be an adult in need of supervision, and fifteen months had passed since Nix was removed from his home. "It may very well be that an assisted-living facility is the appropriate and lawful protective placement for Nix, but he is still entitled to all the procedural safeguards due him under the Act, including a timely adjudication of his need for such services. Indeed, without a faithful adherence to the Act and the due process protections owed to each person protected by the Act, we risk unnecessary and wrongful deprivation of liberty and property. For those 'protected persons' dispossessed of their house and their assets, this may seem a fate far worse than a foreign-lottery postal scam." View "Nix v. Franklin County Dept. of Human Resources" on Justia Law

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J.J.V. ("the child") was the daughter of J.V. ("the father"). In 2009, the Marshall County Department of Human Resources (DHR) removed J.J.V. from the custody of mother M.M.T. At that time, J.V. was living in Florida, where the child and the mother had resided until the mother left the father. The father came to Alabama to locate the mother and the child only to learn that DHR had removed the child from the mother's home. Without the aid of counsel, the father attempted to work with DHR, and he briefly reunited with the mother. A DHR caseworker informed him that the child would not be returned to the parents if they resided together; shortly thereafter, the father left the mother's residence. In 2010, with the aid of counsel, the father secured supervised visitation with the child. By early 2011, the father was granted unsupervised visitation with the child; he had a total of five unsupervised visits with the child. Later that year, after the child had returned from an unsupervised visit with the father, the child's foster parents contacted the child's DHR caseworker, reporting that the child had reported the father had 'hurt her butt.' After the accusation, the father's visitation was changed to supervised visitation. The child cried and said that she did not want to attend visits with the father. When at the visits, the child barely interacted with the father. The father was ultimately charged with sexual abuse, arrested and placed in the Marshall County jail, where he remained for approximately 18 months. DHR filed a petition to terminate the father's parental rights; however, the juvenile court denied that petition. DHR appealed, and the Supreme Court reversed the judgment declining to terminate the father's parental rights and remanded the case for reconsideration of DHR's petition. DHR petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the juvenile court to set aside or vacate its April 3, 2016 order, addressing the transfer of legal custody and physical custody of the child to the father. The Supreme Court granted the writ. “Given the allegations made by DHR and the contents of the report prepared by …the clinical psychologist, the juvenile court could not conclude that the concerns raised by DHR and [the psychologist] could be ignored as a matter of law. Instead, the juvenile court should have scheduled a hearing so that it could properly evaluate any evidence DHR might present (including any testimony from [the psychologist]) as to the alleged change in the child's circumstances after the entry of the April 2016 order.” View "Ex parte Marshall County Department of Human Resources." on Justia Law

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Jefferson County and the Jefferson County Commission (collectively "the County parties") appealed a circuit court judgment denying a petition for validation of the warrants filed by the County parties, pursuant to section 6-6-750 et seq., Ala. Code 1975, and opposed by the taxpayers and citizens of Jefferson County. Andrew Bennett, Mary Moore, John Rogers, and William Muhammad cross-appealed the portion of the trial court's judgment declining to address alternative arguments they raised. In 2004 and 2005, Jefferson County issued warrants to raise funds to make certain grants to local boards of education to construct school buildings and to retire other debt. All the revenue from Jefferson County's existing 1% education sales and use taxes levied under section 40-12-4, Ala. Code 1975, was pledged and required to pay the debt service on the outstanding warrants and certain related costs. Jefferson County experienced severe financial difficulties in recent years that eventually resulted in the County's filing a petition in bankruptcy. In 2009, the Alabama Supreme Court held that Jefferson County's occupational tax, imposed since 1987, was unconstitutional. In 2015, Jefferson County and its legislative delegation proposed local legislation in an effort to bolster the County's finances without an occupational tax. Jefferson County proposed a new 1% sales tax and a 1% use tax to replace its existing 1% education sales and use taxes, the purpose of which was to fund new warrants at lower interest rate and a lower required debt service that would allow the County to retire its existing warrants. In 2015, Bennett, Moore, Rogers, and Muhammad ("the class plaintiffs") filed a class action against Jefferson County challenging the constitutionality of Act No. 2015-226 which enacted the new Jefferson County sales and use taxes. The circuit court declared Act 2015-226 unconstitutional, and the County parties appealed. Finding that the circuit court erred in finding the Act unconstitutional, and finding no merit in the alternative grounds on which the taxpayers argued the Act was unconstitutional, the Supreme Court reversed (Case No. 1150326) and dismissed (Case No. 1150327). View "Bennett v. Jefferson County" on Justia Law