Justia Alabama Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
by
William G. Veitch was a Republican candidate in 2018 for District Attorney of the 10th Judicial Circuit ("Jefferson County D.A.") and a resident of the area of Jefferson County, Alabama known as the Bessemer Cutoff. When he went to cast his vote in the Republican primary, he was not able to vote for the very office for which he was running. In fact, none of his neighbors in the Bessemer Cutoff were. Because of a local law enacted in 1953, residents of the Bessemer Cutoff did not participate in primary elections for Jefferson County D.A. Veitch challenged that law before the 2018 primary, and he continued to maintain that it violated the United States Constitution. The trial court entered a judgment against him. The Alabama Supreme Court reversed, finding the Jefferson County D.A. had the statutory authority to displace the Bessemer Division D.A. and exercise his powers in the Bessemer Cutoff. Because residents of the Bessemer Cutoff were subject to the prosecutorial power of the Jefferson County D.A., they had an equal interest with other Jefferson County residents in who occupied that office. Despite that equal interest, Act No. 138 denied voters in the Bessemer Cutoff the right to participate in the primary election for Jefferson County D.A. That discrimination, the Court held, violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and rendered Act No. 138 unconstitutional. View "Veitch v. Friday" on Justia Law

by
James Blackman petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing Judge James Patterson of the Mobile Circuit Court ("the trial court") to set aside an order setting Blackman's case for trial, to reinstate Blackman's guilty plea that the trial court withdrew sua sponte, and to proceed to sentencing Blackman on his guilty-plea convictions. Because the trial court's sua sponte withdrawal of Blackman's guilty plea subjected Blackman to double jeopardy and thus divested the trial court of jurisdiction to conduct a trial, the Supreme Court granted the petition and issued the writ. View "Ex parte James Antuam Blackman." on Justia Law

by
Calvin Barnes petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of habeas corpus to direct the Mobile Circuit Court to vacate its orders revoking his bail and denying his motion to reinstate his bail. The Supreme Court determined the circuit court erred by basing the revocation on an unsupported and unsubstantiated belief that Barnes intended to delay his trial setting and had become a flight risk, rather than on evidence satisfying the requirements for revocation in Rule 7.5. Furthermore, the circuit court erred in denying Barnes's request to reinstate his pretrial bail -- a right to which he was entitled under the law, regardless of the heinousness of the crime he was accused of committing. Because the Supreme Court determined the circuit court acted beyond its authority, the Supreme Court granted the petition and issued the writ. View "Ex parte Calvin Barnes." on Justia Law

by
On April 27, 2015, Charles Hunter ran a red light at an intersection within the corporate limits of the City of Montgomery. At some point "within the past two years," Mike Henderson also ran a red light at another intersection within the corporate limits of the City. The automated-camera equipment at the intersections detected and photographed the plaintiffs' vehicles running the red lights. The City of Montgomery ("the City") and American Traffic Solutions, Inc. ("ATS") (collectively, "the defendants"), were granted a permissive appeal of a circuit court order denying their motion to dismiss a complaint, seeking, among other things, a declaratory judgment, filed by plaintiffs Hunter and Henderson. In their complaint, plaintiffs challenged a local municipal ordinance authorizing the use of cameras for issuing traffic citations. Plaintiffs claimed that Act No. 2009-740, Ala. Acts 2009, and sections of the Montgomery Municipal Code allowing for the ticketing of drivers who were photographed proceeding through red lights violated sections 89, 104, and 105, Ala. Const. 1901. The Alabama Supreme Court determined there was no justiciable controversy between the parties at the time the declaratory-judgment action was filed, therefore, the circuit court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over the action, and should have dismissed it. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed the circuit court's order denying the motion to dismiss, and the matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "City of Montgomery v. Hunter" on Justia Law

by
Marvin Gray sought mandamus relief to direct the Montgomery Circuit Court to dismiss a complaint filed against him by Ruthie Thomas. In 2017, Thomas was involved in an automobile accident with Gray in a Montgomery parking lot. In 2019, she filed suit. Eighty-nine days after she filed her original complaint, Thomas moved to amend her complaint, asserting she made multiple "scrivener's errors" resulting in the incorrect identification of one of the defendant in the original complaint. In the amendment, Thomas named Gray as defendant in place of another person involved in the accident. Gray filed a motion to dismiss the claims against him, asserting that he was not added as a defendant until after the statute of limitations had expired. Gray argued that the amended complaint did not relate back to the filing of the original complaint because, he argued, it did not satisfy the requirements of Rule 9(h), Ala. R. Civ. P., regarding fictitiously named defendants. In particular, Gray asserted that Thomas was aware of Gray's name 12 days following the accident and well before the expiration of the statute of limitations. Because the Alabama Supreme Court concluded the amended complaint related back to the filing of the original complaint under Rule 15, Ala. R. Civ. P., it denied Gray's petition. View "Ex parte Marvin Gray." on Justia Law

by
The State of Alabama petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari to review the Court of Criminal Appeals' decision to grant mandamus relief to R.E.D. R.E.D. had asked the Court of Criminal Appeals to vacate a circuit court order denying his request for a jury trial on the issue whether the State intentionally committed misconduct during R.E.D.'s first trial so as to goad R.E.D. into requesting a mistrial and to enter an order granting his jury-trial request. The Supreme Court granted certiorari review to determine whether the Court of Criminal Appeals' order vacating the trial court's ruling was in conflict with Ex parte Adams, 669 So. 2d 128 (Ala. 1995), and/or Pettibone v. Alabama, 91 So. 3d 94 (Ala. Crim. App. 2011). After that review, the Supreme Court concluded the Court of Criminal Appeals' decision was in conflict with both Ex parte Adams and Pettibone, and, thus, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Criminal Appeals' order. View "Ex parte State of Alabama" on Justia Law

by
The Talladega County Commission ("the Commission") appealed a trial court's dismissal of its mandamus petition filed against the Commission by the City of Lincoln ("the City"), that left in place a prior order interpreting provisions of a local act. At issue was a dispute between the Commission and the City regarding the interpretation of Act No. 91-533, Ala. Acts 1991 ("the Act"), as amended by Act No. 2000-758, Ala. Acts 2000 ("the amended Act"). The Act, which local to and operative only in Talladega County, levied special county "privilege license and excise taxes" in parts of Talladega County located outside the corporate limits of cities within the county. Initially, the Act required the revenues from the taxes to be used for the retirement of the County's indebtedness. The amended Act, enacted after the retirement of the County's indebtedness, created the "Talladega County Special Tax Fund" ("the fund") into which all revenues from the taxes, less the costs of collection, were to be deposited. The City claimed in its petition that the Commission did not have any discretion to withhold the disbursement of moneys contained in the fund once the delegation had authorized the disbursement. The City asked the trial court to order the Commission to disburse $494,639 collected to the City as had been recommended by the TCEDA and approved by the delegation. In order to resolve the Commission's declaratory-judgment counterclaim, the trial court was required to determine whether the Commission had authority under the amended Act to "veto, overrule, or otherwise deny" the delegation's approval of the TCEDA's recommendation. At the time the trial court entered the October 30 order on the Commission's declaratory- judgment counterclaim, the Alabama Supreme Court determined there existed a clear justiciable controversy between the City and the Commission concerning the Commission's duties and authority under the amended Act. Once State representatives withdrew their approval, a necessary precursor to the disbursement of moneys from the fund under the amended Act, the City was no longer entitled to the funds and there ceased to be a controversy between the City and the Commission. The Supreme Court therefore determined the action was moot and dismissed the appeal. View "Talladega County Commission v. State of Alabama ex rel. City of Lincoln" on Justia Law

by
GEICO Insurance Company appealed a trial court judgment entered in favor of plaintiffs Johnson Evans, Jimmy Smith, and Bernard Smith on plaintiffs' claims for damages resulting from an automobile accident caused by GEICO's insured, Bernard Grey. GEICO argued that the April 17, 2019, judgment entered against it was void because it did not receive notice of plaintiffs' claims against it or notice of the hearing on plaintiffs' claims. For their part, plaintiffs did not dispute that GEICO never received actual notice of any action pending against it in the present case. Instead, they argued GEICO had "constructive notice of potential litigation" because it had actual notice of Grey's accident involving plaintiffs -- which occurred in 2010 -- and that GEICO was aware that plaintiffs claimed to be injured by Grey's actions. The Alabama Supreme Court agreed with GEIDO that "constructive notice of potential litigation" clearly fell short of "even the most basic requirements of due process." Because it was undisputed GEICO never received notice of any claim pending against it, the April 17 judgment violated due process, and was therefore void. Because a void judgment would not support an appeal, the trial court was instructed to vacate its judgment, and GEICO's appeal was thus dismissed. View "GEICO Insurance Co. v. Evans" on Justia Law

by
The State of Alabama, on the relation of Shirley Williams-Scott, appealed a circuit court order denying Williams-Scott's petition for a writ of quo warranto seeking to declare that Eddie Penny did not hold office as the mayor of the City of Fairfield. The 2010 federal census indicated that the population of Fairfield had dropped below 12,000. A statutory provision stated that, "[i]n all towns or cities, a majority of the whole number of members to which such corporation is entitled, including the mayor in towns and cities of less than 12,000 population, shall be necessary to constitute a quorum." In the 2016 election cycle, Ed May II was elected to the position of mayor of Fairfield, and Penny was elected to the position of council president. It is undisputed that May did not attend any council meetings for 90 consecutive days, beginning October 1, 2018. During its January 22, 2019 meeting, the city council approved a resolution providing that May was removed from office of mayor as a matter of law. Penny was subsequently proclaimed mayor by a vote of the council. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the trial court did not err in denying Williams-Scott's petition for a writ of quo warranto seeking to declare Penny was not mayor of Fairfield. View "State ex rel. Williams-Scott v. Penny" on Justia Law

by
The City of Daphne ("the City") appealed a circuit court judgment entered in favor of David and Sarah Fannon, in an action seeking damages pursuant to section 235, Ala. Const. 1901, for the taking of, injury to, or destruction of the Fannons' property for public use. In 1990, the Fannons purchased an unimproved lot on Lovett Lane in Daphne and constructed a house on that lot. To the north of, and parallel to, their lot was a 30-foot right- of-way that was owned by the City. A streambed that was approximately three feet wide meandered along the right-of-way, partially onto the Fannons' lot, and back into the right-of-way and then into Mobile Bay. Also, the right-of-way was wooded and heavily covered with vegetation. The Fannons placed an 18-inch-diameter PVC pipe under the foundation of their house and along the path of the streambed where it meandered onto their lot so that the water would continue to flow into the Bay. Over time, the City made changes to the right-of-way, taking out vegetation and covered it with sand and riprap. Years later, City workers removed the riprap and installed a pipe that dumped into the streamed near the Fannons' property. This changed the water flow around the Fannon property, causing washout and flooding due to increased velocity of water flowing through the City's pipe. A jury ultimately returned a verdict in favor of the Fannons, awarding them compensatory damages on their inverse-condemnation claim. The City appealed. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court concurred with the trial court on the trial court's judgment with respect to trespass and negligence; it reversed, however, with respect to inverse-condemnation and remanded for further proceedings. View "City of Daphne v. Fannon" on Justia Law