Articles Posted in Constitutional 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

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Andrew Hugine, Jr., Ph.D., Daniel Wims, Ph.D., and Mattie Thomas, Ph.D., petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the Circuit Court to vacate its order that denied their requests for qualified immunity and State-agent immunity from all claims filed against them in their individual capacities by Regina Colston in an action stemming from the termination of Colston's employment at Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University ("the University") and to enter a summary judgment in their favor. Colston was hired as an instructor at the University to teach telecommunications for the School of Arts and Sciences in the Department of English, Foreign Languages, and Telecommunications. She taught broadcast journalism and other similar classes at the University continuously for the next 32 years. It was undisputed that the University was facing budget problems when Hugine was hired as president in 2009. The University evaluated faculty for potential dismissal. In the case of Colston, the University found that she was not tenured, and she was placed on the list recommending dismissal. Colston filed a grievance upon being fired. Colson filed suit, and the trial court entered a summary judgment in favor of the defendant as to all claims by Colston seeking compensatory and/or punitive damages against any defendant in the defendant's official capacity. The trial court denied summary judgment as to all other claims. Subsequently, Hugine, Wims, and Thomas filed the present petition for a writ of mandamus in which they asked the Supreme Court to vacate the trial court's judgment. After review, the Supreme Court determined that the trial court erred in not holding that Wims and Hugine were entitled to qualified immunity from Colston's retaliation claims based on alleged violations of her free speech and free-association rights. The Court likewise concluded that Hugine, Wims, and Thomas were entitled to State-agent immunity with respect to Colston's state-law claims against them individually alleging wrongful termination, fraud, and tortious interference with a contractual relationship. View "Ex parte Andrew Hugine, Jr., et al." on Justia Law

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Geranda Harris was convicted of third-degree burglary, and was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment. That sentence was split and Harris was ordered to serve 3 years' incarceration followed by 3 years' probation. Harris was also ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $889.63. Harris appealed his conviction to the Court of Criminal Appeals. The Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the trial court and remanded the case with instructions that Harris be granted a new trial. The State appealed. The Supreme Court found that the trial court did not reopen the case and allow the presentation of new evidence after the case had been submitted to the jury; thus, the trial court did not err. Accordingly, the Court of Criminal Appeals was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Ex parte Alabama" on Justia Law

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In 2005, Christopher Floyd was convicted of capital murder for the death of Waylon Crawford, for which he received the death penalty. The United State Supreme Court vacated the Alabama Supreme Court’s judgment in this case, and remanded for reconsideration in light of its recent holding in “Foster v. Chatman,” (136 S.Ct. 1737 (2016)). In selecting the jury for Floyd's case, the prosecutor and Floyd's counsel exercised a total of 36 peremptory challenges. The State used its 18 challenges to remove 10 of 11 African-American veniremembers and 12 of 18 female veniremembers. Floyd’s “Batson” or “J.E.B.” challenges to the venire (precedential cases prohibiting racial or gender discrimination in jury selection) were rejected by the trial court. The trial court found that Floyd had not demonstrated that the prosecutor had engaged in actual, purposeful discrimination during the jury-selection process, and that the prosecutor had proffered race- and gender-neutral reasons for his peremptory strikes. Floyd petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for certiorari review of the Court of Criminal Appeals' decision to uphold the trial court’s judgment. The United States Supreme Court then vacated the Alabama Court's judgment upholding the Court of Criminal Appeals and remanded the case for further consideration in light of “Foster.” In his supplemental briefing, Floyd contended that the record in his case, like the record in “Foster,” established that the State improperly focused on race and gender during the jury-selection process. Rather, it was during plain-error review of the record by the Court of Criminal Appeals that that court determined that the prosecutor's use of his peremptory challenges created a prima facie case of discrimination under both Batson and J.E.B. and remanded the case for a Batson/J.E.B. hearing. After the Alabama Court’s reconsideration of the Batson/J.E.B. issues in light of Foster, as mandated by the United States Supreme Court, the Alabama Court reinstated its judgment in this matter and once again affirmed the Court of Criminal Appeals. View "Ex parte Christopher Anthony Floyd." on Justia Law

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Jennifer Watters petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the Jefferson Circuit Court to stay proceedings in her criminal trial, and to conduct a pretrial evidentiary hearing to consider whether she was immune from prosecution on the ground of self-defense under the then existing version of § 13A-3-23(d), Ala. Code 1975. In 2015, Watters was charged with second-degree assault. In response to the trial court's actions, Watters filed a petition for a writ of mandamus with the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, seeking a writ directing the trial court to conduct a pretrial hearing on her immunity defense. A majority of that court, noting that "[t]here are no Alabama cases interpreting the application and scope of section 13A-3-23(d), Ala. Code 1975, to criminal charges," denied Watters's request for relief. Watters then filed another petition for mandamus with the Supreme Court. Although the Supreme Court offered no opinion as to the factual merit of Watters's immunity claim, it nonetheless held that she was entitled to attempt to prove its application before she was required to stand trial. The Court therefore granted the petition and issued the writ directing the trial court to conduct a pretrial evidentiary hearing considering whether Watters was immune from criminal prosecution on self-defense grounds. View "Ex parte Jennifer Watters" on Justia Law