Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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The Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama ("the Board") petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the Jefferson Circuit Court to dismiss for lack of subject- matter jurisdiction, based on Article I, section 14, Ala. Const. 1901, an action filed against it by Paul F. Castellanos, M.D. ("Dr. Castellanos"). Dr. Castellanos filed an action against six named defendants and other fictitiously named defendants asserting claims of intentional interference with contractual and business relations, civil conspiracy, and "intentional infliction of mental anguish -- outrageous conduct" and sought declaratory and injunctive relief. The Supreme Court determined the circuit court lacked the power to compel the Board to arbitrate Dr. Castellanos's claims against it. Instead, it was incumbent upon the circuit court to grant the Board's motion to dismiss the claims against it, as Dr. Castellanos himself conceded. Accordingly, the Supreme Court granted the petition for a writ of mandamus and directed the circuit court to vacate its order insofar as it compelled arbitration with regard to the Board and to dismiss the claims against the Board based on section 14 immunity. View "Ex parte the Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama." on Justia Law

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Defendants the Alabama Secretary of State, John Merrill, and a member of his staff, Ed Packard, the director of elections, petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Montgomery Circuit Court to vacate a preliminary injunction and to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction the underlying action seeking injunctive and declaratory relief. On December 7, 2017, plaintiffs Pamela Miles, Dan Dannemueller, Paul Hard, and Victoria Tuggle (hereinafter referred to collectively as "the plaintiffs") filed a civil action against Merrill and Packard, in their official capacities, alleging certain electronic voting machines used in Alabama elections created digital images of the paper ballots scanned and counted by the machines, and that defendants "do not and will not instruct election officials" to preserve the digital ballot images. Those images, it was argued, were public records that, under Alabama law, had to be preserved. Plaintiffs also appeared to allege that federal law, specifically, 52 U.S.C. 20701, required those images be retained. This failure "to require that all election materials" be preserved, the plaintiffs contended, "infringe[d] upon their right to a fair and accurate election." The Alabama Supreme Court determined plaintiffs' allegations did not demonstrate how the "challenged practices harm[ed]" plaintiffs in a concrete way; how they would personally suffer the threatened injury, which is itself described only as a mere speculative possibility; or how they would benefit in a "tangible way" by a judgment in their favor. Instead, the Court found they alleged only that they "could" be harmed." Therefore, because the complaint insufficiently alleged that plaintiffs have standing, the trial court lacked jurisdiction over the action. The Court therefore directed that the case be dismissed. View "Ex parte Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill and Director of Elections Ed Packard." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs the Walker County Commission and Commissioners Keith Davis, Bobby Nunnelly, Steven Aderhold, and Billy Luster, individually and in their official capacities (referred to collectively as "the Commission"), appealed a circuit court judgment in favor of defendants David Kelly, individually and in his official capacity as chairman of the Walker County Civil Service Board, and board members Rufus Reed, Donald Baxter, Raymond Bennett, and Gary Davis, individually (referred to collectively as "the Board"), the defendants below. The Supreme Court concluded that the Commission filed this action seeking to get clarification, or an advisory opinion, as to whether the Board would be bound by the Open Meetings Act in the future. Because there was no justiciable controversy and the Commission sought only an advisory opinion in its complaint, the circuit court did not have subject-matter jurisdiction over this action. Accordingly, the Supreme Court dismissed this appeal with instructions that the circuit court vacate its judgment and dismiss the case, without prejudice. View "Walker County Commission et al. v. Kelly et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs the Walker County Commission and Commissioners Keith Davis, Bobby Nunnelly, Steven Aderhold, and Billy Luster, individually and in their official capacities (referred to collectively as "the Commission"), appealed a circuit court judgment in favor of defendants David Kelly, individually and in his official capacity as chairman of the Walker County Civil Service Board, and board members Rufus Reed, Donald Baxter, Raymond Bennett, and Gary Davis, individually (referred to collectively as "the Board"), the defendants below. The Supreme Court concluded that the Commission filed this action seeking to get clarification, or an advisory opinion, as to whether the Board would be bound by the Open Meetings Act in the future. Because there was no justiciable controversy and the Commission sought only an advisory opinion in its complaint, the circuit court did not have subject-matter jurisdiction over this action. Accordingly, the Supreme Court dismissed this appeal with instructions that the circuit court vacate its judgment and dismiss the case, without prejudice. View "Walker County Commission et al. v. Kelly et al." on Justia Law

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The State of Alabama petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the presiding judge of the Montgomery Circuit Court to exercise his power of superintendence over the Montgomery District Court, and to order that court to vacate its order granting Kentory Brown's discovery request. In 2015, Brown was charged with third-degree burglary and second-degree theft of property. Brown filed a motion requesting the appointment of an attorney, a bond hearing, and a preliminary hearing. Thereafter, Brown moved for the State to turn over all discovery permitted by Rule 16.1, Ala. R. Crim. P.; the district court granted the discovery motion on the same day it was filed. However, the State failed to provide the requested discovery. In refusing to produce the requested discovery, the State argued (1) that the case was under active investigation and that nothing had been turned over to the district attorney's office by the Montgomery Police Department, (2) that the demand for discovery was premature because no indictment had been issued, and (3) that the district court had limited jurisdiction in felony criminal cases and, not being the trial court, could not order discovery. The district court indicated that it would issue an order requiring the State to produce the requested discovery, but the court proceeded with the preliminary hearing. On the same day as the preliminary hearing, the court found probable cause that the offenses had been committed and bound over both cases to the Montgomery County grand jury. When the district court issued the order to compel the State to produce the discovery, the State petitioned for mandamus relief. The Supreme Court granted the writ: “Simply, the jurisdiction granted district courts in felony cases is limited.” The district court here exceeded the scope of its authority when it entered a discovery order in this case, and the Montgomery Circuit Court erred in refusing to direct the district court to vacate its order. View "Ex parte State of Alabama." on Justia 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