Articles Posted in Education Law

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Defendants were members of the Birmingham Board of Education and the superintendent of the Birmingham City School System. Defendants appealed the circuit court’s judgment in favor of twenty-four "classified employees" of the Birmingham Board of Education ("the plaintiffs"). The trial court held that the plaintiffs' salaries had been miscalculated and awarded them monetary relief. The defendants argued, among other things, that they were entitled to immunity from the plaintiffs' claims. The Supreme Court agreed that the defendants were entitled to immunity. For that reason, the trial court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction, and its judgment was void. Accordingly, the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal. View "Woodfin v. Bender" 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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Teachers Becky Ingram and Nancy Wilkinson petitioned for a writ of mandamus to direct the Tuscaloosa Circuit Court to vacate its order denying their motion for a summary judgment based on State-agent immunity as to all claims asserted against them in an action filed by a female student, L.L., by and through her mother, and to enter a summary judgment in their favor. At the time of the incident at issue, L.L. was an 11-year-old eighth-grade student, suffering from spina bifida, and paralyzed from the waist down. She is confined to a wheelchair; she does not have full use of her arms and hands; she requires a urinary catheter; and she wears a diaper. L.L. also has significant mental impairment. The other eighth-grade student involved in the incident was described as having mental retardation. In 2007 when the incident underlying this case occurred, Ingram was the eighth-grade science teacher and Wilkinson was a teacher's aide assigned to Ingram's class. M.M. had a history of aggressive behavior toward teachers and other students. The incident in question happened when the teachers assisted L.L. in going to the bathroom. In a moment after lunch when students returned to classes, a moment passed when M.M. was unaccounted for, and L.L. was in the bathroom by herself. L.L. was discovered partially undressed and exposed, because M.M. had “messed with her.” L.L., by and through her mother, originally filed an action in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama against the Tuscaloosa City Board of Education, Sterling, and Ingram, alleging violations of her civil rights under 42 U.S.C. 1983; Title IX; Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973; and the Americans with Disabilities Act. She also brought several Alabama state-law claims. The federal district court entered a summary judgment in favor of all defendants on L.L.'s federal claims. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court found that by the written policy requiring that students be escorted back to their classrooms by teachers, Ingram reportedly did escort the students back to their classroom, and the Court found no basis for holding Wilkinson, who served merely as an aide to the classroom teacher, liable to the same degree as Ingram. Therefore the Court overturned the circuit court’s judgment with respect to Wilkinson, but declined to overturn the circuit court's decision to deny with respect to Ingram. View "Ex parte Ingram" on Justia Law

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In 2016, the Alabama High School Athletic Association ("the Association") and its executive director, Steven Savarese, filed petitions for a writ of mandamus challenging certain conflicting circuit court orders, issued by the Geneva and the Washington Circuit Courts. The Alabama Supreme Court issued an order granting the petitions and issuing the writs. In that order, the Supreme Court upheld a decision of the Association and declared the orders of the two circuit courts to be void. A.J.K. was a student at Washington County High School, and he played high-school football for the school during the 2016-2017 school year. During the high-school football playoffs, the Association determined that A.J.K. was ineligible to participate on the football team, and, because A.J.K. had participated for the school as an ineligible player, the Association removed the school from the playoffs. At the request of interested persons and entities, the Association's decision was reviewed by both the Geneva and Washington Circuit Courts. The Geneva Court issued an order directing that the Association's decision be enforced, but the Washington Circuit Court issued an order reversing the Association's decision and prohibiting the Association from removing Washington County High School from the playoffs. The Association and Savarese then filed petitions for writs of mandamus arguing that both the Circuit Courts improperly asserted jurisdiction, and asked the Supreme Court to void the orders. In this case, the requirements needed for the Circuit Courts to properly exercise jurisdiction were not present. The Supreme Court therefore granted mandamus relief, and the playoffs proceeded accordingly. View "Ex parte Alabama High School Athletic Assn." on Justia Law

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The State of Alabama Board of Education ("SBOE") and several of its executive directors petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Jefferson Circuit Court to vacate its order denying their motion to dismiss claims filed against them by respondent Sharper Adams and numerous employees of the Birmingham Board of Education (BBOE). Petitioners sought to have all claims dismissed with prejudice on immunity grounds. The BBOE failed to submit a financial-recovery plan to the SBOE by an April 2, 2012, deadline, and its minimum-reserve fund remained underfunded. Once complete, the financial-recovery plan included, among other things, a reduction in force ("RIF"), which required that the jobs of the respondents, among others, be eliminated. The circuit court determined that petitioners had violated the respondents' federal due-process rights by depriving them of their property interest without due process of law because, the circuit court concluded, the petitioners failed to comply with the procedural requirements of the Students First Act ("the SFA"). Specifically, the circuit court concluded that the SFA, a state law, required that the respondents receive notice of the fact that the implementation of the RIF would result in the termination of their employment positions with the BBOE and that the petitioners failed to give the respondents such notice. Accordingly, the circuit court concluded that the respondents' federal due-process rights had been violated. After review, the Supreme Court granted petitioners' petition in part, and denied it in part. The Court granted the petition with regard to claims against the individual administrators in their official capacities, finding they were entitled to immunity. The Court denied the petition with regard to claims agains the SBOE. View "Ex parte State of Alabama Board of Education et al." on Justia Law

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Kevin Kendrick, as director of compliance at Alabama State University (ASU), appealed the grant of summary judgment ordering him to provide The Advertiser Company d/b/a The Montgomery Advertiser ("the Advertiser") with redacted copies of each "request for reduction/cancellation of athletic financial aid" form submitted to the director involving the ASU football program since December 15, 2014. A reporter for the Advertiser initially sent a written request for the forms to the school's media relations director spoke. The media relations director to the reporter by telephone, advising the reporter that because the forms contained sensitive personal student information, the forms would be heavily redacted. The reporter emailed the media relations director stating that he would "take just the list of names of players whose scholarships have been revoked since December [2014]." Later that day, the media relations director, under advice of university counsel, informed the reporter he could not even provide a list of names, citing privacy concerns under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA). Legal counsel for the Advertiser and legal counsel for ASU exchanged correspondence regarding whether the financial aid forms were subject to disclosure. When the parties could not agree, the Advertiser filed a declaratory judgment suit and petition for a writ of mandamus to compel the records' disclosure. The Supreme Court, after review, reversed and remanded the grant of summary judgment: "We commend the trial court for its efforts to comply with both FERPA and the Open Records Act by requiring ASU to redact the requested financial-aid forms in the manner it directed. However, the release of the redacted financial-aid forms to the Advertiser would nonetheless disclose information that is protected by FERPA, and the Advertiser did not argue that the release of the redacted financial-aid forms is authorized by any other exception in FERPA. Because FERPA prohibits the very release of the redacted financial-aid forms and because FERPA takes precedence over the Open Records Act, the director is entitled to a summary judgment." View "Kendrick v. The Advertiser Company" on Justia Law

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Cathy Trimble and Ida Longmire petitioned for a writ of mandamus to direct the Perry Circuit Court to enter a summary judgment in their favor on certain claims asserted against them by Crystal Lewis, individually and by and through her mother and next friend, Mary Lewis. In October 2012, Crystal was a 12th-grade student at Francis Marion High School. The school system was covered by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which generally required a school district to provide reasonable accommodations to assist any child deemed to have a "disability" as that term is defined by the Act. Crystal had a medical condition that required the Perry County public school system to provide her with certain special accommodations. Longmire was an English teacher at Francis Marion High School and also served as committee-member secretary for the school's Section 504 special-accommodations meetings. Longmire prepared an updated report of the special accommodations required by Section 504 intended to inform particular teachers of the 504 accommodations for specific students. Longmire placed a copy of the report in sealed envelopes, which were to be hand delivered to the teachers. Longmire asked Trimble, acting principal of the school, about distributing the envelopes. Trimble assigned a student office aide the task of delivering the envelopes to the teachers. Rather than delivering the envelopes as instructed, the student office aide opened one of the sealed envelopes and read about Crystal's medical condition. She shared that information about Crystal's medical condition with other students. Crystal commenced this action against Longmire, Trimble, the student office aide, the Perry County Board of Education, "Francis Marion High School," and other school administrators. In her complaint, Crystal alleged that she has faced ridicule, harassment, and bullying as a result of the dissemination of her confidential medical information. She asserted claims of negligence, wantonness, nuisance, breach of contract, and invasion of privacy against each defendant and claims of negligent hiring, training, and supervision against all the defendants except the student office aide and Longmire. Longmire and Trimble moved for a summary judgment on the ground that they were entitled to State-agent immunity as to all claims asserted against them by Crystal. The Supreme Court determined that Longmire and Trimble were entitled to State-agent immunity. The trial court was ordered to vacate its order denying the motion for a summary judgment filed by Longmire and Trimble and to enter a summary judgment in their favor. View "Ex parte Trimble & Longmire" on Justia Law

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Before 2010, Azin Agah was employed at the University of South Alabama ("USA") as a professor engaged in scientific research. Agah's position was a tenure-track professorship. In early 2010, USA's vice president for Health Sciences, Ronald Franks, notified Agah that she would not be reappointed to her professorship because of alleged research misconduct. Agah sued Amber Bartlett and Julio Turrens. Bartlett was a student of Agah's, and she reported her concerns regarding Agah's research to Turrens, who was a professor and associate dean at USA. Agah sought compensatory and punitive damages against the defendants for the alleged theft and conversion of her computerized electronic-research data and the alleged theft and conversion of her animal-research logbook and intentional interference with a contractual property right arising out of the termination of her employment by USA. Agah also sued "R.T., W.B.D., R.F.," whose names were "known and unknown" and who, according to Agah, played a role in the theft of her research, "the defamation of the Plaintiff's character, and the intentional interference with the Plaintiff's property right of employment." After the lawsuit had been filed, and after a period of discovery, Agah gave names to the initials previously listed in her original complaint: Richard Talbott, William Brad Davis, and Ronald Franks. She would also add Dusty Layton and others who were involved in the review of Agah's research. The petitioners (Talbott, Ballard, and Layton) each filed a motion to dismiss. Each argued, among other things, that, with the exception of the conversion and detinue claim, Agah's remaining claims accrued in February 2010 when her employment was terminated, that Agah's amended complaint did not relate back to the original complaint, and that the remaining claims asserted in the amended complaint were time-barred. They also argued that they were entitled to immunity with respect to Agah's claims alleging tortious interference with contractual rights, tortious violations of her procedural and substantive due-process rights, and conversion and detinue, because, they argued, they were sued in their individual capacity and lacked the authority to grant Agah her requested injunctive relief. Following a hearing, the trial court denied all three motions. The Supreme Court reversed, finding that petitioners demonstrated a clear legal right to the dismissal of Agah's amended complaint against them. Agah's amended complaint did not relate back to her original complaint; thus, all of her claims against the petitioners, with the exclusion of her conversion and detinue claim, were barred by the statute of limitations. Furthermore, Agah's conversion and detinue claim against the petitioners in their individual capacities sought relief that the petitioners could not provide. Therefore, the trial court was directed to vacate its order denying the petitioners' motion seeking dismissal of the claims against them. View "Ex parte Richard Talbott et al." on Justia Law

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Brenda Franks was a former nontenured employee of the Choctaw County Public School System. Before the 2008-2009 school year, Franks had been employed as a full-time counselor in the school system for three years when her contract was not renewed. For the 2008-2009 school year, Franks was offered and accepted a part-time, temporary position as a vocational counselor starting in February 2009. She signed an employment contract acknowledging that the position was temporary. She also signed a "Letter of Understanding Concerning Temporary Employment." Franks worked pursuant to the contract for five months. The superintendent notified Franks, in writing, of her intention to recommend that the School Board members cancel the contract because of a "justifiable decrease in jobs in the system." The Board members approved the recommendation to cancel the contract. Franks did not contest the cancellation. In July 2010, the Board members posted a vacancy for a business-education teacher. Franks applied for the position, but was not hired. Franks sued the Board and Superintendent, asserting that the Board members had terminated her employment based on a reduction in force ("RIF"), but that she was entitled to be hired for the teaching position pursuant to the RIF policy. Franks sought to be instated to that position, with backpay, interest, and restoration of progress toward tenure. However, Franks died prior to the conclusion of this suit. Petitioners Ronald Hampton, Darry Phillips, Wayne Taylor, Isaac Johnson, and Sharon Sheppard, the individual members of the Choctaw County Board of Education, and Sue Moore, the superintendent of the Choctaw County Public School System sought an order compelling the Choctaw Circuit Court to vacate its denial of their summary-judgment motion and to enter summary judgment in their favor on the ground that the trial court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over the claims because of plaintiff's death and the petitioners' immunity. The Supreme Court concluded that the superintendent and the Board members demonstrated immunity and established a clear legal right to a summary judgment on the claims asserted against them in their official capacities. Therefore, the Supreme Court granted the petition and issued a writ directing the Choctaw Circuit Court to vacate its order denying the petitioners' summary-judgment motion and to enter a summary judgment on all the claims asserted against the superintendent and the Board members. View "Ex parte Ronald Hampton, et al." on Justia Law

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The Escambia County Board of Education terminated the employment of John Lambert, a tenured teacher, as the band director at Flomaton High School for leaving a pistol in his school office, which was locked. During the course of his teaching career and military service, Lambert was never charged with neglect of duty, insubordination, or failure to perform duties in a satisfactory manner. Before this incident, no school board had ever taken disciplinary action against Lambert, nor had Scott Hammond, the principal of Flomaton High School, ever disciplined Lambert. Before getting on a bus for a band trip where the students were waiting for Lambert to join them, Lambert placed a small bag on the desk in his office. The bag contained personal items, including clothing, tools, Lambertís checkbook, and 10 20-dollar bills in a folded bank envelope. The bank envelope was in the side pocket of the bag, which was zipped. Lambert placed the bag in his office because he did not want to leave it in his truck overnight while he was away on the trip. According to Lambert, he forgot that a loaded .380 automatic pistol and an additional loaded magazine were in a small case at the bottom of the bag. Both the case containing the pistol and the bag were zipped. The bag was black, and it was impossible to identify the contents of the bag from the exterior of the bag. Lambert, who had a permit for the pistol, testified that both his office door and the door to the band room were locked when he left for the band contest at approximately 8:00 a.m. Around noon that same day, a school custodian notified school administrators that a gun was found on school premises. Only Lambert, the custodian, and the principal had keys to Lambert's office. Lambert acknowledged the pistol was his, and discovered that $80 was missing from the bag. Lambert was placed on administrative leave, then later terminated. He appealed the Board's decision. The Court of Civil Appeals affirmed the decision of the hearing officer. The Supreme Court, however, reversed. "In light of the fact that this Court has resolved, as a material question of first impression, the standard of review a hearing officer is to apply to an employer's decision to terminate the employment of a tenured teacher, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Civil Appeals and remand the cause to that court to, in turn, reverse the judgment of the hearing officer and remand the cause to him with instructions to review the sanction imposed against Lambert under the arbitrary-and-capricious standard of review as that standard [was] articulated in this opinion." View "Ex parte John Lambert." on Justia Law