Justia Alabama Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Education Law
S.C. et al. v. Autauga County Board of Education et al.
The circuit court dismissed with prejudice a complaint relating to an alleged sexual assault of a minor at an Autauga County, Alabama school. Multiple requests for continuances were granted. The last such grant, the circuit court admonished it would not grant additional continuances "absent a showing of extraordinary circumstances." A few days later, plaintiffs moved for another continuance, citing a scheduling conflict involving mediation in a separate case in another county. The circuit court did not rule on the motion, instead issuing an order dismissing the case with prejudice. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the circuit court exceeded its discretion in dismissing S.C. and K.C.'s claims when there was no clear record of delay or contumacious conduct by the plaintiffs. "By contacting court personnel, the parties were attempting to find a date for the circuit court's convenience as well as to make sure that the case proceeded to the merits in a timely manner. . . . That most severe sanction in the spectrum of sanctions is not warranted in this case." View "S.C. et al. v. Autauga County Board of Education et al." on Justia Law
Anthony et al. v. Datcher, et al.
Cynthia Anthony, former interim president of Shelton State Community College; William Ashley, then-president of Shelton State; and Jimmy Baker, chancellor of the Alabama Community College System ("the ACCS") (collectively, "the college defendants"), appealed a circuit court judgment entered in favor of Khristy Large and Robert Pressley, current instructors at Shelton State, and Scheree Datcher, a former instructor at Shelton State (collectively, "the instructor plaintiffs"). Large and Pressley were instructors in the Office Administration Department ("OAD") at Shelton State; Datcher was an OAD instructor, now retired. Under college policy, an instructor was placed into one of three groups based on the instructor's "teaching area": Group A, Group B, or Group C. After an instructor was placed into a group, the instructor was ranked within the group for salary purposes according to criteria listed in the policy. The primary issue in this case was whether the instructor plaintiffs should be placed in Group A or Group B. In 2013, Joan Davis, then-interim president of Shelton State, concluded that Datcher and Pressley should have been reclassified from Group A to Group B, contrary to their credentialing document. Datcher and Pressley received higher salaries by being reclassified to Group B. When Large was hired to be an OAD instructor in 2013, she was also placed in Group B. In 2016, Chancellor Heinrich directed Anthony, then interim president, to review instructors' classifications to make sure they were properly classified. Anthony determined the instructor plaintiffs should have been classified as Group A, in accordance with the credentialing document. Thus, she reclassified the instructor plaintiffs to Group A, which resulted in decreased salaries. The trial court entered a judgment in favor of the instructor plaintiffs, concluding that they are properly classified in Group B under the policy and ordering that the instructor plaintiffs be placed in Group B. The trial court also awarded the instructor plaintiffs backpay for the period following Anthony's reclassification, during which they were classified as Group A instead of Group B. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the placement of OAD instructors in Group A was "plainly incorrect." Because the college defendants lacked discretion to classify the instructor plaintiffs as Group A, the claims for backpay against them in their official capacities were not barred by the doctrine of State immunity. When Anthony left her position as interim president, her successor was automatically substituted for her with respect to the official-capacity claims alleged against her; judgment should not have been entered against her. Therefore, judgment was reversed insofar as it was entered against Anthony. The judgment was affirmed in all other respects. View "Anthony et al. v. Datcher, et al." on Justia Law
Ex parte Wilcox County Board of Education
The Wilcox County Board of Education ("the Board"), and Board members Lester Turk, Donald McLeod, Joseph Pettway, Jr., and Shelia Dortch (collectively, "the Board members"), petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Wilcox Circuit Court to vacate its order denying their motion to dismiss the claims against them based on immunity and to enter an order granting that motion. In 2017, Kimberly Perryman, as guardian and next friend of her minor son, R.M., sued the Board, and J.E. Hobbs Elementary School principal Roshanda Jackson, and teacher Timothy Irvin Smiley. Perryman alleged in 2016, Smiley, "in a fit of rage and unprovoked, did lift the Plaintiff R.M. and slam him down upon a table, with such force as to break said table." Perryman further alleged in her rendition of the facts that "Smiley was in the habit of continuously and repeatedly using harsh, physical and otherwise inappropriate tactics on the students in his class" and that "Smiley's behavior was known or should have been known to the Principal Defendant and the School Board Defendant." Perryman asserted claims of assault and battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress against Smiley; claims of negligence and negligent/wanton hiring, training, retention, and supervision against Jackson; and a claim of negligence against the Board. Specifically, the negligence claim against the Board stated: "The ... Wilcox County Board of Education negligently breached [its] dut[y] to R.M. by failing to supervise, discipline or remove if necessary, the Defendant teacher [Timothy Smiley], thereby placing the Plaintiff R.M. in harm's way." The Alabama Supreme Court concluded the Board and the Board members in their official capacities were entitled to immunity from the state-law claims asserted against them; the Board members in their individual capacities were entitled to State-agent immunity from any state-law claims asserted against them; and that the Board members in their individual capacities were entitled to qualified immunity from the 42 U.S.C. 1983 claim asserted against them. Therefore, the circuit court should have dismissed Perryman's claims with respect to those parties, and to that extent the petition for mandamus relief was granted. However, the Board and the Board members in their official capacities were not entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity from the section 1983 claim, and the petition was denied with respect to that claim. View "Ex parte Wilcox County Board of Education" on Justia Law
LEAD Education Foundation et al. v. Alabama Education Association et al.
Alabama Public Charter School Commission members Mac Buttram, Charles Jackson, Lisa Williams, Melinda McLendon, Terri Tomlinson, Tommy Ledbetter, Melissa Kay McInnis, Chad Fincher, Henry Nelson, and Ibrahim Lee (collectively, "the Commission members"); LEAD Education Foundation ("LEAD"); and Ed Richardson, former interim State Superintendent of Education (with the Commission members, referred to collectively as "defendants"), separately appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of the Alabama Education Association ("the AEA"), Vicky Holloway, and Felicia Fleming (collectively, "plaintiffs"). In 2017, LEAD submitted an application to the Alabama Public Charter School Commission ("the Commission") seeking to open a public charter school beginning in the 2018-2019 school year. In 2018, the Commission conducted an open meeting, with seven out of nine members present. Neither Holloway, Fleming, nor an AEA representative was present at the meeting, and no private citizens voiced any opposition to LEAD's application. At the conclusion of the meeting, the Commission voted 5-1 to approve LEAD's application. On March 15, 2018, the Commission adopted a resolution approving LEAD's application. On March 5, 2018, plaintiffs filed a complaint seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against the Commission members, Richardson, and LEAD, seeking among other things, to invalidate the Commission's 5-1 decision to approve LEAD's application to open a public charter school. Plaintiffs alleged, among other things, defendants did not have a quorum vote, and that the Commission violated the ASCSOA by not rejecting what they called a "weak or inadequate charter application." Extending "great weight and deference" to the interpretation of the ASCSOA by the Commission as the implementing agency, the Alabama Supreme Court concluded the Commission's interpretation of the ASCSOA as requiring an 11th member only when the local school board is an authorizer to be reasonable. The local school board was not an authorizer at the time the Commission considered the charter-school application. Thus, the Commission did not violate the ASCSOA by failing to include an 11th member. Furthermore, the Court concluded that, to the extent the circuit court denied defendants' motions for summary judgment with respect to plaintiffs' claim that the Commission violated the ASCSOA by voting as a majority of a quorum, the circuit court's decision was incorrect as a matter of law. Accordingly, it was ordered that the judgment be reversed and a judgment be rendered in favor of defendants. View "LEAD Education Foundation et al. v. Alabama Education Association et al." on Justia Law
Ex parte Wilcox County Board of Education et al.
The Wilcox County Board of Education ("the Board"); Tyrone Yarbrough, individually and in his official capacity as the superintendent of the Board; and members of the Board Bernard Martin and Lester Turk, individually and in their official capacities, petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Wilcox Circuit Court to vacate its order denying their motion to dismiss and to enter an order dismissing with prejudice all claims against them. Reginald Southall was a teacher at Wilcox Central High School. During a meeting of the Board in April 2013, then Superintendent Yarbrough recommended the nonrenewal of Southall's probationary contract. Five Board members were present during the vote. Normally, the Board consists of six members. One seat on the Board, however, was vacant at the time of the April 2013 meeting, due to an order of the circuit court enjoining the Board from filling the vacant seat. Thus, the Board conducted business with only five members during the April 2013 meeting. Upon a motion to accept Yarbrough's recommendation, three Board members voted in favor of not renewing the contract, one member opposed the recommendation, and one member abstained. Southall filed a petition seeking a declaratory judgment, injunctive relief, and a writ of mandamus, in which he asserted that, because of the vacancy on the Board, the termination of his employment was the result of an illegal vote of the Board in violation of 16-8-4, Ala. Code 1975. Under the limited circumstances of this particular case, a majority of the five members was all that was required to accept Yarbrough's recommendation not to renew Southall's probationary contract. Therefore, the Supreme Court concluded the petitioners demonstrated a clear legal right to the order sought. The Supreme Court granted the petition for a writ of mandamus directing the Wilcox Circuit Court to vacate its order, and to enter an order dismissing the underlying action. View "Ex parte Wilcox County Board of Education et al." on Justia Law
Ex parte Decatur City Board of Education.
On or about March 22, 2016, Carrie Cabri Witt, a school employee, was arrested and charged with engaging in sex acts with students who were under the age of 19 years. At that time, she was also placed on paid administrative leave. Later that year, a grand jury returned a two-count indictment that charged her with engaging in a sex act or deviate sexual intercourse with two students who were under the age of 19 years. The superintendent of education for Morgan County recommended to the Board that Witt's teaching contract be terminated based on the allegations that she had engaged in inappropriate sexual activity with one or more students in the Decatur City School System. According to the Board, that conduct violated Board policy and corresponding professional standards. The Board notified Witt that it had scheduled a termination hearing for March 2, 2017. Witt filed a petition seeking a preliminary injunction staying the termination proceeding until after the disposition of the underlying criminal case, arguing that, because the basis for the termination proceeding was the underlying criminal charges, she would be forced to choose between the risk of self-incrimination if she testified in the termination proceeding or of losing her teaching contract if she did not testify in the termination proceeding. The Board moved to dismiss or deny the petition for a preliminary injunction; the trial court granted the petition for a preliminary injunction. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded the Board established that circumstances changed since the trial court entered the preliminary injunction staying the termination proceeding on February 28, 2017, so that the preliminary injunction or stay was no longer appropriate. Accordingly, the Supreme Court granted the petition for a writ of mandamus and direct the trial court to dissolve its February 28, 2017, injunction and to dismiss the petition upon which it was based. View "Ex parte Decatur City Board of Education." on Justia Law
Richardson v. Relf
Ed Richardson and Reginald Eggleston, individually and in their official capacities as interim superintendent of the Alabama Department of Education and chief administrative officer of the Alabama State Board of Education, respectively, and Gordon Stone, individually and in his official capacity as mayor of the Town of Pike Road (collectively referred to as "the defendants"), appealed an injunction staying the sale of Georgia Washington Middle School, located in Montgomery, and the sale of any other real property owned by, or the closure of any other schools operated by, the Montgomery County Board of Education. The Alabama Supreme Court determined plaintiffs did not have standing to bring suit, thus the trial court never acquired subject-matter jurisdiction over this case. Accordingly, the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal and ordered the trial court to dismiss the case. View "Richardson v. Relf" on Justia Law
Woodfin v. Bender
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
Ex parte Andrew Hugine, Jr., et al.
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
Ex parte Ingram
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