Justia Alabama Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Election Law
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Frederick Burkes, Sr. appealed a circuit court judgment entered in favor of James Franklin in an action initiated by Burkes. In March 2020, Burkes defeated Franklin, the incumbent, in a primary election for the office of constable for District 59 in Jefferson County, Alabama. Burkes was unopposed in the general election and was declared and certified as the winner of the election on Friday, November 13, 2020. Thereafter, Franklin sent a letter to the Jefferson Probate Court informing the probate court that Burkes had not filed an official bond within 40 days of the declaration of Burkes's election to the office of constable. The probate court notified the Governor that the bond had not been posted, making the office vacated by operation of law. The Governor thereafter appointed Franklin to the office of constable for District 59. On April 22, 2021, Burkes, acting pro se, initiated this action, which he identified as a quo warranto action, with the circuit court. Burkes alleged in his complaint that he had been sworn into the office of constable on January 4, 2021, and that he had filed an official bond on December 31, 2020, which he contended was timely pursuant to § 36-23- 4, Ala. Code 1975. Also acting pro se, Franklin filed an "answer" in which he also moved for a "summary judgment." In summary, Franklin asserted that Burkes had vacated the office of constable by failing to comply with the pertinent statutory procedure concerning the payment of official bonds. Franklin requested, among other things, that Burkes be ordered to cease and desist all activities concerning the office of constable and that Burkes's quo warranto action be "dismissed with prejudice." The Alabama Supreme Court found that Burkes's failure to give the circuit court security for the costs of this action deprived the circuit court of subject-matter jurisdiction over the action. Because the circuit court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over this action, its judgment was void. Because a void judgment will not support an appeal, this appeal was dismissed. View "Burkes v. Franklin" on Justia Law

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Debbie Hiltz appealed, and Anita Bedwell cross-appealed a circuit court's judgment in an election contest declaring Bedwell, the contestee, the winner of an election for the Office of City Council, Place 1, in Rainbow City, Alabama. Although Hiltz indicates on appeal that one of her arguments might present a question of first impression for the Alabama Supreme Court, the Court found the cases cited by Bedwell in response demonstrated that the Supreme Court has already considered and rejected in previous cases arguments that were substantially similar to the alleged question of first impression raised by Hiltz. Moreover, Hiltz's other arguments were not supported with adequate authority demonstrating reversible error by the circuit court. In light of this, the circuit court's judgment was affirmed in Hiltz's appeal. According to Bedwell's appellate brief, the issues she raised in her cross-appeal were moot if the Supreme Court determined that Hiltz's appeal lacks merit. Thus, because Hiltz's appellate arguments indeed lacked merit, Bedwell's cross-appeal was moot. Therefore, Bedwell's cross-appeal was dismissed. View "Hiltz v. Bedwell" on Justia Law

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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

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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

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McArthur Sargent, chairman of The Waterworks and Gas Board of Dora, Alabama ("the Board"), in the name of the State of Alabama, appealed a circuit court order denying Sargent's petition for a writ of quo warranto seeking to declare Chris Edwards ineligible to hold office as a member of the Board because he was then-currently serving on the City Council of the City of Dora. The Alabama Supreme Court found that the restated and amended certificate of incorporation, which was controlling, did not include any prohibition against municipal officers serving on the Board. Accordingly, the Court held Edwards was duly appointed to serve as a member of the Board effective July 1, 2018, notwithstanding that he was already serving, as a member of the City Council of the City of Dora. View "State of Alabama ex rel. Waterworks and Gas Board of Dora, Alabama v. Edwards" on Justia Law

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William Veitch was a Republican candidate for district attorney for the 10th Judicial Circuit of Alabama. His request for a declaration was denied, and he petitioned for a writ of mandamus when the trial court refused to direct that the names of candidates running for the office of district attorney for the 10th Judicial Circuit be included not only on the ballot to be used in the primary election in the Birmingham Division of Jefferson County, but also on the ballot to be used in the primary election in the portion of Jefferson County known as the Bessemer Cutoff. The trial court dismissed Veitch's action based on its conclusion that it lacked subject-matter jurisdiction and, alternatively, based on the doctrine of laches. Veitch appealed. The Alabama Supreme Court found a jurisdiction-stripping statute did not deprive the trial court of jurisdiction and Veitch was not precluded by the doctrine of laches from bringing his action. At this point, the Court expressed no opinion on the merits of Veitch's arguments regarding the alleged repeal of the 1953 Act, its alleged unconstitutionality, or its alleged unconstitutional application. The trial court's judgment was therefore reversed and this case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Veitch v. Vowell" 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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The Town of Hayneville ("the Town") and Carol Scrushy petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Lowndes Circuit Court to vacate its July 7, 2017, order denying the Town and Scrushy's motion to dismiss what they characterized as an election contest filed by Darshini Bandy, Connie Johnson, and Justin Pouncey (referred to collectively as "the electors") and to enter an order dismissing the electors' action. After review, the Supreme Court found the circuit court had the power to enforce its prior orders and to void the May 23, 2017, special election, which, the court found, had not been ordered in strict compliance with the State's election laws. The July 7, 2017, judgment of the circuit court enforcing its prior orders concerning the August 2016 election and the special election to fill the vacant council seat in District A was a valid judgment. Accordingly, Scrushy and the Town were not entitled to the relief they sought. View "Ex parte Carol Scrushy & the Town of Hayneville." on Justia Law

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The Town of Hayneville ("the Town") and Carol Scrushy petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Lowndes Circuit Court to vacate its July 7, 2017, order denying the Town and Scrushy's motion to dismiss what they characterized as an election contest filed by Darshini Bandy, Connie Johnson, and Justin Pouncey (referred to collectively as "the electors") and to enter an order dismissing the electors' action. After review, the Supreme Court found the circuit court had the power to enforce its prior orders and to void the May 23, 2017, special election, which, the court found, had not been ordered in strict compliance with the State's election laws. The July 7, 2017, judgment of the circuit court enforcing its prior orders concerning the August 2016 election and the special election to fill the vacant council seat in District A was a valid judgment. Accordingly, Scrushy and the Town were not entitled to the relief they sought. View "Ex parte Carol Scrushy & the Town of Hayneville." on Justia Law

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Kelly Horwitz and Cason Kirby were both candidates in the August 27, 2013, election for District 4 of the Tuscaloosa Board of Education. Kirby was certified as the winner of the election. The certified vote totals were 416 votes for Kirby and 329 votes for Horwitz. Horwitz contested the results. The trial court entered a "Final Order Denying Contest" in which, among other things, it concluded that the affidavits established that no more than 70 illegal votes had been cast in the election. On November 24, 2013, Horwitz filed a motion to alter, amend, or vacate the trial court's judgment; that motion was denied by operation of law on February 24, 2014. Horwitz appealed the trial court's order denying her election contest. Based on the applicable law and facts, the Supreme Court concluded that "Phase I" of the election contest yielded a total of 159 ballots that should have been rejected. The judgment of the trial court was reversed and the case remanded back to the trial court for the conduct by the trial court of Phase II of the contest. View "Horwitz v. Kirby" on Justia Law

Posted in: Election Law