Justia Alabama Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Family Law
Ex parte Angela McClintock et al.
Petitioners-defendants Angela McClintock, Stephanie Streeter, and Christa Devaughn, all of whom were employees of the Jefferson County Department of Human Resources ("JCDHR"), petitioned for a writ of mandamus requesting that the Alabama Supreme Court direct the Jefferson Circuit Court to enter a summary judgment in their favor based on State-agent immunity. Charges arose from the death of K.W., a newborn who was removed from her home following domestic abuse allegations at the home of T.H., K.W.’s mother. At the time of K.W.'s death, McClintock was the director of JCDHR; Streeter was an assistant director of child welfare for JCDHR; and Devaughn was a child-abuse and neglect investigative worker for JCDHR. In June 2011, T.H. was charged with third-degree domestic violence when S.W., T.H.'s mother, filed charges against her for striking a sibling in the face. K.W. was born in December 2011. While T.H. was still in the hospital, T.H.'s grandmother reported to JCDHR that she had concerns that T.H. would not be able to care for her new baby, that T.H. had left her father's home, and that T.H. had a history of running away. After conducting an investigation, JCDHR allowed T.H. to be discharged from the hospital to the home of K.M., T.H.'s second cousin. K.H., T.H.'s father, filed a dependency complaint, seeking custody of K.W. In January 2012, Devaughn filed a dependency complaint as to T.H. and a request for a pickup order for K.W. K.W. was picked up and placed in the foster home of Dennis Gilmer on that same date. K.W. died on February 24, 2012, while in foster care. K.H. and T.H. filed a complaint against the petitioners, Brandon Hardin, Dennis Gilmer, and JCDHR, stating claims of wrongful death of a minor, negligence, wantonness, and negligent/wanton training and supervision. The Alabama Supreme Court found petitioners established they had a clear legal right to summary judgment in their favor based on State-agent immunity. Accordingly, the Supreme Court granted their petition for mandamus relief. View "Ex parte Angela McClintock et al." on Justia Law
Ex parte D.B. and K.S.
D.B. and K.S. petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for certiorari review of the Court of Civil Appeals' judgment affirming, without opinion, a custody-modification judgment awarding K.S.B. ("the mother") custody of her daughter ("the child"). D.B., the child's maternal grandfather, and K.S., the child's maternal stepgrandmother, petitioned for custody of the child after the mother telephoned the grandfather in May 2010 and asked him to come get the child because she was "being mean" to the child. The mother did not appear at the hearing on the grandparents' custody petition, and the juvenile court awarded custody of the child to the grandparents in August 2010. Based on the juvenile court's custody judgment in favor of the grandparents, in order to succeed in her request to modify custody, the mother was required to meet the well settled custody-modification standard set forth in Ex parte McLendon, 455 So. 2d 863 (Ala. 1984). The mother conceded the grandparents had taken good care of the child, and she expressed no concerns in the juvenile court regarding the grandparents as custodians of the child; the mother simply testified that she believed that she could take care of the child and love her just as well as the grandparents. The Supreme Court held Ex parte McLendon required more. The Court found the evidence failed to support the juvenile court's judgment modifying custody was "plainly and palpably wrong." The judgment of the Court of Civil Appeals affirming the juvenile court's judgment modifying custody of the child was reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings. View "Ex parte D.B. and K.S." on Justia Law
Ex parte Terry
Yolanda Terry, a social worker employed by the Macon County Department of Human Resources ("DHR"), petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Macon Circuit Court to vacate its order denying her motion for a summary judgment based on State-agent immunity and to enter a summary judgment in her favor based on that defense. DHR assigned the case of Mildred Collins to Terry. Collins was living with her daughter Cherri Forrester (her legal guardian). Collins' grandson Ronald Person, suspected Forrester was abusing Collins. After an investigative visit, Terry concluded Collins was not in imminent danger, and no indication that legal intervention was needed to have Collins removed from Forrester's home. Collins died two days after the visit. The death certificate indicated the cause of death as "blunt force abdominal injuries with hematoma." The personal representative of Collins' estate sued Terry for failing to follow DHR policy that allowed Collins to remain in Forrester's custody. After review of the record, the Supreme Court concluded the estate failed to meet its burden of presenting substantial evidence that Terry acted beyond her authority by failing to discharge her duties, i.e., investigating the report that Collins was being abused, pursuant to DHR policy and procedures, because Terry complied with DHR policy and procedures concerning unannounced investigative visits, the need for involving law enforcement, private interviews of clients, inspections of the affected areas of a client's body, and inspections of the entire home. The Court found Terry was entitled to State-agent immunity, and granted her writ application. View "Ex parte Terry" on Justia Law
Ex parte Marshall County Department of Human Resources.
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
Ex parte J.W.B. and J.J.B.
D.W. and J.B. were married on January 25, 2011, and divorced over a year and a half later (June 14, 2012). Testimony at trial indicated that a child was conceived in late September or early October 2012, and born on June 17, 2013. J.B. did not disclose the identity of the child's biological father at delivery. D.W. did not register his intent to claim paternity of the child, pursuant to the Alabama Putative Father Registry Act ("PFRA"). Immediately after the birth of the child, J.B. placed the child for adoption. On June 19, 2013, the adoptive parents filed a petition in the probate court seeking to adopt the child. Subsequent to the filing of the petition, the adoptive parents informed the probate court that J.B. and D.W. had applied for a marriage license a few months before the child's birth and that "[t]he natural mother's ex-husband [D.W.] will need to be served with a petitioner's notice of hearing because there is concern that [D.W. and J.B.] may have [been] married" when the child was born. D.W. received notice of the impending adoption, and intervened to stop it. The adoptive parents moved to dismiss D.W.'s adoption contest on the ground that he had failed to register pursuant to the PFRA before or within 30 days of the child's birth. Summary judgment was denied, and trial proceeded on whether D.W. and J.B. were common-law married in June 2013 when the child was born. The probate court ultimately found that D.W. and J.B. were not common-law married at the time the child was born. D.W. appealed the probate court's judgment to the Court of Civil Appeals. In a two-judge opinion, the Court of Civil Appeals affirmed the probate court's judgment in part; reversed it in part; and remanded the case for further proceedings. The appellate court determined that D.W. preserved for appellate review his contention that "he had demonstrated the requisite commitment to fatherhood before the birth of the child such that he retained a constitutional right to object to the adoption of the child by [the adoptive parents] regardless of the operation of the PFRA or the AAC [Alabama Adoption Code]," and that remand was required for the probate court to determine "whether [D.W.] had grasped his constitutionally protected 'opportunity interest' by his prebirth conduct toward [J.B.] and the child and his postbirth actions to protect his legal relationship with the child." The Supreme Court rejected that D.W. preserved his constitutional argument, and reversed the Court of Civil Appeals' decision. View "Ex parte J.W.B. and J.J.B." on Justia Law
Ex parte K.R.
In her application for rehearing, K.G.S. did not argue that the Alabama Supreme Court overlooked or misapprehended any point of law or fact in holding that J. Michael Druhan, a Mobile attorney, had been improperly appointed to hear the case after the recusal of Judge Don Davis. Instead, K.G.S. moved the Court to "consider the Affidavit of Probate Judge Don Davis and its attached Order of the Presiding Judge of the Circuit Court of Mobile County, Alabama date April 28, 2010." K.G.S. had an "obligation to attach to her petition '[c]opies of any order or opinion or parts of the record that would be essential to an understanding of the matter set forth in the petition.'" But the Supreme Court found K.G.S. failed to do so, omitting the April 28, 2010 order. The Supreme Court overruling K.G.S.'s application for review: "K.G.S. may not now, for the first time in her application for rehearing, present additional documentation in support of her argument." Furthermore, the Court found K.G.S. did not present any evidence indicating that Judge Davis ever certified to the presiding judge of the circuit court his inability to serve in the case. "Therefore, even if we were to consider the new documents presented by K.G.S., she has not demonstrated that this Court overlooked or misapprehended any point of law or fact." View "Ex parte K.R." on Justia Law
Ex parte K.R.
K.R. petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Mobile Probate Court to set aside its interlocutory order: awarding temporary custody of her biological child, E.R., to K.G.S. during the pendency of the underlying adoption proceedings; to remove J. Michael Druhan, who was serving as a temporary probate judge in this case; and to set aside the probate court's "gag" order concerning the adoption proceedings. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part. "We have not been able to locate any law giving the clerk of the probate court the authority to appoint a temporary probate judge. As a result, Druhan was never properly appointed as a temporary probate judge. Accordingly, Druhan had no authority to enter the orders he entered, and any order entered by Druhan is void." K.R.'s petition insofar as it challenged the interlocutory order awarding custody of E.R. to K.G.S. was denied. The petition was granted insofar as it challenged Druhan's appointment as a temporary probate judge. View "Ex parte K.R." on Justia Law
Posted in: Family Law
Ex parte State of Alabama ex rel. Alabama Policy Institute
On February 11, 2015, the State of Alabama on relation of the Alabama Policy Institute and the Alabama Citizens Action Program initiated this case by filing an "Emergency Petition for Writ of Mandamus." The petition sought a writ of mandamus "directed to each Respondent judge of probate, commanding each judge not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and not to recognize any marriage licenses issued to same-sex couples." By this order, the Alabama Supreme Court dismissed all pending motions and petitions with regard to this matter. View "Ex parte State of Alabama ex rel. Alabama Policy Institute" on Justia Law
Johnson v. Reddoch
Jeffrey Johnson, by a through his aunt and next friend, Sue Thompson, appeals from the Mobile Circuit Court's dismissal of his action against Jim Reddoch, in his official capacity as commissioner of the Alabama Department of Mental Health ("ADMH"), Beatrice McLean, in her official capacity as director of Searcy Hospital, and McLean and fictitiously named defendants 1 through 8 in their individual capacities. Johnson also appealed the circuit court's quashing of a subpoena served on ADMH seeking records pertaining to Johnson. Johnson was a 40-year-old patient at Searcy who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. According to the complaint, Johnson's condition was so severe that Johnson was "required to be under constant 2-on-1 supervision by [ADMH] employees at Searcy Hospital." This supervision was supposed to be in place 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In 2012, Johnson was severely beaten in his ward at Searcy. He collapsed and he was taken to University of South Alabama Hospital. Medical testing showed that, as a result of the beating, he suffered severe and life-threatening injuries, including internal bleeding, severe bruising to his face and body, a fractured nose, and several broken ribs. Johnson alleged Searcy's mental-health workers failed to keep him under the required constant supervision and failed to immediately report his injuries. After review of his complaint, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part. The circuit court correctly dismissed Johnson's claims against Reddoch and McLean in their official capacities. The circuit court erred in dismissing Johnson's claims against McLean and the fictitiously named defendants in their individual capacities. The case was remanded for further proceedings, including consideration of Johnson's subpoena for discovery served on ADMH. View "Johnson v. Reddoch" on Justia Law
Ex parte E.S.
B.O.S. ("husband") and E.S. ("wife") began living together in 2005. They had one child together, a daughter, B.T.S., born in 2006. The couple married in 2007. The husband, the wife, and the child lived in a residence next door to the residence of the child's paternal grandfather, O.S. and his wife, J.A.S. The grandparents spent considerable time with the child and that the child often visited overnight with the grandparents. At some point in 2005 (during the wife's pregnancy) and again on at least one occasion in 2007, the grandfather proposed to "adopt" the child, stating to the wife that "nothing would ever change [and] that [the wife] would always be [the child's] mother." In August 2007, the husband and the wife agreed to the grandfather's proposal for a "paper adoption" of the child. In January 2010, the husband and the wife separated. The wife took the child, and the wife and the child began residing with the wife's parents. The husband filed a divorce complaint against the wife, requesting that the child be removed from the physical custody of the wife and returned to "the adoptive parents, i.e., the grandparents, immediately." The grandparents moved to intervene in the divorce action, asserting that they were the child's adoptive parents and seeking immediate pendente lite physical custody of the child. On February 4, 2010, the trial court entered an order allowing the grandparents to intervene in the action, granting their request for pendente lite physical custody of the child, and directing the wife to return the child to the grandparents. In this case, the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Civil Appeals insofar as it directed the trial court to dismiss the wife's action against the grandparents for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. The Court directed the Court of Civil Appeals to enter a judgment remanding the case to the trial court and directing the trial court to transfer the wife's action to the probate court. View "Ex parte E.S." on Justia Law
Posted in: Family Law