Justia Alabama Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
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Two appeals were consolidated for the purposes of this opinion: case no. 1180675 ("the Lowndes County case"), the State appealed the Lowndes Circuit Court's order granting the motions to dismiss filed by Epic Tech, LLC; White Hall Enrichment Advancement Team d/b/a Southern Star Entertainment; White Hall Entertainment; and the White Hall Town Council (collectively, "the Lowndes County defendants"); case no. 1180794 ("the Macon County case"), the State appealed the Macon Circuit Court's order granting the motions to dismiss filed by Epic Tech, LLC, and K.C. Economic Development, LLC, d/b/a VictoryLand Casino ("KCED")(collectively, "the Macon County defendants"). In 2017, the State sued the Lowndes County defendants asserting a public-nuisance claim. In a second amended complaint, the State asserted it was seeking declaratory and injunctive relief to abate a public nuisance of unlawful gambling through continued operation of illegal slot machines and other "unlawful gambling devices." The Lowndes County defendants moved to dismiss, raising, amongst other defenses, that the State failed to join the operators of two Wind Creek casinos. The Lowndes Circuit Court ultimately granted the motion to dismiss, finding it did not have subject-matter jurisdiction to grant the relief the State requested. The State also sued defendants in Macon County Circuit court, again alleging public nuisance from operation of illegal slot machines. Again, the State requested declaratory and injunctive relief. The Macon County court likewise dismissed on grounds it lacked subject-matter jurisdiction.The State argued on appeal to the Alabama Supreme Court that the circuit courts erred in concluding they lacked subject matter jurisdiction over their respective cases. The Supreme Court concurred with the State and reversed the circuit courts. The matters were remanded for further proceedings. View "Alabama v. Epic Tech, LLC, et al." on Justia Law

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Advanced Disposal Services South, LLC, Advanced Disposal Services Alabama Holdings, LLC, Advanced Disposal Services, Inc., Tallassee Waste Disposal Center, Inc., and Stone's Throw Landfill, LLC (collectively, "Advanced Disposal"), petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to order the Macon Circuit Court ("the trial court") to dismiss, an action filed by Jerry Tarver, Sr., because, they claimed, the action cannot proceed in the absence of the City of Tallassee ("the City") as a party. In May 2017, Tarver sued Advanced Disposal, the utilities board, and fictitiously named defendants seeking monetary damages as well as injunctive relief for exposure to allegedly contaminated water that had been illegally "discharged" into the river and ultimately sold by the utilities board for consumption by its customers. The complaint alleged Advanced Disposal unlawfully discharged its leachate into the City's stabilization pond, knowing that the leachate could not be properly treated before the resulting effluent was discharged into the river. Tarver also alleged Advanced Disposal discharged "pollutants" into various creeks and tributaries flowing into the river in violation of its storm-water discharge permit. The Alabama Supreme Court denied relief, finding that this action could proceed in equity and good conscience without the City. "The City's role in the underlying dispute potentially makes the City a joint tortfeasor with Advanced Disposal, the utilities board, and MCWA; it does not, however, make the City an indispensable party under the particular facts of this case." View "Ex parte Advanced Disposal Services South, LLC" on Justia Law

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Laura Casey appealed a circuit court judgment entered against Chris "Chip" Beeker, Jr., Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh, and Jeremy Oden ("the commissioners"), in their official capacities as commissioners of the Alabama Public Service Commission ("the PSC"). In her complaint, Casey asserted that a gathering of the commissioners at a public hearing held by the PSC in November 2019 constituted a "meeting" under the Alabama Open Meetings Act, section 36-25A-1 et seq., Ala. Code 1975 ("the Act"). She alleged that proper notice of the hearing was not given as required by the Act and that she was prohibited from recording the hearing in violation of the Act. The trial court, however, ruled that a "meeting" had not occurred at the hearing and that the Act therefore does not apply. Finding no reversible error, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed. View "Casey v. Beeker" on Justia Law

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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

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Defendants below, Sam Smith, director of the Calhoun County Department of Human Resources ("CCDHR"); Pamela McClellan, an adult-protective-services caseworker with CCDHR; and Teresa Ellis, McClellan's supervisor (referred to collectively as "petitioners"), petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the circuit court to vacate its order denying their motion for a summary judgment in a wrongful-death action filed by William David Streip ("David"), as the personal representative of the estate of his sister, Jerrie Leeann Streip ("Leeann"), and to enter a summary judgment in their favor on the basis of immunity. Leeann suffered from numerous serious physical, mental, and emotional conditions since birth; those conditions were exacerbated by brain surgery in 2013. Following that surgery, Leeann was released to a nursing-home facility before being discharged into the care of her father. Leeann subsequently reported to a CCDHR social worker that her father had raped her. As a result, an adult-protective-services case was opened under Alabama's Adult Protective Services Act ("the APSA"), and McClellan was assigned as Leeann's caseworker. Upon the conclusion of the ensuing investigation, CCDHR removed Leeann from her father's care. Leeann was placed at a Leviticus Place, a boarding home where she remained for approximately one week. There were no concerns about Leeann's well being, but McClellan was notified Leann had left Leviticus Place and did not return. A body located in Birmingham was later identified as Leeann's; her cause of death remains "undetermined." After review, the Alabama Supreme Court determined petitioners established they were entitled to statutory immunity. They had a clear legal right to a summary judgment in their favor on that ground. The trial court was accordingly directed to vacate its order denying the petitioners' motion for a summary judgment and to enter a summary judgment in the petitioners' favor. View "Ex parte Sam Smith" on Justia Law

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Jay Campbell, on behalf of himself and a certified class of "other persons similarly situated," appealed the grant of summary judgment on claims challenging the constitutionality of two municipal taxes adopted in 2013 by the City of Gardendale in connection with Gardendale's planned creation of a municipal school system. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court concluded Campbell did not demonstrate that the Gardendale school taxes were rendered invalid by operation of Local Amendment 14. The Court therefore pretermitted discussion of the alternate arguments for affirmance presented by Jefferson County and Smallwood. The judgment of the trial court was affirmed. View "Campbell v. City of Gardendale" 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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Bernadine Odom appealed a summary judgment entered in favor of several supervisory officers in the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, Department of Public Safety, Highway Patrol Division, in a lawsuit based on the misconduct of a state trooper. In 2015, Odom was involved in an automobile accident. State Trooper Samuel Houston McHenry II responded to the scene. Odom's vehicle was inoperable, so after McHenry investigated the accident, he gave her a ride, ostensibly to a safe location. At 12:12 a.m., he radioed his post dispatcher that he was en route with Odom to an exit about 10 miles from the accident scene. He did not mention his vehicle's mileage as of the time he left the accident scene. Instead of taking Odom directly to the exit, McHenry took her to a wooded area and sexually assaulted her. At 12:21 a.m., he radioed that he was dropping Odom off at the exit, and at 12:25 he radioed that he had completed the drop-off. Within two days, McHenry's employment was terminated based on his misconduct. McHenry was charged with first-degree rape, and he pleaded guilty to sexual misconduct. Odom then filed this civil lawsuit against McHenry and law enforcement officials alleging violations of various law-enforcement policies and procedures, and well as failing to properly train and supervise McHenry. Because Odom could not demonstrate the supervisory defendants were not entitled to State-agent immunity, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed judgment in their favor. View "Odom v. Helms et al." on Justia Law

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Alabama imposed a license or privilege tax on tobacco products stored or received for distribution within the State ("the tobacco tax"). Under Alabama law, the Department of Revenue could confiscate tobacco products on which the tobacco tax had not been paid. Panama City Wholesale, Inc. ("PCW") was a wholesale tobacco-products distributor located in Panama City, Florida, and owned by Ehad Ahmed. One of PCW's customers, Yafa Wholesale, LLC ("Yafa"), was an Alabama tobacco distributor owned by Sayeneddin Thiab ("Thiab"). On October 10, 2018, Hurricane Michael destroyed the roof on PCW's warehouse. Department surveillance agents observed observed one of Thiab's vehicles being unloaded at two of the recently rented storage units. The day after that, agents observed one of Thiab's delivery vehicles being loaded with tobacco products from a recently rented unit following the storm. On October 23, 2018, the Department confiscated 1,431,819 cigars from four storage units leased by persons connected to Yafa and Thiab. It is undisputed that the tobacco tax had not been paid on the cigars. Ahmed filed an action against Vernon Barnett, as Commissioner of the Department, seeking a judgment declaring that the cigars were Ahmed's and that they were not subject to confiscation. The case was transferred to the Jefferson Circuit Court, PCW was substituted for Ahmed, and the parties were realigned to make the Commissioner of the Department the plaintiff and PCW the defendant in a civil forfeiture action. On PCW's motion, the circuit court entered a summary judgment in PCW's favor, ruling that the Commissioner failed to present substantial evidence that the cigars were in the possession of a retailer or semijobber, as the court believed was required by the confiscation statute. The Commissioner appealed. A divided Alabama Supreme Court reversed, concluding the circuit court erred in interpreting the confiscation statute to apply only to untaxed tobacco products in the possession of retailers and semijobbers, and because the Commissioner presented substantial evidence that the cigars were subject to confiscation under a correct interpretation of the statute, the Court reversed summary judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "Alabama Department of Revenue v. Panama City Wholesale, Inc." on Justia Law

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Justin Craft and Jason Craft appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of members of the Lee County Board of Education ("the Board") and the Superintendent of the Lee County Schools, Dr. James McCoy. During July, August, and September 2016, the Board hired S&A Landscaping to perform three projects of overdue lawn maintenance at Lee County schools. S&A Landscaping was owned by an aunt by marriage of Marcus Fuller, the Assistant Superintendent of the Lee County Schools. The Crafts, who were employed as HVAC technicians by the Board, questioned the propriety of hiring S&A Landscaping for those projects. The Crafts expressed their concerns with various current and former Board members and individuals at the State Ethics Commission ("the Commission") and at the Alabama Department of Examiners of Public Accounts. Although an individual at the Commission instructed Jason Craft on how to file a complaint with the Commission, neither of the Crafts did so. During this time, McCoy, Fuller, and others suspected various maintenance employees, including the Crafts, of misusing their Board-owned vehicles and misrepresenting their work hours. To investigate their suspicions, the Board had GPS data-tracking devices installed in Board-owned vehicles being used by employees to monitor their use and the employees' activities. A review of the GPS data indicated that certain employees, including the Crafts, had violated Board policy by inappropriately using the Board-owned vehicles and by inaccurately reporting their work time. McCoy sent letters to the Crafts and two other employees, advising them that he had recommended to the Board the termination of their employment. The letters detailed dates, times, and locations of specific incidents of alleged misconduct. The Crafts were placed on administrative leave, then returned to work to custodial positions that did not require them to use Board-owned vehicles. The Crafts appealed their job transfers, arguing they had not been afforded due process. An administrative law judge determined the Students First Act did not provide an opportunity for a hearing before the imposition of a job transfer. The Crafts thereafter sued the Board members and McCoy, seeking declaratory relief based on alleged violations of the anti-retaliation provision of section 36-25-24, Ala. Code 1975, arguing that they were punished for contacting the Commission. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the anti-retaliation protection was triggered only when an employee filed a complaint with the Commission. Because it was undisputed the Crafts did not file a complaint, they were not entitled to those statutory protections. Therefore, summary judgment in favor of the Board and McCoy was affirmed. View "Craft v. McCoy et al." on Justia Law