Justia Alabama Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
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Chris and Suzanne Moore, as parents and next friends of Sydney Moore, a minor, appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of Pamela Tyson and Jennifer Douthit, two employees of the Huntsville City Board of Education ("the Board"), with regard to negligence and wantonness claims asserted against Tyson and Douthit by the Moores arising from injuries suffered by Sydney at her elementary school. Tyson was employed by the Board as a teacher at Goldsmith-Schiffman Elementary School. Douthit was employed as the principal of the school. Sydney was enrolled at the school as a third-grade student in Tyson's class. Tyson left the students unsupervised in the classroom while she went to the restroom. During that time, Sydney and another student in the class left their seats, and, according to Sydney, the other student caused her to fall and hit her head and face on a counter in the classroom. Sydney suffered injuries from her fall, including fractures of her left orbital bone, her eye socket, and her nose and entrapment of her eye. Sydney was admitted for treatment at a hospital and underwent surgery as a result of the injuries. THe Alabama Supreme Court determined the Moores did not demonstrate the trial court erred in entering summary judgment in favor of Tyson and Douthit based on immunity. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the trial court's judgment. View "Moore v. Tyson" on Justia Law

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The State appealed a circuit court order denying its request for a preliminary injunction against TY Green's Massage Therapy, Inc., Yuping Tang, and Jiao Liu a/k/a Serena Tang (collectively, "the defendants"). In September 2018, police received an anonymous tip that a customer had gone into the defendants' Madison location for a massage and that he had been touched inappropriately. As a result, the police started an investigation of TY Green's Massage Therapy that included, among other things, sending multiple men into the business locations undercover to get massages and conducting surveillance of the business locations and of the houses where the employees of the business were housed. During the investigation, some of the massage therapists touched clients in places they were not supposed to touch, according to Board of Massage Therapy guidelines; that some massage therapists straddled clients and/or touched the clients with the intimate parts of their bodies and/or touched the intimate parts of the clients' bodies; and that at least one massage therapist engaged in sexual acts, including intercourse, with a client. The investigation also revealed that the massage therapists lived in houses owned by the Tangs; that the Tangs provided transportation for the therapists each day to get to the business locations where they worked; and that the therapists normally worked 12 hours per day, 7 days per week. The State filed a complaint against TY Green's Massage Therapy, Inc. that included 41 counts, including first- and second degree human trafficking, and deceptive trade practices. Among other things, the State requested injunctive and declaratory relief, damages and civil penalties. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court concluded the trial court did not exceed its discretion in denying the State's request for a preliminary injunction. Accordingly, the trial court's order was affirmed. View "Alabama v. TY Green's Massage Therapy, Inc." on Justia Law

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Two attorneys filed a complaint to recover fees they billed in the course of representing indigent defendants in criminal cases, and sought to certify several classes of plaintiffs. Specifically, they asserted that State officials improperly refused to pay bills for fees that exceeded statutory payment caps. The trial court entered a class-certification order, and the State officials appealed. Because State immunity barred the attorneys' request for retrospective monetary relief, and because the attorneys lacked standing to bring a constitutional challenge on behalf of indigent defendants, the Alabama Supreme Court reversed and remanded. View "Butler v. Parks" on Justia Law

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Charles K. Breland, Jr., purchased land in Baldwin County, Alabama to build a housing subdivision. The subdivision he planned to construct required filling about 10.5 acres of wetlands, which the City of Fairhope and Baldwin County opposed. Breland and Breland Corporation (collectively, Breland) sued Fairhope, claiming that they had a vested right to fill the wetlands, that Fairhope's ordinances could not prevent them from filling the wetlands, that Fairhope had acted negligently regarding Breland's application for a land- disturbance permit, and that Breland's criminal citation for beginning work without a permit should have been expunged. The trial court rejected their claims following a nonjury trial. Breland appealed the trial court's judgment. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded Breland did not establish Fairhope's ordinances were invalid or that it had obtained a vested right to fill the wetlands on the property. Further, the Breland parties' argument that Breland's citation should have been expunged was premised on the notion that he was not obligated to comply with Fairhope's ordinances in existence at the time of his citation. Because the Supreme Court rejected that premise, the Breland parties' request for expungement was moot. And because this matter was not reversed or remanded for further proceedings and there was no other apparent remedy at this stage, the Breland parties' claim that the trial court erred by allowing The Battles Wharf/Point Clear Protective Association to intervene was moot. View "Breland v. City of Fairhope" on Justia Law

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Johnson & Johnson and other pharmaceutical defendants sought mandamus relief from an Alabama circuit court order that refused to transfer venue of the underlying lawsuit to the Jefferson County, Alabama circuit court, on grounds that venue in Conecuh County was not proper as to all plaintiffs, or alternatively, on the basis that convenience of the parties and/or the interest of justice required it. In 2019, the plaintiffs filed a complaint at the Conecuh Circuit Court against numerous defendants that, they averred, manufactured, marketed, distributed, and/or dispensed opioid medications throughout Alabama in a manner that was misleading, unsafe, and resulted in drug addiction, injury, and/or death to Alabama citizens. The complaint asserted claims of negligence, nuisance, unjust enrichment, fraud and deceit, wantonness, and civil conspiracy. The manufacturer defendants moved to transfer the case to Jefferson County, reasoning that because 8 of the 17 plaintiffs either had a place of business in Jefferson County or operated hospitals in Jefferson County or adjacent counties, logic dictated that a large percentage of the witnesses for those plaintiffs (i.e., prescribing doctors, hospital administrators, etc.) and their evidence were located in or around Jefferson County. After a review of the circuit court record, the Alabama Supreme Court determined defendants did not demonstrate a clear, legal right to transfer the underlying case from Conecuh to Jefferson County. Therefore, the petition was denied. View "Ex parte Johnson & Johnson et al." on Justia Law

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Mark Caton appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of the City of Pelham ("the City"), in his action alleging retaliatory discharge against the City. In approximately 2001, he was hired as a police officer by the City. In 2004, while he was still a police officer, Caton injured his neck when he was wrestling with a suspect. Caton did not receive treatment for his neck at the time, but the pain from the injury gradually increased. In April 2006, Caton transferred from the Police Department to the Pelham Fire Department. In 2012, Caton had a vertebrae-fusion surgery. In 2015 and 2016, Caton would have periods of excruciating pain leading to unexcused absences from work. He received reprimands and suspensions. Caton would consult with multiple doctors and pain specialists for rehabilitation therapy and pain management each time he was reinjured as a result of his work. In 2016, Caton was referred to Dr. Michelle Turnley, a physiatrist at the Workplace Occupational Health Clinic located on the campus of the University of Alabama at Birmingham ("UAB"). Dr. Turnley and Caton tell differing stories of an encounter at the UAB clinic September 2016. Caton testified that he asked Dr. Turnley for pain medication for the next time his pain became too intense, but Dr. Turnley reminded Caton that on his first visit he had not signed a pain contract and he had refused to provide a urine sample, so she declined to give him pain medication. Caton denied the doctor's account, but Dr. Turnley's clinical notes described her encounter with Caton as him being "fairly aggressive requesting pain medication... he was fairly loud and refused to leave the clinic and UAB police were called. ... He did not appear to have any functional deficits. Additionally, someone in the waiting room saw him sling the door open like he was about to 'pull it off the hinges'; therefore, obviously he has no strength deficits." In October, Dr. Turnley sent Caton a letter dropping him as a patient. By November, the City terminated Caton's employment, citing in part, the visit to Dr. Turnley's office. His unemployment application was denied because of his discharge from the City for misconduct. Caton sued, alleging procedural issues with the unemployment compensation hearing, adding a retaliatory-discharge claim. The trial court entered summary judgment in favor of the City, finding Caton had a full opportunity to litigate his retaliatory-discharge claim at the unemployment hearing, thus he was barred from raising it again by collateral estoppel. The Alabama Supreme Court determined application of collateral estoppel did not violate Caton's right to a trial by jury, and concurred estoppel barred his retaliatory-discharge claim against the City. "Caton does not present any other reason why the trial court's judgment should be reversed. Therefore, we affirm summary judgment in favor of the City." View "Caton v. City of Pelham" on Justia Law

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In case 1190468, Lewis and Ellen Richardson, and in case 1190469, Sherry Phelps (collectively, "the landowners") appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of Mobile County, Alabama in their respective actions against the County. The landowners asserted the County was responsible for flooding that damaged the landowners' personal property, allegedly decreased the value of their residential property, and made travel over the roads in their neighborhood unsafe and inconvenient. The trial court concluded the County owed no duty to remediate the flooding. To this, the Alabama Supreme Court agreed: the landowners did not demonstrate the County owed them a duty to prevent the flooding of their property. However, the Court concluded the County did owe a duty to keep its roads safe and convenient for travel, and the landowners could seek to enforce that duty. The Supreme Court therefore affirmed the trial court in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Richardson et al. v. County of Mobile" on Justia Law

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The Alabama Supreme Court granted certiorari review to Lance LeFleur, in his official capacity as director ("the director") of the Alabama Department of Environmental Management ("ADEM"), seeking review of the Court of Civil Appeals' decision in Smith v. LeFleur, [Ms. 2180375, October 11, 2019] ___ So. 3d ___ (Ala. Civ. App. 2019), in which the Court of Civil Appeals held that ADEM did not have the authority to amend Ala. Admin. Code (ADEM), Rule 335-13-4-.15, Rule 335-13-4-.22, or Rule 335- 13-4-.23 to permit the use of alternative-cover materials at landfills ("the alternative-cover-materials rules"). Appellants Ronald Smith, Latonya Gipson, and William Gipson all resided near the Stone's Throw Landfill and Arrowhead Landfills located in Tallapoosa County. Since appellants lived in their respective homes, ADEM permitted the operators of the Stone's Throw Landfill to use at least one material other than earth to cover solid waste deposited in the landfill. In their lawsuit, appellants sought a declaration that ADEM impermissibly adopted the Ala. Admin. Code (ADEM), allowing landfill operators to use alternative materials to cover solid waste in violation of the Solid Wastes and Recyclable Materials Management Act ('the SWRMMA'), Ala. Code 1975, sections 22-27-1 et seq., which, they argued, authorized the use of only earth to cover solid waste. The Court of Civil Appeals found appellants had standing to contest the alternative-cover-materials rules, and that ADEM exceeded its statutory authority. The Supreme Court concluded appellants did not present substantial evidence to establish standings. The trial court therefore properly granted the directors' motion for summary judgment, and properly denied appellants' motion for summary judgment. The Court reversed the Court of Civil Appeals which held to the contrary. View "Ex parte Alabama Department of Environmental Management." on Justia Law

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The Alabama Department of Revenue ("DOR") petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to order Judge Eddie Hardaway to recuse himself from an appeal challenging a decision of the Alabama Tax Tribunal in favor of Greenetrack, Inc. In 2009, the DOR determined Greentrack owed $75 million in sales taxes and consumer-use taxes for its electronic-bingo activities for the period from January 1, 2004, through December 31, 2008. In 2013, the Alabama Department of Revenue moved for Judge Hardaway to recuse himself, arguing that recusal was required because Judge Hardaway had recused himself two months earlier from another case on a related matter involving these same parties. In the present dispute, the DOR asked Judge Hardaway to recuse himself. This time the circuit court denied the request without providing any specific rationale or reasoning in its order, finding the "cases and authorities relied upon by the Alabama Department of Revenue do not support recusal under the facts and circumstances of this case." Finding the DOR demonstrated a clear, legal right to the recusal of Judge Hardaway in this matter, the Alabama Supreme Court granted its petition and directed Judge Hardaway to recuse himself. View "Ex parte Alabama Department of Revenue." on Justia Law

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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