Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law

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Conecuh Timber, Inc., Ayres Forestry, Inc., BAR Forest Products, LLC, Dry Creek Loggers, Inc., Pea River Timber Company, Inc., Pineville Timber Co., LLC, and THE Timber Company, LLC ("TTC") (collectively referred to as "the wood dealers"), sued Alabama River Group, Inc. ("ARG"), and ARG's chairman and chief executive officer George Landegger, asserting various claims arising from transactions between the wood dealers and ARG's predecessors; the transactions were affected by a short-lived subsidy program administered by the United States Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency ("the FSA") known as the Biomass Crop Assistance Program ("BCAP"). Following a jury trial, a judgment was entered against the ARG defendants awarding the wood dealers $1,092,692.71 in compensatory damages and $7,000,000 in punitive damages. The trial court reduced the punitive-damages award by virtue of the statutory cap in section 6- 11-21, Ala. Code 1975, resulting in a total judgment of $6,395,489.37. The ARG defendants filed post-trial motions, which, after a hearing, the trial court denied. The ARG defendants appealed. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's judgment as to liability and compensatory damages. The Court affirmed the punitive damages awarded to Dry Creek Loggers, Inc., and to Conecuh Timber, Inc. With respect to the punitive-damages awards of the remaining wood dealers, the judgment of the trial court was affirmed on the condition that those wood dealers file a remittitur of the punitive-damages awards to a 3:1 ratio to the Supreme Court. Should any wood dealer fail to timely file the respective remittitur, the judgment as to that wood dealer would be reversed and the cause remanded for a new trial. View "Alabama River Group, Inc. v. Conecuh Timber, Inc. et al" on Justia Law

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Terrence Venter and the City of Selma ("the City") petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court to issue a writ of mandamus to direct the Dallas Circuit Court to vacate its February 20, 2017, order denying their motion for a summary judgment based on Venter's State-agent immunity and to enter an order based on that defense. In 2008, Aubrey Vick was killed when the vehicle he was driving collided with a fire truck being driven by Venter. Mary Vick, as administrator of Aubrey's estate ("the estate"), filed a wrongful-death complaint against Venter and the City, alleging Venter, "while acting in the line and scope of his employment with the City of Selma's fire department, and operating a vehicle owned by the City of Selma, negligently drove the vehicle into the vehicle owned by plaintiff's decedent." The estate claimed that the City was vicariously liable for Venter's alleged negligence. The complaint also alleged the City had negligently installed, maintained, and/or designed the traffic light at the intersection where the accident occurred. After review of the facts of this case, the Supreme Court determined the trial court properly denied Venter and the City's motion, and denied their petition. View "Ex parte Terrence Venter & City of Selma." on Justia Law

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Walker Brothers Investment, Inc., and James Walker (collectively, "Walker Brothers") appealed a circuit court order granting a motion for a summary judgment in favor of the City of Mobile ("the City"). In 2012, the City filed a complaint against Walker Brothers seeking a preliminary and a permanent injunction, alleging Walker Brothers owned a building, known as the Tobin Building, located in a historic district in downtown Mobile and that Walker Brothers had allowed the building to deteriorate in violation of the Mobile City Code. The City asked the circuit court to enter an order requiring Walker Brothers to "mothball" the Tobin Building in accordance with plans submitted by Walker Brothers and subsequently approved by the Board. Walker Brothers argued that the City, through the HDC and the Board, had treated Walker Brothers unequally from other developers of historic properties, and it alleged that the City had engaged in selective enforcement of the City's rules and regulations in a manner that "amounted to malicious prosecution and abuse of process." Walker Brothers filed an objection to the City's motion to dismiss, stating that it had intentionally left part of the mothballing plan uncomplete so that it could file a counterclaim against the City. The circuit court purported to grant the City's motion to dismiss later the same day. The Alabama Supreme Court dismissed Walker Brothers’ appeal, finding the City's "motion to dismiss" was a valid notice of dismissal pursuant to Rule 41(a)(1)(i), and, the circuit court was without the power to act on Walker Brothers' attempt to reinstate the City's action so that Walker Brothers could file a counterclaim. Accordingly, any order entered after the City filed its notice of dismissal was void, including the summary judgment in favor of the City that was the basis of Walker Brothers' appeal to the Supreme Court. View "Walker Brothers Investment, Inc. v. City of Mobile" on Justia Law

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The City of Selma ("the City") filed a petition for a writ of mandamus requesting the Alabama Supreme Court direct the Dallas Circuit Court to enter a summary judgment in its favor, based on State-agent immunity, as to claims Gregory Pettaway filed against it. Pettaway financed the purchase of a 2006 Nissan Armada sport-utility vehicle. Subsequently, Santander Consumer USA, Inc. ("Santander"), took over the loan. Santander contracted with Par North America, Inc. ("Par"), to handle repossessions for it and that Par used Central Alabama Recovery Systems ("CARS") to carry out the actual repossessions. Early on November morning in 2010, two men from CARS came to Pettaway's residence and told him that they were there to repossess the vehicle. By the time Pettaway got dressed and walked outside, the men had already hooked the Armada up to the tow truck and lifted it. Pettaway objected and telephoned the Selma Police Department; Officer Jonathan Fank responded to the call. After Officer Fank told Pettaway that the repossession was a civil matter and that he could not do anything because the vehicle was already hooked up to the tow truck, Pettaway again called the Selma Police Department to ask that Officer Fank's supervisor come to the scene. Pettaway filed a complaint against Santander, Par, CARS, and the City, alleging conversion, negligence, wantonness, and trespass claims. Although he stated conversion, negligence, wantonness, and trespass claims, Pettaway admitted that his only complaint against the City was that the officers told the repossession men to take the vehicle. The City admitted that officers were called to the scene at Pettaway's request to keep the peace but denied the remaining allegations as to the actions of its officers, raising the affirmative defense of immunity. The City argued the trial court erred in denying its motion for a summary judgment: at the time of the incident that formed the basis for Pettaway's complaint, Officers Fank and Calhoun were performing discretionary functions within the line and scope of their law-enforcement duties and that, therefore, they would be entitled to State-agent immunity. The Supreme Court concluded the City established that it has a clear legal right to a summary judgment in its favor based on State-agent immunity. View "Ex parte The City of Selma." on Justia Law

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The Alabama Department of Corrections ("ADOC") petitions this Court for a writ of mandamus directing the Montgomery Circuit Court to enter an order dismissing, on the ground of sovereign immunity the claims asserted against it by Jean and Scott Clowers. Jean Clowers sued ADOC, Isabella Cowan, and fictitiously named parties, seeking to recover damages for injuries she alleges she sustained as a result of a collision between a vehicle she was driving and an ADOC van driven by Cowan, who, at the time of the accident, was a work-release inmate in the custody of ADOC. Clowers alleged in her complaint that ADOC was vicariously liable for Cowan's alleged negligence and/or wantonness in running a red light and thus causing the accident. Clowers's husband, Scott, joined the action, claiming damages for loss of consortium. The Alabama Supreme Court determined ADOC established a clear legal right to the relief requested. Accordingly, the Court granted the petition for the writ of mandamus and directed the circuit court to dismiss the claims against ADOC based on the doctrine of sovereign immunity. View "Ex parte Alabama Department of Corrections." on Justia Law

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In October 2009, the Town of Summerdale filed a complaint against East Central Baldwin County Water, Sewer and Fire Protection Authority (ECBC) and the county commission, seeking a judgment declaring that the 2002 and 2008 amendments to ECBC's certificate of incorporation were void. The 2002 amendment expanded ECBC's geographic service area, and the 2008 amendment authorized ECBC to include sewer services in certain parts of its service area. Summerdale sought a declaration that the 2002 amendment and the 2008 amendment were void because the county commission's approval of the amendments was based on incorrect facts set forth in the applications for the amendments. In June 2012, the trial court entered a partial summary judgment declaring the 2002 amendment void. On appeal, the Court of Civil Appeals, by order, set aside the Rule 54(b) certification and dismissed the appeal because the partial summary judgment did not address the validity of the 2008 amendment. The trial court then entered a new order stating that its partial summary judgment also applied to the 2008 amendment. ECBC appealed. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court concluded the Court of Civil Appeals applied the wrong standard of review and that, therefore, its decision was reversed. The Supreme Court also concluded that the summary judgment was erroneous because: (1) it did not give appropriate weight to the county commission's findings as to the adequacy of the existing services; and (2) there appeared to be genuine questions of material fact that would have precluded summary judgment. View "Ex parte East Central Baldwin County Water, Sewer and Fire Protection Authority." on Justia Law

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Margaret Hulgan tripped and fell at a Fourth of July celebration at a City of Guntersville-owned Civitan Park. She sued the City, and the City claimed immunity under Alabama recreational-use statutes. The trial court denied the City’s motion to dismiss, and the City appealed. Finding that the City demonstrated it had a clear legal right to immunity, and that Hulgan failed to present substantial evidence to overcome the City’s right to immunity, the Alabama Supreme Court granted the City mandamus relief, and ordered the trial court to enter summary judgment in favor of the City. View "Ex parte City of Guntersville." on Justia Law

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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

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Laura Miller appeals from a summary judgment entered by the Jefferson Circuit Court ("the circuit court") in favor of the City of Birmingham ("the City"), Sandy Roberts, and Alice Crutchfield (collectively, "the City defendants"). Robert Miller, Laura's husband, was employed by the City as a firefighter. Unum Life Insurance Company of America ("Unum") issued a group life and accidental death and dismemberment policy. According to the summary of benefits, the policy included different life-insurance benefits for active employees and for retired employees. Under the policy, as an active employee, the City paid Robert's insurance premiums, thereby entitling him to a life-insurance benefit of $151,000. However, if Robert were to retire, he would be required to pay his life-insurance premiums and would be entitled to only a $50,000 life-insurance benefit. The summary of benefits specified that, in order to be eligible for a waiver of the life-insurance premiums, the insured had to "be disabled through your elimination period," which was nine months. In 2012, Robert was diagnosed with brain cancer and soon became unable to perform the duties of his job. Laura contended once the Millers learned of Robert's condition, they "sought to obtain information about [Mr. Miller's] life insurance benefit and all other benefits that might be available." The Millers did not have a copy of the policy or the summary of benefits at that time. The Millers and Ed Bluemly, Mrs. Miller's brother-in-law, met with Sandy Roberts, the assistant benefit administrator and the pension coordinator for the Jefferson County Personnel Board, and Alice Crutchfield, a personnel technician for the Jefferson County Personnel Board, to learn about the available benefits. The Millers asked for a copy of the policy, and there was a dispute over whether the Crutchfield gave the Millers a copy. The Millers ultimately sued the City for negligence with respect to the policy and collection of the benefits to which Robert was entitled. After review of this matter, the Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court's summary judgment in favor of the City insofar as the circuit court based its summary judgment in favor of the City on the City defendants' argument that the City was entitled to immunity from Laura's claim alleging wanton and reckless misrepresentation. However, the Court reversed the circuit court's summary judgment in favor of the City defendants in all other respects. The Case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Miller v. City of Birmingham et al." on Justia Law

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On January 23, 2015, Judge Callie Granade of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Alabama, issued an order declaring unconstitutional both the Alabama Sanctity of Marriage Amendment, and the Alabama Marriage Protection Act, as violating the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Thereafter, the federal court entered an injunction prohibiting the Alabama Attorney General from enforcing any Alabama law that prohibited same-sex marriage. The injunction was to allow time for an appeal of that decision to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. On January 27, 2015, Roy Moore, Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, sent a letter, on Supreme Court of Alabama letterhead, to then Governor Robert Bentley regarding Judge Granade’s orders, expressing "legitimate concerns about the propriety of federal court jurisdiction over the Alabama Sanctity of Marriage Amendment." In his three-page letter, Chief Justice Moore laid out his arguments as to why Judge Granade’s federal-court orders were not binding upon the State of Alabama, and ultimately directed Alabama’s probate judges not to recognize marriage licenses for same-sex couples. Months later, the Alabama Supreme Court released a per curiam opinion ordering the probate judges named as respondents to discontinue issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in compliance with Alabama law. Chief Justice Moore’s name did not appear in the vote line of this opinion, nor did he author or join any of the special writings. On June 26, 2015, the United States Supreme Court issued its opinion in “Obergefell,” holding that "same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry in all States" and that "there is no lawful basis for a State to refuse to recognize a lawful same-sex marriage performed in another State on the ground of its same-sex character." The Court of the Judiciary ultimately suspended Chief Justice Moore for his defiance of the laws. He appealed, and the Alabama Supreme Court determined it was “obligated to follow prior precedent” that it had no authority to disturb the sanction imposed by the Court of the Judiciary: “[b]ecause we have previously determined that the charges were proven by clear and convincing evidence and there is no indication that the sanction imposed was plainly and palpably wrong, manifestly unjust, or without supporting evidence, we shall not disturb the sanction imposed.” View "Moore v. Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission" on Justia Law