Justia Alabama Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative 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

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The Jefferson County, Alabama Board of Education ("the Board") and several of its employees sought to avoid the application of an occupational tax imposed by the City of Irondale ("City"). The Board and its employees argued that public-school employees were exempt from the occupational tax because, they contended they provided an essential government service. "But the importance of a state employee's role, even a role as important as a public-school employee, does not remove that employee's obligation to pay a duly owed occupational tax." The Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's judgment in favor of the City. View "Blankenship et al. v. City of Irondale" on Justia 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