Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
Jerry Nix appealed the entry of summary judgment which found he was an adult in need of protective services under the Adult Protective Services Act of 1976. The Franklin County Department of Human Resources ("DHR") alleged that Nix, then 78 years old, was an "adult in need of protective services." The petition claimed that Nix had not been taking his medications for diabetes and hypertension and that he had been the victim of a postal scam costing him thousands of dollars. DHR further alleged that Nix urgently required nursing-home care to protect his health and safety and that, otherwise, Nix was in immediate danger. DHR requested emergency-protective placement for Nix and that the court set a hearing to determine Nix's need for protective services. The trial court thereafter ordered DHR to provide protective services for Nix, appointed a guardian ad litem to represent Nix in the proceedings, and appointed Nix's son, Darren Nix, as conservator of Nix's estate and guardian of his person. While the Alabama Supreme Court did not question that all involved in this case desired the best for Nix, it was troubled by the "apparent lack of urgency and attention to statutory formalities in the prosecution of this petition for protective services," finding the trial court granted DHR's emergency petition on December 7, 2015; Nix was entitled to a hearing within 30 days. Seven months passed before the trial court entered the summary judgment finding Nix to be an adult in need of supervision, and fifteen months had passed since Nix was removed from his home. "It may very well be that an assisted-living facility is the appropriate and lawful protective placement for Nix, but he is still entitled to all the procedural safeguards due him under the Act, including a timely adjudication of his need for such services. Indeed, without a faithful adherence to the Act and the due process protections owed to each person protected by the Act, we risk unnecessary and wrongful deprivation of liberty and property. For those 'protected persons' dispossessed of their house and their assets, this may seem a fate far worse than a foreign-lottery postal scam." View "Nix v. Franklin County Dept. of Human Resources" on Justia Law

by
Defendants were members of the Birmingham Board of Education and the superintendent of the Birmingham City School System. Defendants appealed the circuit court’s judgment in favor of twenty-four "classified employees" of the Birmingham Board of Education ("the plaintiffs"). The trial court held that the plaintiffs' salaries had been miscalculated and awarded them monetary relief. The defendants argued, among other things, that they were entitled to immunity from the plaintiffs' claims. The Supreme Court agreed that the defendants were entitled to immunity. For that reason, the trial court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction, and its judgment was void. Accordingly, the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal. View "Woodfin v. Bender" on Justia Law

by
Officer J.C. Clifton and Officer Jason Davis, law enforcement officers for the City of Homewood, and the City of Homewood petitioned for a writ of mandamus to direct the Jefferson Circuit Court to enter a summary judgment in their favor on the ground of immunity. In 2013, the officers were dispatched to the Babies "R" Us retail store in the Wildwood Shopping Center in response to a shoplifting incident involving Bristinia Fuller and Bria Mines. When the officers arrived, they learned that Fuller and Mines were leaving the parking lot of the store in a vehicle being driven by Fuller. Officer Clifton and Officer Davis, driving separate patrol cars, attempted to stop the vehicle. Instead of stopping, Fuller eluded the officers by speeding through the parking area and onto Lakeshore Drive. The officers pursued. Fuller continued speeding and ran through multiple red traffic lights before losing control of her vehicle. The vehicle struck a light pole and a stopped vehicleat the intersection. Fuller was killed and Mines was seriously injured. 2015, Mines sued Officer Clifton and Officer Davis, both in their official and individual capacities, Homewood, and others alleging she was injured as a result of the negligent, reckless, and/or wanton conduct of the officers and Homewood during the officers' pursuit of Fuller's vehicle. She also alleged that Homewood was vicariously liable for the officers' conduct and was negligent in hiring and supervising the officers. After review, the Supreme Court concluded the officers established they were entitled to immunity as to Mines' claims against them in both their official and individual capacities. Moreover, because the officers were entitled to immunity, Homewood was also entitled to immunity. The Court therefore granted their petition and issued the writ, directing the trial court to enter a summary judgment for Officer Clifton, Officer Davis, and Homewood. View "Ex parte City of Homewood" on Justia Law

by
Kevin McGough, then a firefighter employed by the City of Birmingham ("the city"), alleges that he sustained an injury to his left knee on April 30, 2011, during the course of his employment. For approximately one year after he injured his left knee, McGough received medical treatment from numerous doctors and continued to work as much as he was able. In 2012, McGough filed a claim with the Retirement System for extraordinary-disability benefits and ordinary-disability benefit to be paid out of the City Retirement and Relief System. The Retirement System denied McGough's request for extraordinary-disability benefits and granted McGough's request for ordinary-disability benefits. It was undisputed that the Retirement System did not notify McGough by certified mail of its decision. More than one year after the Retirement System's final decision denying McGough's application for extraordinary-disability benefits, the Retirement System sent McGough a certified letter. The parties submitted to the circuit court two different certified letters sent by the Retirement System to McGough, both dated December 3, 2013. One notified him of the Retirement System's November 14, 2012, decision to approve McGough's application for ordinary-disability benefits; the other notified him of the Retirement System's November 14, 2012, decision to deny McGough's application for extraordinary-disability benefits. The latter certified letter was delivered to McGough on December 5, 2013. In 2014, McGough filed a mandamus petition in an effort to challenge the Retirement System's decision denying his application for extraordinary-disability benefits. The circuit court denied the Retirement System’s motion to dismiss. The System thereafter petitioned the Supreme Court for mandamus relief to direct the circuit court to grant its motion. After review, the Supreme Court found that McGough’s mandamus petition was untimely, and as such, reversed the circuit court’s judgment. View "City of Birmingham Retirement & Relief System v. McGough" on Justia Law

by
Teachers Becky Ingram and Nancy Wilkinson petitioned for a writ of mandamus to direct the Tuscaloosa Circuit Court to vacate its order denying their motion for a summary judgment based on State-agent immunity as to all claims asserted against them in an action filed by a female student, L.L., by and through her mother, and to enter a summary judgment in their favor. At the time of the incident at issue, L.L. was an 11-year-old eighth-grade student, suffering from spina bifida, and paralyzed from the waist down. She is confined to a wheelchair; she does not have full use of her arms and hands; she requires a urinary catheter; and she wears a diaper. L.L. also has significant mental impairment. The other eighth-grade student involved in the incident was described as having mental retardation. In 2007 when the incident underlying this case occurred, Ingram was the eighth-grade science teacher and Wilkinson was a teacher's aide assigned to Ingram's class. M.M. had a history of aggressive behavior toward teachers and other students. The incident in question happened when the teachers assisted L.L. in going to the bathroom. In a moment after lunch when students returned to classes, a moment passed when M.M. was unaccounted for, and L.L. was in the bathroom by herself. L.L. was discovered partially undressed and exposed, because M.M. had “messed with her.” L.L., by and through her mother, originally filed an action in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama against the Tuscaloosa City Board of Education, Sterling, and Ingram, alleging violations of her civil rights under 42 U.S.C. 1983; Title IX; Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973; and the Americans with Disabilities Act. She also brought several Alabama state-law claims. The federal district court entered a summary judgment in favor of all defendants on L.L.'s federal claims. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court found that by the written policy requiring that students be escorted back to their classrooms by teachers, Ingram reportedly did escort the students back to their classroom, and the Court found no basis for holding Wilkinson, who served merely as an aide to the classroom teacher, liable to the same degree as Ingram. Therefore the Court overturned the circuit court’s judgment with respect to Wilkinson, but declined to overturn the circuit court's decision to deny with respect to Ingram. View "Ex parte Ingram" on Justia Law