Justia Alabama Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
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These consolidated appellate proceedings arose from a quo warranto action filed by the State of Alabama, on the relation of Charles Driggars, challenging Governor Kay Ivey's appointment of James Naftel II to the office of Judge of Probate of Jefferson County, place no. 1. In case no. 1200755, Judge Naftel, individually and in his official capacity, and Governor Ivey appealed a circuit court order denying their motion for a summary judgment. After review, a majority of the Alabama Supreme Court reversed that order and the case remanded for the circuit court to enter summary judgment in Judge Naftel and the Governor's favor. The Court's resolution of the appeal in favor of Judge Naftel and Governor Ivey made the relief sought in their petition for a writ of mandamus moot; the petition was therefore dismissed. View "Naftel v. Alabama ex rel. Driggars" on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit certified five questions to the Alabama Supreme Court on whether state law permitted WM Mobile Bay Environmental Center, Inc. ("WM Mobile"), a judgment creditor, to execute on certain real property owned by the City of Mobile Solid Waste Authority ("the Authority"), a public solid-waste-disposal authority established pursuant to the Alabama Solid Waste Disposal Authorities Act ("the Act"). WM Mobile sued the Authority, alleging that the Authority breached various provisions of a contract between WM Mobile and the Authority for the operation of a landfill (the 'Landfill') owned by the Authority. After a jury trial, WM Mobile obtained a judgment against the Authority totaling $6,034,045.50. To partially satisfy its judgment, WM Mobile asought a writ of execution against a 104-acre parcel of land (the 'West Tract') owned by the Authority that sat adjacent to the Landfill. The Authority purchased the West Tract in 1994 for the future potential expansion of the Chastang Landfill. At the time of the lawsuit, the expansion had not been needed. The Authority moved to quash WM Mobile's request for a writ of execution, asserting, among other things, that Alabama law prohibited execution on the West Tract because that land was owned by the Authority for public use. The district court agreed with the Authority and granted its motion to quash. The Supreme Court concluded: (1) property owned by a solid waste disposal authority did not belong to a county or municipality pursuant to section 6-10-10 Ala. Code 1975; (2) a creditor of such a corporation [like the Authority] cannot subject to attachment, execution or other legal process such of its property as it needs in the performance of its corporate functions and in carrying out of its franchise obligations towards the public; and (3) with regard to what standards were to be used in applying the common-law exemption to attaching a public corporation's property, the Supreme Court noted that the key inquiry was whether the property at issue was owned or used for public purposes. In its responses, the Supreme Court answered the federal district court's first, fourth and fifth questions; the second and third questions were declined. View "WM Mobile Bay Environmental Center, Inc. v. City of Mobile Solid Waste Authority" on Justia Law

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David Bronner, secretary-treasurer of the Public Education Employees' Health Insurance Plan ("PEEHIP"), and individual members of the Board of Control of PEEHIP ("the PEEHIP Board"), the remaining defendants in this action (collectively, "defendants"), appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of the plaintiffs and members of a purported class, who were all active public-education employees and PEEHIP participants married to other active public-education employees and PEEHIP participants and who had dependent children. Before October 1, 2010, all public-education employees participating in PEEHIP earned a monthly "allocation" or benefit, which could be used to obtain certain coverage alternatives under PEEHIP. In May 2010, the PEEHIP Board voted to eliminate "the combining allocation program" and to phase in a new premium rate structure ("the 2010 policy"), which required a public-education employee married to another public-education employee to gradually begin paying the same monthly premiums for family hospital-medical coverage that other PEEHIP participants were required to pay. In May 2014, the original named plaintiffs, individually and on behalf of a class of similarly situated individuals, filed a purported class action against the defendants, among others, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1983. In their complaint, the original named plaintiffs sought a judgment declaring that the 2010 policy was unconstitutional under the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution because, they claimed, the 2010 policy denied them and the members of the purported class a benefit for the payment of insurance accorded every other PEEHIP participant. The original named plaintiffs sought an order enjoining the defendants from denying them and the members of the purported class the use of that benefit, which, they claimed, would permit them and the members of the purported class to obtain family coverage at no cost. The defendants thereafter moved for a summary judgment, which the trial court denied. The Alabama Supreme Court reversed, finding nothing to indicate that the defendants intended to single out the public-education plaintiffs for disparate treatment under the 2010 policy. Accordingly, the Court concluded the 2010 policy was neither arbitrary nor discriminatory and that it did not violate either the Equal Protection Clause or the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. View "Bronner, et al. v. Barlow et al." on Justia Law

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Tom Young, Jr., a former circuit judge for the Fifth Judicial Circuit; Ray Martin, a circuit judge for the Fifth Judicial Circuit; Chris May, the Randolph Circuit Clerk; and Marlene Lindley, a former employee in May's office, petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the trial court to dismiss a complaint filed by Danny Foster, an inmate at the Ventress Correctional Facility, on grounds that they were immune from suit, that Foster lacked standing to sue, and that Foster's claims were precluded by the applicable statute of limitations. The Alabama Supreme Court found May and Lindley make no argument that, based on the face of Foster's complaint, they had a clear legal right to a summary judgment on the ground that the applicable statute of limitations barred Foster's claim against them. Moreover, Foster's complaint was devoid of any information from which the Supreme Court could determine that his claim against May and Lindley was untimely. He did not provide the dates on which he submitted his records requests. May and Lindley, therefore, "have not demonstrated that this case falls within the exception recognized in Hodge to the general rule against review by mandamus of the applicability of a statute-of-limitations defense." The Supreme Court granted the defendants' petition insofar as it sought a writ of mandamus directing the trial court to enter a summary judgment in favor of Judge Young and Judge Martin on grounds that all the claims asserted against them by Foster were barred by the doctrine of judicial immunity. The Court denied the petition, however, insofar as it sought a writ of mandamus instructing the trial court to enter a summary judgment in favor of May and Lindley regarding Foster's claim against them under the Open Records Act. View "Ex parte Young, Jr.; Martin; Lindley; and May." on Justia Law

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The City of Gulf Shores ("the City") petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Baldwin Circuit Court to dismiss tort claims brought against the City. The City contended the claims were barred by the recreational-use statutes found at 35-15-1 et seq., Ala. Code 1975. In June 2018, Sophia Paulinelli (minor) was injured while walking on a wooden boardwalk owned by the City. The boardwalk ran over beach property and allowed pedestrians to access the public beach. In addition to owning the boardwalk, the City owned the beach property on which the boardwalk sat. Sophia was walking on the boardwalk behind a man when the man stepped on a board, causing the board to spring up from the boardwalk. The dislodged board had a screw protruding from it, and the board and screw fell on Sophia's foot, impaling the screw in her big toe. In May 2019, Sophia's father, Ronald Paulinelli, sued the City and fictitiously named defendants claiming negligence and wantonness. The City moved for summary judgment, arguing it was entitled to immunity under the recreational-use statues. Two precedential cases were central to Ronald's argument the City was not entitled to immunity. The Supreme Court found nothing in the record that the City ever presented to the circuit court the arguments that it presented to the Supreme Court regarding the applicability of those decisions. Accordingly, the Court did not consider those arguments, and denied the City's petition. The Court expressed no opinion regarding the merits of Ronald's claims; rather the Court's decision was based on the City's failure to preserve key arguments before the circuit court. View "Ex parte City of Gulf Shores." on Justia Law

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Steven Smith, as conservator of the estate of B.J. (minor), appealed a circuit court's grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants Elizabeth Alexander, Amanda Buchanan, and Michael Key on Smith's claims alleging violations of policies promulgated by the State Department of Human Resources ("the State DHR"), negligence, wantonness, and the tort of outrage. In May 2015, Key was employed by the Cullman County DHR as a foster-care supervisor, responsible for supervising Cullman County DHR caseworkers. Key reported to Buchanan, who oversaw the Child Family Services Program, the Child Protective Services Program, and the Foster Care Program for the Cullman County DHR. Buchanan in turn reported to Alexander, the director of the Cullman County DHR. B.J. was placed in the custody of the Cullman County DHR when he was three years old after having suffered physical abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect at the hands of family members. In 2002, the trial court awarded the Cullman County DHR legal guardianship and permanent custody of B.J. While in the custody of the Cullman County DHR, B.J. was placed in a number of foster homes, group homes, residential facilities, hospitals, and psychiatric institutions. In July 2014, B.J. was placed by the Cullman County DHR at the Altapointe Group Home. While there, B.J. underwent an assessment, which revealed he had regularly exhibited violent outbursts and physically aggressive behavior toward others; he had a history of depression, suicide and delusional thinking; and engaged in impulsive and delinquent behavior. B.J. would ultimately be arrested for such behavior towards others. B.J. had personal funds with which he could post bail, but the decision was made he should have remained in jail pending an arrangement for further mental health counseling. Smith argued defendants' decisions leaving B.J. incarcerated did not follow departmental policies of least-restrictive-placement-possible, and as such, caused B.J. irreparable harm. The Alabama Supreme Court found that each crucial decision made by the defendants -- i.e., the decisions not to place B.J. at the Gateway facility and not to post B.J.'s bond before his court date -- were made with B.J.'s best interests in mind after consideration of all the relevant recommendations and factors. Accordingly, Smith failed to provide substantial evidence demonstrating that the defendants acted willfully in dealing with B.J. and that, therefore, they were not entitled to the protection of State-agent immunity. View "Smith v. Alexander, et al." on Justia Law

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John Cooper, the director of the Alabama Department of Transportation ("ALDOT"), sought a writ of mandamus to direct the Morgan Circuit Court to dismiss an action commenced against him by William Hulsey and Traci Bullard. Hulsey was injured when he lost control of his vehicle during a winter weather event. Hulsey and Bullard, his common-law wife, sued Cooper, individually, for damages: Hulsey based on personal injury, Bullard based on loss of consortium. Hulsey and Bullard alleged that ALDOT employees made the road surface slick by applying an improper mixture of anti-icing brine and diesel fuel to it, then aggravated the slickness by flushing the road with water, then failed to warn drivers and close the road. Hulsey and Bullard also alleged that Cooper failed to supervise and train ALDOT employees and to ensure that they followed ALDOT policies. The Alabama Supreme Court found that because Hulsey's and Bullard's claims were based on Cooper's official duties as director, he was entitled to a dismissal based on State immunity. THe Court thus granted the director's petition. View "Ex parte John Cooper" on Justia Law

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Something Extra Publishing, Inc., d/b/a Lagniappe Weekly ("Lagniappe") appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants, Baldwin County Sheriff Huey Hoss Mack, and two members of the Baldwin County Sheriff's Office, Colonel Anthony Lowery and Lieutenant Michael Gaull ("the Sheriffs"), in this action alleging that the Sheriffs improperly denied Lagniappe's request for public records in violation of the Alabama Open Records Act ("the ORA"). Lagniappe made a request for records relating to the fatal shooting of Jonathan Victor in 2017. A grand jury declined to indict the deputy involved in the shooting. Lagniappe contended that under the balancing test announced by Stone v. Consolidated Publishing Co, 404 So. 2d 678 (Ala. 1981), "the public's interest in disclosure [in this case] far outweighs any interest surrounding the carrying out of government business." The Alabama Supreme Court found the balancing test in Stone was a Court-created exception to the ORA and was not an exception to section 12-21-3.1(b), which was enacted after Stone was decided. Accordingly, the Court found the trial court did not err in entering summary judgment in favor of the Sherrifs on investigative-privilege grounds. View "Something Extra Publishing, Inc., d/b/a Lagniappe Weekly v. Mack et al." on Justia Law

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George Russell, doing business as Carl's Country, appealed a circuit court order dismissing his declaratory-judgment action, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), Ala. R. Civ. P., because the action did not state a justiciable controversy. Carl's Country was a bar operated under a Class 1 lounge liquor license in Autauga County, issued by the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board (ABC Board). The bar was located in Autauga County, outside the corporate limits of the City of Prattville ("the City") but within the City's police jurisdiction. At the time of Russell's declaratory-judgment action, there was no no law or ordinance in effect authorizing the sale of draft beer in Autauga County. In 2013, the State legislature enacted a statute pertaining to the City's authority to regulate the sale and distribution of draft beer. In turn, the City enacted an ordinance allowing for on-premises consumption of draft beer sold by licensees of the ABC Board within the City's corporate limits and police jurisdiction. In May 2020, after the enactment of Ordinance, the sheriff of Autauga County ordered Russell to cease and desist selling draft beer at his bar; Russell did not comply. The ABC Board also contacted Russell's draft-beer distributors and ordered them to cease delivering draft beer to the bar. Thereafter, an attorney for the Autauga County Commission, an attorney for the ABC Board, and the "City of Prattville- Police Committee" discussed whether the City could enact an ordinance authorizing the City to regulate the sale and distribution of draft beer within its police jurisdiction in Autauga County. It was determined that the City did not have the authority to regulate the sale and distribution of draft beer in the portions of Autauga County outside the City's corporate limits because such authority was reserved for the local governing body of Autauga County, i.e., the County Commission, and not the City. Russell, acting pro se, filed suit seeking a declaration the City had the authority to enact an ordinance extending the sale of draft beer to its police jurisdiction and, specifically, a judgment declaring the legality of draft-beer sales at his bar. The Alabama Supreme Court affirmed, finding that Russell did not claim the ordinance at issue was either invalid or unreasonable. There was, therefore, no bona fide justiciable controversy to be settled between Russell and the defendants. View "Russell d/b/a Carl's Country v. Sedinger, et al." on Justia Law

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The City of Birmingham ("the City") appealed a circuit court's denial of its motion to vacate a quiet-title judgment in favor of Metropolitan Management of Alabama, LLC ("Metropolitan"). In 1999, the State of Alabama purchased a parcel of property at a tax sale. The City's Director of Finance conducted a public sale, selling and conveying a delinquent demolition assessment against the property. The City purchased that assessment interest and, in February 2007, recorded a deed showing the conveyance. In 2017, the property was sold by the State, and Michael Froelich, who was the managing member of Metropolitan, obtained title to the property by a tax deed. Froelich conveyed the property to Metropolitan by quitclaim deed. In 2018, Metropolitan commenced a quiet title action, naming Constance Wambo as a defendant possessing an interest in the property, and identified as fictitiously named defendants "any individuals and/or entities who may claim an interest now or in the future in the property ..., whose true identity is currently unknown to [the] Plaintiff." Metropolitan filed an affidavit in which Froelich averred that he, after a diligent search with the assistance of an attorney, had been unable to identify any other interest holders. In November 2019, the court entered a judgment quieting title to the property in Metropolitan, conveying to Metropolitan fee-simple title to the exclusion of all others, voiding any claims of the defendants, and making Metropolitan's claim of interest superior to any other. In early 2020, Metropolitan's attorney contacted counsel for the City regarding the City's recorded assessment interest. In June 2020, the City filed a motion to intervene in the quiet-title action and a motion to vacate the judgment as void under Rule 60(b)(4). The court denied the City's motion to vacate without stating grounds. The Alabama Supreme Court reversed, finding the law imputes to purchasers knowledge of the contents of recorded documents, and that such constructive notice of a defendant's residence generally suffices for "know[ledge]" of that residence under Rule 4.3(b). Metropolitan did not provide any reason why a reasonable probate-records search would not have disclosed the City's deed. Because Metropolitan had knowledge of the City's residence, Metropolitan's service by publication without first attempting another means of service failed to comply with Rule 4.3(b). View "City of Birmingham v. Metropolitan Management of Alabama, LLC" on Justia Law