Justia Alabama Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Zoning, Planning & Land Use

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This case involved a dispute over the planned construction of a high-rise condominium along the Gulf of Mexico in Orange Beach, Alabama. The Perdido Dunes property shared common boundaries with property containing other beachfront condominium buildings. Phoenix East, a Condominium, was a 14-story condominium with 158 residential units located adjacent to and directly east of the Perdido Dunes property. In 2004, Hurricane Ivan effectively destroyed an 8-unit portion of Perdido Dunes. The City's zoning regulations prohibited Perdido Dunes from separating into two parcels, but the City would allow Perdido Dunes to split the PDAI (the condominium association) into two neighborhood associations governed by a master association. The ownership interest in the Master Association would comprise the unit owners of two newly created neighborhood associations, namely the Perdido Dunes Tower Condominium Owners Association, Inc. and the Perdido Dunes 2006 Condominium Owners Association, Inc. The PD Tower Association would serve as the association for Perdido Dunes Tower, a prospective 10-story, 20-unit condominium building measuring 56 feet in length that was to be developed by Perdido Dunes Tower, LLC ("Tower LLC"), on the land where the 8-unit building had been located. The City issued a building permit to Tower LLC in 2008, authorizing it to begin construction of Perdido Dunes Tower. The planned construction was interrupted in 2015, when the City notified Tower LLC of concerns relating to the width of the proposed Perdido Dunes Tower in relation to the neighboring properties, namely Phoenix East and Phoenix VIII. The City directed that Tower LLC could not begin substantial construction on the building, and the City informed Tower LLC that its building permit would be revoked. If the building permit were revoked, Tower LLC would be required to apply for a new permit under updated City building standards, which, according to the trial court's judgment being challenged on appeal, "would have required significant additional undertakings by the Tower LLC to attempt to complete the building of a compliant tower structure." To challenge the proposed Perdido Tower project, the Phoenix entities sued, arguing the consent decree that resulted between the City and the Master Association was void. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the Phoenix VIII Association lacked standing to challenge the consent decree; the Court ruled Phoenix East Association had standing, but "its challenge to the consent decree is unavailing, and the consent decree is affirmed." View "Phoenix East Association, Inc. v. Perdido Dunes Tower, LLC, et al." on Justia Law

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W.R. Meriwether, Factors & Drayage, LLC ("Meriwether"), and Gregory Thompson appealed adverse judgments entered in Meriwether and Thompson's action against the Pike Road Volunteer Fire Protection Authority ("the Fire Authority") and other defendants. Meriwether and Thompson each owned parcels of real property that adjoined a 10-acre piece of property owned by the Fire Authority. All three parcels were located in the Town of Pike Road ("Pike Road"). Pursuant to a Pike Road zoning ordinance, the parcels were located in an area zoned for "low density, single-family residential development." Materials submitted to the trial court indicated the Fire Authority planned to build a fire station on its 10-acre parcel. Meriwether and Thompson sued the Fire Authority and Pike Road, along with the members of the Fire Authority's board of directors, the Pike Road Planning Commission, the chairman of the Planning Commission, and the Pike Road planning director. In their complaint, Meriwether and Thompson sought a judgment declaring that the Fire Authority is subject to the referenced zoning ordinance and that constructing a fire station on its property would be a violation of that ordinance. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded the Fire Authority did not qualify as a body entitled to an exemption from zoning regulation. Accordingly, the Court reversed the trial court's judgments and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "W.R. Meriwether, Factors and Drayage, LLC v. Pike Road Volunteer Fire Protection Authority" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs A.A. Nettles, Sr. Properties Limited, and Eula Lambert Boyles sought to quiet title a right-of-way that had been conveyed by the Alabama Railroad Company to the Monroe County Commission for use as a recreational trail in accordance with the National Trails System Act ("the Trails Act"), 16 U.S.C. 1247. The trial court quieted title in favor of plaintiffs. The Commission appealed, contending the evidence submitted was insufficient for the trial court to determine the railroad intended to abandon its interest in the right-of-way. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded the trial court did not err in concluding the easement reserved to the railroad by a right-of-way was provided in a quitclaim deed lapsed by nonuse, and was thus extinguished by operation of law, leaving nothing for the railroad to convey to the Commission. View "Monroe County Commission v. Nettles, et al." on Justia Law

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The underlying case concerned a dispute between Allen and Nina Kennemer and the Shelby County Board of Equalization as to the assessed value of real property owned by the Kennemers. The Board informed the Kennemers, by notice dated May 31, 2016, that it had ruled that the fixed value of the property was $122,700 for purposes of assessment. According to the Kennemers, however, the "true and fair value" of the property was $89,405.50. The Kennemers petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari to review whether the Court of Civil Appeals' affirmance, without an opinion, the Circuit Court's dismissal of their appeal of the Board's decision. The Kennemers contended the appellate court's decision conflicted with Shoals Mill Development, Ltd. v. Shelby County Board of Equalization, 238 So. 3d 1253 (Ala. Civ. App. 2017). The Supreme Court agreed: the mailbox rule applied to the filing of a notice of appeal with the Board under section 40-3-25. Accordingly, the Kennemers' notice of appeal was timely filed with the Board, and the circuit court erred in dismissing their appeal of the Board's May 2016 ruling. View "Ex parte Allen Kennemer and Nina Kennemer." on Justia Law

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Portersville Bay Oyster Company, LLC ("the Oyster Company"), and its members, filed suit against 4H Construction Corporation, Greystone Industries, LLC, and Christopher Blankenship, in his official capacity as Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and filed an interlocutory appeal challenging the trial court's order dismissing Commissioner Blankenship as a defendant in this action. Tensaw Land & Timber Company, Inc. ("Tensaw"), owned land fronting on Portersville Bay which it leased its statutory right to grow and to harvest oysters on the bottom in Portersville Bay to the Oyster Company. The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources ("the Department") grants shellfish aquaculture easements on state-owned submerged lands for the purpose of cultivating and harvesting shellfish, including oysters. The Department conveyed to the Corneliuses a shellfish aquaculture easement allowing them to raise oysters in cages above the area encompassed by one of the Tensaw leases. Subject to certain exceptions, the riparian landowner does not have the right to harvest oysters in elevated cages within 600 yards from the shoreline in front of the waterfront property; the shellfish aquaculture easement enables the oyster farmers to grow oysters in elevated cages in the area of the easement. The oysters grown elsewhere on the Tensaw leases were grown on the bottom. 4H Construction Corporation contracted with the Department to construct a breakwater and marsh for coastal protection in Mobile Bay ("the Marsh Island project"). According to the allegations of the complaint, the sediment and silt deposits have increased over time and are killing the oysters being farmed on those oyster beds. The Oyster Company sued the Commissioner alleging negligence and nuisance relating to the easement. The Commissioner moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim and improper venue; the trial court granted the motion to transfer but not the motion to dismiss. After filing an amended complaint, the trial court dismissed the amended complaint against the Commissioner. The Alabama Supreme Court determined that dismissal was made in error, and reversed the trial court's order. View "Portersville Bay Oyster Company, LLC v. Blankenship" on Justia Law

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The Utilities Board of the City of Foley, Alabama, d/b/a Riviera Utilities ("Riviera Utilities"), and Tom DeBell, James Wallace, Kevin Saucier, and Roby Tomlin (collectively, "the Riviera employees") were defendants in a personal-injury action filed by Charles Hilburn, Jr., and his wife, Christa. Riviera Utilities and the Riviera employees petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Baldwin Circuit Court to vacate its order denying their motion for a summary judgment as to the claims filed against them by the Hilburns and to enter a summary judgment in their favor. On July 22, 2014, Riviera Utilities was one of eight Baldwin County entities that received an "811 ticket," also known as a line-locate ticket. Gulf Equipment Corporation was in charge of a bridge-repair project pursuant to a contract between Gulf Equipment and the Baldwin County Highway Department. A line-locate technician employed by Riviera Utilities went to the project site to mark underground lines; he saw a bridge, but no equipment was present and no one was working. Finding no underground utilities, the technician did not mark anything regarding utilities or note the presence of overhead lines. Charles was employed by Gulf Equipment on the bridge-repair project. A co-employee was operating a track hoe to drive steel pilings into the ground when the track hoe and/or a steel piling came in contact with an uninsulated overhead electrical power line. The electrical current traveled from the track hoe and/or piling into the body of the track hoe while Charles was touching the body of the track hoe, causing the electrical charge to enter into his hand, travel through his body, and exit via his leg. Charles was permanently disabled by the electrocution injuries he suffered, including a brain injury and memory loss. The Hilburns sued Riviera Utilities and the Riviera employees in their individual capacities. The Hilburns conceded the Riviera employees were entitled to a summary judgment as to the wantonness claims asserted against them and that DeBell, Wallace, and Tomlin were entitled to a summary judgment as to the negligence claims asserted against them. The Alabama Supreme Court found Saucier demonstrated he was entitled to State-agent immunity as to the negligence claim asserted against him, therefore establishing a clear legal right to a summary judgment on that claim. However, because Riviera Utilities did not demonstrate it was entitled to substantive immunity as to the claims asserted against it, it did not establish a clear legal right to a summary judgment on those claims. Therefore, the Alabama Supreme Court granted the petition only as to the Riviera employees and issued a writ directing the Baldwin Circuit Court to vacate its order of August 29, 2017, denying a summary judgment as to the Riviera employees and to enter a summary judgment in favor of DeBell, Wallace, Tomlin, and Saucier as to the claims asserted against them. The Court denied the petition as to Riviera Utilities. View "Ex parte The Utilities Board of the City of Foley, Alabama" on Justia Law

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Alabama Power initiated condemnation proceedings in the probate court seeking to obtain easements across three parcels of property in St. Clair County Alabama for the purpose of erecting new power-transmission lines. Alabama Power Company petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the St. Clair Circuit Court to dismiss an appeal filed by the property owners who challenged the condemnation proceedings. The Supreme Court found that the probate court's July 5, 2017 transfer order notified the property owners that it found their notice of appeal to be vague or in some way deficient instead of ordering a transfer of the action. Because the probate court understood the property owners' notice of appeal to encompass an order of condemnation, no such notice of deficiency was given, and the property owners instead reasonably relied on the probate court's representation that their notice of appeal was effective and that the action had been transferred to the circuit court. The Supreme Court held it would have been unjust in these circumstances for the Supreme Court to declare that the property owners' notice of appeal was in some way deficient so as to render it ineffective. Therefore, the Supreme Court determined the circuit court properly denied Alabama Power's motion to dismiss, and Alabama Power was not entitled to the relief it sought. Accordingly, the petition for the writ of mandamus was denied. View "Ex parte Alabama Power Company." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Frank and Martha Buck, challenged the Court of Civil Appeals’ decision to affirm the trial court's judgment in favor of defendants CH Highland, LLC (“Highland”) and the City of Birmingham (“City”) in their challenge to a City rezoning ordinance. The Bucks owned property in the City. Highland, a real-estate-development company, wanted to build a multistory apartment complex ("the project") on property located adjacent to the Bucks' property. As planned, the project did not conform with the then existing zoning restrictions for the area in which the subject property was located. Thus, Highland submitted a rezoning application to the Zoning Advisory Committee of the Birmingham Planning Commission. Highland requested that the subject property be rezoned from a "B-2 general business district" to a "B-3 community business district" so that it could construct the project. The Alabama Supreme Court found that the proposed rezoning ordinance that was published merely indicated to the public that there would be a zoning change from a B-2 district to a B-3 district. Ordinance 1949-G did not create a B-3 district; instead, it created a district of a substantially smaller range of uses than what was otherwise disclosed to the public in the Public Notice of the rezoning change. “Even if this Court were to reject the long-standing rule that, to invalidate an ordinance, it is unnecessary for the public to be prejudiced by the City's failure to publish the ordinance, we cannot presume that no prejudice occurred in this case.” The Court reversed the Court of Civil Appeals, and the case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Ex parte Buck." 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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Robert and Carin Diercks, residents of a subdivision located in Escambia County Alabama, purchased a vacant lot in the subdivision located directly behind their house and began constructing a garage. A group of homeowners in the subdivision ("the plaintiffs") sued the Dierckses contending that construction of the garage violated various restrictive covenants applicable to the lot. The trial court agreed and entered a summary judgment in favor of the plaintiffs, enjoined the Dierckses from further construction on the garage, and ordered the removal of what had been constructed on the lot. On direct appeal, the Court of Civil Appeals reversed the judgment of the trial court, finding that the trial court had not properly applied the restrictive covenants. The Alabama Supreme Court applied the covenant at issue here as originally intended by the parties at the time the covenant was created: it was clear that the intent of the covenant was to prohibit a garage or carport located on lot 58 from opening onto Brooks Boulevard. The Dierckses could not unilaterally reverse the meaning of this covenant by the subsequent combination of the two lots into a single parcel. Thus, the Dierckses' garage violated the restrictive covenant prohibiting garages and carports from opening onto the front of the lot. With respect to restrictive covenant 1.C., the Alabama Supreme Court found the trial court correctly entered a summary judgment. To the extent the Court of Civil Appeals' decision was to the contrary, that decision was reversed, and the case was remanded for further proceedings. The Court pretermitted discussion as to the remaining restrictive covenants. View "Ex parte Phillip D. Odom, et al." on Justia Law