Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Alabama

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Sheila Ingle ("Ingle") appealed a circuit court order dismissing her claims against Jason Adkins, individually and in his capacity as superintendent of the Walker County School System; the Walker County Board of Education ("the Board"); and Bradley Ingle, William Gilbert, Dennis Reeves, James Rigsby, and Sonia Waid, members of the Board. Ingle brought this action "in the name of the State of Alabama on the relation of Sheila Mote Ingle ... in her individual capacity as a resident citizen and taxpayer in Walker County, Alabama." Ingle sought a declaration that Adkins's July 2013 salary increase was unconstitutional, illegal, and void; that the December 2014 "employment contract" was unconstitutional, illegal, and void; and that the November 2015 modification of the employment contract was unconstitutional, illegal, and void. Ingle sought to compel the Board members "to vacate and/or rescind" the "employment contract." Further, Ingle sought to recover for the taxpayers of Walker County the allegedly illegal compensation that had already been paid to Adkins, and she sought to recover on her own behalf attorney fees. Additionally, Ingle alleged that, even if the employment contract was not determined to be unconstitutional and void, the Board had overpaid Adkins's travel stipend, and, thus, Ingle sought to recover that overpayment. Later, Ingle amended her petition to withdraw her claim for attorney fees. The Alabama Supreme Court has held that taxpayers have standing to seek an injunction against public officials to prevent illegal payments from public funds. “This standing is based on the fact that taxpayers have an equitable ownership in the public funds and will be responsible for replenishing the public funds if those funds are misappropriated, and, thus, a taxpayer suffers an injury when public funds are illegally spent.” The Court determined that Ingle had standing as a taxpayer to seek an injunction against Adkins and the Board members in their official capacities. The Court reversed the circuit court’s order dismissing Ingle’s claims against the Board members and Adkins with respect to Adkins’ then-current agreement with the Board. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Ingle v. Adkins" 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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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