Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Alabama
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The City of Helena ("Helena") appealed the issuance of a preliminary injunction by the Shelby Circuit Court in favor of the Pelham Board of Education ("the Board") and its officers and/or members, in their official capacities (collectively, "the Board defendants"). In June 2021, the Board purchased approximately 52 acres of undeveloped land located within the corporate limits of Helena. The land has not been annexed by the City of Pelham or the Board. Helena collects property taxes on the land, and the land was zoned for single-family residential use under a Helena zoning ordinance. After purchasing the land, the Board began clearing the land for the purpose of constructing one or more athletic fields and a parking lot as part of the Pelham High School campus. Pelham High School was located adjacent to the land but lied within the corporate limits of the City of Pelham. The athletic-field project was originally scheduled to be completed on or before January 17, 2022, but it was delayed by Helena's attempts to enforce its zoning ordinance, which was an issue in this case. Helena asserted in its complaint, among other things, that the Board has no statutory authority to construct the athletic-field project within the corporate limits of Helena. The Board defendants counterclaimed, seeking sought declaratory and injunctive relief based on their position that the athletic-field project served a governmental purpose and, therefore, was not subject to Helena's zoning ordinance. Finding that the trial court did not follow the mandatory requirements of Rule 65(d)(2), the preliminary injunction was dissolved and the order issuing the injunction was, therefore, reversed and the case remanded. View "City of Helena v. Pelham Board of Education, et al." on Justia Law

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In 2017, the State of Alabama sued, among others, Epic Tech, LLC ("Epic Tech"); K.C. Economic Development, LLC, d/b/a VictoryLand ("KCED"); and Sheriff Andre Brunson, in his official capacity as sheriff of Macon County (referred to collectively as "the Macon County defendants"). At around that same time, the State sued, White Hall Enrichment Advancement Team d/b/a Southern Star Entertainment ("Southern Star") and White Hall (referred to collectively as "the Lowndes County defendants"). In each action, the State sought an order declaring the illegal gambling operations conducted by the defendants to be a public nuisance and related injunctive relief. The State's complaint in each action was also accompanied by a motion seeking the entry of an order preliminarily enjoining the defendants from engaging in illegal gambling operations. In case nos. 1200798 and 1210064, the State appealed Macon Circuit Court and Lowndes Circuit Court orders denying the State's requests for injunctive relief. In case no. 1210122, defendants/counterclaim plaintiffs White Hall Entertainment and the White Hall Town Council (referred to collectively as "White Hall"), cross-appealed the Lowndes Circuit Court's order dismissing their counterclaims against the State. The Alabama Supreme Court consolidated these appeals. In case no. 1200798, the Court reversed the Macon Circuit Court order denying the State's request for preliminary injunctive relief and remanded the matter for that court to enter, within 30 days, a preliminary injunction enjoining the defendants' gambling operations in Macon County; in case no. 1210064, the Court reversed the Lowndes Circuit Court order denying the State's request for permanent injunctive relief and remanded the matter for that court to enter, within 30 days, a permanent injunction enjoining the defendants' gambling operations in Lowndes County; and in case no. 1210122, the Court affirmed the Lowndes Circuit Court's order dismissing White Hall's counterclaims. View "White Hall Entertainment, et al. v. Alabama" on Justia Law

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Frederick Burkes, Sr. appealed a circuit court judgment entered in favor of James Franklin in an action initiated by Burkes. In March 2020, Burkes defeated Franklin, the incumbent, in a primary election for the office of constable for District 59 in Jefferson County, Alabama. Burkes was unopposed in the general election and was declared and certified as the winner of the election on Friday, November 13, 2020. Thereafter, Franklin sent a letter to the Jefferson Probate Court informing the probate court that Burkes had not filed an official bond within 40 days of the declaration of Burkes's election to the office of constable. The probate court notified the Governor that the bond had not been posted, making the office vacated by operation of law. The Governor thereafter appointed Franklin to the office of constable for District 59. On April 22, 2021, Burkes, acting pro se, initiated this action, which he identified as a quo warranto action, with the circuit court. Burkes alleged in his complaint that he had been sworn into the office of constable on January 4, 2021, and that he had filed an official bond on December 31, 2020, which he contended was timely pursuant to § 36-23- 4, Ala. Code 1975. Also acting pro se, Franklin filed an "answer" in which he also moved for a "summary judgment." In summary, Franklin asserted that Burkes had vacated the office of constable by failing to comply with the pertinent statutory procedure concerning the payment of official bonds. Franklin requested, among other things, that Burkes be ordered to cease and desist all activities concerning the office of constable and that Burkes's quo warranto action be "dismissed with prejudice." The Alabama Supreme Court found that Burkes's failure to give the circuit court security for the costs of this action deprived the circuit court of subject-matter jurisdiction over the action. Because the circuit court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over this action, its judgment was void. Because a void judgment will not support an appeal, this appeal was dismissed. View "Burkes v. Franklin" on Justia Law

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The Mobile County Board of Equalization ("the Board") petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the Mobile Circuit Court ("the trial court") to dismiss, for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, an appeal filed by Atwood Drilling, Inc. ("Atwood"), challenging the Board's final assessment of ad valorem property taxes. This case concerns a dispute between Atwood and the Board as to the assessed value of personal property owned by Atwood ("the property"). Atwood timely filed a notice of appeal to the trial court, challenging the assessment as too high. the Board moved to dismiss Atwood's appeal, alleging: (1) taxes on the property had become delinquent because they had not been paid by January 1, 2021; and (2) by failing to pay the disputed amount before January 1, 2021, Atwood had not satisfied a jurisdictional requirement in § 40-3-25 -- specifically, the requirement that, when appealing a tax assessment, a taxpayer who has not executed a supersedeas bond must pay the assessed taxes before they become delinquent. In support of the motion to dismiss, the Board attached a receipt from the office of the Mobile County Revenue Commissioner ("the Commissioner") indicating that Atwood had not paid the assessed taxes as of January 19, 2021. Atwood alleged that it had sent the Commissioner via certified mail on December 10, 2020, and suggested that delivery had been likely delayed because of service disruptions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Board argued that the "mailbox rule" in § 40-1-45 did not extend to undelivered tax payments. At some point following the Board's filing of the motion to dismiss, Atwood paid the tax bill, including penalties and interest, with a second check. After holding several hearings on the matter, the trial court, without stating the findings on which its decision was based, entered an order denying the Board's motion to dismiss on September 10, 2021. Because the appeal was not perfected, the Alabama Supreme Court determined the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction, and should have granted the Board's motion to dismiss. The petition was thus granted and the writ issued. View "Ex parte Mobile County Board of Equalization." on Justia Law

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In 2003, the Alabama Legislature and the citizens of Greene County voted to allow nonprofit organizations in that county to operate bingo games for fundraising purposes. Greenetrack, Inc. ("Greenetrack"), which was not a nonprofit organization, almost immediately began offering live and electronic bingo games at its gambling facility. From 2004 to 2008, Greenetrack reaped vast profits under the guise that its whole casino-style bingo operation was constantly being leased and operated by a revolving slate of local nonprofit organizations, whose nominal role earned them a tiny fraction of the bingo proceeds. Eventually, the Alabama Department of Revenue ("the Department") audited Greenetrack, found that its bingo activities were illegal, and concluded that it owed over $76 million in unpaid taxes and interest. Following a decade of litigation, the Alabama Tax Tribunal voided the assessed taxes on the threshold ground that Greenetrack's bingo business (regardless of its legality) was tax-immune under a statute governing Greenetrack's status as a licensed operator of dog races. The Department appealed, and the Alabama Supreme Court reversed, rejecting the statutory analysis offered by the Tax Tribunal and circuit court. Judgment was rendered in favor of the Department. View "Alabama Department of Revenue v. Greenetrack, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Wilcox County Board of Education ("the Board") and individual Board members were defendants in a lawsuit filed by Jane Doe. Defendants petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the Wilcox Circuit Court to grant their motion for a summary judgment on the ground that they were entitled to immunity. On November 11, 2010, Doe, at that time, was a 12th-grade student at Wilcox County Central High School, was sexually assaulted by the principal of the school, James Thomas. According to Doe, Thomas made inappropriate comments of a sexual nature to her while she was serving as an aide in the school office and later called her into his private office, closed the door, and began kissing her and touching her. Doe reported the incident, and, as a result, Thomas was arrested the following day by the Wilcox County Sheriff's Department. After his arrest, Thomas was suspended from his duties as school principal and placed on administrative leave. He was ultimately convicted of having sexual contact with a student under the age of 19 years. In 2012, Doe initiated an action against Thomas, the Board, the individual members of the Board, and other individuals identified as former Wilcox County school-system superintendents. Doe asserted negligence and wantonness claims against the Board and the Board members, contending that those defendants had had knowledge of previous instances of similar misconduct by Thomas that they had allegedly failed to properly investigate or report. Doe also asserted claims of negligent or wanton hiring, training, and/or retention of Thomas against the Board and the Board members. The Supreme Court concluded the Board and the Board members, insofar as the Board members were sued in their official capacities, are entitled to immunity from the claims asserted against them but that the Board members were not entitled to State-agent immunity from the claims asserted against them in their individual capacities. View "Ex parte Wilcox County Board of Education" on Justia Law

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Defendant-petitioner Lisa Mestas petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the circuit court to vacate its order denying her motion for a summary judgment in this wrongful-death/medical-negligence action brought by David Lee Autrey, as the personal representative of the estate of his wife, Bridgette Ann Moore, and to enter a summary judgment in Mestas's favor on the basis of State-agent immunity. In May 2017, Autrey's wife, Moore, went to the University of South Alabama Medical Center to undergo a surgery required by the prior amputation of her right leg. The surgery was performed without incident, and Moore was transferred to a hospital room for recovery. At approximately 9:30 p.m. that night, nurses found Moore unresponsive. Attempts to revive her were unsuccessful, and Moore was pronounced deceased. It was later determined that Moore died as a result of opioid-induced respiratory depression ("OIRD"). Mestas argued that, at all times relevant to Autrey's lawsuit, she was an employee of the University of South Alabama ("USA") and served as the Chief Nursing Officer ("CNO") for USA Health System, which included USA Medical Center, various clinics, and a children's hospital. According to Mestas, as the CNO, her primary responsibilities were administrative in nature and she had not provided any direct patient care since 2010. Mestas argued that because Autrey's claims against her arose from the line and scope of her employment with a State agency,2 and because she did not treat Moore, she was entitled to, among other things, State-agent immunity. The Supreme Court concluded Mestas demonstrated she was entitled to state-agent immunity, and that she had a clear right to the relief sought. The Court therefore granted her petition and issued the writ, directing the trial court to grant her summary judgment. View "Ex parte Lisa Mestas." on Justia Law

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The City of Trussville ("the City") appealed a circuit court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the Personnel Board of Jefferson County ("the Board") in the City's action seeking a judgment declaring that it had the authority to create and operate its own civil-service system. In 2018, the City requested that the Alabama attorney general issue an opinion regarding whether, once it had annexed land in St. Clair County, it was subject to being governed by the Board or could form its own civil- service system. The attorney general concluded that the City was not subject to the Board's civil-service system and, therefore, had the authority to establish its own civil-service system. However, the Alabama Supreme Court determined the attorney general did not consider what effect the settlement agreement, and the consent judgment ratifying that settlement agreement, entered in a 1991 action had on the question presented by the City for consideration. On April 23, 2019, the City passed Ordinance No. 2019-020-ADM, creating a civil-service system for City employees. The Board took the position that the City lacks the authority to form its own civil-service system and that the City is bound to continue under the jurisdiction of the Board. The Supreme Court was not persuaded by the legal grounds the City presented to support its appeal. The Court found the same cause of action was presented in both the 1991 action and here, and that the theory upon which the City sought to litigate the present action could have been litigated in the 1991 action, but was not. Accordingly, the City's present action was barred by the doctrine of res judicata. View "City of Trussville v. Personnel Board of Jefferson County" on Justia Law

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In response to economic conditions related to the spread of COVID-19, Congress established several programs that made additional federal funds available to the states for providing enhanced unemployment-compensation benefits to eligible individuals. Alabama elected to participate in the programs, and Shentel Hawkins, Ashlee Lindsey, Jimmie George, and Christina Fox, were among the Alabamians who received the enhanced benefits. As the spread of COVID-19 waned, Governor Kay Ivey announced that Alabama would be ending its participation in the programs. When Alabama did so, the claimants received reduced unemployment-compensation benefits or, depending on their particular circumstances, no benefits at all. Two months later, the claimants sued Governor Ivey and Secretary of the Alabama Department of Labor Fitzgerald Washington in their official capacities, alleging that Alabama law did not permit them to opt Alabama out of the programs. After a circuit court dismissed the claimants' lawsuit based on the doctrine of State immunity, the claimants appealed. Finding no reversible error, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court. View "Hawkins, et al. v. Ivey, et al." on Justia Law

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Cahaba Riverkeeper, Inc., Cahaba River Society, David Butler, and Bradford McLane ("the conservation parties") appealed a circuit court's dismissal of their action for declaratory and injunctive relief against the Water Works Board of the City of Birmingham ("the Board") and the State of Alabama, on the relation of Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall. At the heart of this case was a settlement agreement executed by the Board and a former attorney general executed in 2001. In 1998, the City of Birmingham ("the City") and its then-mayor began exploring ways to increase funding for its school system, and ultimately sold the assets of the system, including land, reservoirs, and filtration systems, to a private investor to retire debts and to establish an education trust fund. In 2000, the City's newly elected mayor sought to establish a new arrangement in which the Board would operate as a City department. Members of the city council opposed that plan, wishing to keep the Board independent and have it buy back the system assets. In July 2000, the city council approved an ordinance to transfer the assets back to the Board. The mayor later filed suit against the Board and city council in an attempt to prevent the Board from repurchasing the assets. The State Attorney General intervened and counterclaimed against the mayor and city council, all of which ended in the settlement agreement. In their complaint here, the conservation parties alleged that, in 2016, a parcel of land "subject to the settlement agreement was sold for a gas station after unanimous approval by the Board." In 2021, the conservation parties contended the Conservation Easement Agreement ("the CEA") did not establish a valid conservation easement that fulfilled the requirements dictated in paragraph 7 of the settlement agreement. The Alabama Supreme Court found that based on paragraph 6 of the settlement agreement, the conservation parties had a third-party right to seek enforcement of the terms of paragraph 7 of the settlement agreement. The Court also concluded the conservation parties stated a viable justiciable controversy with respect to whether the Board fulfilled its obligation in paragraph 7 of the settlement agreement "to place a conservation easement on the System's real estate described in paragraph 7 of the Acquisition Agreement ...." Therefore, the circuit court's judgment dismissing the conservation parties' claims against the Board is reversed, and the cause is remanded for further proceedings. View "Cahaba Riverkeeper, Inc., et al. v. Water Works Board of the City of Birmingham, et al." on Justia Law