Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Alabama
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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

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The Utilities Board of the City of Roanoke ("the Utilities Board") petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Circuit Court to vacate an order purporting to reinstate a case that the circuit court had previously disposed of. Because the Supreme Court concluded the circuit court lacked jurisdiction to issue the order purporting to reinstate the case, it granted the petition and issued the writ. View "Ex parte Utilities Board of the City of Roanoke." on Justia Law

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The Jefferson County Board of Education ("the Board") petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the Jefferson Circuit Court to dismiss the action brought against the Board by Alabama Lockers, LLC. Alabama Lockers provided services regarding school lockers. In July 2020, Alabama Lockers sued the Board, alleging breach of contract. Alabama Lockers also alleged that the Board had failed to follow both "state bid laws" and its own policies and procedures regarding bidding on locker-services contracts. In September 2020, the Board filed a motion to dismiss, asserting, in relevant part, that Alabama Lockers' action was barred by State immunity. "Because county boards of education are local agencies of the State, they are clothed in constitutional immunity from suit." Thus, the Board, as a county board of education, was entitled to State immunity in this case. Accordingly, the Board established a clear legal right to have the action against it dismissed. View "Ex parte Jefferson County Board of Education." on Justia Law

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Amy Williamson petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the Tuscaloosa Circuit Court to enter a summary judgment in her favor based on State-agent immunity. Twenty-year-old Re.W. was a student in the CrossingPoints program, a collaborative program between the University of Alabama, the Tuscaloosa City Board of Education, and the Tuscaloosa County Board of Education that served college-aged students with mental disabilities. Williamson was a teacher in the program and an employee of the Tuscaloosa City Board of Education, and Amy Burnett was a "para-educator" with the program. In 2015, Williamson and Burnett transported Re.W. and three other students to various businesses to submit job applications. While Williamson and Burnett took two students into a Lowe's home-improvement store to submit applications, Re.W. and a male student stayed in the CrossingPoints van. Re.W. stated that, during the short time that the others were inside the store, the male student touched her on her breast and between her legs. In 2019, Re.W., by and through her parents and next friends, Ro.W. and V.W., sued Williamson on counts of negligent, wanton, and/or willful failure to perform ministerial acts and the tort of outrage. Williamson filed an answer to the complaint denying the material allegations and asserted multiple affirmative defenses. Williamson later moved for summary judgment, asserting, among other things, that Re.W.'s claims were barred by the doctrine of State-agent immunity. Because the Alabama Supreme Court concluded that Williamson established that, at the time of the incident, she was performing a discretionary function, and because the Court concluded Re.W. did not present any evidence to establish that an exception to State-agent immunity applied, Williamson established that she was entitled to State-agent immunity. Accordingly, the petition for the writ of mandamus was granted and the trial court directed to vacate its order denying Williamson's motion for a summary judgment, and directed to enter a summary judgment for Williamson. View "Ex parte Amy Williamson." on Justia Law

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Ciro Alcantara-Angeles appealed a circuit court judgment dismissing a complaint he filed against the Birmingham Water Works Board ("the Board"). In July 2020, Alcantara-Angeles filed a "complaint for declaratory judgment and motion to compel" against the Board. In relevant part, Alcantara-Angeles alleged that, in June 2019, he visited the Board's office to inquire about having water service installed at a parcel of real property he owned. According to Alcantara-Angeles, he paid a deposit of $375 to have water service connected to his property. He alleged that the Board gave him a quote of $1,739, in addition to his deposit, to have water service connected, which he said he attempted to pay. However, according to Alcantara-Angeles, he was instructed to wait for a letter from the Board before making payment. Alcantara-Angeles alleged that the Board gave him a new quote of $15,025 in July 2019, stating that the pipeline system supplying Alcantara-Angeles's parcel and the adjacent parcel was corroded and needed to be replaced at his expense. Alcantara-Angeles contended the Board had failed to properly maintain the pipeline system at issue, which he contended was located on city property. He requested a judgment declaring that he was required to pay only the additional $1,739, as allegedly originally quoted to have water service connected to his parcel and that the Board was obligated to bear the cost of replacing the corroded pipelines to establish the water service. After conducting a hearing, the circuit court granted the Board's amended motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, without specifying the reason for its decision. Alcantara-Angeles appealed. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court reversed the circuit court, finding Alcantara-Angeles adequately alleged a justicible controversy that the circuit court had authority to consider. View "Alcantara-Angeles v. Birmingham Water Works Board" on Justia Law