Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Supreme Court of Alabama
Ohio Valley Conference v. Jones, et al.
The Ohio Valley Conference ("the OVC" -- a collegiate athletic conference) appealed a judgment dismissing its official-capacity and individual-capacity claims against Randall Jones, the Chair of the Board of Trustees of Jacksonville State University ("JSU"), and Don C. Killingsworth, Jr., the President of Jacksonville State University. On February 3, 2021, JSU informed the OVC that it intended to resign its OVC membership effective June 30, 2021. OVC filed this action against JSU, Jones, and Killingsworth, seeking a declaratory judgment and alleging breach of contract -- focusing solely on JSU's failure to pay the conference-resignation fee described in Article 4.5.3 of the OVC Constitution. The complaint also asserted one count against JSU -- conversion -- focusing solely on the OVC's allegation that JSU had failed to pay $15,000 for tickets received from the OVC for the OVC's 2021 conference championship basketball tournament. The complaint also asserted two counts against JSU -- promissory estoppel and unjust enrichment -- that incorporated both the conference-resignation fee and the value of the tickets to the conference championship basketball tournament as elements of damages. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded: the OVC's claims against Jones and Killingsworth in their official capacities seeking payment for the liquidated amount of the conference-resignation fee and for the value of the tickets JSU received for the OVC's 2021 conference championship basketball tournament did not constitute claims against the State, and, therefore, they were not barred by State immunity. Accordingly, the circuit court erred in dismissing the OVC's official-capacity claims against Jones and Killingsworth. However, the Court found the OVC failed to state individual-capacity claims against Jones and Killingsworth for which relief could be granted because Jones and Killingsworth lacked any duty apart from their official positions to make the payments the OVC sought to recover and because the OVC's complaint did not supply the factual allegations necessary to support those individual-capacity claims. View "Ohio Valley Conference v. Jones, et al." on Justia Law
City of Orange Beach v. Boles.
In consolidated appeals, the City of Orange Beach ("the City") appealed a judgment entered in favor of Ian Boles in regard to a dispute over the City's inspection of Boles' property. Between 2013 and 2015 Boles constructed two eight-bedroom duplexes on property he owned located within the City limits ("the beachfront property"). In September 2015, Boles filed a building-permit application seeking a permit to construct two additional multiple-level duplexes on the beachfront property. Additionally, in October 2015, Boles filed a separate building-permit application for the construction of a single-family dwelling on another parcel of property that Boles owned within the City limits ("the Burkhart Drive property"). At the time of each permit request, Boles completed a "Home Builders Affidavit" attesting that he was the owner of the property; that he would be acting as his own contractor on the proposed project, which would not be offered for sale; and that he was, thus, exempt from the requirement that he be licensed under Alabama's Home Builders Licensure Law. The building-permit packages provided to Boles explained that a certificate of occupancy for the proposed structure would not be issued until, among other things, "a subcontractor list has been submitted to the [City's] Finance Department." Boles also received with each package a blank subcontractor form for identifying all subcontractors for the proposed project, which specified that it was due within 10 days of the issuance of the building permits. Boles proceeded with construction on the two properties without completing or returning the subcontractor form for either property. Boles's electrical subcontractor apparently contacted the City to request an electrical meter-release inspection upon completion of the electrical portion of that project; the City refused. Boles contended the City either lacked the authority to and/or were exceeding their authority in refusing to inspect the beachfront property until the City received information to which, according to Boles, it was not entitled. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded the trial court erred both in submitting Boles's damages claims to a jury and in denying the City's motion seeking a judgment as a matter of law. The trial court's judgment was reversed, and these matters were remanded for further proceedings. View "City of Orange Beach v. Boles." on Justia Law
Johnson, et al. v. Washington
With the onset of COVID-19, the Alabama Department of Labor received a record number of applications for unemployment benefits. The Department struggled to process the additional million-plus applications in a timely fashion. The plaintiffs-appellants in this case were among the many individuals who experienced delays in the handling of their applications. They brought this lawsuit in an effort to jumpstart the administrative-approval process. In their operative joint complaint, each plaintiff raised multiple claims for relief, all of which sought to compel the Alabama Secretary of Labor, Fitzgerald Washington, to improve the speed and manner in which the Department processes their applications for unemployment benefits. Secretary Washington responded to the suit by asking the circuit court to dismiss all claims against him, arguing (among other things) that the circuit court lacked jurisdiction over the suit because the plaintiffs had not yet exhausted mandatory administrative remedies. After the circuit court granted that motion, the plaintiffs appealed to the Alabama Supreme Court. The Supreme Court agreed with Secretary Washington that the Legislature prohibited courts from exercising jurisdiction over the plaintiffs' claims at this stage. The Court therefore affirmed the circuit court's judgment of dismissal. View "Johnson, et al. v. Washington" on Justia Law
Whaley, et al. v. Dept. of Alabama Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States
This appeal related to "electronic-bingo" operations conducted by the Department of Alabama Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States ("the VFW") at some of its Alabama posts. Travis Whaley and Randall Lovvorn contracted with the VFW to superintend and promote its electronic-bingo operations. Between 1997 and 2013, Whaley served the VFW as adjutant, commander, and quartermaster at different times. For his part, Lovvorn served as the VFW's accountant. The VFW contracted with G2 Operations, Inc. ("G2"), to conduct its electronic-bingo operations. Under contract, G2 agreed to conduct electronic-bingo operations at VFW posts throughout Alabama, and the VFW would receive 10% of the gross revenue. All the proceeds from electronic bingo were deposited into a VFW bank account. The VFW also entered into contracts with Whaley and Lovvorn, assigning them specific roles in its electronic-bingo operations. Several years later, after being notified of a tax penalty from the IRS, the VFW discovered a shortfall of $1,782,368.88 from what it should have received under its contracts with G2. The VFW filed a complaint asserting claims against G2 as well as additional claims against other parties, which were eventually whittled down throughout litigation until only claims against Whaley and Lovvorn remained. A jury reached a verdict against Whaley and Lovvorn on VFW's claims of breach of contract, fraudulent suppression, and conversion, awarding $1,782,368.88 in compensatory damages and $2,000,000 in punitive damages. Because the VFW's claims rely upon its own involvement in illegal transactions, the Alabama Supreme Court reversed the trial court's judgment and rendered judgment in favor of Whaley and Lovvorn. View "Whaley, et al. v. Dept. of Alabama Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States" on Justia Law
Ex parte Alabama Department of Transportation
Baldwin County Bridge Company, LLC ("BCBC"), filed suit against John Cooper in his official capacity as Director of the Alabama Department of Transportation ("ALDOT"), seeking to halt construction of a bridge that ALDOT had hired Scott Bridge Company, Inc. ("Scott Bridge"), to build over the Intracoastal Waterway in Baldwin County. That lawsuit spawned three matters before the Alabama Supreme Court. In the first, Cooper sought mandamus relief because the trial court entered an order compelling him to respond to certain discovery requests made by BCBC; he argued the information sought was protected from disclosure by the executive-privilege doctrine. On Cooper's motion, the Supreme Court stayed enforcement of the trial court's discovery order to allow the Court to consider Cooper's privilege argument. Meanwhile, the trial-court proceedings continued and, before the Supreme Court was able to rule on Cooper's mandamus petition, the trial court granted BCBC's motion for a preliminary injunction to halt construction of the bridge. Cooper appealed that injunction, arguing that it was unwarranted and that the $100,000 preliminary-injunction bond put up by BCBC was insufficient. Scott Bridge filed its own appeal challenging the preliminary injunction, while also arguing that the trial court erred by dismissing it from the case and by stating that it was not entitled to the protection of an injunction bond. After reviewing the briefs submitted by the parties in all three of these matters, the Supreme Court concluded BCBC's claim on which the preliminary injunction was based was barred by State immunity. Accordingly, the trial court had no subject-matter jurisdiction over that claim and the preliminary injunction had to be reversed. Although the Court ruled in favor of Cooper on this point, it nevertheless rejected his companion argument that the trial court should have been directed to increase the $100,000 preliminary-injunction bond on remand. The Court also rejected Scott Bridge's argument that that it was entitled to recover on the preliminary-injunction bond. Finally, because the discovery that Cooper sought to withhold based on executive privilege was being sought in conjunction with the claim that is barred by State immunity, the trial court's order compelling Cooper to produce that information was moot, as was Cooper's petition challenging that order. View "Ex parte Alabama Department of Transportation" on Justia Law
Ohio Valley Conference v. Jones, et al.
The Ohio Valley Conference ("the OVC") appealed a judgment dismissing its official-capacity and individual-capacity claims against Randall Jones, the Chair of the Board of Trustees of Jacksonville State University ("JSU"), and Don C. Killingsworth, Jr., the President of Jacksonville State University. The OVC was a men's and women's collegiate athletic conference that began in 1948. The OVC Constitution contained two relevant provisions concerning resignation of membership from the conference. In addition to alleging that JSU had failed to pay the conference-resignation fee described in Article 4.5.3 of the OVC Constitution, the OVC also asserted that JSU owed the conference money for tickets to certain conference championship basketball tournament tickets. JSU, Jones, and Killingsworth filed a joint motion to dismiss the OVC's complaint. With respect to the OVC's claims against JSU, defendants argued that the Alabama State Board of Adjustment ("the BOA") had "exclusive jurisdiction" over those claims. With respect to any claims the OVC asserted against Jones and Killingsworth in their official capacities, defendants argued the claims were barred by State immunity under § 14 of the Alabama Constitution. With respect to any claims the OVC asserted against Jones and Killingsworth in their individual capacities, defendants argued the OVC had failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, and they maintained that the claims were barred by the doctrine of State-agent immunity. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded the OVC's claims against Jones and Killingsworth in their official capacities seeking payment for the liquidated amount of the conference-resignation fee and for the value of the tickets JSU received for the OVC's 2021 conference championship basketball tournament did not constitute claims against the State, and, therefore, they were not barred by State immunity. Accordingly, the circuit court erred in dismissing the OVC's official-capacity claims against Jones and Killingsworth. However, the Court found the OVC failed to state individual-capacity claims against Jones and Killingsworth for which relief could be granted because Jones and Killingsworth lacked any duty apart from their official positions to make the payments the OVC sought to recover and because the OVC's complaint did not supply the factual allegations necessary to support those individual-capacity claims. View "Ohio Valley Conference v. Jones, et al." on Justia Law
Hanes et al. v. Merrill, et al.
Plaintiffs Tommy Hanes, David Calderwood, and Focus on America appealed a circuit court judgment dismissing their claims against John Merrill, in his official capacity as the Alabama Secretary of State, and Bill English, Wes Allen, Clay Crenshaw, Jeff Elrod, and Will Barfoot, in their official capacities as members of the Alabama Electronic Voting Committee ("the committee"). In May 2022, plaintiffs filed suit seeking declaratory and injunctive relief relating to the general use of electronic-voting machines in the November 2022 general statewide election and in all future elections. Plaintiffs primarily sought to enjoin the usage of electronic-voting machines to count ballots. They specifically sought an order requiring that the 2022 election be conducted by paper ballot, with three individuals as independent counters who would manually count each ballot in full view of multiple cameras that could record and broadcast the counting proceedings, among other measures. Plaintiffs claimed the use of electronic voting machines was so insecure, both inherently and because of the alleged failures defendants in certifying the machines, that it infringed upon their constitutional right to vote, or, in the case of Focus on America, the right to vote of those persons it represented. Defendants moved to dismiss, citing Rule 12(b)(1) and Rule 12(b)(6), Ala. R. Civ. P. They argued plaintiffs lacked standing, that the claims were moot, that State or Sovereign immunity under Art. I, § 14, of the Alabama Constitution barred the claims, that the complaint failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, and that the court lacked jurisdiction pursuant to § 17-16-44, Ala. Code 1975. The circuit court found that the jurisdiction-stripping statute barred the plaintiffs' action, that the plaintiffs lacked standing, that the complaint failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, and that sovereign immunity barred the plaintiffs' claims. Finding plaintiffs lacked standing to pursue their claims, thus depriving the circuit court of jurisdiction over their complaint, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed dismissal. View "Hanes et al. v. Merrill, et al." on Justia Law
Zinn v. Till
Jennie and Christopher Zinn appealed a circuit court's dismissal of their complaint against Ashley Till. In October 2017, the Zinns filed an adoption petition with the probate court concerning an unborn child. The child was born later that month, and the probate court subsequently entered an interlocutory adoption decree. In November 2017, the Zinns filed an amended adoption petition, listing the child's name and providing the consent of the child's mother and purported father to the child's adoption. On December 18, 2017, Till, an employee of the Alabama Department of Human Resources, submitted an acknowledgment letter to the probate court stating that there was no entry in the putative-father registry relating to the child. The next day, the probate court entered a final decree of adoption. On January 25, 2018, Till submitted a corrected acknowledgment letter to the probate court, identifying an individual who was, in fact, listed in the putative-father registry regarding the child and stating that incomplete information had previously been provided "due to oversight and neglect." The next day, the probate court vacated the final decree of adoption based on the corrected acknowledgment letter. In June 2019, the Zinns filed suit against Till alleging: (1) negligence; (2) wantonness; and (3) that the defendants had "acted willfully, maliciously, in bad faith, beyond their authority or under a mistaken interpretation of the law ...." The Zinns' complaint sought awards of compensatory and punitive damages. On appeal, the Zinns argue that the circuit court erred by dismissing their claims on immunity grounds. Till moved to dismiss count one of the Zinns' complaint based on State-agent immunity, and the circuit court cited State-agent immunity as an alternative ground for dismissing counts two and three of the complaint. Insofar as the circuit court's judgment dismissing each count of the complaint was based on the doctrine of State-agent immunity, the parties appeared to agree that the judgment should have been reversed regarding each count. The judgment was reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings. View "Zinn v. Till" on Justia Law
Ex parte City of Muscle Shoals.
Residents of the Nathan Estates subdivision in the City of Muscle Shoals ("the City") sued the City seeking, among other things, an injunction directing the City to enact a comprehensive stormwater-management plan or to enforce its existing stormwater-management ordinances to prevent its retention pond located in the subdivision from overflowing and damaging the residents' property. The City moved to dismiss the residents' claim for injunctive relief on the basis that it was entitled to substantive immunity, but the circuit court denied that motion. The City then petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the circuit court to dismiss the residents' claim for injunctive relief based on its entitlement to substantive immunity. The City argued that claims for injunctive relief cannot be used as a means of directing a municipality to create new policies or ordinances or to control how it enforces its existing policies or ordinances. The Supreme Court granted the petition and issued the writ. However, in doing so, the Court did not reach the question of whether (or when) a municipality might be enjoined based on its own tortious conduct (as opposed to its conduct in enacting or enforcing its policies and ordinances). View "Ex parte City of Muscle Shoals." on Justia Law
Hudson v. Ivey, et al.
This case concerned the reallocation of a circuit-court judgeship from the 10th Judicial Circuit located in Jefferson County, Alabama to the 23d Judicial Circuit located in Madison County. Tiara Young Hudson, an attorney residing in Jefferson County, had been a candidate for appointment and election to the Jefferson County judgeship before its reallocation to Madison County. Hudson filed suit at the Montgomery Circuit Court ("the trial court") seeking a judgment declaring that the act providing for the reallocation of judgeships, § 12-9A-1 et seq. ("the Act"), Ala. Code 1975, violated certain provisions of the Alabama Constitution of 1901. Hudson also sought a permanent injunction removing the Madison County circuit judge that had been appointed to fill the reallocated judgeship from office and directing the governor to appoint a new person nominated by the Jefferson County Judicial Commission to fill the judgeship in Jefferson County. The trial court dismissed the action on the ground that it did not have subject-matter jurisdiction to grant the requested relief. Finding no reversible error in that dismissal, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed. View "Hudson v. Ivey, et al." on Justia Law