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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Leigh Shelton, as the personal representative of the estate of Margaret Blansit, deceased, appealed a judgment in favor of I.E. Green in a personal-injury action brought by Shelton seeking damages for injuries Blansit allegedly suffered in a slip-and-fall accident at Green's residence. Before Shelton filed her complaint, Blansit died of causes unrelated to the fall. Green filed a motion for a judgment on the pleadings, arguing that Blansit's cause of action abated upon her death. The trial court agreed and granted Green's motion. Shelton appealed. Finding no reversible error, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed. View "Shelton v. Green" on Justia Law

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Candy Parkhurst ("Parkhurst"), personal representative of the estate of her husband, Andrew P. Parkhurst ("Andrew"), deceased, file suit to compel Carter C. Norvell and Parkhurst & Norvell, an accounting firm Norvell had operated as a partnership with Andrew ("the partnership"), to arbitrate a dispute regarding the dissolution of the partnership. Pursuant to an arbitration provision in a dissolution agreement Norvell and Andrew had executed before Andrew's death, the trial court ultimately ordered arbitration and stayed further proceedings until arbitration was complete. Subsequently, however, Parkhurst moved the trial court to lift the stay and to enter a partial summary judgment resolving certain aspects of the dispute in her favor. After the trial court lifted the stay and scheduled a hearing on Parkhurst's motion, Norvell and the partnership appealed, arguing that the trial court was effectively failing to enforce the terms of a valid arbitration agreement in violation of the Federal Arbitration Act. The Alabama Supreme Court determined there was no evidence in the record indicating that Norvell made such an agreement and he, in fact, denied doing so. In the absence of any evidence that would establish such an agreement, as well as any other evidence that would conclusively establish that Norvell clearly and unequivocally expressed an intent to waive his right to have the arbitrator resolve this dispute. As such, Parkhurst failed to meet her burden of showing that the arbitration provision in the dissolution agreement should not have been enforced. Accordingly, the trial court erred by lifting the arbitral stay in order to consider Parkhurst's motion for a partial summary judgment, and its judgment doing so was reversed and remanded. View "Norvell v. Parkhurst" on Justia Law

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Timothy Thomas appealed from judgments entered in favor of Randell Heard and Donna Heard and in favor of Laura Wells, as guardian ad litem and next friend of M.A., a minor. The Heards and Wells had separately sued Thomas alleging negligence and wantonness and seeking to recover damages for injuries the Heards and M.A. had suffered as the result of an automobile accident. Thomas argued that the jury's punitive-damages awards were excessive. The trial court denied Thomas's request for a remittitur without explaining its reasoning for doing so. On appeal, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the judgments as to the compensatory-damages awards but remanded the cases with instructions for the trial court to enter orders in compliance with Alabama law. The trial court reaffirmed the punitive-damages awards on remand. The only issue before the Supreme Court in this appeal was whether the punitive-damages awards were, as Thomas contended, excessive. The Court concluded that they were not. View "Thomas v. Heard" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Johnny Mack Morrow, a member of the Alabama House of Representatives, and Jim Zeigler, auditor for the State of Alabama appealed a circuit court judgment dismissing their complaint filed against Robert Bentley, individually and in his official capacity as governor of the State of Alabama; Gunter Guy, individually and in his official capacity as commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources; Luther Strange, individually and in his official capacity as attorney general for the State of Alabama; William Newton, individually and in his official capacity as director of the Alabama Department of Finance; and Cooper Shattuck, individually and in his official capacity as executive director of the University of Alabama System's Gulf State Park Project. Relevant to the plaintiffs' claims was the Gulf State Park Projects Act, 9-14E-1 et seq., Ala. Code 1975 ("the Act"), which was enacted to facilitate the construction of a hotel/conference center in Gulf State Park ("the project"). Alabama received National Resource Damage Assessment funds, however, the United States District Court for the Southern District of Alabama enjoined use of those funds on the project until the defendants in the district court complied with certain federal requirements. The plaintiffs' complaint alleged that, given the district court's order, the defendants were "[w]ithout any lawful funds to spend upon the [p]roject." Nevertheless, the plaintiffs alleged, the defendants "boldly, unlawfully and hastily proceeded" to fund the project with moneys received from British Petroleum Exploration & Production, Inc. ("BP"), as a result of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Defendants moved to dismiss, arguing plaintiffs lacked standing to pursue their claims. The circuit court agreed with defendants and dismissed the complaint. The Alabama Supreme Court found that because the issue of the plaintiffs' standing in their individual capacities was not preserved for appellate review and because the plaintiffs did not have standing to prosecute their action in their official capacities, the trial court did not err in dismissing the complaint. Accordingly, the judgment was affirmed. View "Morrow v. Bentley" on Justia Law

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Douglas Ghee, as personal representative of the estate of Billy Fleming, deceased, appealed a circuit court order dismissing his wrongful-death claim against USAble Mutual Insurance Company d/b/a Blue Advantage Administrators of Arkansas ("Blue Advantage"). The Alabama Supreme Court dismissed this appeal as being from a nonfinal order. View "Ghee v. USAble Mutual Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Alice Lynn Harper Taylor ("Alice") petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directed to the Monroe Probate Court, requesting that court enter orders: (1) reinstating her petition to probate a will allegedly executed by Alice Earle Harper in 2007; (2) reinstating her petition contesting the 2007 will; and (3) transferring her contest of the 2007 will to the Monroe Circuit Court pursuant to 43-8-198, Ala. Code 1975. The decedent died in 2013. Alice filed to probate the decedent’s 1995 will in Monroe County. Approximately one year later, one of Alice’s brothers, William, moved to dismiss Alice’s petition, and filed in Escambia County a will drafted in 2007, purporting to revoke the 1995 will. Alice challenged the validity of the 2007 will; William challenged the 1995 will. The Probate court determined Monroe County was the proper venue, but ruled in favor of William and the 2007 will. The Alabama Supreme Court found neither the 1995 will nor the 2007 will was determined to be the decedent’s last will. Where several wills and will contests are filed, the Supreme Court has approved of the consolidation of such proceedings. Monroe County was the proper venue to hear the matter. The Court found the Monroe Probate Court erred in dismissing Alice’s petition to probate the 2007 will and her contest of that will. There was no dispute at to whether Alice made the prima facie showing required under 43-8-198. Thus, she was entitled to an order transferring that will contest to the Monroe Circuit Court. View "Ex parte Alice Lynn Harper Taylor." on Justia Law

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Defendant Travelers Indemnity Company of Connecticut ("Travelers") appealed a circuit court’s denial of its post-judgment motion seeking to set aside judgment entered on a jury verdict in favor of plaintiff Angela Worthington. Worthington was a passenger in a vehicle being driven by her husband. A friend of the Worthingtons and the Worthingtons' two minor children were also passengers in the vehicle. While the Worthingtons' vehicle was stopped at a nonfunctioning traffic light, it was struck in the rear by a vehicle being operated by Camille Thomas. Worthington and the other occupants in her vehicle were injured as a result of the accident. At the time of the accident, the company Worthington's husband owned had a comprehensive insurance policy with Travelers that included uninsured-motorist ("UM") and underinsured-motorist ("UIM") coverage. The Worthingtons sued Thomas and Travelers; the complaint included a UM/UIM claim against Travelers. After review of the claims Travelers made on appeal, the Alabama Supreme Court determined Travelers did not establish that the trial court erred in denying the post-judgment motion, and affirmed. View "Travelers Indemnity Company of Connecticut v. Worthington" on Justia Law

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Casey Wilkes and Alexander Russell appealed the grant of summary judgment favor of PCI Gaming Authority d/b/a Wind Creek Casino and Hotel Wetumpka ("Wind Creek-Wetumpka"), and the Poarch Band of Creek Indians (collectively as "the tribal defendants"), on negligence and wantonness claims asserted by Wilkes and Russell seeking compensation for injuries they received when an automobile driven by Wilkes was involved in a collision with a pickup truck belonging to Wind Creek Wetumpka and being driven by Barbie Spraggins, an employee at Wind Creek-Wetumpka. In the interest of justice, the Alabama Supreme Court declined to extend the doctrine of tribal sovereign immunity beyond the circumstances in which the Supreme Court of the United States itself has applied it. The judgment of the trial court holding that it lacked jurisdiction to consider the claims asserted by Wilkes and Russell based on the doctrine of tribal sovereign immunity was accordingly reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings. View "Wilkes v. PCI Gaming Authority" on Justia Law

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Benjamin Harrison was injured during the early morning hours of March 1, 2013, when, as a passenger, he was involved in an automobile accident following a high-speed police chase on a portion of a county roadway that traverses land held by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians ("the Tribe") in Escambia County. The driver of the vehicle in which Benjamin was a passenger, Roil Hadley, had consumed alcohol while he was a patron at Wind Creek Casino during the evening of February 28, 2013, and the early morning hours of March 1, 2013. Amanda Harrison, as mother and next friend of Benjamin, sued the tribal defendants and two individuals, alleging the tribal defendants were responsible for negligently or wantonly serving alcohol to Hadley despite his being visibly intoxicated and asserted, among other claims, claims against the tribal defendants under Alabama’s Dram Shop Act. Defendants moved to dismiss on grounds they were immune under the doctrine of tribal sovereign immunity, and that the circuit court lacked subject matter jurisdiction because Tribal Court held exclusive jurisdiction over the claims. The Alabama Supreme Court declined to extend the doctrine of tribal immunity to actions in tort, in which the plaintiff had no opportunity to bargain for a waiver and no other avenue for relief. The Court similarly concluded the judgment entered by the trial court was reversed. The case was remanded for the circuit court to consider a related issue pertaining to an asserted lack of adjudicative, or "direct" subject-matter jurisdiction by the circuit court thus addressing the tribal defendants’ position that the claim in this case arose on Indian land, but Benjamin's fatal injuries occurred on an Escambia County Road. Also, the Court directed the circuit court to consider whether subject-matter jurisdiction is affected by the fact that the alleged tortious conduct of the tribal defendants entails a violation of Alabama's statutory and regulatory scheme for the sale of alcohol in Alabama, a scheme to which Congress has expressly declared the Tribe to be subject. View "Harrison v. PCI Gaming Authority" on Justia Law