Justia Civil Rights Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Alabama Supreme Court
Guyoungtech USA, Inc. v. Dees
Elaine Dees sued Guyoungtech USA, Inc., alleging retaliatory discharge. A jury awarded Dees $1 million in compensatory damages and $2.5 million in punitive damages. The trial court denied Guyoungtech's post-trial motion for a judgment as a matter of law ("JML") or, alternatively, for a new trial but remitted the awards to $300,000 in compensatory damages and $900,000 in punitive damages, which Dees accepted. Guyoungtech appealed. Because the Supreme Court concluded that Guyoungtech is entitled to a new trial, it did not address the denial of its motion for a JML. View "Guyoungtech USA, Inc. v. Dees " on Justia Law
Volcano Enterprises, Inc. v. Rush
Volcano Enterprises, Inc., d/b/a Club Volcano, appealed the denial of its Rule 60(b)(4), Ala. R. Civ. P., motion to set aside the judgment entered against it in a wrongful-death action filed by Peggy Bender Rush, as administratrix of the estate of her husband Derric Rush and as his widow, and by Dashton Rush, the Rushes' minor son, by an through his mother and next friend, Peggy Bender Rush. The complaint alleged that police officer James Kendrick met a friend of his at Club Volcano after Kendrick's shift had ended. The complaint alleged Kendrick consumed a substantial amount of alcohol while sitting in a parked vehicle in the parking lot of the club, after which he entered the club with his friend. Kendrick allegedly "remained for several hours" in the club, that while there he "became visibly intoxicated," and that, "despite his "visibly intoxicated condition, [he] was served additional alcohol and allowed to leave in an intoxicated condition." In his intoxicated condition, Kendrick allegedly drove his vehicle in a manner that caused the death of Derric Rush. In order to serve Volcano and its owner with her complaint, Rush employed a process server, who after three attempts, was unable to serve Volcano a copy of the complaint. There was a question at trial over whether Volcano's owner was actively attempting to avoid service. Rush resorted to service by publication. Volcano alleged service by publication was insufficient in this case. The Supreme Court concluded Rush had the burden of demonstrating that Volcano's owner avoided service, which the Court concluded she did not do. Therefore, the trial court erred in failing to grant Volcano's motion to set aside the default judgment. View "Volcano Enterprises, Inc. v. Rush" on Justia Law
Collar v. University of South Alabama
Respondents Reed Collar and Bonnie Collar, as the parents of Gilbert Collar, sued the University of South Alabama in connection with Gilbert's death. In October 2012, Gilbert was a student at the University. At some point while he and a few other students were talking, Gilbert was given a substance that was believed to have included illegal drugs. Gilbert had a sudden and immediate reaction to the substance: the reaction caused him either to become extremely hot or to believe that he was very hot. Gilbert lost the ability to fully understand his actions and to reason. As a result, Gilbert took off his clothes and began running into and out of traffic on the campus of the University. At some point during his reaction, Gilbert went to the University's police station and began hitting the windows. Gilbert started to walk away from the building but came back and started hitting the door of the station. An officer came out of the station through the door with his weapon drawn. After the officer called to Gilbert, Gilbert started to advance toward the police station and "immediately began acting in an erratic manner." When Gilbert was a few feet from the officer ("and for unexplainable reasons"), the officer shot Gilbert. The trial court entered an order denying the Chief of University Police's motion to dismiss. The Chief filed a petition for a writ of mandamus to reverse the trial court. The Supreme Court found that the Chief had a clear legal right to the dismissal of counts one and three of the complaint against him. Therefore, the Court granted his petition. View "Collar v. University of South Alabama" on Justia Law
Alabama Superintendent of Education et al. v. Alabama Education Association
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit certified two questions pertaining to Alabama law to the Alabama Supreme Court. The certified questions in this matter required the Court to determine the scope of certain provisions of the Act No. 2010-761, Ala. Acts 2010. The Supreme Court answered the first certified question in the affirmative and the second in the negative: (1) the "or otherwise" language in the Act is limited to the use of State mechanisms to make payments to organizations that use at least some portion of those payments for political activity; (2) the term "political activity" is not limited to electioneering activities, i.e., activities undertaken in support of candidates for elected offices. View "Alabama Superintendent of Education et al. v. Alabama Education Association" on Justia Law
Alexander v. City of Bessemer
The City of Bessemer and Bessemer City Councillors Jimmy Stephens, Dorothy Davidson, Sarah W. Belcher, and Albert Soles sought a writ of mandamus to direct the Circuit Court to dismiss a claim alleging bad-faith failure to pay legal bills and costs stemming from a complaint filed by former City Councillor Louise Alexander and the law firm of White, Arnold & Dowd, P.C. ("WAD"). The City councillors also sought to have a racial-discrimination claim dismissed. The plaintiffs alleged that in 2006 and 2007 Alexander received three donations from a Tuscaloosa real-estate developer, which were properly used for charitable projects in her district. In this same period (according to the complaint), Davidson and Belcher, received similar donations from the same individual for charitable projects in their respective districts. According to the complaint, beginning in the early spring of 2007, plaintiff Alexander opposed several projects the donor had proposed to the City and, the donor "vowed to retaliate." The complaint alleged that because of the donor's complaint to the Attorney General, a five-count indictment against Alexander was filed in August 2008 alleging violations of the Alabama Ethics Law. The complaint asserted that similar charges were not brought against Davidson and Belcher. WAD represented Alexander during her criminal proceedings. Alexander was ultimately acquitted. Alexander and WAD alleged that the City had a "policy and practice" of paying legal fees for city officials charged with crimes relating to their official duties if and when they were found not guilty. Upon review, the Supreme Court granted the petition for mandamus relief as it related to the bad-faith claim against the City. The Court denied the petition with regard to plaintiffs' claim against the City councillors regarding the racial discrimination claim: the councilors did not demonstrate entitlement to legislative immunity, and whether they were entitled to qualified immunity was a question requiring further consideration of facts outside of the pleadings. View "Alexander v. City of Bessemer" on Justia Law
Johnson v. Hetzel
This appeal arose from a circuit court's dismissal of Brandon Johnson's action against Gary Hetzel, warden of the Donaldson Correctional Facility; Sean Carlton, a correctional officer trainee at the facility; and correctional officers Dennis Johnson and Joe Binder. Johnson was serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole following a conviction for murder. He was seen fighting with another inmate and placed under "house arrest" pending a disciplinary hearing. Johnson argued that the defendants "deliberately plac[ed] him in 'house arrest' two cells from [another inmate with whom he had the fight], and [that] the defendants were responsible for the protection of both inmates, but instead opened the door to both cells at which time [Johnson] and [the other inmate] got into another fight," in which, Johnson argued, he was injured. Johnson filed an affidavit of substantial hardship, requesting that the initial docket fee for his case be waived. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss the complaint or, in the alternative, for a summary judgment. The circuit court granted the defendants' motion and dismissed Johnson's complaint. Johnson has appealed the circuit court's judgment of dismissal, arguing, in pertinent part, that the circuit court never had jurisdiction over his case because he did not pay the necessary filing fee and the circuit court never approved either of the affidavits of substantial hardship he had filed. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that the filing of a court-approved verified statement of substantial hardship was not met in this case. Therefore, the circuit court did not have jurisdiction to enter its judgment dismissing Johnson's complaint. The Court ruled the circuit court's judgment void. "[B]ecause a void judgment will not support an appeal," the Court vacated the trial court's judgment and dismissed the appeal.
Kelley v. Burnell
Defendant Ralph Burnell petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Bibb Circuit Court to vacate its 2011 order that denied his motion to dismiss claims Plaintiff Christi Burry Kelley filed against him. In 2007 while she was an inmate at the Bibb County jail, Plaintiff slipped in the shower and was injured. Petitioner was the warden of the jail at the time. Plaintiff sued the warden, the jail, the sheriff's department, and the sheriff, alleging negligence and wantonness. Defendants moved to dismiss, arguing among other things that the trial court did not have jurisdiction to hear the claims against them under state immunity. The trial court dismissed as to the County, the jail and the sheriff's department and sheriff, but denied the motion as to Defendant. Defendant argued on appeal to the Supreme Court that he was entitled to State immunity because he was being sued for money damages for actions that arose out of his performance of his duties as a deputy sheriff. Finding that Defendant established a clear legal right to the dismissal of Plaintiff's claims against him, the Supreme Court issued the writ.
Main & Associates, Inc. v. Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Alabama
Main & Associates, Inc., d/b/a Southern Springs Healthcare Facility, filed an action in the Bullock Circuit Court, on behalf of itself and a putative class of Alabama nursing homes, against Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama (BCBS), asserting claims of breach of contract, intentional interference with business relations, negligence and/or wantonness, and unjust enrichment and seeking injunctive relief. BCBS removed the case to the the federal court, arguing among other things, that Southern Springs' claims arose under the Medicare Act and that the Medicare Act, as amended by the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003 (the MMA) completely preempted Southern Springs' state-law claims. Southern Springs moved the federal court to remand the case to the circuit court, arguing that the federal court did not have jurisdiction over its claims. The federal court granted the motion and remanded the case to the Bullock Circuit Court. After remand, BCBS moved the circuit court for a judgment on the pleadings, arguing that Southern Springs had not exhausted its administrative remedies and that the circuit court did not have subject-matter jurisdiction over the case. The circuit court denied BCBS's motion, and BCBS petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the circuit court to dismiss Southern Springs' claims. Upon review, the Court concluded that Southern Springs' claims were inextricably intertwined with claims for coverage and benefits under the Medicare Act and that they were subject to the Act's mandatory administrative procedures and limited judicial review. Southern Springs did not exhaust its administrative remedies, and the circuit court did not have jurisdiction over its claims. Therefore, the Court granted BCBS's petition and issue a writ of mandamus directing the circuit court to dismiss the claims against BCBS.
AltaPointe Health Systems, Inc. v. Davis
AltaPointe Health Systems, Inc. (AHS), appealed a Mobile Probate Court's order finding it in contempt of its "Order of Outpatient Commitment" for Donald Bernoudy based on AHS's failure to comply with 22-52-10.3(e), Ala. Code 1975. Bernoudy refused treatment and was appointed a guardian ad litem to appear for several status hearings before the probate court, but the sheriff was unable to find him. When it did, Bernoudy was taken into custody, where subsequently he was deemed a "real and present threat of substantial harm" to himself and the public. At a show cause hearing, the court found that Bernoudy was "a long time mental health consumer, who [was] well known to the Court and should [have been] well known to AHS" and that AHS failed on multiple occasions to comply with its orders with regard to Bernoudy's commitment orders. Upon review, the Supreme Court found that while "[t]he probate court's frustration in this case [was] understandable. . . it [was] clear that the probate court did not find AHS in contempt because it had not complied with a specific provision of its . . . outpatient commitment order. Rather, the probate court found AHS in contempt because it had not complied with the reporting provisions set forth in 22-53-10.3(e). . . a violation of a statute is not a proper ground for a finding of contempt." Accordingly, the Court dismissed this appeal with instructions that the probate court set aside its order finding AHS in contempt.