Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Alabama
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In 2019, the Alabama Legislature passed -- and Governor Kay Ivey signed -- House Bill 380 ("H.B. 380"), which became Act No. 2019-393, Ala. Acts 2019. As enacted, H.B. 380 amended various Code provisions, including § 15-22-21(a), Ala. Code 1975, creating the position of director of the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles ("the Bureau"), and § 15-22-20(b), Ala. Code 1975, addressing the nomination and appointment processes for the members of the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles ("the Board"). After H.B. 380 was enacted, Governor Ivey appointed Leigh Gwathney as chair of the Board pursuant to the new procedures set forth in § 15-22-20(b). In November 2020, the three-member Board convened and held a parole-consideration hearing for Angela Turner, an inmate who was serving a life sentence for murder. Following a review of Turner's file, the Board unanimously denied Turner's parole request. Around that same time, Governor Ivey appointed Cam Ward as the new director of the Bureau. In response to the Board's denial of parole, Turner filed suit against Governor Ivey, Ward, Gwathney, and the other members of the Parole Board, in which she sought a judgment declaring that Governor Ivey's appointment of Ward and Gwathney to their respective positions pursuant to the changes created by H.B. 380 violated the Alabama Constitution of 1901. She also, on behalf of the State of Alabama, petitioned for writs of quo warranto pursuant to § 6-6-591, Ala. Code 1975, alleging that Ward and Gwathney unlawfully held their respective positions. Finally, she alleged a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim against all the defendants on the basis that she had been denied due process during her parole-consideration hearing. The circuit court dismissed Turner's claims with prejudice. Finding no reversible error in the circuit court's order, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed. View "Turner and the State of Alabama ex rel. Angela Turner v. Ivey, et al." on Justia Law

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Irvin Shell, as administrator of the estate of Annie Ruth Peterson, deceased ("the estate"), appealed separate summary judgments entered in favor of Montgomery-municipal jail employees Terri Butcher and Shayla Payne, respectively, on the basis of State-agent immunity. Annie Peterson was arrested for driving under the influence "of any substance" and transported to the municipal jail. Peterson was not actually under the influence of an intoxicating substance at the time of her arrest; rather, she was suffering from a hemorrhagic stroke. She remained in jail overnight; when jail officers went to retrieve Peterson from her cell, she was weak, “drowsy” and appeared ill. This information was relayed to a jail nurse; the nurse in turn contacted a doctor, who instructed jail staff to transport Peterson to the emergency room. After the bonding process was complete, Peterson was released to a family member who transported Peterson to a local hospital where she was diagnosed with having suffered a stroke; she died three days later on April 16, 2013. The estate sued Butcher and Payne in their individual capacities, alleging that they had been negligent and wanton in failing to obtain medical care for Peterson in a timely manner. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the estate did not demonstrate the trial court erred in entering summary judgment in favor of Butcher and Payne based on State-agent immunity. Accordingly, the trial court’s judgments were affirmed. View "Shell v. Butcher" on Justia Law

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The Wilcox County Board of Education ("the Board"), and Board members Lester Turk, Donald McLeod, Joseph Pettway, Jr., and Shelia Dortch (collectively, "the Board members"), petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Wilcox Circuit Court to vacate its order denying their motion to dismiss the claims against them based on immunity and to enter an order granting that motion. In 2017, Kimberly Perryman, as guardian and next friend of her minor son, R.M., sued the Board, and J.E. Hobbs Elementary School principal Roshanda Jackson, and teacher Timothy Irvin Smiley. Perryman alleged in 2016, Smiley, "in a fit of rage and unprovoked, did lift the Plaintiff R.M. and slam him down upon a table, with such force as to break said table." Perryman further alleged in her rendition of the facts that "Smiley was in the habit of continuously and repeatedly using harsh, physical and otherwise inappropriate tactics on the students in his class" and that "Smiley's behavior was known or should have been known to the Principal Defendant and the School Board Defendant[]." Perryman asserted claims of assault and battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress against Smiley; claims of negligence and negligent/wanton hiring, training, retention, and supervision against Jackson; and a claim of negligence against the Board. Specifically, the negligence claim against the Board stated: "The ... Wilcox County Board of Education negligently breached [its] dut[y] to R.M. by failing to supervise, discipline or remove if necessary, the Defendant teacher [Timothy Smiley], thereby placing the Plaintiff R.M. in harm's way." The Alabama Supreme Court concluded the Board and the Board members in their official capacities were entitled to immunity from the state-law claims asserted against them; the Board members in their individual capacities were entitled to State-agent immunity from any state-law claims asserted against them; and that the Board members in their individual capacities were entitled to qualified immunity from the 42 U.S.C. 1983 claim asserted against them. Therefore, the circuit court should have dismissed Perryman's claims with respect to those parties, and to that extent the petition for mandamus relief was granted. However, the Board and the Board members in their official capacities were not entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity from the section 1983 claim, and the petition was denied with respect to that claim. View "Ex parte Wilcox County Board of Education" on Justia Law