Articles Posted in Alabama Supreme Court

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In these consolidated appeals, Carol Perdue, individually and as next friend and guardian of her daughter, Anna; William D. Motlow, Jr.; and Shane Sears (hereinafter collectively referred to as "the objectors"), all of whom were objecting class members in class-action litigation related to the Alabama Prepaid Affordable College Tuition ("PACT") Trust Fund a/k/a The Wallace-Folsom Prepaid College Tuition Trust Fund, appealed the trial court's judgment that approved a class-action settlement concluding the litigation. The objectors largely complained that as contributors or beneficiaries of the PACT fund, it was being mismanaged and underfunded to their detriment. While the case was pending, the Alabama Legislature changed the laws directly impacting the management and funding of the PACT program. The PACT Board responded to the change in the law by moving to dismiss the objectors' suit as moot. The issues on appeal before the Supreme Court involved terms of the settlement agreement: the objectors contended that the trial court permitted language in the agreement that ran afoul of the changed laws and disregarded objections of the complaining members of the class. Upon review, the Supreme Court vacated the trial court's judgment and remanded the case: "[t]he scope of the objections in the trial court was not the narrow question whether the order should bind only the objectors, but, on the contrary, the issue presented [was] the broader question whether the trial court's judgment approving the settlement agreement [was] due to be affirmed. . . . the objectors are allowed to appeal that aspect of the trial court's order that affects them - 'the [circuit court's] decision to disregard [their] objections.' If the judgment [was] affirmed, the settlement agreement affects them in that it binds them, as members of the class, to terms of a settlement agreement inconsistent with 16-33C-19." View "Perdue v. Green" on Justia Law

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The Montgomery County Board of Education (the Board), several of its members, and a teacher in the school system petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the circuit court to vacated its order that denied their motion for summary judgment. Third-grade student "S.K." went to the restroom with two friends. Her teacher did not accompany them. S.K. claims that when she attempted to leave the restroom stall, the door jammed. She tried to climb over the door to get out of the stall but slipped and fell, cutting her face on a metal hanger on the back of the door. S.K. (by and through her mother Tetrina Capehart) sued the Board, its members individually and in their official capacities, and the teacher asserting negligence and wantonness claims, and sought compensatory and punitive damages. The Board and teacher argued that there were no genuine issues of fact, and that S.K. was contributorily negligent from "playing" in the restroom. The circuit court denied the Board's motion. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded the Board demonstrated that under the state constitution, it had absolute immunity from suit for claims asserted against it. The Court granted the Board's petition and issued the writ to direct the circuit court to rule in the Board's favor. View "In re: S.K." on Justia Law

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Defendants the Colbert County Board of Education ("the Board"); and the individual members of the Board and members of the Colbert County High School appealed a trial court's judgment that granted Plaintiff Felecia James's motion for a preliminary injunction. On or about May 21, 2010, an incident occurred at Colbert County High School (CCHS) involving J.H., Plaintiff's minor child, and another minor enrolled in CCHS. The details of the incident were disputed, but they led the assistant principal of the school to suspend both students for three days for allegedly fighting on school property during school hours. Plaintiff appeared before the Board to discuss the situation. The Board apparently took no action, and Plaintiff "individually and as mother and guardian of J.H." sued the Board and the individually named defendants asserting state-law and federal-law claims She also filed a motion for a temporary restraining order, a preliminary injunction, and a permanent injunction. Upon review, the Supreme Court found that the Board members in their official capacities were immune from the state-law claims filed against them insofar as those claims sought monetary damages. As such, the trial court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over those state-law claims against the officials in their official capacities. However, the Board members were not immune from Plaintiff's state-law claims insofar as she sought injunctive relief based upon the Board members' alleged fraud, bad faith, or actions that were beyond the Board members' authority or that were taken under a mistaken interpretation of law. The Court noted that the Board and its members were not immune from the federal-law claims filed against them. Based on the foregoing, insofar as the Board appealed the preliminary injunction against it based upon the state-law claims filed by Plaintiff, the Supreme Court dismissed their appeal for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. Because the Court reversed the preliminary injunction, the Court declined to order the trial court to vacate the preliminary injunction entered against the Board insofar as it was based on those claims. View "Colbert Cty. Bd. of Edu. v. James" on Justia Law

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The Boaz City Board of Education ("the Board") and its members Alan Perry, Fran Milwee, Roger Adams, Alan Davis, and Tony G. King (collectively "the Board members") petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the circuit court to vacate its order that denied their motion to dismiss claims filed against them by Lisa and Donnie Tarvin and to enter an order dismissing the claims with prejudice. According to the complaint, Leland Dishman, the superintendent for the Board, struck kindergarden teacher Lisa Tarvin with a paddle. Dishman read a statement at a press conference, denying that the incident occurred. The Tarvins sued the Board, the Board members in their official capacities, and Dishman in his individual capacity, alleging claims of assault and/or battery, defamation, libel, and slander and sought monetary damages. The Board and the Board members moved to dismiss the claims against them, arguing that they were immune from suit under the State immunity doctrine. Upon review, the Supreme Court found that the Board and its members demonstrated that under the Alabama Constitution, they had immunity from the claims asserted against them, and "a clear legal right to have the claims… dismissed with prejudice." The Court granted the petition and issued the writ. View "Tarvin v. Dishman" on Justia Law

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Students and former students of the University of Alabama, Auburn University, and the University of Alabama at Birmingham, filed three separate class-action lawsuits in the Jefferson Circuit Court challenging the legality of so-called "dining-dollars" programs implemented by the universities and pursuant to which all undergraduate students were required to pay a mandatory dining fee each semester, which was then credited back to the students in the form of "dining dollars" that could be spent only at on-campus dining outlets controlled exclusively by the food-service vendors for the universities - Aramark Educational Services, Inc., at UA; Compass Group, USA, Inc. (Chartwells) at Auburn; and Sodexo, Inc., at UAB. The trial court dismissed the three actions, and the students appealed. The Supreme Court consolidated the appeals for the purpose of writing one opinion and affirmed all three. The students sued the boards of trustees governing the universities and the food-service vendors, alleging that the dining-dollars programs violated: (1) state antitrust laws; (2) the Alabama Constitution inasmuch as it forbids the State from having an interest in a private enterprise; (3) the rule in 16-1-32(d) barring universities from charging excessive transaction fees to merchants that accept university-issued debit cards; and (4) the common-law prohibition on conversion. Because the boards of trustees are entitled to state immunity pursuant to section 14 of the Alabama Constitution, all claims against them were properly dismissed. The university administrators and foodservice vendors were entitled to immunity on the asserted antitrust claims as well, albeit state-action immunity as opposed to state immunity. Moreover, because the students lacked standing to pursue a cause of action for a violation of 16-1-32(d), and because the students did not and could not allege the necessary elements of a conversion claim, the trial court also properly dismissed the students' other claims. View "Vandenberg v. Aramark Educational Services, Inc." on Justia Law