Justia Education Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Alabama
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The Sumter County Board of Education ("the SCBE") appealed a circuit court's dismissal of its complaint asserting claims of reformation of a deed, breach of contract, and fraud, as well as seeking declaratory and injunctive relief, against the University of West Alabama ("UWA"); UWA's president Dr. Kenneth Tucker, in his individual and official capacities; and UWA's former president, Dr. Richard Holland, in his individual and official capacities. Because a new high school had been built, in early 2010 the SCBE closed Livingston High School ("LHS"). Shortly thereafter, officials from UWA approached the SCBE about the possibility of purchasing the LHS property. In 2011, a "Statutory Warranty Deed" conveying the LHS property from the SCBE to UWA ("the deed") was executed, and it was signed on the SCBE's behalf by Dr. Morton. The deed did not contain any restrictions on the LHS property or its use. The deed was recorded in the Sumter Probate Court on June 27, 2011. In May 2017, the University Charter School ("UCS") filed an application with the Alabama Public Charter School Commission ("the APCSC") to establish a charter school in Sumter County. In its application, UCS stated that the LHS property was its first choice for the location of the school. The APCSC approved UCS's application in July 2017. In October 2017, it was publicly announced that UWA had an agreement with UCS for UCS to use the LHS property to house its school.3 The SCBE's complaint alleged that in November 2017 the SCBE contacted UWA president Dr. Tucker and "requested that Defendant UWA honor its covenant not to use Livingston High School property as a K-12 charter school." However, UCS continued its preparations, and in August 2018 UCS opened its charter school on the LHS property with over 300 students attending. In May 2018, the SCBE filed the complaint at issue here, and the circuit court ultimately dismissed the complaint. Because the Alabama Supreme Court found that a restrictive covenant in the sales contract violated clear public policies of the Alabama School Choice and Student Opportunity Act, the restrictive covenant was unenforceable. Therefore, the circuit court's judgment dismissing all the claims against the University defendants was affirmed. View "Sumter County Board of Education v. University of West Alabama, et al." on Justia Law

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Amy Williamson petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the Tuscaloosa Circuit Court to enter a summary judgment in her favor based on State-agent immunity. Twenty-year-old Re.W. was a student in the CrossingPoints program, a collaborative program between the University of Alabama, the Tuscaloosa City Board of Education, and the Tuscaloosa County Board of Education that served college-aged students with mental disabilities. Williamson was a teacher in the program and an employee of the Tuscaloosa City Board of Education, and Amy Burnett was a "para-educator" with the program. In 2015, Williamson and Burnett transported Re.W. and three other students to various businesses to submit job applications. While Williamson and Burnett took two students into a Lowe's home-improvement store to submit applications, Re.W. and a male student stayed in the CrossingPoints van. Re.W. stated that, during the short time that the others were inside the store, the male student touched her on her breast and between her legs. In 2019, Re.W., by and through her parents and next friends, Ro.W. and V.W., sued Williamson on counts of negligent, wanton, and/or willful failure to perform ministerial acts and the tort of outrage. Williamson filed an answer to the complaint denying the material allegations and asserted multiple affirmative defenses. Williamson later moved for summary judgment, asserting, among other things, that Re.W.'s claims were barred by the doctrine of State-agent immunity. Because the Alabama Supreme Court concluded that Williamson established that, at the time of the incident, she was performing a discretionary function, and because the Court concluded Re.W. did not present any evidence to establish that an exception to State-agent immunity applied, Williamson established that she was entitled to State-agent immunity. Accordingly, the petition for the writ of mandamus was granted and the trial court directed to vacate its order denying Williamson's motion for a summary judgment, and directed to enter a summary judgment for Williamson. View "Ex parte Amy Williamson." on Justia Law

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Chris and Suzanne Moore, as parents and next friends of Sydney Moore, a minor, appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of Pamela Tyson and Jennifer Douthit, two employees of the Huntsville City Board of Education ("the Board"), with regard to negligence and wantonness claims asserted against Tyson and Douthit by the Moores arising from injuries suffered by Sydney at her elementary school. Tyson was employed by the Board as a teacher at Goldsmith-Schiffman Elementary School. Douthit was employed as the principal of the school. Sydney was enrolled at the school as a third-grade student in Tyson's class. Tyson left the students unsupervised in the classroom while she went to the restroom. During that time, Sydney and another student in the class left their seats, and, according to Sydney, the other student caused her to fall and hit her head and face on a counter in the classroom. Sydney suffered injuries from her fall, including fractures of her left orbital bone, her eye socket, and her nose and entrapment of her eye. Sydney was admitted for treatment at a hospital and underwent surgery as a result of the injuries. THe Alabama Supreme Court determined the Moores did not demonstrate the trial court erred in entering summary judgment in favor of Tyson and Douthit based on immunity. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the trial court's judgment. View "Moore v. Tyson" on Justia Law

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The circuit court dismissed with prejudice a complaint relating to an alleged sexual assault of a minor at an Autauga County, Alabama school. Multiple requests for continuances were granted. The last such grant, the circuit court admonished it would not grant additional continuances "absent a showing of extraordinary circumstances." A few days later, plaintiffs moved for another continuance, citing a scheduling conflict involving mediation in a separate case in another county. The circuit court did not rule on the motion, instead issuing an order dismissing the case with prejudice. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the circuit court exceeded its discretion in dismissing S.C. and K.C.'s claims when there was no clear record of delay or contumacious conduct by the plaintiffs. "By contacting court personnel, the parties were attempting to find a date for the circuit court's convenience as well as to make sure that the case proceeded to the merits in a timely manner. . . . That most severe sanction in the spectrum of sanctions is not warranted in this case." View "S.C. et al. v. Autauga County Board of Education et al." on Justia Law

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Cynthia Anthony, former interim president of Shelton State Community College; William Ashley, then-president of Shelton State; and Jimmy Baker, chancellor of the Alabama Community College System ("the ACCS") (collectively, "the college defendants"), appealed a circuit court judgment entered in favor of Khristy Large and Robert Pressley, current instructors at Shelton State, and Scheree Datcher, a former instructor at Shelton State (collectively, "the instructor plaintiffs"). Large and Pressley were instructors in the Office Administration Department ("OAD") at Shelton State; Datcher was an OAD instructor, now retired. Under college policy, an instructor was placed into one of three groups based on the instructor's "teaching area": Group A, Group B, or Group C. After an instructor was placed into a group, the instructor was ranked within the group for salary purposes according to criteria listed in the policy. The primary issue in this case was whether the instructor plaintiffs should be placed in Group A or Group B. In 2013, Joan Davis, then-interim president of Shelton State, concluded that Datcher and Pressley should have been reclassified from Group A to Group B, contrary to their credentialing document. Datcher and Pressley received higher salaries by being reclassified to Group B. When Large was hired to be an OAD instructor in 2013, she was also placed in Group B. In 2016, Chancellor Heinrich directed Anthony, then interim president, to review instructors' classifications to make sure they were properly classified. Anthony determined the instructor plaintiffs should have been classified as Group A, in accordance with the credentialing document. Thus, she reclassified the instructor plaintiffs to Group A, which resulted in decreased salaries. The trial court entered a judgment in favor of the instructor plaintiffs, concluding that they are properly classified in Group B under the policy and ordering that the instructor plaintiffs be placed in Group B. The trial court also awarded the instructor plaintiffs backpay for the period following Anthony's reclassification, during which they were classified as Group A instead of Group B. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the placement of OAD instructors in Group A was "plainly incorrect." Because the college defendants lacked discretion to classify the instructor plaintiffs as Group A, the claims for backpay against them in their official capacities were not barred by the doctrine of State immunity. When Anthony left her position as interim president, her successor was automatically substituted for her with respect to the official-capacity claims alleged against her; judgment should not have been entered against her. Therefore, judgment was reversed insofar as it was entered against Anthony. The judgment was affirmed in all other respects. View "Anthony et al. v. Datcher, et al." 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

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Alabama Public Charter School Commission members Mac Buttram, Charles Jackson, Lisa Williams, Melinda McLendon, Terri Tomlinson, Tommy Ledbetter, Melissa Kay McInnis, Chad Fincher, Henry Nelson, and Ibrahim Lee (collectively, "the Commission members"); LEAD Education Foundation ("LEAD"); and Ed Richardson, former interim State Superintendent of Education (with the Commission members, referred to collectively as "defendants"), separately appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of the Alabama Education Association ("the AEA"), Vicky Holloway, and Felicia Fleming (collectively, "plaintiffs"). In 2017, LEAD submitted an application to the Alabama Public Charter School Commission ("the Commission") seeking to open a public charter school beginning in the 2018-2019 school year. In 2018, the Commission conducted an open meeting, with seven out of nine members present. Neither Holloway, Fleming, nor an AEA representative was present at the meeting, and no private citizens voiced any opposition to LEAD's application. At the conclusion of the meeting, the Commission voted 5-1 to approve LEAD's application. On March 15, 2018, the Commission adopted a resolution approving LEAD's application. On March 5, 2018, plaintiffs filed a complaint seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against the Commission members, Richardson, and LEAD, seeking among other things, to invalidate the Commission's 5-1 decision to approve LEAD's application to open a public charter school. Plaintiffs alleged, among other things, defendants did not have a quorum vote, and that the Commission violated the ASCSOA by not rejecting what they called a "weak or inadequate charter application." Extending "great weight and deference" to the interpretation of the ASCSOA by the Commission as the implementing agency, the Alabama Supreme Court concluded the Commission's interpretation of the ASCSOA as requiring an 11th member only when the local school board is an authorizer to be reasonable. The local school board was not an authorizer at the time the Commission considered the charter-school application. Thus, the Commission did not violate the ASCSOA by failing to include an 11th member. Furthermore, the Court concluded that, to the extent the circuit court denied defendants' motions for summary judgment with respect to plaintiffs' claim that the Commission violated the ASCSOA by voting as a majority of a quorum, the circuit court's decision was incorrect as a matter of law. Accordingly, it was ordered that the judgment be reversed and a judgment be rendered in favor of defendants. View "LEAD Education Foundation et al. v. Alabama Education Association et al." on Justia Law

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The Wilcox County Board of Education ("the Board"); Tyrone Yarbrough, individually and in his official capacity as the superintendent of the Board; and members of the Board Bernard Martin and Lester Turk, individually and in their official capacities, 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 and to enter an order dismissing with prejudice all claims against them. Reginald Southall was a teacher at Wilcox Central High School. During a meeting of the Board in April 2013, then Superintendent Yarbrough recommended the nonrenewal of Southall's probationary contract. Five Board members were present during the vote. Normally, the Board consists of six members. One seat on the Board, however, was vacant at the time of the April 2013 meeting, due to an order of the circuit court enjoining the Board from filling the vacant seat. Thus, the Board conducted business with only five members during the April 2013 meeting. Upon a motion to accept Yarbrough's recommendation, three Board members voted in favor of not renewing the contract, one member opposed the recommendation, and one member abstained. Southall filed a petition seeking a declaratory judgment, injunctive relief, and a writ of mandamus, in which he asserted that, because of the vacancy on the Board, the termination of his employment was the result of an illegal vote of the Board in violation of 16-8-4, Ala. Code 1975. Under the limited circumstances of this particular case, a majority of the five members was all that was required to accept Yarbrough's recommendation not to renew Southall's probationary contract. Therefore, the Supreme Court concluded the petitioners demonstrated a clear legal right to the order sought. The Supreme Court granted the petition for a writ of mandamus directing the Wilcox Circuit Court to vacate its order, and to enter an order dismissing the underlying action. View "Ex parte Wilcox County Board of Education et al." on Justia Law

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On or about March 22, 2016, Carrie Cabri Witt, a school employee, was arrested and charged with engaging in sex acts with students who were under the age of 19 years. At that time, she was also placed on paid administrative leave. Later that year, a grand jury returned a two-count indictment that charged her with engaging in a sex act or deviate sexual intercourse with two students who were under the age of 19 years. The superintendent of education for Morgan County recommended to the Board that Witt's teaching contract be terminated based on the allegations that she had engaged in inappropriate sexual activity with one or more students in the Decatur City School System. According to the Board, that conduct violated Board policy and corresponding professional standards. The Board notified Witt that it had scheduled a termination hearing for March 2, 2017. Witt filed a petition seeking a preliminary injunction staying the termination proceeding until after the disposition of the underlying criminal case, arguing that, because the basis for the termination proceeding was the underlying criminal charges, she would be forced to choose between the risk of self-incrimination if she testified in the termination proceeding or of losing her teaching contract if she did not testify in the termination proceeding. The Board moved to dismiss or deny the petition for a preliminary injunction; the trial court granted the petition for a preliminary injunction. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded the Board established that circumstances changed since the trial court entered the preliminary injunction staying the termination proceeding on February 28, 2017, so that the preliminary injunction or stay was no longer appropriate. Accordingly, the Supreme Court granted the petition for a writ of mandamus and direct the trial court to dissolve its February 28, 2017, injunction and to dismiss the petition upon which it was based. View "Ex parte Decatur City Board of Education." on Justia Law

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Ed Richardson and Reginald Eggleston, individually and in their official capacities as interim superintendent of the Alabama Department of Education and chief administrative officer of the Alabama State Board of Education, respectively, and Gordon Stone, individually and in his official capacity as mayor of the Town of Pike Road (collectively referred to as "the defendants"), appealed an injunction staying the sale of Georgia Washington Middle School, located in Montgomery, and the sale of any other real property owned by, or the closure of any other schools operated by, the Montgomery County Board of Education. The Alabama Supreme Court determined plaintiffs did not have standing to bring suit, thus the trial court never acquired subject-matter jurisdiction over this case. Accordingly, the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal and ordered the trial court to dismiss the case. View "Richardson v. Relf" on Justia Law