Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Alabama Supreme Court

by
In 2008, a grand jury charged Lam Luong with five counts of capital murder in connection with the deaths of his four children. He was later convicted on all counts, for which he received a death sentence. The Court of Criminal Appeals reversed Luong's convictions and death sentence, holding that the trial court erred by refusing to move the trial from Mobile County because, it reasoned, the pretrial publicity was presumptively prejudicial and by refusing to conduct individual questioning of the potential jurors regarding their exposure to that publicity. The Court of Criminal Appeals also held that the trial court erred in denying defense counsel funds to travel to Vietnam to investigate mitigation evidence and in admitting into evidence during the sentencing hearing a videotape simulation using sandbags approximately the weight of each child illustrating the length of time it took for each child to fall from the bridge to the water. The Supreme Court found that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in the decisions it made in this case. As such, the Court reversed the Court of Appeals and remanded this case for further proceedings. View "Luong v. Alabama" on Justia Law

by
Keone Kaukawele Fuqua ("the father") filed a petition asking that the Probate Court allow him to change the legal name of his daughter from Lyvia Grace Russell to Lyvia Grace Russell-Fuqua. Megan Marie Russell ("the mother") opposed the petition, and she appealed the court's court order granting the father's petition. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded the probate court had no subject-matter jurisdiction over the parties' name-change dispute, and therefore vacated the order and dismissed the appeal. View "Russell v. Fuqua " on Justia Law

by
Lambert Law Firm, LLC ("Lambert"), petitions the Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Circuit Court to set aside an order awarding respondent Shawn Brechbill a portion of certain funds filed with the Circuit Court clerk. Brechbill, was represented by the law firm of Morris, Conchin & King. He sued State Farm Fire and Casualty Company seeking damages for breach of contract and bad-faith failure to pay an insurance claim. The law firm filed the initial complaint, prepared various pleadings, conducted discovery, engaged experts, and filed a response to a motion for a summary judgment filed by State Farm. Later, the law firm withdrew its representation of Brechbill. The trial court held a hearing and issued an order stating that the law firm would have a lien against any settlement or judgment that became payable to Brechbill arising from his claims against State Farm. Ultimately, the law firm's interest in the lien was assigned to Gary Conchin, a partner in the law firm. Brechbill hired Lambert to continue the litigation. Brechbill ultimately received a judgment against State Farm on his breach-of-contract and bad-faith claims. At some point after the judgment was entered, Lambert withdrew from further representation of Brechbill, and the trial court entered an order granting Lambert a lien on any recovery Brechbill might be awarded. State Farm elected to appeal the verdict on the bad-faith claim, but paid one-half of the amount of the verdict in satisfaction of the verdict on the breach-of-contract claim to the circuit court clerk. While State Farm's appeal was pending, both Conchin and Lambert moved to "condemn" the funds held by the circuit clerk. Brechbill also moved the trial court to release the funds to him. Upon review of the competing claims for the money, the Supreme Court concluded that the trial court clearly acted within its discretion in refusing, at the time of the hearing, to determine the amount of the liens at issue. "However, given the mandatory nature of section 34-3-61, the priority of the two liens in this case, and the limited funds to which the liens attached, the trial court must first determine the amount of the fees owed to ensure that any preliminary disbursement would not divest the fund of money in which, by law, another party would have a priority in interest." The Court held that Lambert demonstrated a clear legal right to relief, and therefore directed the trial court to vacate its May 30, 2013, order and to hold further proceedings. View "Brechbill v. State Farm Fire & Casualty Co." on Justia Law

by
Don Davis, in his capacity as the Judge of Probate for Mobile County, appealed a Circuit Court's final judgment in favor of then Secretary of State Beth Chapman and the three members of the Mobile County Board of Registrars: Pat Tyrrell, Shirley Short, and Virginia Delchamps. The matter before the Supreme Court concerned a regulation promulgated by the Secretary in an effort to comply with certain federal election laws and an asserted conflict between that regulation and the residency requirement prescribed by three Alabama election statutes. Upon review, the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the circuit court: "Alabama statutory law continues to require, as it long has, that voters who have moved cast ballots at the polling place designated for their new address. Further, Ala. Admin 20 Code (Secretary of State), Reg. 820-2-2-.13(1), was not and is not required by NVRA or HAVA. Because Reg. 820-2-2-.13(1) expressly contradicts Alabama statutory law, it is void." View "Davis v. Bennett" on Justia Law

by
Larry Dunaway filed a Rule 32, Ala. R. Crim. P. petition challenging his 1997 convictions for the capital murder of his girlfriend Tressa Patterson and her 22-month-old son James. The Rule 32 court entered an order denying Dunaway's petition, and the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed. Dunaway petitioned for a writ of certiorari to review the Court of Criminal Appeals' decision in "Dunaway II." The Court granted the writ to consider: (1) Dunaway's claims of misconduct by four jurors who allegedly failed to disclose pertinent information during voir dire; (2) Dunaway's claim that the Rule 32 court erred by denying his "Brady v. Maryland" (373 U.S. 83 (1963)) claims that he was denied due process as a result of the District Attorney's failure to disclose alleged relationships between him and certain jurors; and (3) Dunaway's claim that he received ineffective assistance of trial counsel during the sentencing phase of his trial. Because the Supreme Court concluded that Dunaway was entitled to a new trial based on his juror-misconduct claim, the Court declined to address the nondisclosure claim as to the DA and the ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim. View "Dunaway v. Alabama " on Justia Law

by
Sarah Hicks petitioned the Supreme Court for review of the Court of Criminal Appeals' judgment affirming her conviction, following a guilty plea, for chemical endangerment of a child for exposing her unborn child to a controlled substance. In affirming the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals, the Supreme Court held that use of the word "child" in the chemical-endangerment statute included all children, born and unborn, and furthered Alabama's policy of protecting life from the earliest stages of development. View "Hicks v. Alabama " on Justia Law

by
Howard Ross petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari to review the judgment of the Court of Civil Appeals affirming summary judgments in favor of West Wind Condominium Association, Inc. and Joseph London III. Ross owned four condominium units within the West Wind community. Ross and West Wind agreed that West Wind would accept maintenance and repair work from Ross in lieu of his paying the condominium association's monthly dues. West Wind informed Ross in September 2006 that further work would not be necessary and that he should start paying the dues. Ross paid his dues monthly starting in December 2006. When Ross made his payments for April and May 2007, West Wind rejected those payments and sent Ross a letter through its attorney disputing Ross's charges for the maintenance and repair work that Ross had performed. Through his own attorney, Ross submitted an itemized list of charges for his work done for West Wind, but Ross never received any further correspondence from West Wind. In 2007, West Wind recorded instruments in the office of the Probate Judge of Madison County claiming liens on Ross's four condominium units. In early 2008, West Wind published notice of a foreclosure sale on Ross's units in a local newspaper and continued publishing the notice for four weeks. A month later, West Wind conducted foreclosure sales on Ross's four condominium units and was the highest bidder on all of them. That same day, the auctioneer executed foreclosure deeds conveying the four units to West Wind. West Wind then conveyed two of the units to Jimmy Spruill and Cynthia Spruill, one unit to Joseph London III (who was president of West Wind), and one unit to Delvin Sullivan. Ross sued West Wind, London, Sullivan, and the Spruills alleging claims of wrongful foreclosure and seeking redemption of the properties. Ross sought an order setting aside the foreclosure sales, as well as redemption of the four condominium units. Ross claimed that West Wind had foreclosed on his units without giving him proper notice and that he had not learned of the foreclosures until after they had occurred. The trial court entered a default judgment against Sullivan, but it entered summary judgments in favor of London and the Spruills. West Wind also moved for a summary judgment, arguing, among other things, that it had the right to foreclose based on Ross's unpaid dues. Upon review of the trial court record, the Supreme Court concluded the trial court erred in entering a summary judgment for West Wind and London, and that the Court of Civil Appeals erred in holding that Ross had waived the argument that he had presented substantial evidence creating a genuine issue of material fact as to whether he had received proper notice. Accordingly, the Court reversed and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Ross v. West Wind Condominium Association, Inc." on Justia Law

by
Jennifer Leigh Clayton and Justin Andrew Bailey filed separate motions requesting that the trial court suppress evidence seized in a warrantless search of their apartment by law-enforcement officers in early 2011. A grand jury issued an indictment charging Clayton and Bailey with first-degree unlawful manufacturing of methamphetamine. After a hearing, the trial court granted their motions to suppress the evidence. The State appealed, and the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the trial court's order as to the search. The State appealed that decision. The Supreme Court did "not find persuasive Clayton and Bailey's argument that the behavior of the officers indicated that there was no need for immediate action. A fair reading of the record establishes that, in light of the odor the law enforcement officers recognized to be consistent with the process of manufacturing methamphetamine, the law-enforcement officers were concerned about their safety and the safety of the occupants of the apartment and the public." Because law-enforcement had probable cause to believe that methamphetamine was being manufactured inside the apartment and because the process of manufacturing methamphetamine, in light of its explosive nature, created an exigent circumstance, the law-enforcement officers' warrantless entry into and search of Bailey and Clayton's apartment was proper. Therefore, the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals holding otherwise was reversed, and this case was remanded to that court for further proceedings. View "Alabama v. Clayton " on Justia Law

by
The Alabama Supreme Court focused on two appeals (case no. 1101384 and case no. 1110310) and two petitions for writs of mandamus (case no. 1101313 and case no. 1110158) filed by the State of Alabama, all challenging orders entered by a circuit judge in Greene County requiring State officials to return to items seized by the State as contraband pursuant to search warrants previously issued by the Greene Court. In addition, the Supreme Court reviewed a petition for a writ of mandamus (case no. 1130598) filed by the State seeking relief from the refusal of a district judge in Greene County to issue warrants similar to the warrants involved in the first four cases based on evidentiary submissions similar to those provided by the State in those same four cases. The latter case involved the same potential defendants and gaming establishments as the first four cases, as well as similar gambling devices alleged by the State to be illegal. Moreover, the district judge in case no. 1130598 relied upon the judgment of the trial judge in the former cases in refusing to issue the warrants in that case. Upon review of the trial record of all parties' cases involved, the Supreme Court concluded that the circuit court was asked to preemptively adjudicate (within the confines of a motion filed under Rule 3.13, Ala. R. Crim. P.) the lawfulness of property seized as contraband. The Court concluded the Circuit Court had no jurisdiction to do so. Therefore the Supreme Court vacated the orders of the trial court in case no. 1101384 and 1110310 and dismissed those actions. The Court dismissed the appeals in those cases, and the related petitions for writ of mandamus then pending in case no. 1101313 and case no. 1110158. As to case no. 1130598, the Court, by separate order, granted the State's petition for a writ of mandamus and remanded this case for the immediate issuance of the warrants for which the State applied. View "Alabama v. Greenetrack, Inc. " on Justia Law

by
J&W Enterprises, LLC ("J&W"), and Ezell Coates were defendants brought by plaintiff Angel Luis Cruz. J&W and Coates petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Clarke Circuit Court to transfer the action to the Mobile Circuit Court. This action arose from a truck accident that occurred in 2011 in Mobile County. At the time of the accident, Coates was driving a tractor-trailer rig owned by J&W, his employer. According to the complaint, Coates negligently and/or wantonly operated the tractor-trailer rig, causing it to collide with a tractor-trailer rig operated by Cruz. Cruz claimed injury as a result of the accident, but he did not seek any medical treatment in Mobile County as a result of the accident. Given the specific facts of this case, the Supreme Court could not say that Mobile County had a significantly stronger connection to this case than did Clarke County so that the interest of justice would be offended by trial in Clarke County. Accordingly, the Court could not conclude that the trial court exceeded its discretion in refusing to transfer this action to Mobile County. As such, the Court denied the writ. View "Cruz v. J&W Enterprises, LLC" on Justia Law