Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Alabama
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Plaintiffs Tommy Hanes, David Calderwood, and Focus on America appealed a circuit court judgment dismissing their claims against John Merrill, in his official capacity as the Alabama Secretary of State, and Bill English, Wes Allen, Clay Crenshaw, Jeff Elrod, and Will Barfoot, in their official capacities as members of the Alabama Electronic Voting Committee ("the committee"). In May 2022, plaintiffs filed suit seeking declaratory and injunctive relief relating to the general use of electronic-voting machines in the November 2022 general statewide election and in all future elections. Plaintiffs primarily sought to enjoin the usage of electronic-voting machines to count ballots. They specifically sought an order requiring that the 2022 election be conducted by paper ballot, with three individuals as independent counters who would manually count each ballot in full view of multiple cameras that could record and broadcast the counting proceedings, among other measures. Plaintiffs claimed the use of electronic voting machines was so insecure, both inherently and because of the alleged failures defendants in certifying the machines, that it infringed upon their constitutional right to vote, or, in the case of Focus on America, the right to vote of those persons it represented. Defendants moved to dismiss, citing Rule 12(b)(1) and Rule 12(b)(6), Ala. R. Civ. P. They argued plaintiffs lacked standing, that the claims were moot, that State or Sovereign immunity under Art. I, § 14, of the Alabama Constitution barred the claims, that the complaint failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, and that the court lacked jurisdiction pursuant to § 17-16-44, Ala. Code 1975. The circuit court found that the jurisdiction-stripping statute barred the plaintiffs' action, that the plaintiffs lacked standing, that the complaint failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, and that sovereign immunity barred the plaintiffs' claims. Finding plaintiffs lacked standing to pursue their claims, thus depriving the circuit court of jurisdiction over their complaint, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed dismissal. View "Hanes et al. v. Merrill, et al." on Justia Law

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This case concerned the reallocation of a circuit-court judgeship from the 10th Judicial Circuit located in Jefferson County, Alabama to the 23d Judicial Circuit located in Madison County. Tiara Young Hudson, an attorney residing in Jefferson County, had been a candidate for appointment and election to the Jefferson County judgeship before its reallocation to Madison County. Hudson filed suit at the Montgomery Circuit Court ("the trial court") seeking a judgment declaring that the act providing for the reallocation of judgeships, § 12-9A-1 et seq. ("the Act"), Ala. Code 1975, violated certain provisions of the Alabama Constitution of 1901. Hudson also sought a permanent injunction removing the Madison County circuit judge that had been appointed to fill the reallocated judgeship from office and directing the governor to appoint a new person nominated by the Jefferson County Judicial Commission to fill the judgeship in Jefferson County. The trial court dismissed the action on the ground that it did not have subject-matter jurisdiction to grant the requested relief. Finding no reversible error in that dismissal, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed. View "Hudson v. Ivey, et al." on Justia Law

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In consolidated appeals, Brighton Ventures 2 LLC and the St. John Life Center ("the Life Center") appealed a circuit court judgment order forfeiting $446,897.19 that was found to have been used as bets or stakes as part of an illegal gambling operation. The City of Brighton ("the City") had an ordinance permitting the establishment of charitable bingo operations within its city limits. In early 2019, an application for a charity-bingo business license was submitted to the City on behalf of Super Highway Bingo ("the casino"); the Life Center was listed as the named charity. In February 2019, the City issued the requested business license, and, in March 2019, the casino officially opened. According to the record, Brighton Ventures was responsible for the day- to-day operations of the casino and, in exchange for its management services, received 85% of the casino's profits. The Life Center, in return, received 15% of the casino's profits. Around the time the casino opened, the Alabama Attorney General's Office began an investigation into "electronic bingo" activity occurring there. "Electronic bingo is illegal in Alabama." An undercover investigator from the Attorney General's office was able to play electronic bingo games at the casino. The State executed multiple search warrants at the casino during which it seized, among other things, over 200 "electronic bingo" machines and large sums of cash. Relevant to these appeals, the State then initiated separate actions, petitioning the circuit court for an in rem civil forfeiture of the $446,897.19. Brighton Ventures and the Life Center denied that the funds seized were "used as bets or stakes in gambling activity" as described in § 13A-12-30(c) and argued that the State had unlawfully seized the funds. They also asserted counterclaims in which they alleged, among other things, that forfeiture of the funds constitutes an "excessive fine" in violation of the Excessive Fines Clause of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The Alabama Supreme Court found no error in the circuit court's judgment and affirmed the order ordering the forfeiture. View "Brighton Ventures 2 LLC v. Alabama" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Gulf Shores City Board of Education and Kelly Walker appealed a circuit court's dismissal of their complaint seeking certain declaratory and mandamus relief against the Superintendent of the Alabama State Board of Education; the Revenue Commissioner of Baldwin County; certain Baldwin County Commissioners; the Baldwin County Board of Education; a Baldwin County Circuit Judge; the Baldwin County District Attorney; and Coastal Alabama Community College ("CACC"). This case involved the interplay among § 16-13-31(b), § 40-12-4, and § 45-2-244.077, Ala. Code 1975, a part of § 45-2-244.071 et seq., Ala. Code 1975 ("the local-tax act"), which authorized the Baldwin County Commission to levy a 1% sales tax in Baldwin County paralleling the state sales tax found in § 40-23-1 through § 40-23-4, Ala. Code 1975. In 2017, the Gulf Shores Board was created to oversee an independent city school district pursuant to a resolution adopted by the City of Gulf Shores. The Gulf Shores Board and the Baldwin County Board entered into negotiations that resulted in a separation agreement pursuant to which the Gulf Shores Board obtained certain assets and assumed certain liabilities of the Baldwin County Board. Additionally, the separation agreement provided that taxes collected specifically to fund public schools in Baldwin County would be apportioned according to the apportionment provisions in § 16-13-31(b) and § 40-12-4(b) so as to include the Gulf Shores Board as a recipient. However, the separation agreement did not address apportionment of the proceeds of the local tax. The president of the Gulf Shores Board stated in his affidavit that the "parties specifically agreed to disagree [as to] whether the [local] tax was required to be apportioned." The Gulf Shores Board demanded but did not receive a share of the local-tax proceeds. Plaintiffs filed their initial complaint against the superintendent, the revenue commissioner, and the county commissioners, seeking mandamus relief requiring that the local-tax proceeds be apportioned to include the Gulf Shores Board as a recipient and/or a judgment declaring that the local-tax act was unconstitutional. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded the Gulf Shores Board lacked standing to bring its constitutional claim, and Walker could not show that the local tax was a levy of special taxes on her as a citizen of a definite locality expended in some other locality. Accordingly, dismissal was affirmed. View "Gulf Shores City Board of Education, et al. v. Mackey, et al." on Justia Law

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Dalen Gaines sought monetary and equitable relief against Walker County law-enforcement officers for their role in what Gaines claimed was a delayed bond hearing. After Gaines failed to appear at the Walker Circuit Court to answer criminal charges, the court issued a warrant for his arrest. Three months later, Walker County Sheriff's Deputy Christopher Doeur executed the warrant and took Gaines into custody. Afterward, Deputy Doeur filed a certificate of execution, informing the Circuit Court that he had arrested Gaines and placed him in the County jail. After about a month, Gaines remained incarcerated and had not yet appeared in court. The trial court granted the law-enforcement officers' motion to dismiss Gaines complaint here, and Gaines asked the Alabama Supreme Court to overturn that decision. The Court declined to do so, and affirmed dismissal. View "Gaines v. Smith" on Justia Law

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Joshua Greer, a student at the University of Alabama in Huntsville ("the University"), and Young Americans for Liberty, a student organization at the University ("the plaintiffs"), appealed a judgment dismissing their action challenging the legality of the University's policy regulating speech in outdoor areas of the University's campus ("the policy"). The policy allowed University students and student organizations, among others, to reserve and use outdoor spaces on campus to engage in speech. Whether a reservation is required depends on the nature of the students' activities and expression. The general rule was that students had to make reservations for activities that make use of the outdoor areas of campus. No reservation was needed for "casual recreational or social activities," a term that the policy did not define. Similarly, no reservation was needed for "spontaneous activities of expression, which are generally prompted by news or affairs coming into public knowledge less than forty-eight (48) hours prior to the spontaneous expression." The policy then lists 20 designated areas on campus where spontaneous speech was allowed. Plaintiffs alleged that the policy violated the "Alabama Campus Free Speech Act" insofar as the policy generally required reservations for speech, creates the exception for "spontaneous" speech, and creates designated areas on campus for that spontaneous speech. The Alabama Supreme Court reversed the judgment dismissing the action on two grounds: (1) the policy plainly violates the Act insofar as the policy creates designated areas for spontaneous speech; and (2) there is at least one unresolved factual issue concerning the evaluation of the policy's time, place, and manner restrictions. View "Young Americans for Liberty at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, et al. v. St. John IV, et al." on Justia Law

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Dennis Morgan Hicks was convicted of one count of capital murder for the killing of Joshua Duncan. The murder was made capital because Hicks committed it while he was under a sentence of life imprisonment. Hicks was also convicted of one count of second-degree theft of property. By a vote of 11-1, the jury recommended that Hicks be sentenced to death on the capital-murder conviction. The Circuit Court followed the jury's recommendation and sentenced Hicks to death on the capital-murder conviction; it sentenced him to time served on the second-degree theft-of-property conviction. Hicks appealed to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, and, on original submission, that court affirmed Hicks's conviction but remanded the case for the trial court to address some sentencing issues. The Court of Criminal Appeals ultimately affirmed the death sentence. To the Alabama Supreme Court, Hicks argued the Court of Criminal Appeals erred: (1) in holding his right to counsel was not violated at the time of a pretrial mental evaluation; and (2) in holding that Dr. Karl Kirkland's testimony regarding Hicks' pretrial mental evaluation was admitted properly. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the appellate court's judgment. View "Ex parte Dennis Morgan Hicks." on Justia Law

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This appeal arose from a quo warranto action initiated by a February 2022 complaint filed Frederick A. Burkes, Sr., on the relation of the State of Alabama, in which he alleged that James Franklin "has unlawfully usurped the public office of the constable for District 59 in Jefferson County, Alabama." Franklin moved to dismiss the quo warranto action in June 2022, which the circuit court granted. In July 2022, the Alabama Supreme Court issued its decision in a case related to this quo warranto action, holding the circuit court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction because Burkes had not given the circuit court security for costs, as required by § 6-6-591(b), Ala. Code 1975, and that the circuit court's judgment in the prior action was therefore void. This Court then dismissed the appeal because a void judgment will not support an appeal. Burkes argued here that, because the circuit court did not have subject-matter jurisdiction over the prior action, the circuit court erroneously dismissed the quo warranto action on the grounds of res judicata and collateral estoppel. To this the Supreme Court concurred, reversed dismissal of the quo warranto action, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Burkes v. Franklin" on Justia Law

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After being indicted by a grand jury for unlawful possession of a controlled substance -- delta-9- tetrahydrocannabinol (synthetic marijuana), Charlie Byrd filed a motion to suppress the evidence that was the basis of his indictment on the ground that it was the product of an unlawful search and seizure. The motion was denied, and Byrd conditionally pled guilty, reserving the right to appeal the denial of the motion to suppress. Byrd was sentenced to 60 months in prison, with 12 served and 24 months of supervised probation. The Court of. Criminal Appeals affirmed Byrd’s conviction, and he appealed to the Alabama Supreme Court. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Criminal Appeals. View "Ex parte Charlie Byrd" on Justia Law

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In January 2018, Whitney Jones, an inmate in the Mobile County Metro Jail and a participant in the jail's work-release program, left her work-release job and did not return to the work-release barracks. As a result, Jones was charged with, and convicted of, second-degree escape, a felony. The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed Jones's conviction. The Alabama Supreme Court granted certiorari review to consider whether an inmate, like Jones, who escapes from a county work-release program authorized pursuant to Ala. Code 1975, §§ 14-8-30 through 14-8-44 ("the county work-release statutes"), could be convicted of escape pursuant to one of the escape statutes in the Alabama Criminal Code, Ala. Code 1975, §§ 13A-10-30 through 13A-10-33 ("the escape statutes"), which would be punishable as a felony, or whether such an escape is punishable only as a misdemeanor pursuant to Ala. Code 1975, §§ 14-8-42 and 14-8-43. The Supreme Court concluded that escapes from county work-release programs were governed by the escape statutes. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the judgment of the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals. View "Jones v. Alabama" on Justia Law