(The Return of) Ignatz, by Sam Heldman

Monday, July 29, 2002

Alabama update

Here's what happened in the Alabama Supreme Court and Court of Civil Appeals on Friday. No links, because as mentioned before there's no free web distribution of opinions in Alabama to my knowledge. So, you'll have to take my word for it, or pay $ to Lexis/Westlaw, or wait a few days til Findlaw puts up the Supreme Court cases.

Supreme Court

State Bd. of Ed. v. Waldrop is about attorneys' fees. The underlying suit was about teacher salaries. The Court describes the suit, essentially, as having achieved no relief; prospective relief was mooted by new legislation, and damages were barred by sovereign immunity. The trial court had awarded fees anyway (on something like a catalyst theory, that the suit had been the inspiration for the new legislation, and that this had conferred a benefit on the public). The Supreme Court reverses, holding: (a) review of a fee award is de novo where the trial court's decision was made on a paper record; (b) something incomprehensible to me (if anything at all) about whether the trial court had continuing jurisdiction to award fees, some weeks after it had issued a final judgment denying relief; (c) there was no common benefit to the general public and thus no basis for a fee award. (Note that, under AL law, the "common benefit" doctrine, which allows fees in limited cases even when there is no monetary award, is different from and more limited than the "common fund" doctrine regarding fees in cases that do generate a monetary fund of relief.). The opinion, it should be noted, does NOT reject "catalyst" fee awards across the board under Alabama law; the decision is more focused on the facts of the particular case.

Ex parte Carroll is the death penalty case that I mentioned yesterday, in which the jury (by vote of 10-2) had recommended life but the trial court preferred death. Reversing, the Supreme Court relies primarily on two things: (1) the trial court had continued to rely, as support for its decision, on the defendant's youthful offender history as a reason to negate the "no criminal history" mitigator, even after having been instructed on a prior appeal that this was legally erroneous; and (2) the trial court's reliance on the "pain of the victim's family" as a reason for death made no sense, given that the victim's family explicitly asked for life rather than death. The Court also makes some more general remarks about the weight to be given to a jury's recommendation. The Court drops a footnote noting that issues under Ring v. Arizona can wait, given the disposition of this case. Chief Justice Moore says that he concurs in the result only because of Ring, which implies that he recognizes the correct conclusion that the current statutory scheme is unconstitutional under Ring.

Court of Civil Appeals

SCD v. Etowah County affirms a termination of parental rights.

MHE v. BE is about who has statutory standing to bring an action to determine paternity.

Haraway v. Phillips is about stalking. The alleged stalker wins, overturning a restraining order telling him to stay away, because the statute at issue (the "protection from abuse" act) is only about intra-family or intra-household abusive behavior. The Court notes, however, that other sources of law might provide a basis for relief.

Barngrover v. Medical Licensure Comm'n is about a doctor who was reprimanded because he said on a form that he wasn't under investigation by any other medical licensing body, when really he was. Among other things, the court holds that reciprocal discipline (i.e., disciplining the doc in Alabama because he was disciplined in Georgia) doesn't have to wait until the doc's appeals from the Georgia discipline are final.

posted by sam 2:12 PM 0 comments


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