Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Alabama

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Plaintiffs Frank and Martha Buck, challenged the Court of Civil Appeals’ decision to affirm the trial court's judgment in favor of defendants CH Highland, LLC (“Highland”) and the City of Birmingham (“City”) in their challenge to a City rezoning ordinance. The Bucks owned property in the City. Highland, a real-estate-development company, wanted to build a multistory apartment complex ("the project") on property located adjacent to the Bucks' property. As planned, the project did not conform with the then existing zoning restrictions for the area in which the subject property was located. Thus, Highland submitted a rezoning application to the Zoning Advisory Committee of the Birmingham Planning Commission. Highland requested that the subject property be rezoned from a "B-2 general business district" to a "B-3 community business district" so that it could construct the project. The Alabama Supreme Court found that the proposed rezoning ordinance that was published merely indicated to the public that there would be a zoning change from a B-2 district to a B-3 district. Ordinance 1949-G did not create a B-3 district; instead, it created a district of a substantially smaller range of uses than what was otherwise disclosed to the public in the Public Notice of the rezoning change. “Even if this Court were to reject the long-standing rule that, to invalidate an ordinance, it is unnecessary for the public to be prejudiced by the City's failure to publish the ordinance, we cannot presume that no prejudice occurred in this case.” The Court reversed the Court of Civil Appeals, and the case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Ex parte Buck." on Justia Law

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Walker Brothers Investment, Inc., and James Walker (collectively, "Walker Brothers") appealed a circuit court order granting a motion for a summary judgment in favor of the City of Mobile ("the City"). In 2012, the City filed a complaint against Walker Brothers seeking a preliminary and a permanent injunction, alleging Walker Brothers owned a building, known as the Tobin Building, located in a historic district in downtown Mobile and that Walker Brothers had allowed the building to deteriorate in violation of the Mobile City Code. The City asked the circuit court to enter an order requiring Walker Brothers to "mothball" the Tobin Building in accordance with plans submitted by Walker Brothers and subsequently approved by the Board. Walker Brothers argued that the City, through the HDC and the Board, had treated Walker Brothers unequally from other developers of historic properties, and it alleged that the City had engaged in selective enforcement of the City's rules and regulations in a manner that "amounted to malicious prosecution and abuse of process." Walker Brothers filed an objection to the City's motion to dismiss, stating that it had intentionally left part of the mothballing plan uncomplete so that it could file a counterclaim against the City. The circuit court purported to grant the City's motion to dismiss later the same day. The Alabama Supreme Court dismissed Walker Brothers’ appeal, finding the City's "motion to dismiss" was a valid notice of dismissal pursuant to Rule 41(a)(1)(i), and, the circuit court was without the power to act on Walker Brothers' attempt to reinstate the City's action so that Walker Brothers could file a counterclaim. Accordingly, any order entered after the City filed its notice of dismissal was void, including the summary judgment in favor of the City that was the basis of Walker Brothers' appeal to the Supreme Court. View "Walker Brothers Investment, Inc. v. City of Mobile" on Justia Law

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Robert and Carin Diercks, residents of a subdivision located in Escambia County Alabama, purchased a vacant lot in the subdivision located directly behind their house and began constructing a garage. A group of homeowners in the subdivision ("the plaintiffs") sued the Dierckses contending that construction of the garage violated various restrictive covenants applicable to the lot. The trial court agreed and entered a summary judgment in favor of the plaintiffs, enjoined the Dierckses from further construction on the garage, and ordered the removal of what had been constructed on the lot. On direct appeal, the Court of Civil Appeals reversed the judgment of the trial court, finding that the trial court had not properly applied the restrictive covenants. The Alabama Supreme Court applied the covenant at issue here as originally intended by the parties at the time the covenant was created: it was clear that the intent of the covenant was to prohibit a garage or carport located on lot 58 from opening onto Brooks Boulevard. The Dierckses could not unilaterally reverse the meaning of this covenant by the subsequent combination of the two lots into a single parcel. Thus, the Dierckses' garage violated the restrictive covenant prohibiting garages and carports from opening onto the front of the lot. With respect to restrictive covenant 1.C., the Alabama Supreme Court found the trial court correctly entered a summary judgment. To the extent the Court of Civil Appeals' decision was to the contrary, that decision was reversed, and the case was remanded for further proceedings. The Court pretermitted discussion as to the remaining restrictive covenants. View "Ex parte Phillip D. Odom, et al." on Justia Law

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In October 2009, the Town of Summerdale filed a complaint against East Central Baldwin County Water, Sewer and Fire Protection Authority (ECBC) and the county commission, seeking a judgment declaring that the 2002 and 2008 amendments to ECBC's certificate of incorporation were void. The 2002 amendment expanded ECBC's geographic service area, and the 2008 amendment authorized ECBC to include sewer services in certain parts of its service area. Summerdale sought a declaration that the 2002 amendment and the 2008 amendment were void because the county commission's approval of the amendments was based on incorrect facts set forth in the applications for the amendments. In June 2012, the trial court entered a partial summary judgment declaring the 2002 amendment void. On appeal, the Court of Civil Appeals, by order, set aside the Rule 54(b) certification and dismissed the appeal because the partial summary judgment did not address the validity of the 2008 amendment. The trial court then entered a new order stating that its partial summary judgment also applied to the 2008 amendment. ECBC appealed. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court concluded the Court of Civil Appeals applied the wrong standard of review and that, therefore, its decision was reversed. The Supreme Court also concluded that the summary judgment was erroneous because: (1) it did not give appropriate weight to the county commission's findings as to the adequacy of the existing services; and (2) there appeared to be genuine questions of material fact that would have precluded summary judgment. View "Ex parte East Central Baldwin County Water, Sewer and Fire Protection Authority." on Justia Law

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Charles Breland, Jr., and Breland Corporation (collectively, "Breland") appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of the City of Fairhope in Breland's declaratory action based on alleged negligent conduct by Fairhope in relation to real property owned by Breland. In 2000, Breland filed applications for permits and certifications from the United States Army Corps of Engineers and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management ("ADEM") in order to fill approximately 10.5 acres of wetlands on the property. Fairhope opposed the fill project. Breland purchased the mitigation credits required by the Corps permit, and hired engineers and consultants for the project sometime before he began actual filling activity. Eight years later, actual work on the fill project began, but the City issued a stop-work order that halted operations. Because his Corps permit would expire in late 2008, Breland sued Fairhope for declaratory relief and an injunction against the effects of multiple City ordinances passed in attempts to stop Breland's work. Fairhope moved to dismiss the complaint. Charles Breland testified that he dismissed his lawsuit against Fairhope when both his Corps permit had been extended (to 2013), and that "there [were] conversations that the city [initiated] about buying the property." According to Breland, by late 2011, he got the impression that Fairhope had been negotiating with him to buy the remainder of the property under false pretenses and that Fairhope actually was trying to delay Breland from resuming the fill project until the Corps permit expired. In early 2013, Breland sued again seeking a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against Fairhope's attempts to stop the fill project. The trial court dismissed Breland's case on statute of limitations grounds. The Supreme Court reversed, finding that each time Fairhope enforced its ordinances to stop Breland from filling activity on his property, Fairhope committed a new act that served as a basis for a new claim. Fairhope's last stop-work order was issued in November 2011; Breland filed this action on August 7, 2013. Accordingly, the two-year statute of limitations did not bar a claim for damages stemming from the 2011 stop-work order. View "Breland v. City of Fairhope" on Justia Law

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Richard and Betty B. Chesnut petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari seeking review of the Court of Civil Appeals' opinion affirming the Madison Circuit Court's summary judgments in favor of the City of Huntsville, the Board of Zoning Adjustment of the City of Huntsville, Denton-Niemitz Realty, LLC, and Guild Building and Remodeling, LLC. In 1983, the Chesnuts purchased a house and the adjacent lot to the east of their house, which was in a Huntsville neighborhood that had been established in 1908. The neighborhood was zoned as a 'Resident 1-B' district. In October 2012, Denton-Niemitz purchased the house on the west side of the Chesnuts' house. Subsequently, Denton-Niemitz obtained a permit to raze the house it purchased. Denton-Niemitz hired Guild Building & Remodeling, LLC to demolish the Denton-Niemitz house. The city issued the permits and construction began on the new house. Richard Chesnut was concerned the new house did not comply with the applicable set-back line requirement, and requested the zoning code be enforced. When no action was taken, the Chesnuts filed suit. The Chesnuts argued that the Circuit Court erred in entering a summary judgment in the civil action because, they said, Jim McGuffey (the zoning-enforcement coordinator for the City) incorrectly interpreted Articles 12.2.4 and 73.7.4 of the City's zoning code; that, when McGuffey issued the permits, he used an "extralegal dictionary definition" of "developed" and "undeveloped"; that McGuffey ignored a mandate of the Huntsville City Council that he did not have the power to permit construction that did not conform with the zoning code; and that McGuffey and the City ignored well established rules of statutory construction and ignored their statutory mandate to administer ordinances according to their literal terms. After review, the Supreme Court reversed in part the judgment of the Court of Civil Appeals because the zoning enforcement coordinator's interpretation of the zoning ordinance was unreasonable. The Supreme Court affirmed in part the appellate court's judgment because the summary judgment and the Court of Civil Appeals' affirmance of that judgment was appropriate, not because the Chesnuts' appeal was untimely but because the Chesnuts' administrative appeal was barred by the doctrine of res judicata. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Ex parte Richard and Betty Chesnut." on Justia Law

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The City of Pike Road appealed a circuit court judgment holding that a manufacturing facility owned and operated by Dow Corning Alabama, Inc., located in Mt. Meigs, an unincorporated part of Montgomery County, was within the police jurisdiction of the City of Montgomery as opposed to the police jurisdiction of Pike Road. Finding no reversible error in that judgment, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed. View "City of Pike Road v. City of Montgomery" on Justia Law