Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Alabama

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In 2009, the Marshall County Department of Human Resources (DHR) removed J.J.V. from the custody of mother M.M.T. At that time, the child's father, J.V., was living in Florida, where mother and child resided until mother left father. Father came to Alabama to locate mother and child only to learn that DHR had removed the child from the mother's home. Without the aid of counsel, father attempted to work with DHR, briefly reuniting with mother. However, a DHR caseworker informed him that the child would not be returned to the parents if they resided together. Father left mother's residence, retained an attorney and secured supervised visitation with the child. In December 2010 and January 2011, father was granted unsupervised visitation with the child; he had a total of five unsupervised visits. After one such visit, the child's foster parents contacted a DHR caseworker, who was told the child had reported that father had "hurt her butt." At the caseworker's instruction, the foster parents took the child to the emergency room, which then referred the child for examination by a forensic nurse examiner. After the accusation, the father's visitation was changed to supervised visitation. In October 2011, father was charged with sexual abuse, arrested and placed in jail, where he remained for approximately 18 months. DHR filed a petition to terminate the father's parental rights; however, the juvenile court denied that petition. DHR appealed, and the Alabama Supreme Court reversed the juvenile court's judgment declining to terminate the father's parental rights and remanding the case for reconsideration of DHR's termination petition based on the evidence adduced at trial. On remand, the juvenile court entered another judgment declining to terminate the father's parental rights; there was no appeal. The sexual-abuse charge against father was dismissed in 2013. The father was then transferred to a detention facility in Louisiana on an immigration hold based on his status as an illegal immigrant. The father was released from the Louisiana facility in September 2014, after a 17–month detention. The father moved to Canton, Georgia, then sought custody of the child. The Supreme Court found after review of all the testimony in the lower court records, the parties were not yet ready for a change of legal and physical custody of the child and that such a change was actually not in the best interest of the child, and because there was no evidence indicating that those circumstances changed throughout all court proceedings. "Therefore, the juvenile court's October 19, 2017, order immediately removing the child from her foster parents and ultimately transferring legal and physical custody of the child to the father is not in the child's best interest and is, instead, plainly and palpably wrong." The Court reversed judgment of the Court of Civil Appeals and remanded this case for that court to order the juvenile court to vacate its judgment. View "Ex parte Marshall County Department of Human Resources." on Justia Law

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Kimberly Blalock appealed a circuit court order holding Crimson Sutphin was the rightful beneficiary of a policy insuring the life of Loyd Sutphin, Jr. ("Loyd"), issued by New York Life Insurance Company. Loyd took out a $250,000 individual whole life-insurance policy, naming his daughter, Sutphin, as the sole beneficiary. In October 2012, Loyd married Blalock, and they lived together at his home in Henegar. Soon after, in December 2012, Loyd submitted a change-of-beneficiary-designation form to New York Life, designating Blalock and Sutphin each as a 50% beneficiary under the policy. A few years later, in February 2016, Loyd and Blalock divorced; however, the life-insurance policy was not addressed in the divorce judgment, and Loyd never changed the beneficiary designation following the divorce. Loyd died later that year on December 23, 2016. In April 2017, Sutphin filed a action seeking a judgment declaring that she was the rightful beneficiary of the entire proceeds of the New York Life policy because, she asserted, pursuant to section 30-4-17, Ala. Code 1975, Blalock's beneficiary designation had been revoked upon her divorce from Loyd. Blalock moved to dismiss the action, arguing that Tennessee, not Alabama, law should govern and, thus, that the DeKalb Circuit Court did not have subject-matter jurisdiction to hear the case. The circuit court denied the motion to dismiss; Blalock filed a motion to reconsider the denial. At an evidentiary hearing on her motion to reconsider, Blalock again argued that the DeKalb Circuit Court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction but also asserted that the application of 30-4-17 in this instance violated section 22 of the Alabama Constitution of 1901; the circuit court denied Blalock's motion to reconsider. The case proceeded to a bench trial, at which Blalock argued that she and Loyd had established a common-law marriage after their divorce and before his death, thereby reviving her beneficiary designation under the policy. The circuit court heard testimony from numerous witnesses on this issue, most of whom testified on Blalock's behalf. In 2018, the circuit court issued a final order in the case, holding that Sutphin was the rightful beneficiary under the policy because Blalock's beneficiary designation had been revoked by virtue of 30-4-17 and no common-law marriage existed to revive that designation before Loyd's death. Finding that Blalock's beneficiary designation was revoked under 30-4-17 by virtue of her divorce, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court. View "Blalock v. Sutphin" on Justia Law

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Mother G.L.C. petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for certiorari review of a court of Civil Appeals judgment that denied her appeal as untimely. C.E.C. III ("the father") filed a petition with the Juvenile Court seeking to terminate Mother’s parental rights, alleging she had abandoned their son, A.B.C. ("the child"). The juvenile court appointed an attorney to represent the mother, and the juvenile court subsequently conducted a hearing on the father's petition. On August 16, 2017, the juvenile court entered a final judgment terminating the mother's parental rights to the child. The mother did not file a postjudgment motion challenging the juvenile court's judgment; therefore, pursuant to Rule 4(a)(1)(E), Ala. R. App. P., and Rule 28(C), Ala. R. Juv. P., the mother had 14 days, or until August 30, 2017, to file her notice of appeal. The notice of appeal and docketing statement that appear in the record were stamped filed on August 31, 2017, but that date had been changed by hand to August 30, 2017. The notice of appeal and the docketing statement were signed by the mother, not the court-appointed attorney who represented her during the termination-of-parental-rights proceeding. The date next to the mother's signature on the notice of appeal was August 31, 2017, but it had been changed to August 30, 2017; the date next to the mother's signature on the docketing statement was August 31, 2017. When considering the particular circumstances of this case, the Alabama Supreme Court determined the mother did everything she was supposed to do but was prevented from timely filing her notice of appeal based on erroneous information given to her by someone in the circuit clerk's office. Together with the fact that the mother was appealing the termination of her parental rights, the Court concluded equity required the Court deem the mother's notice of appeal timely filed. Accordingly, the dismissal was reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Ex parte G.L.C." on Justia Law

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Patricia Campbell appeals from an order of the Mobile Circuit Court adjudicating J.R.C., J.L.C., R.L.C., and J.H.S., minor children, as the heirs of the estate of her son, Remano Campbell. Remano died intestate in October 2011, the victim of a homicide perpetrated by his wife, Eugenia Campbell. At the time of his death, Remano was the insured under a $200,000 life-insurance policy issued by United of Omaha Life Insurance Company ("Omaha"). Because Eugenia was not considered to be Remano's surviving spouse, the proceeds of the insurance policy would pass to Remano's issue; if there was no surviving issue, then to his parent or parents equally. Remano and Eugenia were legally married in June 2002. During their marriage, Remano and Eugenia had three children, J.R.C., J.L.C., and R.L.C. Eugenia also had another child, J.H.S., who was born approximately 18 months before her marriage to Remano and who lived with Remano and Eugenia throughout their marriage. In January 2017, the administrator ad litem of Remano's estate filed a complaint in the interpleader action, seeking a judgment declaring that the Campbell children and J.H.S. were Remano's heirs and thus were entitled to the life insurance proceeds. After a hearing, the circuit court entered an order adjudicating the Campbell children and J.H.S. to be Remano's heirs and further finding that Patricia lacked standing to challenge the paternity of the children. Accordingly, the circuit court ordered disbursement of the insurance proceeds in the interpleader action and directed that the estate administration be remanded to the probate court. Patricia filed a postjudgment motion, which was denied. This appeal followed. Finding no reversible error in the circuit court’s judgment, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed adjudication of the children as Remano’s heirs. View "Campbell v. J.R.C." on Justia Law

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Charlotte Harbin appealed a circuit court judgment in favor of defendants-appellees Glenn Estess, Jr., as personal representative of the estate of Lecil V. Thomas; Richard Thomas; and Roger Thomas. Lecil and Tommie Thomas were married and had three children, one of whom predeceased them. They had two surviving sons, Richard and Roger. Lecil executed a will in 1995, and executed a codicil to that will in 2003. Tommie died in 2005. Lecil executed a second codicil to his will in 2008. According to Harbin, she and Lecil started dating after Tommie's death. She also asserted that they lived together off and on until September 2009, when, she says, they started living together as husband and wife. Lecil died in 2013. On May 30, 2013, Estess filed a petition for probate of Lecil's will, listing Harbin as Lecil's "putative common-law wife." The probate court admitted the will to probate and granted Estess letters testamentary. In 2014, Harbin filed a petition seeking an omitted spouse's share of Lecil's estate, asserting she was Lecil's common-law wife at the time of his death and that she had become Lecil's common-law wife after he had executed the will that had been admitted to probate. Estess filed an objection to Harbin's petition, and later, after the matter was removed to circuit court, Estess filed a renewed objection to Harbin's petition seeking a share as an omitted spouse. Richard and Roger Thomas intervened, seeking a judgment to declare Harbin was not Lecil's common-law wife at the time of his death, thus not making her an omitted spouse entitled to a share of Lecil's estate. The circuit found Harbin's claim time barred; she appealed. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the circuit court erred in its interpretation of the statute controlling Harbin's omitted spouse's share of the estate, reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Harbin v. Estess" on Justia Law

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Husband Randolph Wilson, Jr. petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for certiorari review of the decision of the Court of Civil Appeals affirming the Circuit Court's judgment denying his motion to modify his alimony obligations. The issue in this case reduced to what was the appropriate baseline for evaluating material changes in a party’s circumstances to justify the modification. Put differently, the Court addressed whether a party seeking a modification of periodic alimony had to show a material change since the last judgment or order addressing a claim for modification of such alimony, even if no such modification was granted in that judgment, or whether it was enough to show a material change in the parties' circumstances since the last judgment or order in which periodic alimony actually was awarded or modified. The husband cited Ex parte Boley, 392 So. 2d 840 (Ala. 1981), McInnish v. McInnish, 441 So. 2d 960 (Ala. Civ. App. 1983), and Kiefer v. Kiefer, 671 So. 2d 710, 711 (Ala. Civ. App. 1995), each of which addressed the standard for measuring modification of either alimony or child support by employing the same logic and rationale urged by the husband in the present case. The Court of Civil Appeal adopted the approach of Taylor v. Taylor, 640 So. 2d 971, 973 (Ala. Civ. App. 1994). Taylor stated that the party seeking modification of a periodic-alimony award must show "that a material change in the parties' circumstances has occurred since the trial court's last judgment or order." The Supreme Court concluded the application to this case of the principle articulated by the Court of Civil Appeals in Rowe v. Boley, 392 So. 2d 838, 840 (Ala. Civ. App. 1980), “embraced by this Court in Ex parte Boley,” and applied by the Court of Civil Appeals in McInnish to the issue of alimony modification was dictated by principles of equity. The Court therefore rejected the conclusion of the Court of Civil Appeals in the present case that Taylor had the "better-reasoned approach." View "Ex parte Randolph G. Wilson, Jr." on Justia Law

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Petitioners-defendants Angela McClintock, Stephanie Streeter, and Christa Devaughn, all of whom were employees of the Jefferson County Department of Human Resources ("JCDHR"), petitioned for a writ of mandamus requesting that the Alabama Supreme Court direct the Jefferson Circuit Court to enter a summary judgment in their favor based on State-agent immunity. Charges arose from the death of K.W., a newborn who was removed from her home following domestic abuse allegations at the home of T.H., K.W.’s mother. At the time of K.W.'s death, McClintock was the director of JCDHR; Streeter was an assistant director of child welfare for JCDHR; and Devaughn was a child-abuse and neglect investigative worker for JCDHR. In June 2011, T.H. was charged with third-degree domestic violence when S.W., T.H.'s mother, filed charges against her for striking a sibling in the face. K.W. was born in December 2011. While T.H. was still in the hospital, T.H.'s grandmother reported to JCDHR that she had concerns that T.H. would not be able to care for her new baby, that T.H. had left her father's home, and that T.H. had a history of running away. After conducting an investigation, JCDHR allowed T.H. to be discharged from the hospital to the home of K.M., T.H.'s second cousin. K.H., T.H.'s father, filed a dependency complaint, seeking custody of K.W. In January 2012, Devaughn filed a dependency complaint as to T.H. and a request for a pickup order for K.W. K.W. was picked up and placed in the foster home of Dennis Gilmer on that same date. K.W. died on February 24, 2012, while in foster care. K.H. and T.H. filed a complaint against the petitioners, Brandon Hardin, Dennis Gilmer, and JCDHR, stating claims of wrongful death of a minor, negligence, wantonness, and negligent/wanton training and supervision. The Alabama Supreme Court found petitioners established they had a clear legal right to summary judgment in their favor based on State-agent immunity. Accordingly, the Supreme Court granted their petition for mandamus relief. View "Ex parte Angela McClintock et al." on Justia Law

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D.B. and K.S. petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for certiorari review of the Court of Civil Appeals' judgment affirming, without opinion, a custody-modification judgment awarding K.S.B. ("the mother") custody of her daughter ("the child"). D.B., the child's maternal grandfather, and K.S., the child's maternal stepgrandmother, petitioned for custody of the child after the mother telephoned the grandfather in May 2010 and asked him to come get the child because she was "being mean" to the child. The mother did not appear at the hearing on the grandparents' custody petition, and the juvenile court awarded custody of the child to the grandparents in August 2010. Based on the juvenile court's custody judgment in favor of the grandparents, in order to succeed in her request to modify custody, the mother was required to meet the well settled custody-modification standard set forth in Ex parte McLendon, 455 So. 2d 863 (Ala. 1984). The mother conceded the grandparents had taken good care of the child, and she expressed no concerns in the juvenile court regarding the grandparents as custodians of the child; the mother simply testified that she believed that she could take care of the child and love her just as well as the grandparents. The Supreme Court held Ex parte McLendon required more. The Court found the evidence failed to support the juvenile court's judgment modifying custody was "plainly and palpably wrong." The judgment of the Court of Civil Appeals affirming the juvenile court's judgment modifying custody of the child was reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings. View "Ex parte D.B. and K.S." on Justia Law

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Yolanda Terry, a social worker employed by the Macon County Department of Human Resources ("DHR"), petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Macon Circuit Court to vacate its order denying her motion for a summary judgment based on State-agent immunity and to enter a summary judgment in her favor based on that defense. DHR assigned the case of Mildred Collins to Terry. Collins was living with her daughter Cherri Forrester (her legal guardian). Collins' grandson Ronald Person, suspected Forrester was abusing Collins. After an investigative visit, Terry concluded Collins was not in imminent danger, and no indication that legal intervention was needed to have Collins removed from Forrester's home. Collins died two days after the visit. The death certificate indicated the cause of death as "blunt force abdominal injuries with hematoma." The personal representative of Collins' estate sued Terry for failing to follow DHR policy that allowed Collins to remain in Forrester's custody. After review of the record, the Supreme Court concluded the estate failed to meet its burden of presenting substantial evidence that Terry acted beyond her authority by failing to discharge her duties, i.e., investigating the report that Collins was being abused, pursuant to DHR policy and procedures, because Terry complied with DHR policy and procedures concerning unannounced investigative visits, the need for involving law enforcement, private interviews of clients, inspections of the affected areas of a client's body, and inspections of the entire home. The Court found Terry was entitled to State-agent immunity, and granted her writ application. View "Ex parte Terry" on Justia Law

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J.J.V. ("the child") was the daughter of J.V. ("the father"). In 2009, the Marshall County Department of Human Resources (DHR) removed J.J.V. from the custody of mother M.M.T. At that time, J.V. was living in Florida, where the child and the mother had resided until the mother left the father. The father came to Alabama to locate the mother and the child only to learn that DHR had removed the child from the mother's home. Without the aid of counsel, the father attempted to work with DHR, and he briefly reunited with the mother. A DHR caseworker informed him that the child would not be returned to the parents if they resided together; shortly thereafter, the father left the mother's residence. In 2010, with the aid of counsel, the father secured supervised visitation with the child. By early 2011, the father was granted unsupervised visitation with the child; he had a total of five unsupervised visits with the child. Later that year, after the child had returned from an unsupervised visit with the father, the child's foster parents contacted the child's DHR caseworker, reporting that the child had reported the father had 'hurt her butt.' After the accusation, the father's visitation was changed to supervised visitation. The child cried and said that she did not want to attend visits with the father. When at the visits, the child barely interacted with the father. The father was ultimately charged with sexual abuse, arrested and placed in the Marshall County jail, where he remained for approximately 18 months. DHR filed a petition to terminate the father's parental rights; however, the juvenile court denied that petition. DHR appealed, and the Supreme Court reversed the judgment declining to terminate the father's parental rights and remanded the case for reconsideration of DHR's petition. DHR petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the juvenile court to set aside or vacate its April 3, 2016 order, addressing the transfer of legal custody and physical custody of the child to the father. The Supreme Court granted the writ. “Given the allegations made by DHR and the contents of the report prepared by …the clinical psychologist, the juvenile court could not conclude that the concerns raised by DHR and [the psychologist] could be ignored as a matter of law. Instead, the juvenile court should have scheduled a hearing so that it could properly evaluate any evidence DHR might present (including any testimony from [the psychologist]) as to the alleged change in the child's circumstances after the entry of the April 2016 order.” View "Ex parte Marshall County Department of Human Resources." on Justia Law