Justia Family Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Supreme Court of Alabama
Zinn v. Till
Jennie and Christopher Zinn appealed a circuit court's dismissal of their complaint against Ashley Till. In October 2017, the Zinns filed an adoption petition with the probate court concerning an unborn child. The child was born later that month, and the probate court subsequently entered an interlocutory adoption decree. In November 2017, the Zinns filed an amended adoption petition, listing the child's name and providing the consent of the child's mother and purported father to the child's adoption. On December 18, 2017, Till, an employee of the Alabama Department of Human Resources, submitted an acknowledgment letter to the probate court stating that there was no entry in the putative-father registry relating to the child. The next day, the probate court entered a final decree of adoption. On January 25, 2018, Till submitted a corrected acknowledgment letter to the probate court, identifying an individual who was, in fact, listed in the putative-father registry regarding the child and stating that incomplete information had previously been provided "due to oversight and neglect." The next day, the probate court vacated the final decree of adoption based on the corrected acknowledgment letter. In June 2019, the Zinns filed suit against Till alleging: (1) negligence; (2) wantonness; and (3) that the defendants had "acted willfully, maliciously, in bad faith, beyond their authority or under a mistaken interpretation of the law ...." The Zinns' complaint sought awards of compensatory and punitive damages. On appeal, the Zinns argue that the circuit court erred by dismissing their claims on immunity grounds. Till moved to dismiss count one of the Zinns' complaint based on State-agent immunity, and the circuit court cited State-agent immunity as an alternative ground for dismissing counts two and three of the complaint. Insofar as the circuit court's judgment dismissing each count of the complaint was based on the doctrine of State-agent immunity, the parties appeared to agree that the judgment should have been reversed regarding each count. The judgment was reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings. View "Zinn v. Till" on Justia Law
Ex parte John Bodie, as guardian ad litem for G.A., D.P. and M.P.
John Bodie, as guardian ad litem for G.A., D.P., and M.P. ("the children"), has filed three separate petitions for the writ of certiorari, one on each child's behalf, regarding a decision of the Court of Civil Appeals reversing judgments of the Jefferson Juvenile Court ("the juvenile court") that terminated the parental rights of H.P. ("the mother") to the children. The Alabama Supreme Court granted the petitions, and, after review, concluded the Court of Civil Appeals erred in rejecting the possibility that the juvenile court could have reasonably determined lear and convincing evidence had been presented demonstrating that no viable alternative to termination of the mother's parental rights existed. Judgments were therefore reversed and the cases remanded for further proceedings. View "Ex parte John Bodie, as guardian ad litem for G.A., D.P. and M.P." on Justia Law
Ex parte The HuffingtonPost.com
The HuffingtonPost.com, Inc. ("HuffPost"), petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct a circuit court to vacate its order denying HuffPost's motion for a summary judgment based on the immunity provided in the Communications Decency Act of 1996, 47 U.S.C. § 230, and to enter a summary judgment in its favor pursuant to the immunity provided in 47 U.S.C. § 230. K.G.S. petitioned to adopt Baby Doe; the birth mother contested the adoption. The birth mother contacted Mirah Ruben, a contributor to HuffPost, and shared her version of events leading to her contesting the adoption. HuffPost published two online articles about Baby Doe’s adoption, including the full name of the birth mother, K.G.S. and included images of Baby Doe. After the articles were published, Claudia D’Arcy, a resident of New York, created a Facebook page dedicated to reuniting the birth mother and Baby Doe, which attached the HuffPost articles. The Facebook page also identified the birth mother and K.G.S. by name, and images of Baby Doe. After the creation of the Facebook page, K.G.S. stated she was “inundated with appallingly malicious and persistent cyber-bullying.” K.G.S.’ attorney compelled Facebook to take down the page because it violated Alabama’s Adoption Code. Then K.G.S. sued HuffPost, Mirah Riben, and a number of other defendants alleging that the defendants had made statements relating to the adoption that subjected them to civil liability and had unlawfully disclosed confidential information about the adoption "to create a sensationalized, salacious, and scandal-driven trial in the court of public opinion to pressure K.G.S. into relinquishing her custody of Baby Doe." After review of the circumstances of this case, the Alabama Supreme Court concluded HuffPost demonstrated a clear legal right to mandamus relief, and its petition was granted. View "Ex parte The HuffingtonPost.com" on Justia Law
Ex parte Jason Grimmett.
A circuit court entered a judgment divorcing Jason Grimmett from April Grimmett on the ground of adultery by Jason, and divided the couple's marital property. The Court of Civil Appeals affirmed the judgment without an opinion, and Jason petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for certiorari review. The Supreme Court issued the writ to examine, among other things, a potential conflict in the law regarding whether adultery committed after a party files for divorce was a ground for divorce. Because the language chosen by the Legislature, specifying adultery as a ground for divorce, did not limit this ground to prefiling conduct, and because the Supreme Court's early cases distinguishing between prefiling and postfiling adultery had to be read in light of the procedural restrictions of equity practice under which they were decided, the Court affirmed the circuit court's judgment. View "Ex parte Jason Grimmett." on Justia Law
Porter v. Estate of Porter
Ilka Porter and Lina Louise Porter, through her mother and next friend, Ilka Porter, appealed a probate court order that concluded Sean Porter was married to Alexis Campbell Porter at the time of his death, and appointing Alexis Campbell Porter as administratrix of his estate. The question presented by these appeals was one of first impression in Alabama: Whether the death of a party to a marriage, after a marriage document is executed but before the marriage document is recorded, invalidates the marriage for failure to comply with the registration requirements of section 22-9A-17, Ala. Code 1975. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded that it did not, affirming the probate court's order. View "Porter v. Estate of Porter" on Justia Law
Roginski v. Estate of Tarvaris Jackson
When former NFL quarterback Tarvaris Jackson passed away, he left behind a young daughter named Jaya, to whom he owed child support under the terms of a Minnesota court order. Jaya's mother and legal representative, Jessa Roginski, filed suit in Alabama court to domesticate the Minnesota support order. In response to a motion filed by Jackson's estate, the circuit court entered an order to strike Roginski's filings, from which she appealed to the Alabama Supreme Court. Because the Court of Civil Appeals had exclusive appellate jurisdiction of appeals in domestic-relations cases, the Supreme Court transferred this appeal to that court. View "Roginski v. Estate of Tarvaris Jackson" on Justia Law
Smith v. Alexander, et al.
Steven Smith, as conservator of the estate of B.J. (minor), appealed a circuit court's grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants Elizabeth Alexander, Amanda Buchanan, and Michael Key on Smith's claims alleging violations of policies promulgated by the State Department of Human Resources ("the State DHR"), negligence, wantonness, and the tort of outrage. In May 2015, Key was employed by the Cullman County DHR as a foster-care supervisor, responsible for supervising Cullman County DHR caseworkers. Key reported to Buchanan, who oversaw the Child Family Services Program, the Child Protective Services Program, and the Foster Care Program for the Cullman County DHR. Buchanan in turn reported to Alexander, the director of the Cullman County DHR. B.J. was placed in the custody of the Cullman County DHR when he was three years old after having suffered physical abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect at the hands of family members. In 2002, the trial court awarded the Cullman County DHR legal guardianship and permanent custody of B.J. While in the custody of the Cullman County DHR, B.J. was placed in a number of foster homes, group homes, residential facilities, hospitals, and psychiatric institutions. In July 2014, B.J. was placed by the Cullman County DHR at the Altapointe Group Home. While there, B.J. underwent an assessment, which revealed he had regularly exhibited violent outbursts and physically aggressive behavior toward others; he had a history of depression, suicide and delusional thinking; and engaged in impulsive and delinquent behavior. B.J. would ultimately be arrested for such behavior towards others. B.J. had personal funds with which he could post bail, but the decision was made he should have remained in jail pending an arrangement for further mental health counseling. Smith argued defendants' decisions leaving B.J. incarcerated did not follow departmental policies of least-restrictive-placement-possible, and as such, caused B.J. irreparable harm. The Alabama Supreme Court found that each crucial decision made by the defendants -- i.e., the decisions not to place B.J. at the Gateway facility and not to post B.J.'s bond before his court date -- were made with B.J.'s best interests in mind after consideration of all the relevant recommendations and factors. Accordingly, Smith failed to provide substantial evidence demonstrating that the defendants acted willfully in dealing with B.J. and that, therefore, they were not entitled to the protection of State-agent immunity. View "Smith v. Alexander, et al." on Justia Law
Wheeler v. Marvin
Karen Wheeler, as administrator of the estate of Eugene Drayton, appealed a probate court judgment declaring Kristin Marvin was the biological child of Drayton, and was therefore an heir of Drayton for purposes of intestate succession. The probate court appointed Wheeler, who was Drayton's daughter, as the administrator of Drayton's estate. In her filings with the probate court, Wheeler identified herself and her brother as Drayton's only heirs. Marvin, however, later filed a petition with the probate court in which she claimed to also be a biological child of Drayton. She requested that the probate court consider the results of a DNA test allegedly showing that Drayton's half brother was Marvin's uncle and, therefore, indicating that Marvin was Drayton's daughter. Wheeler testified that she was unaware that Drayton had any children other than herself and her brother. She asserted that no one, including Drayton, had ever stated to her that Marvin was Drayton's child. Wheeler claimed to have met Marvin for the first time at a funeral held after the death of Drayton's mother, but, she said, Drayton did not introduce them. On appeal, Wheeler argued primarily that the probate court erred in considering the DNA test result, because the DNA samples were collected not by disinterested parties but by Marvin and Curtis, who then mailed them outside the presence of disinterested parties. Wheeler asserts that "there is a possibility that the samples were switched because they were in the exclusive possession of interested parties prior to being mailed to [the laboratory that performed the test]." She points out that the test result itself disclaims any responsibility for how the samples were collected and is based on the assumption that they were collected correctly. The Alabama Supreme Court found after review that Wheeler did not present any authority suggesting that the probate court could not admit and consider the DNA test if it believed the testimony of Curtis and Marvin describing how the DNA samples were collected and submitted. Accordingly, she did not show the probate court erred in considering the DNA test result based on how the samples were collected and submitted. View "Wheeler v. Marvin" on Justia Law
Ex parte Hillard and Warr.
Deborah Hillard and Holland Hillard Warr jointly petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus, raising numerous issues. The Court ordered answers and briefs on one issue raised by Warr: whether the circuit court erred in denying her summary-judgment motion on the counterclaim brought against her by her former husband, Rik Tozzi, which Warr claimed was barred by principles of res judicata. Warr specifically requested that the Supreme Court issue the writ of mandamus directing the circuit court to grant her summary-judgment motion. The Court denied the petition as to that issue. "Warr does not provide meaningful discussion of the precedent she cites or the other relevant precedent ... She has not established that the instant case is controlled by opinions holding that a former spouse was barred from pursuing a tort claim against the other former spouse based on conduct that occurred before a divorce. For example, she has not shown that the allegedly tortious acts and omissions surrounding the execution and delivery of the promissory note were fully litigated in the divorce action or that Tozzi's tort allegations were resolved by a settlement agreement entered in the divorce action or by the final divorce judgment." Because Warr did not demonstrate a clear legal right to a judgment in her favor on Tozzi's counterclaim based on principles of res judicata, the Supreme Court denied the petition. View "Ex parte Hillard and Warr." on Justia Law
Ex parte Z.W.E.
Z.W.E., the alleged father of a child ("the child") of L.B. (Mother), petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari to review the Court of Civil Appeals' decision in Z.W.E. v. L.B., [Ms. 2180796, June 5, 2020] ___ So. 3d ___ (Ala. Civ. App. 2020), affirming the Jackson Juvenile Court's dismissal of the his petition to establish the paternity of the child. The Supreme Court granted certiorari review to consider, as an issue of first impression, whether the term "child," as used in section 26-17-204(a)(5), Ala. Code 1975, a part of the Alabama Uniform Parentage Act ("the AUPA"), § 26-17-101 et seq., Ala. Code 1975, included unborn children. Z.W.E. and Mother were in a dating relationship and cohabited from February 2018 until August 2018, during which time the child was conceived. However, according to Z.W.E., beginning in mid-November 2018, Mother "refused to have any contact with the [alleged father] or his family." Subsequently, on November 14, 2018, the mother married Z.A.F. S.W.E. petitioned seeking to establish paternity of the child, born December 26, 2018. Mother moved to dismiss, arguing that Z.A.F. was the presumed father under section 26-17-204(a)(1), Ala. Code 1975. Accordingly, the mother argued, the husband's presumption of paternity could not be challenged. The Supreme Court concluded the Court of Civil Appeals did not err in concluding that the plain language of the AUPA did not include unborn children within its definition of "child." Accordingly, Z.W.E. could not be considered a presumed father under section 26-17-204(a)(5) and, thus, did not have the capacity to challenge Z.A.F.'s status as a presumed father of the child. View "Ex parte Z.W.E." on Justia Law