Plaintiff, a mother of a stillborn child, sued physicians and a medical group, alleging that they wrongfully caused the death of her son and caused her emotional distress. The trial court held that a wrongful death action could not be maintained for the death of a fetus before viability. The Alabama Supreme Court reversed this holding, while agreeing with the trial court that Plaintiff could not recover damages for emotional distress. The court concluded that “Alabama’s wrongful-death statute allows an action to be brought for the wrongful death of any unborn child, even when the child dies before reaching viability.” Nonetheless, the court held that Plaintiff failed to demonstrate that she was entitled to damages for emotional distress because she did not present evidence that she was within the “zone of danger” and she could not claim a physical injury to herself based on the death of the fetus.
Women and Justice: Court: Supreme Court of Alabama
Hamilton v. Scott Supreme Court of Alabama (2012)
Hicks v. State of Alabama Supreme Court of Alabama (2014)
The defendant was charged with chemical endangerment of a child for ingesting cocaine while pregnant, which resulted in her child testing positive for cocaine at birth. The defendant was convicted after a guilty plea, but challenged her conviction on appeal, arguing that the legislature did not intend for Alabama’s chemical endangerment statute to apply to unborn children. Additionally, she alleged that if the statute applied to unborn children, the law was: (1) bad public policy because it does not protect unborn children and (2) unconstitutionally vague. The Alabama Supreme Court rejected Hicks’ claims, relying on an Alabama Court of Appeal decision, Ankrom v. State, 152 So.3d 373 (Ala. Crim. App. 2011), in which the court held that the plain language of the statute included an unborn child or viable fetus in the term “child.” The Alabama Supreme Court refused to consider the defendant’s public policy arguments, stating that policy arguments are ill-suited to judicial resolution and should instead be directed at the legislature. Finally, the court concluded that the law was not vague, as it “unambiguously protects all children, born and unborn, from exposure to controlled substances.”
Ex parte Alabama Department of Youth Services Supreme Court of Alabama (2003)
Jane Doe 1 and Jane Doe 2, female minor children in the custody of Alabama’s Department of Youth Service (“DYS”), brought an action against DYS and its executive director, alleging federal claims of sexual harassment and abuse under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. § 1681, et seq. (“Title IX”) and 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and state claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent hiring and supervision of DYS employees, and intentional misrepresentation. Defendants’ filed a motion to dismiss the claims based on various arguments for immunity, which the trial court denied. Defendants filed a petition for writ of mandamus directing the Circuit Court to dismiss the complaint. In ruling on Defendants’ petition, the Supreme Court considered each claim for immunity. First, DYS claimed it was immune from liability under the Eleventh Amendment. The Court, however, held that, because Congress enacted Title IX not only pursuant to its Article I powers, but also pursuant to its Fourteenth Amendment, § 5, power, Congress successfully abrogated the Eleventh Amendment immunity of the states from suits in federal and state courts for violations of Title IX. Second, the executive director argued he was entitled to federal qualified immunity from the § 1983 claim, since he was a government official. The Court disagreed, citing law holding that there is no state interest in protecting government officials accused of sexually molesting a child. Because the plaintiffs alleged that the executive director failed to protect them from harm even after he received notice of the sexual harassment and abuse, he did not have a clear legal right to dismissal of plaintiffs’ § 1983 claim on the ground of federal qualified immunity. Third, the Court found that, based on the sovereign immunity provision of the Alabama constitution, dismissal of plaintiffs’ state-law claims against the executive director in his official capacity was proper. However, the Court found that the doctrine of state-agent immunity did not warrant dismissal of plaintiffs’ state law claims against the executive director in his individual capacity.