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.
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.”
Reproductive Health Services, et al. v. Marshall, et al. United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama Northern Division (2017)
A licensed abortion facility and its owner sued Alabama’s Attorney General and the Montgomery County District Attorney. Among Plaintiffs claims were allegations that the 2014 amendments to Alabama Code Title 26’s judicial bypass law violated the due process rights of minor patients seeking abortions because it failed to provide an adequate judicial bypass by permitting adverse parties and the court to disclose private information about the minor to others. Citing Supreme Court precedent enshrining a minor’s constitutional right to seek an abortion through judicial bypass without outside interference violating her privacy, the court ultimately agreed with the plaintiffs and severed the unconstitutional provisions allowing the participation of (1) the district attorney, (2) the minor’s parents, and (3) a guardian ad litem for the fetus from the judicial bypass process.
Moore v. City of Leeds Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals (2008)
The defendant was convicted of third-degree domestic violence, harassment, and harassing communications based on evidence that he attacked his ex-wife, Karen Kelly, while they were driving in a car. On appeal, the defendant argued that the trial court improperly admitted testimony from the treating physician concerning what Ms. Kelly told him as he was treating her broken nose. Specifically, the physician testified that Ms. Kelly told him that her injuries were caused by an “altercation with her husband while they were driving.” The defendant argued that the medical-diagnosis hearsay exception in Alabama Rule of Evidence 804(3) or Federal Rule of Evidence 804(3) did not apply because the statement did not concern the cause of Ms. Kelly’s injuries, but rather was a statement of fault. In concluding that the physician’s testimony was admissible under Rule 804(3), the court cited two prior decisions. First, the court considered Ex parte C.L.Y., 928 So.2d 1069 (Ala. 2005), in which the Alabama Supreme Court held that statements by a child abuse victim that the abuser is a member or friend of the victim’s immediate household are reasonably pertinent to the treatment and admissible under Rule 804(3). Second, the court considered United States v. Joe, 8 F.3d 1488 (10th Cir. 1993), in which the Tenth Circuit held that that “the identity of the abuser is reasonably pertinent to treatment in virtually every domestic sexual assault case, even those not involving children.” The Tenth Circuit found that a treating physician generally must know who the abuser was in order to render proper treatment because the physician’s treatment will necessarily differ when the abuser is a member of the victim’s household. Based on these cases, the court held that Ms. Kelly’s statements to the treating physician “concerning the cause of her injuries and the identity of the person who committed the injuries were admissible under Rule 803(4).”
Ex Parte Alabama Department of Youth Services Alabama Supreme Court (2003)
Plaintiffs, minor female children in the custody of Alabama’s Department of Youth Services (“DYS”), brought an action against DYS and its executive director, in which they alleged that the defendants failed to adequately respond to “a sexually hostile education environment” and sexual abuse and harassment. The plaintiffs brought federal claims under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. § 1681, et seq. (“Title IX”) and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (“§ 1983”), and state-law claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent hiring and supervision of employees, and intentional misrepresentation. The trial court denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss the claims based on various immunity arguments. The defendants filed a petition for writ of mandamus directing the Alabama Supreme Court to dismiss the complaint. In ruling on the defendants’ petition, the Alabama Supreme Court considered each claim for immunity. First, the Alabama Supreme Court held that DYS was not entitled to sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment for claims brought under Title IX. Second, the Alabama Supreme Court found that the executive director was not entitled to federal qualified immunity for the § 1983 because the complaint alleged that he had notice of the sexual harassment and abuse yet failed to protect the plaintiffs from further harm. Finally, the Alabama Supreme Court considered the sovereign immunity provision of the Alabama constitution and found that dismissal of the plaintiffs’ state-law claims against the executive director in his official capacity was proper. Nonetheless, the Alabama Supreme Court found that the doctrine of state-agent immunity did not warrant dismissal of the plaintiffs’ state-law claims against the executive director in his individual capacity.
N.C. v. Caldwell Alabama Supreme Court (2011)
N.C., a minor, filed a personal injury action against her physical education teacher, her school principal, and the Tallapoosa County Board of Education. N.C. alleged that after her seventh grade physical education class, she was pulled into the boys’ locker room and raped by A.H., a 12th grade student whom her teacher, Caldwell, had appointed as a teacher’s aide. N.C.’s complaint alleged that Caldwell had actual knowledge that A.H. was sexually harassing students and had negligently or wantonly supervised N.C. and the other students in her class. Caldwell, the principal, and the Board filed motions for summary judgment, arguing that N.C.’s claims were barred by the doctrine of state-agent immunity. N.C. opposed entry of summary judgment against only Caldwell. The trial court reasoned that the Alabama Supreme Court “has been particularly reluctant to hold an educator responsible for sexual misconduct by another” and granted summary judgment in favor of Caldwell based on stage-agent immunity. On appeal, the Alabama Supreme Court considered an exception to state-agent immunity: “a State agent shall not be immune from civil liability in his or her personal capacity . . . when the State acts willfully, maliciously, fraudulently, in bad faith, beyond his or her authority, or under a mistaken interpretation of the law.” The Alabama Supreme Court found that Caldwell was exercising judgment in the discharge of his duty to supervise students at the time of the rape, which occurred after the dismissal bell had rung. Nonetheless, the Alabama Supreme Court held that there was a genuine issue of material fact as to (i) whether Caldwell actually appointed A.H. as a student aide, and, if so, whether he acted beyond his authority in doing so, and (ii) whether Caldwell ignored and failed to report allegations of sexual harassment from other female students about A.H.. The Alabama Supreme Court also found that there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Caldwell was aware that A.H. was sexually harassing other female students and, if so, whether he failed to respond to the allegations. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded that these issues of material fact precluded summary judgment and accordingly reversed the trial court.
Hill v. Cundiff Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit (2015)
Doe, a 14 year old eighth grader, was raped at school by 15 year old eight grader CJC who had a prior history of sexual harassment at school. The school’s policy on sexual harassment was to accept only three types of evidence as demonstrative of sexual harassment: catching the harasser in the act, physical evidence of the harassment, or an admission of guilt by the harasser. Doe was instructed by a teacher’s aide to lure CJC into a bathroom as a “rape-bait” sting to catch him in the act of sexual harassment. There, CJC anally penetrated Doe against her will before teachers could arrive to catch CJC pursuant to their plan. Doe filed a complaint against the school board and school administrators with a myriad of claims including a 42 U.S.C. §1983 claim for violation of the Equal Protection Clause. While the district court granted summary judgment in favor of the principal and school officials on the §1983 claims, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reviewed the case de novo and reversed the summary judgment. The Eleventh Circuit determined that the principal deprived Doe of equal protection through his deliberate indifference to inadequate sexual harassment policies. The Court also reversed the grant of summary judgment in favor of the school officials who suggested and acquiesced to the sting operation: the court found that they were not entitled to immunity because any reasonable government official would know that the plan violated the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause.
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.
N.C. v. P.R. Caldwell Alabama Supreme Court (2011)
Williams v. State Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals (1986)
A jury found Mr. Williams guilty of burglary and sodomy in the first degree. On appeal, Mr. Williams argued, among other things, that Alabama’s forcible sodomy statute was unconstitutional because it excluded a married person from liability. In other words, under the statute, a married person could not be convicted of forcibly sodomizing his or her spouse in Alabama. The appellate court held that the statute, on its face, discriminates between married and unmarried persons, and thus looked to see whether there was, “as a minimum, some ground of difference that rationally explains the different treatment accorded married and unmarried persons under the statute.” The court considered several traditional rationales for the marital exception. First, the court considered the implied consent theory – i.e., when a women makes her marriage vows, she impliedly consents to sexual intercourse with her husband during the marriage. The court rejected this rationale, finding that a “married person has the same right to control his or her body as does an unmarried person.” Because “any implied consent notion would give one spouse control over the other spouse’s bodily integrity,” it was not a rationale basis for the marital exemption. Second, the court rejected the proposed justification for the marital exemption that it protected against governmental invasion into marital privacy. The court found that marital privacy was not designed as a shield to protect against violent sexual assaults. Third, the court found untenable the argument that elimination of the marital exemption for forcible sodomy would disrupt marriages because it would discourage reconciliation: “When a marriage relationship has deteriorated to the point of forcible and unwanted sexual contact, reconciliation seems highly unlikely. Fourth, the court found problems with proof did not provide a rationale basis for the marital exemption because the evidentiary problems concerning one spouse’s lack of consent to an act of sodomy would be no more difficult than proving lack of consent by a victim involved in a non-marital relationship. Fifth, and finally, the court rejected the argument that the assault statutes provided alternative remedies available to a victim of forcible sodomy by a spouse, finding the vast differences in punishment disproved the alternative remedy theory. The court concluded that there can be no justification for forcible sodomy upon one’s spouse, and a rule that protected unmarried persons from forcible sodomy but not married persons could not withstand constitutional scrutiny. Therefore, the court severed and removed from the statute the marital exemption for the offense of forcible sodomy.
Since 1987, Alabama has had a judicial bypass law, which allows pregnant minors to obtain a court’s permission to have an abortion without parental consent. In 2014, the Alabama legislature passed House Bill 494 to amend the law. The original judicial bypass statute provided for an ex parte hearing with only the judge, the minor, and her attorney present. The 2014 amendments added to the proceedings parties who are permitted or required to “examine” the minor and represent the interests of the unborn child, the state, and the minor’s parents. It would have also allowed the appointment of a guardian to represent the interests of the fetus. The District Court of the Middle District of Alabama found these amendments unconstitutional and severed them from the judicial bypass law in Reproductive Health Services v. Marshall (2017).
In 2015, Alabama amended its gun legislation to prohibit anyone who has been convicted of a misdemeanor offense of domestic violence or is subject to a domestic abuse protective order from possessing a firearm. The amended statute provides: “No person who has been convicted in this state or elsewhere of committing or attempting to commit a crime of violence, misdemeanor offense of domestic violence, violence offense as listed in Section 12-25-32(14), anyone who is subject to a valid protection order for domestic abuse, or anyone of unsound mind shall own a firearm or have one in his or her possession or under his or her control.”