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McDaniel v. Ezell

Supreme Court of Alabama

January 30, 2015

Keith McDaniel
v.
William T. Ezell City of Florence, Alabama, a municipal corporation, and the Civil Service Board of the City of Florence
v.
William T. Ezell

Appeals from Lauderdale Circuit Court (CV-11-900214).

WISE, Justice.

The City of Florence, Alabama, a municipal corporation ("the City"), and the Civil Service Board of the City of Florence ("the CSB") and Keith McDaniel appeal separately from a judgment entered by the Lauderdale Circuit Court following a jury verdict in favor of William T. Ezell. We dismiss the appeals with instructions.

Facts and Procedural History

In mid 2011, two positions for promotion to the job of battalion chief became available within the Florence Fire and Rescue Department. Benjamin Cochran, Melvin Brown, Tim Clanton, John T. Muse, McDaniel, and Ezell applied for the positions. The CSB conducted interviews with the candidates on September 1, 2011. Afterward, it promoted Cochran and McDaniel to the two battalion-chief positions.

On September 12, 2011, Ezell filed a two-count complaint against the City and the CSB in the Lauderdale Circuit Court. The first count was an appeal from the decision of the CSB pursuant to Act No. 1619, Ala. Acts 1971 ("the Act"). The second count sought a judgment declaring that the CSB had acted arbitrarily and capriciously with respect to the promotion decision and overturning the CSB's decision to deny Ezell's application for promotion to battalion chief.[1] The complaint included a demand for a jury trial.

On October 18, 2011, the City and the CSB filed an answer in which they denied Ezell's allegations. They also asserted that Ezell had failed to join certain indispensable parties. The City and CSB simultaneously filed a motion to dismiss count 1 of the complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(7), Ala. R. Civ. P., arguing that all six applicants were indispensable parties. They then asked that count 1 of the complaint be dismissed or that Ezell be required to add Cochran, Brown, Clanton, Muse, and McDaniel as defendants.

On April 16, 2012, the trial court ordered Ezell to amend his complaint to make Cochran, Brown, Clanton, Muse, and McDaniel parties to the suit. On April 17, 2012, Ezell amended count 1 of his complaint and also added Cochran, Brown, Clanton, Muse, and McDaniel as defendants. The City and the CSB filed an answer to the amended complaint in which they denied Ezell's allegations and argued that the complaint failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.

The trial court conducted a jury trial following the procedure outlined in Smith v. Civil Service Board of Florence, 52 Ala.App. 44, 289 So.2d 614 (Ala. Civ. App. 1974). After the jury heard the evidence, the trial court instructed the jury, in part,

"to decide this case and who should be promoted to the two vacant positions of Battalion Chief based on the evidence presented to you during the trial."

The jury returned the following verdict:

"We are not reasonably satisfied that the decision of the [CSB] was correct and we find that the following 2 individuals should be promoted to Battalion Chief (pick two) ... Benjamin Cochran ... William Ezell."

The trial court entered a judgment on the verdict and ordered that the status quo be maintained during the pendency of any appellate proceedings.

The City, the CSB, and McDaniel filed posttrial motions, which the trial court denied. McDaniel filed an appeal to this Court; that appeal was docketed as case no. 1130372. The City and the CSB also filed an appeal to this Court; that appeal was docketed as case no. 1130373.

Discussion

In their briefs to this Court, the appellants raise several challenges to the procedure the trial court followed during the trial. However, before we can examine those challenges, we must first determine whether Ezell had a right to appeal the CSB's decision pursuant to the Act. The Act provides:

"An appeal may be taken from any decision of the [CSB] in the following manner: Within ten (10) days after any final decision of such [CSB], any party, including the governing body of the city, feeling aggrieved at the decision of the [CSB], may appeal from any such decision to the Circuit Court of the County. Upon the filing of such appeal, notice thereof shall be served upon any member of the [CSB] and a copy of said notice shall be served upon the appellee or his attorney by the appellant. Such appeal shall be heard at the earliest possible date by the court sitting without a jury, unless a jury is demanded by the appellant at the time of filing his notice of appeal or by the appellee within ten (10) days after notice of appeal has been served upon him. In the event either party demands a jury as provided above, the appeal shall be heard at the next regular jury term of court and shall have priority over all other cases. No bond shall be required for such an appeal and such an appeal shall be effected by filing a notice and request therefor by the appellant upon any member of the [CSB] and upon the appellee as herein provided for above and also by filing a notice and request for an appeal with the Clerk of the Circuit Court. It shall not be necessary to enter exceptions to the rulings of the [CSB], and the appeal shall be a trial de novo; provided, however, that upon hearing such appeal the introduction of the decision of the [CSB] shall be prima facie evidence of the correctness of such decision. An appeal may be taken from any judgment of the Circuit Court to the Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court as now provided by law."

Act No. 1619, Ala. Acts 1971, § 2.

The Act provides that any party "feeling aggrieved at the decision" may appeal; however, it does not define the term "aggrieved." The term "aggrieved" is defined in Black's Law Dictionary 80 (10th ed. 2014) as "having legal rights that are adversely affected; having been harmed by an infringement of legal rights." Therefore, only a party whose legal ...


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