Randall Woodfin et al.
General Bender et al.
from Jefferson Circuit Court (CV-11-904600)
of the Birmingham Board of Education and the superintendent
of the Birmingham City School System (hereinafter
collectively referred to as "the defendants")
appeal the Jefferson Circuit Court's judgment in favor of
24 "classified employees" of the Birmingham Board of
Education (hereinafter collectively referred to as "the
plaintiffs").The trial court held that the
plaintiffs' salaries had been miscalculated and awarded
them monetary relief. The defendants argue, among other
things, that they are entitled to immunity from the
plaintiffs' claims. We agree that the defendants are
entitled to immunity. For that reason, the trial court lacked
subject-matter jurisdiction, and its judgment is void.
Accordingly, we dismiss the appeal.
and Procedural History
December 30, 2011, numerous classified employees of the
Birmingham Board of Education ("the Board") sued
the Board, the Board's members in their official
capacities, and the superintendent of the Birmingham City
School System, in his official capacity. The plaintiffs
claimed that when the Board adopted a new salary schedule in
August 2004, existing employees, including the plaintiffs,
were not reassigned to the proper "steps" on the
new salary schedule and, thus, that their wages were
miscalculated. Specifically, in their amended complaint, the
"... Defendants adopted a new pay schedule about August
"... The [Board] instituted a policy of assigning
employees to pay steps correspondent to the total number of
years of service. Through the implementation of the new
schedule and pay policy, defendants determine salary rates on
the basis of total years of experience.
"... Defendants did not implement the new pay schedule
with existing employees who occupied positions encompassed by
the new pay schedule and policy in August 2004. Rather, the
defendants continued to pay plaintiffs at their present rates
of pay that did not recognize their years of experience.
"... With the implementation of the new 16-step pay
schedule, defendants failed to make corresponding adjustments
to plaintiffs' step assignments to reflect prior
experience in the like manner to the pay rates set for the
new supervisory hires or their newly promoted peers. As a
result, defendants place the newly hired or newly promoted
personnel at pay steps above the veteran employees. Hence,
the new hires and newly promoted employees now make
substantially more money than their more experienced peers.
"... Despite numerous meetings and discussions with the
defendants pointing out the mistake and the obvious pay
inequity, the defendants have stubbornly, willfully,
arbitrarily and maliciously refused to adjust plaintiffs'
salary to reflect total years of experience. Defendants have
made no effort to correct the ministerial error of assigning
plaintiffs to the proper pay step to reflect years of
undisputed that in August 2004 the Board implemented a new
salary schedule that included multiple pay "steps."
The then current employees were placed on the step of the new
salary schedule that most closely approximated their then
current pay, and none of those employees received a reduction
in pay. The plaintiffs argued that current employees were
assigned to a step on the new salary schedule that most
closely corresponded to their then current rate of pay. They
argued that each employee should have been assigned to the
step that directly corresponded to his or her years of
experience, which, they say, would have resulted in a
significant pay increase for each of the plaintiffs.
According to the plaintiffs, the Board's official policy
stated that an employee's "step" on the new pay
schedule must correspond to the employee's total years of
experience. Further, according to the plaintiffs, assigning
each employee to the step that corresponded with his or her
years of experience was a ministerial act, and the defendants
had no discretion in determining each employee's salary
step. The plaintiffs contended that, because the defendants
did not assign the plaintiffs to "steps" that
corresponded to their years of experience, the
plaintiffs' salaries were miscalculated and incorrect
payments were made on their behalfs to the Retirement System
of Alabama, which resulted in reduced pension benefits for
plaintiffs' claims are based on the following language
found in the "introduction" to the salary schedule
that was first adopted by the Board in August 2004:
"Certified salaries (teacher) in the salary schedule are
based on years of experience, degree/certification and/or
assignment. Effective February 1, 1996, certified employees
(teachers) were approved to be paid on their highest degree,
regardless of the teaching assignment. Years of
experience are categorized as 'STEPS' on the
schedule. Experience for teachers will be granted based
on public education in this system, other public education
experience in the State of Alabama, or other public education
experience outside the state. It is the responsibility of the
employee to submit the appropriate information pertaining to
experience, degree/certification and to verify the receipt of
the accurate salary."
their complaint, the plaintiffs requested declaratory,
mandamus, and injunctive relief. Specifically, the plaintiffs
requested that the defendants be directed to pay the
plaintiffs at the proper rate of pay reflecting their years
of experience, that the trial court "issue a declaratory
judgment finding that the defendants' purported actions
of inequitably paying [the plaintiffs] shall be corrected
such that all employees' salaries shall be based upon
their years of experience, " and that the trial court
"declare that the plaintiffs are entitled to back pay
and adjustment of their current salary to reflect years of
service." Further, the plaintiffs alleged that the
"defendants' actions constitute unlawful,
unreasonable, capricious, and arbitrary conduct and represent
an abuse of the defendants' official power and
discretion" and that "the Board's failure and
refusal to establish proper salary schedules which include
length of service steps for all classes of employees does not
entail a discretionary act but rather is the ignoring of a
duty exacted by law."
trial court dismissed the Board from the case on the basis of
State immunity but allowed the action to proceed against the
defendants in their official capacities. After conducting a
bench trial, the trial court found that the plaintiffs'
salaries had been miscalculated and awarded them the monetary
relief they requested. The defendants appealed.
appeal, the defendants argue, among other things, that they
are entitled to immunity from the plaintiffs' claims. The
plaintiffs respond that "the Birmingham Board of
Education must follow its own duly adopted salary schedule.
An employee can sue when the school system fails to do that;
and immunity does not bar monetary relief in such a
case." Plaintiffs' brief, at 30. Further, the
plaintiffs argue that "state sovereign immunity does not
bar an order against official capacity defendants, regarding
proper payment for work actually performed, including proper
placement on the salary schedule." Id., at 34.
State of Alabama shall never be made a defendant in any court
of law or equity." Article I, § 14, Ala. Const.
1901. "Section 14 immunity is more than a defense; when
applicable, it divests the trial courts of this State of
subject-matter jurisdiction." Alabama State Univ. v.
Danley, [Ms. 1140907, April 8, 2016] ___ So. 3d___, ___
§ 14 immunity, this Court has stated:
"'The wall of immunity erected by § 14 is
nearly impregnable. Sanders Lead Co. v. Levine, 370
F.Supp. 1115, 1117 (M.D. Ala. 1973); Taylor v. Troy State
Univ., 437 So.2d 472, 474 (Ala. 1983); Hutchinson v.
Board of Trustees of Univ. of Alabama, 288 Ala. 20, 24,
256 So.2d 281, 284 (1971). This immunity may not be waived.
Larkins v. Department of Mental Health & Mental
Retardation, 806 So.2d 358, 363 (Ala. 2001) ("The
State is immune from suit, and its immunity cannot be waived
by the Legislature or by any other State authority.");
Druid City Hosp. Bd. v. Epperson, 378 So.2d 696
(Ala. 1979) (same); Opinion of the Justices No. 69,
247 Ala. 195, 23 So.2d 505 (1945) (same); see also Dunn
Constr. Co. v. State Bd. of Adjustment, 234 Ala. 372,
175 So. 383 (1937). "This means not only that the state
itself may not be sued, but that this cannot be
indirectly accomplished by suing its officers or
agents in their official capacity, when a result favorable to
plaintiff would be directly to affect the financial
status of the state treasury." State Docks
Comm'n v. Barnes, 225 Ala. 403, 405, 143 So. 581,
582 (1932) (emphasis added); see also Southall v. Stricos
Corp., 275 Ala. 156, 153 So.2d 234 (1963).'
"Patterson v. Gladwin Corp., 835 So.2d 137, 142
Alabama Agric. & Mech. Univ. v. Jones, 895 So.2d
867, 872-73 (Ala. ...