Sima Properties, L.L.C.
John R. Cooper, in his official capacity as Director of the Alabama Department of Transportation, and the City of Prattville
from Montgomery Circuit Court (CV-16-900200)
THOMPSON, Presiding Judge.
Properties, L.L.C. ("Sima"), appeals from two
separate judgments entered by the Montgomery Circuit Court
("the trial court") dismissing Sima's
inverse-condemnation action against John R. Cooper, in his
official capacity as the director of the Alabama Department
of Transportation ("ALDOT"), and the City of
Prattville ("the city").
complaint, Sima alleged that it owns a gasoline station at
the corner of Alabama Highway 14 and Old Farm Road within the
geographical boundaries of the city. Sima averred that its
customers had had access to the gasoline station from Highway
14 by the use of a driveway. However, in November 2014, Sima
said, the driveway was closed when ALDOT and the city
"altered the construction of Highway 14 by creating
another road and an intersection in close proximity to
[Sima's] access way onto said Highway 14 and closed
[Sima's] direct access to Alabama Highway 14." Sima
claimed that the construction project terminated what Sima
said were its easement rights and its right of access. Sima
also alleged that the value of its property was diminished
and that its property had been taken without due process of
law. It further asserted that Cooper and the city had acted
fraudulently, in bad faith, beyond their respective
authorities, or under a mistaken interpretation of the law in
exercising dominion over Sima's property rights. Sima
sought compensation for the property it claimed it had lost,
as well as litigation expenses, and an order requiring Cooper
and the city to restore its direct access to Highway 14.
filed a motion to dismiss Sima's complaint pursuant to
Rule 12(b)(1) and (6), Ala. R. Civ. P., on the grounds that
he had sovereign immunity under Article 1, § 14, Ala.
Const. 1901, and that the complaint failed to state a claim
upon which relief could be granted. The trial court would
lack subject-matter jurisdiction over the claims asserted
against Cooper if Cooper were found to have sovereign
immunity. Ex parte Alabama Dep't of Transp., 978
So.2d 17, 26 (Ala. 2007). Cooper attached an affidavit and
supporting exhibits to his motion to dismiss. The city also
filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that Sima failed to state
a claim upon which relief could be granted. Specifically, the
city asserted that ALDOT owns the property at issue and that
Sima has no right of ownership or possession to that
property. In its motion, the city relied on the information
stated in the affidavit and the exhibits attached to
Cooper's motion. The city did not include an evidentiary
submission of its own.
affidavit Cooper submitted was that of Philip Shamburger, the
acting bureau chief of ALDOT's right-of-way bureau. In
that affidavit, Shamburger explained that, in his position,
he was responsible for, among other things, oversight of
ALDOT's right-of-way acquisition process and served as
custodian of right-of-way records. Shamburger stated that in
May 1970 ALDOT filed a condemnation petition in the Autauga
Probate Court "for property owned by George L. Yarbrough
and others to purchase real estate for 'public use as a
right of way for the construction and maintenance of a public
road'" as identified by a certain project number.
After a hearing on the petition, the probate court entered an
order condemning the property. That order was appealed to the
circuit court. After a trial, Shamburger said, the circuit
court entered a judgment of condemnation, which included the
property at issue. Yarbrough and the others who owned the
property were awarded $56, 460.90 for the property.
Shamburger attached the probate-court and circuit-court
judgments as exhibits to his affidavit. He also attached a
map, which he said was maintained in ALDOT's ordinary
course of business, showing the property at issue. According
to the map, Shamburger said, the property from the entrance
of Sima's gasoline station to Highway 14 is owned by
ALDOT for the purpose of providing a right-of-way for
construction and maintenance of a public road.
filed an opposition to both motions to dismiss. After a
hearing on Cooper's and the city's motions, the trial
court entered separate judgments dismissing Sima's
claims. As to Cooper's motion, the trial court found that
he was entitled to sovereign immunity both as to claims
seeking damages and as to claims seeking injunctive relief.
The trial court also found that Sima did not have an
ownership interest in the property at issue and that,
therefore, it could not bring a valid inverse-condemnation
claim. As to the city's motion, the trial court relied on
the evidentiary materials attached to Cooper's motion to
find that ALDOT, and not Sima, owned the property at issue.
The trial court determined that, because Sima's property
was not taken, it could not prove a set of facts upon which
relief could be granted. Accordingly, the trial court also
dismissed Sima's claims against the city.
filed a motion to alter, amend, or "revise" the
judgments, pursuant to Rule 59, Ala. R. Civ. P. The trial
court denied the motion. Sima then appealed both judgments to
the Alabama Supreme Court, which transferred the appeal to
this court pursuant to § 12-2-7(6), Ala. Code 1975.
appeal, Sima contends that the trial court erred in
dismissing its action against Cooper on the ground that
Cooper was entitled to sovereign immunity. In its judgment in
favor of Cooper, the trial court wrote:
"Sovereign immunity also bars Sima's action for
damages against Cooper in his official capacity. Section 14
of the Alabama Constitution prohibits a damages award against
a State official in his official capacity because a result
favorable to Sima would directly affect the State
most circumstances, a state official sued in his or her
official capacity is entitled to sovereign immunity under
§ 14 of the Alabama Constitution of 1901.
"This Court has long held that '"'the
circuit court is without jurisdiction to entertain a suit
against the State because of Sec. 14 of the
Constitution.'"' Larkins v. Department of
Mental Health & Mental Retardation, 806 So.2d 358,
364 (Ala. 2001) (quoting Alabama State Docks Terminal Ry.
v. Lyles, 797 So.2d 432, 435 (Ala. 2001), quoting in
turn Aland v. Graham, 287 Ala. 226, 229, 250 So.2d
677, 678 (1971)). '[A]n action contrary to the
State's immunity is an action over which the courts of
this State lack subject-matter jurisdiction.'
Larkins, 806 So.2d at 363."
Ex parte Alabama Dep't of Transp., 978 So.2d 17,
21 (Ala. 2007). However, there are exceptions to the
State's sovereign immunity under § 14, one of which
is a valid inverse-condemnation action brought against a
state official in his or her representative capacity.
Id. If the exception did not exist, an action
against a governmental authority to recover the value of
property that has been taken by that authority could never
occur, because, based on sovereign immunity, the trial court
would never obtain jurisdiction over an inverse-condemnation
action. See Jefferson Cty. v. Southern Natural Gas
Co., 621 So.2d 1282, 1287 (Ala. 1993). Therefore, we
hold that the trial court erred in determining that
Sima's action against Cooper was due to be dismissed on
the basis of sovereign immunity.
also asserts that the trial court erred in dismissing its
inverse-condemnation action against both Cooper and the city
on the ground that Sima did not have a property right ...