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Walker County Commission v. Kelly

Supreme Court of Alabama

March 9, 2018

Walker County Commission et al.
v.
David Kelly et al.

         Appeal from Walker Circuit Court (CV-15-900291)

          WISE, JUSTICE.

         The Walker County Commission and Commissioners Keith Davis, Bobby Nunnelly, Steven Aderhold, and Billy Luster, individually and in their official capacities (hereinafter referred to collectively as "the Commission"), the plaintiffs below, appeal from a judgment of the Walker Circuit Court in favor of David Kelly, individually and in his official capacity as chairman of the Walker County Civil Service Board, and board members Rufus Reed, Donald Baxter, Raymond Bennett, and Gary Davis, individually (the chairman and the individual members are hereinafter referred to collectively as "the Board"), the defendants below. For the reasons discussed below, we dismiss the appeal.

         Facts and Procedural History

         Susan Russell was employed as a revenue auditor for Walker County. She was suspended and reprimanded, and she was terminated from her employment effective December 2, 2014. Russell appealed the suspension and termination to the Walker County Civil Service Board, which reversed the suspension and termination and ordered that she be reinstated to her position as a revenue auditor.[1]

         On July 30, 2015, the Commission sued the Board in the Walker Circuit Court. In the "Facts" section of the complaint, it set forth facts purporting to establish that the Board had violated the Alabama Open Meetings Act, see Ala. Code 1975, § 36-25A-1 et seq., in its handling of Russell's appeal. At the conclusion of the "Facts" section, the Commission stated:

"11. By disregarding the requirements for proper notice of any meeting held by the Walker County Civil Service Board to discuss the merits of the Susan Russell case, the Walker County Civil Service Board violated the Alabama Open Meetings Act and thus any action taken by the Walker County Civil Service Board in its secret meeting is invalid and is due to be set aside pursuant to the applicable provisions of the Alabama Open Meetings Act.
"WHEREFORE, the [Commission] request[s] all relief to which [it is] entitled pursuant to the provisions of the Alabama Open Meetings Act, including but not limited to invalidating all actions and/or orders taken and/or entered by the Walker County Civil Service Board in violation of the Act."

         The Commission also sought a permanent injunction, arguing that the Walker County Civil Service Board routinely issued orders regarding employee matters and had other "secret closed-door meetings, " all allegedly in violation of the Alabama Open Meetings Act. In this section of its complaint, it requested that the circuit court:

"(A) ... [E]nter a permanent injunction prohibiting the [Board] from convening secret closed-door meetings and requiring that all deliberations must be had only after an appropriate meeting has first been convened in compliance with the Alabama Open Meetings Act;
"(B) ... [D]eclare that the Walker County Civil Service Board and its members are subject to the Alabama Open Meetings Act, Alabama Code 1975, Section 3[6]-25A-1 et seq.; [and]
"(C) ... [G]rant any additional relief to which the [Commission] may be entitled."

         Finally, the Commission requested a declaratory judgment, asserting, in relevant part, as follows:

"18. Should this Honorable Court determine the Walker County Commission is not a proper party Plaintiff to this Complaint, then the Walker County Commission respectfully requests that it be made a necessary party Plaintiff pursuant to Rule 19 of the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure and this Court declare that the Walker County Commission is a necessary party Plaintiff to this action.
"19. In the alternative, the Walker County Commission respectfully requests this Honorable Court to declare Section [3]6-25A-9 of the Alabama Code, 1975 as amended, to be unconstitutional to the extent it restricts and prevents any person or entity who has been impacted by an alleged violation of the Open Meetings Act from commencing an action because the person or entity may not meet the definition of an entity or person otherwise allowed to bring an action pursuant to the Alabama Open Meetings Act. Any aggrieved individual or entity should be allowed to remedy the alleged violation and to prevent further alleged violations of the Alabama Open Meetings Act. The Walker County Commission further requests that the Attorney General for the State of Alabama be made a necessary party to this action for the purposes of declaring said Alabama Code Section unconstitutional and/or to pursue this matter."

         On August 17, 2015, the Board filed an answer to the Commission's complaint. On that same date, it also filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, arguing that "the Plaintiffs are not property party Plaintiff[s] to bring this action; Section [3]6-25A-9 Code of Alabama."

         On September 10, 2015, the Board filed an amended answer and a counterclaim seeking a declaratory judgment. It alleged that, "when acting in a quasi-judicial capacity in hearing, deliberating and deciding a contested case, [it is] not required to give notice of a meeting or ...


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