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Ex parte Board of Trustees of University of Alabama

Supreme Court of Alabama

May 18, 2018

Ex Parte the Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama
v.
Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama School of Medicine (UAB) et al. In re: Paul F. Castellanos, M.D.

          Jefferson Circuit Court, CV-17-904011

          PETITION FOR WRIT OF MANDAMUS

          MENDHEIM, JUSTICE.

         The Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama ("the Board") petitions this Court for a writ of mandamus directing the Jefferson Circuit Court to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, based on Article I, § 14, Ala. Const. 1901, an action filed against it by Paul F. Castellanos, M.D. ("Dr. Castellanos"). We grant the petition.

         I. Facts

         On September 22, 2017, Dr. Castellanos filed an action against six named defendants and other fictitiously named defendants. The six named defendants are: (1) "University of Alabama Health Services Foundation, P.C."; (2) "Board of Trustees for the University of Alabama School of Medicine (UAB)"; (3) "William R. Carroll, M.D."; (4) "Loring Rue, M.D."; (5) "Gustavo R. Heudebert, M.D."; and (6) "UAB Health System Board of Directors." The Board explains in its petition that it was incorrectly named in the complaint "Board of Trustees for the University of Alabama School of Medicine (UAB)" and that the correct name of the entity is "the Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama." Against the Board, Dr. Castellanos's complaint asserted claims alleging intentional interference with contractual and business relations, civil conspiracy, and "intentional infliction of mental anguish -- outrageous conduct" and seeking declaratory and injunctive relief.

         On November 1, 2017, the Board filed a motion to dismiss in which it asserted that it was entitled to immunity under Article 1, § 14, Ala. Const. 1901. No other defendant joined the Board's motion.

         Later in the day on November 1, 2017, the remaining defendants, other than the Board, filed a motion to compel arbitration as to all claims asserted against them by Dr. Castellanos. The motion was based on an arbitration provision contained in the "University of Alabama Health Services Foundation, P.C. Physician Employment Contract" ("the employment contract") entered into between the University of Alabama Health Services Foundation, P.C., and Dr. Castellanos. The motion to compel arbitration included a footnote observing that the Board was not a party to the motion to compel arbitration.

         On November 15, 2017, the circuit court entered an order granting the motion to compel arbitration as to certain named defendants but not others. Specifically, the circuit court "ordered ... that the above captioned case is hereby compelled to arbitration as it relates to claims asserted against Defendants University of Alabama Health Services Foundation, P.C., Board of Trustees for the University of Alabama School of Medicine (UAB), and UAB Health System Board of Directors, only." The circuit court did not grant the motion to compel arbitration as to William R. Carroll, M.D., Loring Rue, M.D., and Gustavo R. Heudebert, M.D. Thus, the order compelled the Board to submit to arbitration even though it had not joined the motion to compel arbitration.

         On November 29, 2017, the Board filed the present petition for a writ of mandamus asking this Court to direct the circuit court to grant its motion to dismiss all claims against it.

         On February 28, 2018, Dr. Castellanos filed a one-page response to the petition in which he stated that he "acknowledges and concedes that [the Board] is itself immune from suit and the order compelling [the Board] to arbitration was improvidently granted as to [the Board]. The issuance of this Writ, on these grounds, should be granted for [the Board]."

         II. Standard of Review

         A writ of mandamus is an extraordinary remedy available only when the petitioner can demonstrate: "'(1) a clear legal right to the order sought; (2) an imperative duty upon the respondent to perform, accompanied by a refusal to do so; (3) the lack of another adequate remedy; and (4) the properly invoked jurisdiction of the court.'" Ex parte Nall, 879 So.2d 541, 543 (Ala. 2003) (quoting Ex parte BOC Grp., Inc., 823 So.2d 1270, 1272 (Ala. 2001)). It is well established that "a court's failure to dismiss a case for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction based on sovereign immunity may properly be addressed by a petition for the writ of mandamus." Ex parte Alabama Dep't of Mental Health & Mental Retardation, 837 So.2d 808, 810-11 (Ala. 2002).

         III. Analysis

         The only issue for the Court's review is whether the circuit court erred in failing to dismiss Dr. Castellanos's claims against the Board on the basis of § 14 immunity and thus erred by including the Board in its order compelling ...


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