City of Daphne v. City of Spanish Fort

Citation853 So.2d 933
Decision Date17 January 2003
CourtSupreme Court of Alabama

Jerome E. Speegle of Zieman, Speegle, Jackson & Hoffman, L.L.C., Mobile, for appellants City of Daphne, Merritt Oil Company, Inc., and D.V. Williams.

David J. Conner and Cynthia J. Sherman of Blackburn & Conner, P.C., Bay Minette, for appellee.


The City of Daphne, Merritt Oil Company, Incorporated ("Merritt"), and D.V. Williams (Daphne, Merritt, and Williams are hereinafter referred to collectively as "the Daphne plaintiffs") appeal from a summary judgment in favor of the City of Spanish Fort. The Daphne plaintiffs argue that Spanish Fort conspired with certain members of the Legislature to enact an act annexing to Spanish Fort parcels of land ("the disputed parcels") while a first annexation dispute between the Daphne plaintiffs and Spanish Fort was pending in the Baldwin Circuit Court. Because we hold that a legislative act may prospectively annex property that is the subject of a pending action, we affirm.

I. Factual & Procedural History

Daphne and Spanish Fort have been in disagreement over the purported annexations of the disputed parcels in Baldwin County since 1998. Specifically, the disputed parcels consist of property located north and east of the intersection of Interstate 10 and U.S. Highway 98 in western Baldwin County ("the mall property") and several separate parcels of property lying, generally, along U.S. Highway 90 between the western boundary of Spanish Fort as it existed before any of the annexations at issue here and the Mobile-Baldwin County line ("the causeway property").

Daphne filed its first action against Spanish Fort ("Dispute I") after the voters of Spanish Fort approved the annexation of certain property pursuant to a local act of the Legislature authorizing such a referendum. Daphne had previously annexed parcels of the same property pursuant to the landowner-consent method of §§ 11-42-20 to -24, Ala.Code 1975. Merritt1 and Williams2 were also plaintiffs in Dispute I.

Dispute I reached this Court, and we adopt the following statement of facts provided in City of Spanish Fort v. City of Daphne, 774 So.2d 567 (Ala.2000), as background to the present action:

"Daphne and Spanish Fort are adjacent municipalities situated on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay in Baldwin County. The genesis of the dispute between the two cities appears to have come in 1998. In March of that year, Spanish Fort caused to be published in a Baldwin County newspaper notice of that city's intent to seek a local act of the Legislature authorizing a referendum in which the voters of certain areas of Baldwin County would decide whether those areas would be annexed into Spanish Fort. That notice was published on March 7, 14, 21, and 25, 1998, and it included a detailed legal description of the property that Spanish Fort would seek to have the Legislature include in the area to be annexed into Spanish Fort upon the passage of a referendum of qualified electors living in the affected area.

"While considering the bill proposed by Spanish Fort, the Legislature amended it to remove approximately half of the property Spanish Fort had initially sought to have included in the area to be annexed. The property removed from the provisions of the bill by the amendment generally lay to the east and the north of the existing Spanish Fort city limits. The Legislature approved the bill as amended, and it became effective with the signature of Governor Fob James on May 6, 1998. Act. No. 98-634, Ala. Acts 1998 (Reg.Sess.). The act provided that the corporate limits of the City of Spanish Fort would be altered to include the property described in the act, provided that `the qualified electors who reside within the territory to be annexed [approved the annexation] in a referendum to be held' on a day selected by the Baldwin County probate judge. Id. (see § 4). The probate judge scheduled the referendum for July 28, 1998.

"In a series of meetings between July 6, 1998, and July 22, 1998, the Daphne City Council purported to annex into Daphne several parcels of property that had been included in the area subject to the referendum approved by the Legislature in Act No. 98-634. Those parcels of property may be described as falling into two general groups, the `mall property' and the `causeway property.' ... On July 28, the Spanish Fort annexation referendum was conducted, and the voters approved the annexation by a vote of 129-72.
"On August 5, 1998, Daphne filed an action in the Baldwin Circuit Court, seeking a judgment declaring Daphne's purported annexation of the disputed property to be valid and declaring Spanish Fort's purported annexation of the same property by the July 28 referendum to be invalid. Spanish Fort answered and filed a counterclaim, seeking a judgment declaring that Daphne's purported annexation of the disputed property was invalid and declaring that the property had in fact been annexed into Spanish Fort by the July 28 referendum."

774 So.2d at 569 (footnote omitted).

The trial court concluded that the mall property and the causeway property were validly annexed into Daphne, and that the Spanish Fort annexation was invalid because the property advertised for the proposed annexation by referendum was approximately twice the size of the area ultimately subject to the annexation after the amendment of Act No. 98-634, Ala. Acts 1998 ("the 1998 Act"). The property annexed by Spanish Fort differed materially from the property described in the advertisement, and the trial court held that such a discrepancy violated Ala. Const. of 1901, Art. IV, § 106, which provides that no local law can be passed without notice of the proposed law in the county where the subject matter affected by the law is located.

Spanish Fort appealed the trial court's judgment in Dispute I. We affirmed that aspect of the trial court's judgment holding that the 1998 Act violated Article IV, § 106, of the Alabama Constitution. We also affirmed the trial court's judgment insofar as it related to the mall property; however, we reversed the trial court's judgment as to the causeway property because Daphne's purported annexation of the causeway property did not meet the requirement of contiguity contained in § 11-42-21, Ala.Code 1975.

Before the trial court entered its judgment in Dispute I, the mayor of Spanish Fort, several members of the Legislature, and the attorney for Spanish Fort discussed introducing a new bill to annex the disputed parcels to Spanish Fort.3 The bill was drafted by Spanish Fort's attorney with input from the mayor and members of the city council of Spanish Fort. The mayor testified as to the purpose of the new bill:

"Q. What did you intend to accomplish by passing the new [bill]?
"A. To annex the territory that the majority of the people wanted to be in the city [per the referendum vote] ....

"Q. So if you had an adverse ruling [in Dispute I], say if you hadn't annexed it properly in the [1998 Act], the [new bill] would overturn the judge's decision; right?

"A. I don't know whether it would overturn the judge's decision or not because the judge interprets laws and the legislature passes laws. And this would be a law. And they have the authority to annex any territory without a referendum. And that wouldn't be overturning a judge's order."

On April 14, 1999, the Spanish Fort City Council held a special meeting, and approved the new bill. The new bill was introduced to the Legislature on May 20, 1999, only one day before the trial court entered its judgment in Dispute I in favor of Daphne as to all the disputed parcels. The Legislature passed the new bill, Act No. 99-547, Ala. Acts 1999 ("the 1999 Act"), and it became effective on June 18, 1999. The preamble of the 1999 Act states its purpose as follows:

"To alter or rearrange the boundary lines and corporate limits of the City of Spanish Fort in Baldwin County, Alabama, so as to include within the corporate limits of said City all territory now within the corporate limits of said City and also certain other territory. WHEREAS, the Legislature of the State of Alabama enacted [the 1998 Act] which called for a referendum to be held to determine whether certain territory described in [the 1998 Act] would be annexed into the corporate limits of the City of Spanish Fort, Alabama; and WHEREAS, an annexation election was held on July 28, 1998, and 129 votes were cast in favor of annexation of the said territory into the corporate limits of the City of Spanish Fort and 72 votes were cast against annexation, with the clear majority voting in favor of annexation; and WHEREAS, there has arisen a dispute regarding the annexation of said territory based on some alleged defects in the enactment of [the 1998 Act] resulting in some uncertainty regarding the boundary lines and corporate limits of the City of Spanish Fort; and WHEREAS, based on the intent of this Legislature in passing [the 1998 Act] and the majority vote of the people in favor of annexation, the Legislature now wishes to resolve the aforementioned dispute in the most expedient manner possible."

The Daphne plaintiffs filed their complaint in the present action on June 29, 1999, seeking a judgment declaring that the 1999 Act was unconstitutional and enjoining Spanish Fort from exercising jurisdiction over the mall property and the causeway property. The Daphne plaintiffs claimed that Spanish Fort's "expressed purpose was to give the Legislature, not the [trial court], the power to resolve the dispute—an illegal usurpation of judicial authority." The Daphne plaintiffs alleged that Spanish Fort was attempting to collect taxes from the property owners of the disputed parcels. Finally, the Daphne plaintiffs alleged that the 1999 Act violated § 11-42-6, Ala.Code 1975, which requires that the act contain an accurate description of the property to be annexed, and that the 1999 Act was passed...

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