Hudson v. Ivey

Docket NumberSC-2022-0836
Decision Date24 March 2023
PartiesTiara Young Hudson v. Kay Ivey, in her official capacity as Governor of Alabama; Patrick Tuten, in his official capacity as appointee to a circuit- court judgeship in the Twenty-Third Judicial Circuit; and Tom Parker, in his official capacity as Chair of the Judicial Resources Allocation Commission
CourtAlabama Supreme Court

Appeal from Montgomery Circuit Court (CV-22-900892)


This case concerns the reallocation of a circuit-court judgeship from the 10th Judicial Circuit located in Jefferson County to the 23d Judicial Circuit located in Madison County. Tiara Young Hudson, an attorney residing in Jefferson County, had been a candidate for appointment and election to the Jefferson County judgeship before its reallocation to Madison County. In response to the reallocation of that judgeship Hudson initiated an action in the Montgomery Circuit Court ("the trial court") seeking a judgment declaring that the act providing for the reallocation of judgeships § 12-9A-1 et seq. ("the Act"), Ala. Code 1975 violated certain provisions of the Alabama Constitution of 1901. Hudson also sought a permanent injunction removing the Madison County circuit judge that had been appointed to fill the reallocated judgeship from office and directing the governor to appoint a new person nominated by the Jefferson County Judicial Commission to fill the judgeship in Jefferson County. The trial court dismissed the action on the ground that it did not have subject-matter jurisdiction to grant the requested relief. We affirm.

Facts and Procedural History

On May 24, 2022, Hudson won the Democratic Party primary election to be that party's nominee for the Place 14 circuit-court judgeship in the criminal division of Alabama's 10th Judicial Circuit for a term beginning in January 2023. On June 1, 2022, then Place 14 circuit judge Clyde Jones retired, leaving a vacancy in the Place 14 judgeship. In response to that vacancy, on June 9, 2022, the Alabama Judicial Resources Allocation Commission ("the Commission") convened and, pursuant to powers granted it by the Act,[1] voted to reallocate the Place 14 judgeship from 10th Judicial Circuit, the circuit least in need of an additional circuit-court judgeship according to a formal judicial-caseload study, to the 23d Judicial Circuit, the circuit most in need of an additional judgeship according to the same study. On July 18, 2022, Governor Kay Ivey appointed Judge Patrick Tuten, then a district judge in Madison County, to fill the newly reallocated circuit-court judgeship, a position he assumed the next day.

On July 19, 2022, several hours after Tuten had taken the oath of office, Hudson filed a complaint in the trial court seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. The only three defendants named in the action were Governor Ivey, who has the authority to make appointments to fill judicial vacancies; Chief Justice Tom Parker, who is the chair of the Commission; and Tuten. Specifically, Hudson asserted that the Act represented an unconstitutional delegation of the legislative authority to establish circuit-court judgeships and requested the following relief:

"A. Declare that the [Commission]'s duties under Ala. Code § 12-9A-2 represent an unconstitutional delegation of legislative authority, to the extent that Ala. Code § 12-9A-2 allows for the reallocation by [the Commission] of vacant judgeships;
"B. Declare invalid and unconstitutional the Governor's appointment of Patrick Tuten to serve as circuit judge in the newly created Madison County judicial seat;
"C. Preliminarily and permanently enjoin Patrick Tuten from taking the oath of office to serve as a circuit judge in the newly created Madison County seat or otherwise assuming the purported duties of that seat and exercising any authority as a circuit judge in that seat;
"D. Order the Governor to choose a candidate from those submitted by the [Jefferson County Judicial Commission] to fill the Tenth Judicial Circuit, Place 14 judgeship vacancy in Jefferson County as mandated by the constitution of the State of Alabama."

The defendants jointly moved to dismiss the action based on three main grounds. First, they argued that the trial court lacked subjectmatter jurisdiction because a quo warranto action -- not a declaratory-judgment action -- provided the exclusive remedy under the circumstances. Second, the defendants argued that Hudson lacked standing because she had not suffered an injury in fact and because, the defendants claimed, her purported injury was neither caused by nor capable of being redressed by the named defendants. Finally, the defendants contended that Hudson had failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted because the legislature had lawfully empowered the Commission to reallocate the judgeship. On August 12, 2022, following a hearing and briefing by the parties, the trial court entered a judgment dismissing Hudson's action for all the reasons asserted by the defendants. Hudson timely appealed.

Standard of Review

The defendants asserted that Hudson's action was due to be dismissed for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1), Ala. R. Civ. P., and because it failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), Ala. R. Civ. P. On appeal, no presumption of correctness is given to a dismissal. "'We review de novo whether the trial court had subject-matter jurisdiction.'" Taylor v. Paradise Missionary Baptist Church, 242 So.3d 979, 986 (Ala. 2017) (quoting Solomon v. Liberty Nat'l Life Ins. Co., 953 So.2d 1211, 1218 (Ala. 2006)). "The appropriate standard of review under Rule 12(b)(6)[, Ala. R. Civ. P.,] is whether, when the allegations of the complaint are viewed most strongly in the pleader's favor, it appears that the pleader could prove any set of circumstances that would entitle her to relief." Nance v. Matthews, 622 So.2d 297, 299 (Ala. 1993). Furthermore, this Court reviews questions of law de novo. See Ex parte Liberty Nat'l Life Ins. Co., 209 So.3d 486, 489 (Ala. 2016).


We first address whether the trial court correctly concluded that Hudson's exclusive remedy in this case was to petition for a writ of quo warranto. As this Court has explained,

"[t]he writ of quo warranto is a common law writ used to determine whether one is properly qualified and eligible to hold a public office. The writ is utilized to test whether a person may lawfully hold office, unlike impeachment, which is the removal of an officeholder for inappropriate acts while lawfully holding office. See Sullivan v. State ex rel. Attorney General of Alabama, 472 So.2d 970 (Ala. 1985); State ex rel. Chambers v. Bates, 233 Ala. 251, 171 So. 370 (1936). Stated another way, the purpose of the writ of quo warranto is to ascertain whether an officeholder is 'constitutionally and legally authorized to perform any act in, or exercise any functions of, the office to which he lays claim.' 65 Am Jur. 2d Quo Warranto § 122 (1972).

"In Alabama, actions for the writ of quo warranto may be brought by private citizens pursuant to Ala. Code 1975, § 6-6-591. Rouse v. Wiley, 440 So.2d 1023 (Ala. 1983). Section 6-6-591 states, in pertinent part:

"'(a) An action may be commenced in the name of the state against the party offending in the following cases:
"'(1) When any person usurps, intrudes into or unlawfully holds or exercises any public office ....'
"The issuance of a writ of quo warranto must serve the public good, although it may also incidentally benefit the person or persons that institute the action. Floyd v. State ex rel. Baker, 177 Ala. 169, 59 So. 280 (1912); State ex rel. Fuller v. Hargrove, 277 Ala. 688, 174 So.2d 328 (1965)."

Ex parte Sierra Club, 674 So.2d 54, 56-57 (Ala. 1995).

A declaratory judgment, on the other hand, serves the broader function of enabling parties to obtain a judicial determination of their legal rights related to an actual controversy between them in advance of an invasion of such rights and whether or not further relief is or could be claimed. See, e.g., Harper v. Brown, Stagner, Richardson, Inc., 873 So.2d 220, 224 (Ala. 2003) (stating that a purpose of Alabama's Declaratory Judgment Act, § 6-6-220 et seq., Ala. Code 1975, is "to enable parties between whom an actual controversy exists or those between whom litigation is inevitable to have the issues speedily determined when a speedy determination would prevent unnecessary injury caused by the delay of ordinary judicial proceedings").

"'The Declaratory Judgment Act, §§ 6-6-220 through -232, Ala. Code 1975, "does not '"empower courts to ... give advisory opinions, however convenient it might be to have these questions decided for the government of future cases."'" Bruner v. Geneva County Forestry Dep't, 865 So.2d 1167, 1175 (Ala. 2003) (quoting Stamps v. Jefferson County Bd. of Educ., 642 So.2d 941, 944 (Ala. 1994) (quoting in turn Town of Warrior v. Blaylock, 275 Ala. 113, 114, 152 So.2d 661, 662 (1963))) (emphasis added in Stamps). This Court has emphasized that declaratory-judgment actions must "settle a 'bona fide justiciable controversy.'" Baldwin County v. Bay Minette, 854 So.2d 42, 45 (Ala. 2003) (quoting Gulf South Conference v. Boyd, 369 So.2d 553, 557 (Ala. 1979)). The controversy must be "'definite and concrete,'" must be "'real and substantial,'" and must seek relief by asserting a claim opposed to the interest of another party "'upon the state of facts which must have accrued.'" Baldwin County, 854 So.2d at 45 (quoting Copeland v. Jefferson County, 284 Ala. 558, 561, 226 So.2d 385, 387 (1969)). "'Declaratory judgment proceedings will not lie for an "anticipated controversy."'" Creola Land Dev., Inc. v. Bentbrooke Housing, L.L.C., 828 So.2d 285, 288

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