Have You Read Any Interesting Cases Lately?
June 1, 2020 | View PDF
I decided to look at the Alabama Supreme Court website for recent slip opinions. A slip opinion is basically the first draft majority opinion of an appellate court before its publication in various case reporters. Looking at the opinions, I noted a couple of things. In addition to the opinions of the Alabama Supreme Court on various cases, there exist several approvals or denials on Writ of Certiorari or Writ of Mandamus. A Writ of Mandamus is used when a higher court orders a lower court or governmental entity to perform a task that they are legally obligated to do. If a case will not be heard by the highest court of a state or the United States Supreme Court as a matter of right then a Writ of Certiorari must be presented to that Court. For instance, with the United States Supreme Court, they only accept about 100-150 cases to hear of the 7,000 or so Writs of Certiorari that are filed by petitioners. Typically, those cases accepted need to be timely as to national issues and must be acceptable to a minimum of four justices.
With these odd times the United States Supreme Court has adapted. Live oral arguments have been available recently as the Supreme Court Justices have sheltered in place and conducted telephonic cases. Chief Justice John Roberts of course procedurally conducted the cases calling on each Justice to have the opportunity to ask counsel for the parties various questions of fact. Justices are given the opportunity to question based first on the Chief Justice then upon seniority. Of interest I heard Justice Thomas ask several questions as his time came around. Justice Thomas is known for generally not asking many questions during in person proceedings. It is reported that whenever Justice Thomas asks a question everyone gets very quiet because he is an infrequent questioner and the wisdom of his questions is soaked in by those listening. The other interesting item was Justice Ginsburg phoning in and participating from her hospital room after a recent hospitalization.
One slip opinion that I reviewed from mid-May was the Alabama Supreme Court case, Deborah K. Shannon v Jenna Kathryn Smith. This was an appeal from The Jefferson County Circuit Court. Started simply enough as Smith was stopped behind Shannon at a red light in 2016. When the light changed to green, Smith’s cell phone fell down by her feet and she began to move forward.
Problem is, Shannon was not and was rear ended by Smith who later claimed neck and shoulder pain as well as vertigo and migraines. I just have to wonder how fast Smith could have been going.
Though Shannon sought treatment even by a chiropractor and acupuncturist she claimed she was unable to manage her pain. In June 2017, Shannon sued Smith for over $47,000 for medical expenses, compensatory damages for pain and suffering as well as punitive damages. While Smith acknowledged her fault she objected to the injuries.
This is where you see some top-notch lawyering. There was good evidence that these injuries had occurred prior to the accident. Shannon’s treating physician testified that the injuries could be from the accident but Smith’s counsel brought forth that Shannon had not previously admitted as being in the Atlanta Axe Throwing League. Shannon had not told her treating physician about her axe throwing participation and the injuries that she was suffering from were also consistent with axe throwing. Fortunately these were axe throwing injuries and not as a result of being the recipient of a thrown axe. It seems there was not a lot of knowledge about Shannon’s prior medical history. Records from a Georgia urgent care were also produced that showed treatment for dizziness and migraines about seven months before the accident. The jury in the trial court believed Smith and Shannon asked for a new trial, which was denied.
Shannon appealed and it was held that the trial court acted within its discretion by denying a new trial. Smith had shown good evidence that the injuries existed before the accident so there was absolutely no reason for a new trial.
With no knowledge of Shannon’s build I have to believe a woman that throws an axe in competition has such a sturdy build to withstand a small bump from a vehicle as they begin to move following a red light. Certainly not an exciting group of facts from the accident but the sleuthful revelation of an axe thrower was an eye opener. I almost have to believe the Supreme Court was more interested in this axe thrower than to affirm a lower court’s decision where strong evidence was bias enough against a new trial.
Just a side note, I have had the pleasure to meet both former Chief Justice Lynn Stuart and current Chief Justice Tom Parker. At separate meetings they were both kind enough to ask if they could join me for a small breakfast. Both very nice and engaging individuals. If you happen to look at the Alabama Supreme Court web site and read the biographies of the justices I think you will be very impressed by their educational and professional histories. They are as a group some of Alabama’s brightest jurists and we are blessed to have them. The justices of the United States Supreme Court are chosen by the sitting President; they are vetted and then either voted for in the affirmative or rejected. Their perceived leanings are important factors in the judicial determinations and the effect on the people of the United States. As an example a majority liberal leaning court held for “Jane Roe” in Roe v Wade, based on a woman’s privacy. Since that time various conservative leaning states have attempted to protect the unborn using various legal strategies. There is certainly an argument for legislative approved jurists even though the appointment is for life. Alabama uses a vote to determine its justices. As long as Alabama remains a conservative leaning state the Alabama Supreme Court will on occasion butt heads with the United States Supreme Court. But these justices serve at the pleasure of the voters and their terms are generally much shorter than those on the Federal bench for various reasons.
Shelter when possible and stay safe!
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