The year 2013 has been a big one in many ways. We have had a busy and successful year around the office, and we have enjoyed participating in numerous events in the community. We also saw significant changes in the law made by the Alabama Supreme Court, the Eleventh Circuit, and the Supreme Court of the United States. While there are too many notable moments to share them all, here are some of the highlights from 2013.
Significant Developments in the Law:
Same-Sex Marriage – The U.S. Supreme Court issued its highly anticipated opinions in two same-sex marriage cases – one challenging the constitutionality of Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and one challenging California’s Proposition 8, both of which defined marriage as between one man and one woman. The Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of DOMA on equal protection and state rights grounds, but the Court dismissed the case challenging Proposition 8 for lack of jurisdiction.
Immigration – The parties to the several cases challenging Alabama’s new comprehensive immigration law, the Beason-Hammon Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act, reached a settlement following the Eleventh Circuit’s opinion enjoining many of the law’s key provisions. The settlement marked the end of a two-year legal battle. Among other things, the settlement blocks enforcement of the provision requiring schools to check students’ citizenship status and the provision criminalizing an unlawful alien’s failure to carry registration documentation.
Gun Control – Alabama’s new gun law gives employees the right to keep certain firearms in their personal vehicles, even when the vehicle is in an employer’s parking lot. Employees now have the statutory right to leave in their car either a pistol, if they have a valid concealed weapons permit, or any firearm that can be used for hunting purposes in Alabama other than a pistol.
Post-Minority Child Support – In a decision departing from prior precedent, the Alabama Supreme Court expressly overruled the longstanding case of Bayliss v. Bayliss. In Bayliss, the Court had interpreted the child support statute to authorize post-minority support for college education. In overturning Bayliss, the Court returned to the legislature the power to decide whether Alabama’s domestic relations statutes should require post-minority educational support.
Medical Malpractice Standard of Proof – The Alabama Supreme Court made an important decision regarding the level of proof needed to sustain a medical malpractice action. In that case, the plaintiff alleged that a nurse’s actions caused her son to lose all of the fingers on his right hand. To support the claim, the plaintiff offered admissible expert testimony indicating that the nurse had breached the standard of care. The defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff had not presented expert testimony demonstrating that the breach of the standard of care caused the injury. The trial court agreed and granted summary judgment. In a plurality opinion, the Alabama Supreme Court reversed the summary judgment, concluding that the totality of the evidence would support a reasonable inference of causation, despite the lack of expert testimony in that regard.
Normal v. Abnormal Bad Faith – In an opinion authored by Chief Justice Roy Moore, the Alabama Supreme Court issued a decision clarifying and substantially impacting the law of abnormal bad faith. In that case, the plaintiff submitted an insurance claim to State Farm after his home sustained wind damage. State Farm denied the claim, and the plaintiff filed suit against State Farm for breach of contract, “normal” bad faith refusal to pay the claim, and “abnormal” bad faith failure to investigate. The Court clarified the law of bad faith and stated that there exists only one tort of bad faith in Alabama. The Court noted, however, that there are two options for proving bad faith – establish the four elements of bad faith refusal to pay (the “normal case”) or prove an additional fifth element of intentional failure to investigate (the “abnormal case”). Either way, the Court explained, the cause of action requires proof of the third element – absence of a legitimate reason for denial. The trial court had granted summary judgment as to the plaintiff’s normal bad faith claim, because there was evidence of a legitimate reason for denial of the claim; therefore, the Court concluded, the trial court also should have granted summary judgment as to the abnormal bad faith claim.
Highlights of Our Community Initiatives:
Journey for Justice – Throughout 2013, we have celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham. We were honored to be a part of the Journey for Justice Project, a joint effort of the Birmingham Bar Foundation, the Birmingham Bar Association, and the Magic City Bar Association, to recognize the extraordinary work of Birmingham’s legal community during the Civil Rights Movement. The Journey for Justice Project educated the community about the role lawyers and the legal system played in the fight to end racial inequality. The Project also celebrated some of the most heroic civil rights attorneys and judges at a gala event, where we debuted a documentary film in their honor.
Nonstop Advocates Holiday Giving – As nonstop advocates for our community, we are happy to have the opportunity to hold our Holiday Giving Campaign for the fourth year. The 2012 Holiday Giving Campaign was a huge success, providing room and board for students to attend the Higher Achievement Summer School, funding one student in the Corporate Internship Program at Holy Family Cristo Rey Catholic High School, providing tuition assistance at Restoration Academy, and training and placement of one teacher with Teach for America-Alabama. Because of the phenomenal work these organizations do throughout our community, we are proud to support all of these wonderful organizations again this year.
Food Coupon Program – What started as a typical canned food drive has evolved into something truly remarkable. Two “super couponers” in our firm, Janna Bearden and Julie Holderfield, have used their talents to more fully leverage monthly contributions from other firm members. In 2013, Janna and Julie have purchased approximately $2,500 worth of groceries and personal care items for just $800. All items are donated to the Community Food Bank of Central Alabama, an organization that distributed 7.7 million pounds of food to more than 460,000 people last year. We have enjoyed this initiative in 2013 and have plans to expand the program in 2014.
- Christian & Small received First Tier Ranking in the 2014 U.S. News & World Report and Best Lawyers’ “Best Law Firms” Rankings
- 20 Christian & Small attorneys recognized in 2013 Alabama Super Lawyers
- 17 Christian & Small attorneys recognized in 2013 edition of The Best Lawyers in America
- LaBella S. Alvis inducted as Fellow of the International Academy of Trial Lawyers
- Daniel D. Sparks recognized in Chambers for Bankruptcy/Restructuring
- Deborah Alley Smith and Sharon D. Stuart named 2013 Fellows of the Alabama Law Foundation
- Jon Macklem named to 2013 class of Fellows by the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity
- Michael A. Vercher and Oscar M. Price selected to 2014 Alabama State Bar Leadership Forum
- Deborah Alley Smith selected for 2013-2014 Leadership Birmingham
- Courtney Adams selected for the 2013 Birmingham Bar Association Future Leaders Forum
In taking a look back at the biggest moments of 2013, we reflect on the many blessings we have received and goals we have achieved. We look forward to sharing many more memorable moments with you in 2014 – whether they be significant legal developments, important events in the community, or notable achievements of our fine lawyers. From all of us at Christian & Small, we send you our very best wishes for a joyful holiday and a happy new year!