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STANDING & DECLARATORY JUDGMENTS - EX PARTE TOWN OF SUMMERDALE

Ex parte Town of Summerdale, [Ms. 1140793, 1140795, 1140796, May 13, 2016] __ So. 3d __ (Ala. 2016). Here, the Supreme Court clarifies the extent of injury required to obtain a declaratory judgment, i.e., “a bona fide justiciable controversy” or an “injury in fact.” Summerdale, Robertsdale, and Baldwin County Sewer Services petition the Supreme Court for certiorari seeking review of the decision of the Court of Civil Appeals in East Central Baldwin County Water, Sewer & Fire Protection Authority v. Town of Summerdale, [Ms. 2130708, Feb. 27, 2015] __ So. 3d __ (Ala. Civ. App. 2015) where that court concluded petitioners lacked standing to file actions against East Central Baldwin County Water, Sewer & Fire Protection Authority and the Baldwin County Commission seeking a judgment declaring that two amendments to the Articles of Incorporation of the Water, Sewer & Fire Protection Authority approved by the Baldwin County Commission were void. The Supreme Court granted certiorari and upon finding petitioners had standing to challenge the amendments, reversed the decision of the Court of Civil Appeals.

“‘The issue of standing presents a pure question of law, and the [lower] court’s ruling on that issue is entitled to no deference on appeal.’” Ms. *18-19, quoting Town of Mountainboro v. Griffin, 26 So. 3d 407, 409 (Ala. 2009).

Explaining the extent of injury necessary for standing to obtain a declaratory judgment, the Supreme Court stated

... a declaratory-judgment action is a unique form of action in that it is often filed before an actual breach of a right has occurred, and so an “actual injury” has not yet been sustained by the plaintiff. A declaratory judgment often seeks to avoid harm before it happens. The Declaratory Judgment Act itself states that “its purpose is to settle and to afford relief from uncertainty and insecurity with respect to rights, status, and other legal relations.”

§ 6-6-221, Ala. Code 1975. This Court has explained:

It is true that “declaratory-judgment actions are designed to be preemptive,” but this is because they seek to ‘“set controversies to rest before they lead to repudiation of obligations, invasion of rights, and the commission of wrongs.”’”

Ms. at *21, quoting Ex parte Valloze, 142 So. 3d 504, 509-510 (Ala. 2013). Thus, for there to be a bona fide justiciable controversy sufficient to obtain a declaratory judgment “the threat of injury needs to be imminent and tangible rather than purely speculative.” Ms. at *22 (emphasis in original). Finding the amendments under scrutiny potentially affected Summerdale’s, Robertsdale’s, and Baldwin County Sewer Services’s legal rights to provide water and sewer services, Ex parte Valloze, 142 So. 3d at 509, the Court concluded the petitioners had standing to seek a declaratory judgment about whether the amendments approved by the Baldwin County Commission were proper.

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