Stay of Civil Matter - Parallel Criminal Proceeding

Ex parte Decatur City Board of Education, [Ms. 1170017, June 22, 2018] __ So. 3d __ (Ala. 2018).

This unanimous en banc decision by Justice Wise issues a writ of mandamus to the Morgan Circuit Court directing the dissolution of a preliminary injunction and dismissal of the petition upon which the injunction was based in a matter involving termination proceedings against a teacher employed by the Decatur City Schools. Ms. *1-2.

Carrie Witt, a teacher in the Decatur City School System, was indicted by a Morgan County grand jury for violating § 13A-6-81, Ala. Code 1975 for engaging in a sex act with two students under the age of nineteen years. The Board scheduled a termination hearing for Witt and a few days prior to that hearing, Witt filed the instant case in Morgan Circuit Court seeking a preliminary injunction staying the termination proceedings until after disposition of the underlying criminal case. Ms. *3.

The trial court granted Witt’s petition for preliminary injunction reasoning in part that § 16-24C-6(j), Ala. Code 1975, which provides in pertinent part, that an employee may not delay or defer termination proceedings based upon the pendency of criminal proceedings arising out of the facts of the employment action. The statute further provides that the employee’s testimony in a termination proceeding shall not waive or forfeit the employee’s right against self-incrimination. Ms. *4. The circuit court ruled that this provision did not adequately protect Witt because of a conflicting provision at § 13A-6-83 had not been repealed or amended.

After first concluding that the termination proceeding and the criminal proceeding were parallel proceedings, the Court found that the stay must be lifted because after it was entered, the court presiding over the criminal case against Witt declared the statute under which she was indicted unconstitutional. The Court reasoned that even though the underlying criminal case is on appeal in the Court of Criminal Appeals and could be reversed, such possibility was too remote to warrant continuing to stay the employment termination proceeding. Ms. *11. The Court also held that in view of § 16-24C-6(j), the Board had established that Witt’s privilege against self-incrimination will not be threatened if the stay is lifted. Ms. *11-12.

The Court also held that the balancing test for determining whether a civil matter should be stayed during the pendency of parallel criminal proceedings favored the Board. The Board showed that Witt had received salary and benefits approaching $100,000 since her suspension in March 2016, while the Board continued to pay for a replacement teacher for Witt. Ms. *14.

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