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Action Seeking Refund of Overpayment of Retail Liquor Taxes Barred By Sovereign Immunity

Reagan v. Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, et al., [Ms. 1200213, May 14, 2021], ___ So. 3d ___ (Ala. 2021). The Court (Sellers, J.; Bolin, Bryan, Mendheim, and Stewart, JJ., concur; Shaw and Mitchell, JJ., concur in the result; Parker, C.J., and Wise, J., concur in the result in part and dissent in part) affirms the Montgomery Circuit Court’s summary judgment dismissing claims alleging on behalf of a class of taxpayers overpayment of taxes on retail liquor sales at ABC stores. The Court limits its review to the original complaint because although “Reagan requested leave of the trial court to amend his complaint, ..., the trial court dismissed the action without ruling on Reagan’s motion for leave to amend, thus effectively denying it. Reagan made no attempt to establish good cause for his delay or to otherwise establish good cause for allowing the amendment. He has not demonstrated on appeal that the trial court erred in refusing to grant him leave to amend.” Ms. *6.

The Court concludes that sovereign immunity barred Reagan’s claims because “like the plaintiffs in Patterson [v. Gladwin Corp., 835 So. 2d 137 (Ala. 2002)], Reagan seeks to represent a class of taxpayers in order to pursue refunds of taxes paid to the State. Thus, they asserted, if Reagan prevails, this action clearly will affect the financial status of the treasury and is therefore barred by sovereign immunity.” Ms. *10. The Court noted that the Alabama Taxpayers’ Bill Of Rights provides a means by which to seek tax refunds but that Reagan failed to avail himself of that procedure. Ms. *9, n. 3.

While acknowledging that sovereign immunity does not necessarily bar suits for declaratory judgment, Ms. *10, the Court concludes that “Reagan [does not] clearly address the defendants’ argument to the trial court that, even though his complaint requests a declaratory judgment, the ‘true nature’ of his action is one for the recovery of a monetary award against the State. He does not cite or discuss Lyons [v. River Road Construction, Inc., 858 So. 2d 257 (Ala. 2003)], on which the defendants relied in arguing that Reagan essentially has recast an action seeking a money judgment as a declaratory-judgment action.” Ms. *15.

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