Sovereign Immunity

Hawkins, et al. v. Gov. Ivey, et al., [Ms. 1200847, Mar. 18, 2022] __ So. 3d __ (Ala. 2022). The Court (Mitchell, J.; Parker, C.J., and Bolin, Shaw, Bryan, Mendheim, and Stewart, JJ. concur; Sellers, J., concurs in the result; Wise, J., recuses) affirms the Montgomery Circuit Court’s dismissal of an action for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction filed by recipients of enhanced unemployment benefit payments approved by Congress as part of coronavirus relief. The plaintiffs sued Governor Kay Ivey and Alabama Secretary of Labor Fitzgerald Washington challenging their decision to terminate Alabama’s participation in the program. Ms. *2.

The Court reiterates “‘[a] ruling on a motion to dismiss is reviewed without a presumption of correctness’ and that “‘[m]atters of subject-matter jurisdiction are subject to de novo review.’” Ms. *3, quoting Munza v. Ivey, [Ms. 1200003, Mar. 19, 2021] ___ So. 3d ___ (Ala. 2021).

While noting that Art. 1 § 14’s wall of immunity is “nearly impregnable,” the Court reiterates there are “limited circumstances in which actions against State officers in their official capacities are not barred by § 14. Those permissible categories of actions include cases in which a plaintiff seeks injunctive relief compelling State officers to perform their legal duties.” Ms. *5.

The Court rejects the plaintiffs’ efforts to invoke this exception, and explains “if the Governor decides that accepting specific funds and complying with federally mandated terms and conditions would benefit Alabama, the Governor is authorized and empowered by § 36-13-8 [Ala. Code 1975] to accept those funds. But if the Governor decides that those terms and conditions are too burdensome, there is nothing in § 36-13-8 that requires her to accept the funds.” Ms. *8. The Court holds with respect to Secretary Washington

Section 36-13-8 identifies only the Governor as being “authorized and empowered” to accept federal funds “in the name of and for the State of Alabama,” and Secretary Washington’s duty to cooperate with the federal government under § 25-4-118(a) has no bearing on Governor Ivey’s discretion to decide whether to accept federal grants and funds under § 36-13-8. Stated another way, Secretary Washington had no ability to “cooperate” with the federal government to provide enhanced unemployment-compensation benefits to Alabamians under the programs once Governor Ivey terminated Alabama’s participation in them. The claimants have not shown that § 25-4-118(a) – either by itself or in conjunction with § 36-13-8 imposes any legal duty on Governor Ivey or Secretary Washington that would place this action beyond the jurisdictional bar of § 14.

Ms. **11-12.

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