Commission appeals court ruling in suit

Published 10:25 am Saturday, June 13, 2020

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After a short, but contentious discussion, the Lowndes County Commission voted to appeal a ruling of the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals in regards to lawsuits over the Hayneville Plaza that have been ongoing for several years.

The Commission is appealing a decision in the case of Aaron McCall vs. Lowndes County Commission where a jury had returned a verdict in favor of the Lowndes County Commission and in a suit involving Hayneville Plaza LLC, Karl Bell and Helanor Bell vs. the Lowndes County Commission.

The trial court (Circuit Court) jury originally ruled in favor of the Lowndes County Commission in both cases involving the Hayneville Plaza issues. However in late 2019 the Alabama Civil Court of Appeals reversed the ruling and rendered judgment on both appeals.

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The appellate decision reads in part, “ The commission cannot maintain a claim under (statute) 6-5-4 for alleged wrongful conduct arising out of a loan agreement that is void under the Statute of Frauds. Therefore, we conclude that the trial court erred in declining to enter a judgment as a matter of law as to Plaza, Bell, Helanor Bell, and McCall on this claim.”

During a recent meeting, Commissioner Dickson Farrior made a motion that the Commission pay the attorney fees to file an appeal on the appellate court’s decision. The appeal would likely go to the Supreme Court of Alabama.

The discussions began after the Commission received a letter about the case from attorney Arlene Richardson. The letter encouraged the Commission to appeal the decision or contest it.

“I think we’ve spent enough money on the case,” Commissioner Robert Harris said in opposing any further action.  “The Appellate Court overturned it. I don’t think there’s any need in spending county money when the Court spelled out exactly what the issues were and why they overturned it. The only person that it will be benefitting will be the attorney. There’s no need to continue it.”

Farrior said he disagreed and felt the county should appeal.

“The only thing they overturned was about the contract on the $500,000,” he said. “Mr. King was convicted of doing wrong by a jury and it did not affect his. It’s only going to cost $1,000 (to appeal) and we’re paying $250,000 a year for a building that we can’t use.”

Harris and Farrior discussed the issue back and forth with both expressing concerns for the money and the citizens of Lowndes County.

“I want to move to authorize attorney Arlene Richardson to file a writ of certiorari with the Alabama Supreme Court in the Hayneville Plaza case on the same terms as the previous representation in this case,” Farrior said.

The motion was seconded by Commissioner Joseph Bargainer and passed narrowly, 3-2 with Farrior, Barganier and Commission Chairman Carnell McAlpine voting in favor and Harris and Commissioner Joshua Simmons opposed. The meeting, which was done by teleconference was ended abruptly as Harris raised concerns.

“It doesn’t make any sense commissioners,” Harris said. “You’re all taking this too personally – you lost. What is there to overturn?”

Simmons asked Bargainer what the county was looking to gain be appealing and McAlpine answered simply, “Justice.”

“You want to spend the money and that just does not make any sense,” Harris said. “If you were paying this out of your pocket, you wouldn’t do it. We need to put this behind us and move on to something else.”

The roll was then called and the motion passed. The Commission will be contacting Richardson and filing the appeal.