2 weeks ago

Keep a weather eye on the horizon – A legal storm is brewing

I don’t know if you’ve ever had the displeasure of being at sea when a major storm develops. It is disconcerting, to say the least. As the deck pitches and rolls, the mental review of the all-hands disaster planning takes place in the mind. Pulling into a safe harbor and putting feet on dry land is a multi-layered relief.

In Alabama, we have a legal storm brewing on the horizon and businesses, churches, hospitals and non-profits are all sailing directly into the maelstrom.

2020 has sucked the life out of businesses across the nation, and Alabama is no different. The effects of having our economy forcefully shut down by the government have left many employers and their employees reeling and some have already called it quits for good. As of July 30th, Business Insider magazine reported that U.S. GDP plunged 33% in the second quarter, all of which was self-imposed.

As we begin to come to grips with the pandemic and its economic fallout, government leaders are under a literal duty to do all that is possible to rekindle our flagging economy and to ensure that the second and third order effects of coronavirus fallout don’t serve to destroy what’s left. One of those very real side effects is a legal environment that stokes the flames of “jackpot justice” and allows businesses, churches, hospitals and non-profits to be subjected to frivolous coronavirus tort litigation.

Don’t think for a second that it won’t happen. It was in recent memory that Alabama was lampooned in the national media as “tort hell.” Certain communities in this state saw the railroads pull up their tracks, restaurants close down, and factories move elsewhere, because the legal environment was no longer just and impartial. We’ve come a long way since then.

But as we speak, I would lay strong odds that there are lawsuits being pondered that should never be allowed the light of day. Imagine if you will that someone contracts COVID-19 and decides that their barber didn’t have his mask on well enough. Lawsuit. Or that someone went to church and realized that there was someone singing hymns close by who took off their mask. Lawsuit. What if a factory calls its people back to work and despite taking reasonable precautions they have an outbreak in the workforce. Lawsuit.

Suddenly, everyone is filing claims on their liability policy or, worse yet, filing bankruptcy because they cannot sustain the litigation.

Now let’s be clear, I am not saying that aggrieved citizens should not be given their day in court if they have a cognizable claim for damages that is the proximate result of someone’s actions or omissions. I am a lawyer myself. I litigate claims as needed on a regular basis and I affirm that the first rule of civil procedure is to afford every claimant “the just, speedy, and inexpensive” adjudication of their claim.

The question is one of proof. Coronavirus has affected us all, whether physically, economically, or both. To bring someone into court for that damage a plaintiff had better be darn sure that they can meet the requisite standards, or burden of proof.

Enter what State Senator Arthur Orr brought before the legislature in the recent regular session which was known then as Senate Bill 330. SB330 specifically ascribed that a claimant in litigation for a coronavirus related lawsuit must have a burden of proof that met the standard of clear and convincing evidence. For those who don’t practice law that basically means that bare-bones accusations are not enough – you best know what you mean and have the unadulterated means of proving it.

SB330 should already be law. The Alabama State Senate took the matter up and passed it without difficulty. But for reasons known to themselves the Alabama House saw fit to adjourn the Session without giving SB330 any debate.

The Alabama Policy Institute has been on the record now for some time advocating for the governor to call the legislature back into a Special Session solely related to the needs of the State in the wake of the coronavirus. In doing so API has published its 6-point RESTORE Alabama Plan for such a legislative session and the first order of business in the plan is SB330.

Interestingly enough, on the second page of Senator Orr’s original bill, it actually states “providing such a safe harbor to businesses that operate reasonably consistent with applicable public health guidance will help ameliorate the social harms of a closed economy and the resulting unemployment.”

Just such a safe harbor is what we need in the face of an oncoming legal storm.

Phil Williams, API Director of Policy Strategy and General Counsel, is a former State Senator from Gadsden. For updates, follow him on Twitter at @SenPhilWilliams and visit alabamapolicy.org.

25 mins ago

Netflix releases trailer for movie filmed in Alabama starring Tom Holland

Netflix on Thursday released a trailer for its upcoming film “The Devil All The Time,” which was filmed in Alabama and features an ensemble cast including Tom Holland and Robert Pattinson.

The streaming content giant says its new movie “renders a seductive and horrific landscape that pits the just against the corrupted.”

The trailer released Thursday showcases a grim, unsettling tone with multiple shots framed in darkness and scored with ominous music.

The movie was filmed in 2019 from February to April. Several locations across Alabama were used during production, including a street in downtown Anniston that was dressed to match the movie’s post-World War II setting.

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“The Devil All The Time” is an adaptation of the 2011 novel of the same name by Donald Ray Pollock, which spent weeks on the bestsellers list. The film is directed by Antonio Campos.

The movie appears to have piqued the interest of many on the internet. It accrued 1.6 million views on Youtube in the first five hours it was online.

Tommy Fell of the Alabama Film Office told the Elmore Autauga News that “The Devil All The Time” is the largest production to shoot in the Yellowhammer State since Tim Burton’s “Big Fish” in 2003.

Holland portrays the son of a WWII veteran who is pitted against an evil preacher portrayed by Robert Pattinson and other nefarious characters in the small town where he lives.

The various spots the crew used across Alabama will be used to create the small Ohio town where the movie is set.

Holland is familiar to many moviegoers as the most recent actor to portray Spider-Man, a performance that earned him high marks from critics and many devoted fans.

“The Devil All The Time” will premiere September 16, exclusively on Netflix.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

39 mins ago

Retirement Systems of Alabama head: Trump ‘enjoys conflict and turmoil over progress and a United America’

Retirement Systems of Alabama (RSA) CEO Dr. David Bronner had some harsh words for President Donald Trump this month.

In August’s RSA Advisor, a monthly publication from the group, Bronner entitled his normal column, “The ‘Economic Terror’ of 2020.”

“We are slightly past halfway of 2020 and to be honest, it feels like a decade of problems thrown at the world in a mere six months. Unfortunately, our president enjoys conflict and turmoil over progress and a United America,” he wrote to begin the column.

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“I have known President Trump for over 25 years,” Bronner continued. “We have played golf twice, and sat beside each other during numerous public and private events – the Miss Universe pageant and the Elevated Acre Park dedication in New York City. Our relationship cooled when he built Trump Towers with illegal immigrants from Poland and abused contractors in the process.”

“Take his unusual management style, add to it the world’s worst pandemic in our lifetime, toss in legal protests (don’t forget that is how women got to vote), some taken over by rioters – and here comes hurricane season,” he warned. “How do these things affect and impact Alabama? When Alabama started to develop tourism 27 years ago, we had about $1.8 billion in tourist revenue – most of that was from the beaches. Revenue grew to $17 billion in 2019. If a solution to COVID-19 is not found, that could easily be cut by 50% to 75%.”

Bronner subsequently highlighted vaccine development efforts as a source of optimism before making some economic observations and predictions.

He then concluded the column with praise for former Defense Secretary James Mattis, who recently denounced President Trump.

“In time, we will get past these serious problems – from racism to health pandemics – if we listen to the real heroes of America like General James N. Mattis, our former Secretary of Defense: ‘In unity, there is strength,'” Bronner wrote.

The Advisor issue, including Bronner’s column, is hosted on RSA’s website online, which utilizes an “AL.gov” domain.

A physical copy was also sent to the more than 370,000 RSA members, who are State employees and retirees. Additionally, Advisor copies are traditionally placed in RSA-owned buildings and certain governmental buildings, including the State House, for distribution. The Alabama Great Seal is displayed just above Bronner’s column.

The federal government maintains “.gov” domains and regulates their usage. It is the policy of the federal government that “political information” not be shared on “.gov” websites, which could put the RSA’s domain in jeopardy.

The Code of Alabama states, “No person in the employment of the State of Alabama, a county, a city, a local school board, or any other governmental agency, whether classified or unclassified, shall use any state, county, city, local school board, or other governmental agency funds, property, or time, for any political activities.”

Bronner is the highest paid state employee in Alabama. In Fiscal Year 2019, he was paid $754,684.98, according to records published by the Alabama Department of Finance.

This is not the first time the RSA head has publicly attacked Trump or made controversial political statements.

During a meeting of the Alabama State Employees Association in October 2015, Bronner said of then-candidate Trump, “I know the bastard, he ain’t worth anything. I assure you, if Mr. Trump was president, you wouldn’t like it. That I can promise.”

RELATED: How an Alabama state employee built a billionaire’s lifestyle in a taxpayer-funded job

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

49 mins ago

Mazda Toyota Manufacturing to boost Alabama investment by $830 million

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama – Mazda Toyota Manufacturing (MTM), the joint venture between automakers Mazda Motor Corp. and Toyota Motor Corp., plans to make an additional $830 million investment in Alabama to incorporate new cutting-edge manufacturing technologies to its production lines and provide enhanced training to its workforce of up to 4,000 employees.

“Toyota’s presence in Alabama continues to build excitement about future opportunities that lie ahead, both for our economy and for the residents of our great state,” Governor Kay Ivey said.

“Mazda and Toyota’s increased commitment to the development of this manufacturing plant reiterates their belief in the future of manufacturing in America and the potential for the state of Alabama to be an economic leader in the wake of unprecedented economic change.”

The additional investment brings the total figure in the state-of-the-art facility in Huntsville to $2.311 billion, up from the $1.6 billion originally announced in 2018.

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The investment reaffirms Mazda and Toyota’s commitment to produce the highest-quality products at all of their production facilities.

The investment also accommodates production line modifications to enhance manufacturing processes supporting the Mazda vehicle and design changes to the yet-to-be-announced Toyota SUV that will be both produced at the Alabama plant.

The new facility will have the capacity to produce up to 150,000 units of a future Mazda crossover model and up to 150,000 units of the Toyota SUV each year.

HIRING PLANS

MTM continues to plan for up to 4,000 new jobs and has hired approximately 600 employees to date, with plans to resume accepting applications for production positions later in 2020. Initial hiring began in January.

“Mazda Toyota Manufacturing is proud to call Alabama home. Through strong support from our state and local partners, we have been able to further incorporate cutting-edge manufacturing technologies, provide world-class training for team members and develop the highest quality production processes,” said Mark Brazeal, vice president of administration at MTM.

“As we prepare for the start of production next year, we look forward to developing our future workforce and serving as a hometown company for many years to come,” he added.

Full-scale construction of the Alabama plant continues, with 75 to 100 percent completion on roofing, siding, floor slabs, ductwork, fire protection and electrical.Construction began in early 2019.

“This newest investment by our partners at Mazda Toyota Manufacturing shows the company’s continued confidence in the ability of our community to provide a strong, skilled workforce to meet the demands for quality and reliability,” Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said.

“We look forward to the day when the first vehicles roll off the line,” he added.

“We are excited to learn of this additional investment being made by Mazda Toyota Manufacturing,” Limestone County Commission Chairman Colin Daly said.

“We continue to be grateful to MTM for their belief in our community and look forward to our partnership with them for many years to come.”

MAGNIFYING IMPACT

Greg Canfield, Secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce, said MTM’s new investment will magnify the economic impact of a project that is poised to transform the North Alabama region.

“With this enhanced investment, Mazda Toyota Manufacturing USA is adding new technology and capabilities to a manufacturing facility that was already designed to be one of the most efficient factories in the automotive industry,” Canfield said.

“We’re confident that the groundbreaking collaboration between Mazda and Toyota will drive growth not only for the companies but also for North Alabama for generations.”

(Courtesy of Made In Alabama)

2 hours ago

Alabama coronavirus update: Hospitalizations begin to decrease, new cases falling

There is good news in Alabama’s fight against the coronavirus this week, with a number of key metrics including hospitalizations showing the state making progress while the disease remains highly active.

Hospitals across the state admitted an average of 108 COVID-19 patients per day over the last week — a number that is far higher than preferred by healthcare professionals — but also the first time the rate has declined on a week to week basis since the beginning of the pandemic.

Previously, the seven-day average of hospitalizations had hovered between 160 and 200 since July 17.

Yellowhammer News used numbers from the coronavirus information hubs BamaTracker and Johns Hopkins University for the data in this article.

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There was an average of 1,156 new coronavirus cases confirmed in the Yellowhammer State over the last seven days. That is is down from an average of 1,415 for the week concluding on August 6, a roughly 18% decline.

(BamaTracker)

Notably, Alabama’s total number of coronavirus cases since the virus reached the state exceeded 100,000 this week and reached a total of 101,491 as of Thursday morning.

Another good sign for the state is that seven counties reported no new cases on Thursday. For virtually all of July and early August, only one or two counties each day did not report a case.

Especially encouraging to infectious disease experts is the decline in the percentage of tests for COVID-19 that are coming back positive.

According to the data, 13% of the tests given each of the last seven days in Alabama have come back positive, and though that is well above the national average of 7.8%, it is a welcomed decline from a statewide high of over 20% that happened over the week ending August 2.

BamaTracker says the ideal range of tests coming back positive is 1%-5%.

On average, 24 people with coronavirus died each day for the last week in Alabama, one of the highest rates from throughout the pandemic.

(BamaTracker)

The state’s death toll now stands at 1,821 with another 69 people who are presumed to have perished with COVID-19 but have not yet been confirmed by the Alabama Department of Public Health.

According to experts, a surge in new cases follows the occurrence where the virus was spread by about seven to 14 days. A corresponding increase in hospitalizations occurs around two weeks after the surge in new cases, and the concluding uptick in deaths comes two to four weeks after the increase in hospitalizations.

Those expert findings would indicate Alabama’s increase in deaths stems from behavior occurring around the weekend of July 4, though figures like State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris are quick to point out that something as complex as the fluctuations of a pandemic are never attributable to one single factor.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

3 hours ago

Black Alabama Sons of Confederate Veterans member opposes monument, flag removal

Daniel Sims, a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, has added a unique perspective to the debate over removing Confederate monuments and flags from public display.

Sims, who is black, interviewed with Huntsville-area WHNT about the subject this week.

Wearing both a hat and shirt depicting the Confederate flag, while also holding a full-size Confederate flag on a staff, Sims told WHNT, “Regardless [of] how the next person feels, I’m not going to take my flag down.”

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“If I’ve got anything to do with it, ain’t no monument going to come down,” he added.

Sims was reportedly adopted as a child and now holds his adopted family’s heritage as his own.

“My whole family’s white,” Sims explained. “[I] went to an all-white school, grew up in an all-white neighborhood. My grandfather was white, and he was the main one who fought in this war here (the Civil War). And he’s taught me everything I know.”

WHNT reported that the interview took place in Albertville, which is located in Marshall County. According to the most recent data published by the Census Bureau, the county’s population is 79.8% white, 14.7% Hispanic or Latino and 3.2% black.

About the push to take down a confederate monument and flag specifically outside the Albertville courthouse, Sims added, “It may make my blood boil if they just come up here and feel like they could just tear it down. I don’t see me still living if they do that right there. That monument ain’t hurting nobody. That monument ain’t killing a soul. It ain’t talking bad to nobody. It ain’t even racist.”

Watch:

The clip has gone viral, garnering about 400,000 views in 12 hours. The WHNT reporter who conducted the interview noted in a tweet that Sims has reminded some viewers of an old “Chapelle Show” character, Clayton Bigsby.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn