Alabama high court requires notice of meetings even though law is silent
ALABAMA — The Alabama Supreme Court ruled in mid-January that there is an implied notice requirement for meetings, although the Sunshine Law contains no language expressly requiring notice.
The public must be aware of a meeting in order for that meeting to be open to the public, the court said.
The court also said that an award of attorney fees is appropriate when a case will result in a benefit to the general public.
The case involved Stewards of Family Farms, Ranches and Forests, a private group founded in January 1992 by then-State Forester Bill Moody to protect private landowners’ property rights.
At a secret meeting in October 1992, the Alabama Forestry Commission approved the use of commission resources and the involvement of the state forester in the promotion of Stewards.
Two Birmingham environmental lawyers sued the commission in circuit court in Montgomery in November 1992, claiming that the commission failed to give notice of the secret session in violation of due process and the state’s open meetings law. They also said that the use of state funds for the private group was illegal under the state constitution.
The Supreme Court upheld the Montgomery circuit court’s May 1993 ruling that the commission’s support of Stewards did not violate the state constitution.
The high court said that there was no constitutional due process right to receive notice of the commission meetings but the Sunshine Law did require notice to the public. Without notice, the public would not know about meetings, essentially making them closed, the court reasoned.
“The public must be given a reasonable opportunity to be aware of the place where the notice will be posted; and the time, date, and place of the meeting must be available to the public upon reasonable inquiry,” the court said.
Since the October 1992 special meeting, the commission has given notice of its meetings through the Associated Press to all the newspapers in the state.
(Slawson v. Alabama Forestry Commission; Plaintiff’s Counsel: Ray Vaughan, Montgomery)