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State-Agent Immunity - Dashboard-Camera Video Evidence

Ex parte City of Montgomery and Charday P. Shavers, [Ms. 1170103, Aug. 31, 2018] __ So. 3d __ (Ala. 2018). This 7-1 decision by Justice Mendheim (Parker, J., dissents) issues a writ of mandamus in a motor vehicle collision case directing the Montgomery Circuit Court to dismiss the action against a Montgomery police officer and the City on the ground of state-agent immunity.

The officer was stopped at a red light heading north on Eastern Boulevard when she received an emergency call. The dashboard-camera video showed that the officer immediately activated the emergency lights and 3 or 4 seconds later, activated the siren. Ms. *2-3. During the interval, the video shows that the officer waited for northbound vehicles that had entered the intersection to pass through and that before the officer entered the intersection, the vehicles traveling in the northbound lane closest to the officer came to a complete stop. Ms. *3. The officer testified she believed that the third lane (the one furthest from her excluding the turn lane) was clear and she proceeded slowly. Ibid.

The Court had little difficulty in concluding based upon the video evidence that the officer was entitled to state-agent immunity pursuant to § 6-5-338(a), Ala. Code 1975 and Ex parte Cranman, 792 So. 2d 392 (Ala. 2000). The plaintiff contended that the officer and City were not entitled to state-agent immunity because of the requirement in § 32-5A-7 that in responding to an emergency call, an officer may “proceed past a red or stop signal or stop sign, but only after slowing down as may be necessary for safe operation ....” Ms. *13. The Court held “as clearly shown in the dashboard-camera video, after activating the emergency lights and siren on her patrol car, and starting from a complete stop, Shavers’s patrol car slowly proceeded into the intersection. Shavers was not required to further slow her patrol car when entering each lane and crossing the intersection in order to satisfy the requirements of § 32-5A-7(b)(2).” Ms. *17. The Court also rejected plaintiff’s argument based on § 32-5A-7(d), pursuant to which the plaintiff argued that an issue of material fact existed as to whether the officer acted “with due regard for the safety” of others. Ms. *24.

In an interesting aspect of this case, the Court departed from the usual rule of construing evidentiary submissions in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. The Court observed that with a record containing dashboard-camera video that “‘[w]hen opposing parties tell two different stories, one of which is blatantly contradicted by the record, so that no reasonable jury could believe it, a court should not adopt that version of the facts for purposes of ruling on a motion for summary judgment.’” Ms. *19, quoting Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007).

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