State-Agent Immunity


Odom v. Helms, et al., [Ms. 1180749, June 26, 2020] __ So. 3d __ (Ala. 2020). The Court (Parker, C.J.; Shaw, Bryan, Mendheim, and Mitchell, JJ., concur) affirms the Butler Circuit Court’s summary judgment dismissing claims against supervisors of former state trooper McHenry who sexually assaulted Odom following a traffic accident where then trooper transported Odom from the scene. Odom asserted claims against the supervisory defendants for “failure to properly train and supervise McHenry and for violating various law-enforcement policies and procedures.” Ms. *3. To avoid State-agent immunity, Odom contended that the supervisory defendants acted willfully and beyond the scope of their authority in “fail[ing] to supervise McHenry ... after he violated the [r]elay procedure” that required him to notify the trooper post of his starting and ending mileage when he transported Odom from the accident scene. Ms. *7.

“To meet the willfulness exception, a plaintiff must show more than that the defendant was negligent. See City of Birmingham v. Sutherland, 834 So. 2d 755, 762 (Ala. 2002); Giambrone v. Douglas, 874So. 2d 1046, 1057 (Ala. 2003). Rather, in this context, ‘willfully’ means that the defendant was consciously aware that his act or omission would likely cause harm to someone.”

Ms. *7. Affirming the summary judgment, the Court holds “Odom presented no evidence that the supervisory defendants were consciously aware of McHenry’s relay-procedure violation, let alone that their omission would harm anyone.” Ms. *8.

Odom also argued that certain of the supervisory defendants acted beyond their authority because they violated certain provisions in the Highway Patrol manual. Ms. *9. The Court holds that the manual’s “provisions are not the kind of detailed, checklist-like rules that remove a State agent’s judgment and bring his conduct within the beyond-the-scope-of-authority exception.” Ms. **14-15.

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