State-Agent Immunity


Shell v. Butcher and Payne, [Ms. 1200097, May 14, 2021], ___ So. 3d ___ (Ala. 2021). The Court (Sellers, J.; Parker, C.J., and Bolin, Wise, and Stewart, JJ., concur) affirms the Montgomery Circuit Court’s summary judgment dismissing claims for the wrongful death of Annie Ruth Peterson against Montgomery municipal jail employees Butcher and Payne. Peterson was arrested on suspicion of DUI but was in fact suffering a hemorrhagic stroke. Ms. *2. Butcher and Payne were the officers who booked and processed Peterson following her arrest. Ms. **2-3.

The Court first rejects the plaintiff’s contention that the denial of an earlier petition for the writ of mandamus was law-of-the-case denying state-agent immunity. The Court explains

When this Court summarily denies such a petition without ordering a response, that act of denial neither amounts to a ruling on the merits of the assertions in the petition nor affirms the determination of the trial court such that it becomes the law of the case. Contrary to the estate’s claim, this Court’s February 21, 2018, order denying the petition for a writ of mandamus had no effect on the underlying litigation, but merely returned the parties to the status quo ante as if no petition had been filed. See, e.g., Ex parte Shelton, 814 So. 2d 251, 255 (Ala. 2001).

Ms. *7.

On the merits, the Court first notes that “[i]t is undisputed that Butcher and Payne were discharging duties pursuant to Montgomery municipal-jail policies and procedures and, therefore, generally would be entitled to State-agent immunity. The issue for our resolution is whether the estate met its burden of showing that Butcher and Payne failed to follow those policies and procedures and, thus, acted beyond their authority so as to become liable for their respective actions.” Ms. *10. The Court affirms the summary judgment and concludes that the policies relied upon by the plaintiff were not detailed rules or checklists that required Butcher or Payne to have Peterson evaluated by a nurse. Ms. **15-16.

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