County DHR Employees – State-Agent Immunity

Smith v. Alexander, et al., [Ms. 1200215, Sept. 30, 2021] __ So. 3d __ (Ala. 2021). The Court (Bolin, J.; Shaw, Wise, Mendheim, Stewart, and Mitchell, JJ., concur; Parker, C.J., concurs in part and concurs in the result; Bryan and Sellers, JJ., concur in the result) affirms the Cullman Circuit Court’s summary judgment dismissing Steven Smith’s claims asserted as conservator for B.J., a minor, against the staff of the Cullman County DHR. B.J. was rendered a functional quadriplegic in June 2015 when he “initiated a confrontation with jail correctional officers” in the Mobile Metro Jail. The incident occurred some nine days after the DHR defendants requested a hold on B.J.’s release from jail – despite having the bond money to release him and securing his placement at an intensive inpatient psychiatric-treatment facility located in Gadsden – so that he would be present for a court hearing.

Smith sued three DHR employees for failing to provide B.J. with appropriate placement or medication and alleged that they knew he would likely suffer emotional distress as a result of remaining in jail.

Noting that “[c]ategory 3 of Cranman extends immunity to a State agent when that agent is ‘discharging duties imposed on a department or agency by statute, rule, or regulation, insofar as the statute, rule, or regulation prescribes the manner for performing the duties and the State agent performs the duties in that manner.’ Ex parte Cranman, 792 So. 2d at 405,” Ms. *36, the Court concludes that each of the three defendants, Key, Alexander and Buchanan, met their “initial burden(s) of demonstrating that Smith’s claims arose from a function that entitled [each of them] to State-agent immunity.” Ms.*47.

The Court also holds that Smith failed to meet his burden under Cranman to establish a genuine issue of fact as to any exception to state-agent immunity

Because we have determined that incarceration in jail is not a placement made pursuant to DHR policies and because those policies fail to address the circumstances presented when a minor in the custody of DHR is incarcerated and in the physical custody of a law-enforcement agency, we conclude that Smith has failed to provide substantial evidence demonstrating that Alexander acted beyond her authority by failing to discharge her duties pursuant to a detailed set of rules or regulations because no DHR policies existed addressing the circumstances with which Alexander and the other defendants were faced in this case.

Ms. *58, citing Giambrone v. Douglas, 874 So. 2d 1046,1052 (Ala. 2003).

The opinion also concludes

In summary, none of the actions taken by the defendants in dealing with B.J. indicate that any defendant made a conscious decision to act “with a design or purpose to inflict injury” upon B. J. Ex parte Nall, 879 So. 2d at 546. The evidence indicates that each crucial decision made by the defendants – i.e., the decisions not to place B.J. at the Gateway facility and not to post B.J.’s bond before his court date – were made with B.J.’s best interests in mind after consideration of all the relevant recommendations and factors.”

Ms. *66.

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