42 U.S.C. § 1983 – Qualified Immunity – State-Agent Immunity


Ex parte City of Vestavia Hills, [Ms. 1210113, May 27, 2022] __ So. 3d __ (Ala. 2022). The Court (Sellers, J.; Shaw, Wise, Bryan, Mendheim, and Stewart, JJ., concur; Mitchell, J., concurs specially and Bolin, J., joins; Parker, C.J., concurs in part, concurs in the result in part, and dissents in part) grants police officer William S. Mitchell’s (“Officer Mitchell”) petition for a writ of mandamus directing the Jefferson Circuit Court to grant his motion for a summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity. Aisha Castro (“Castro”) asserted claims based on 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Officer Mitchell and the City of Vestavia Hills (“the City”) for shooting and killing her dog, a large boxer. The Court explains, “[t]he touchstone of the Fourth Amendment is reasonableness. Brigham City v. Stuart, 547 U.S. 398, 403 (2006). ‘The question is whether the officer’s conduct is objectively reasonable in light of the facts confronting the officer.’ Vinyard v. Wilson, 311 F.3d 1340, 1347 (11th Cir. 2002).” Ms. *11.

The Court holds

Assuming without deciding that the killing of a family pet constitutes a “seizure” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, we conclude that Officer Mitchell’s action of killing the plaintiff’s dog was objectively reasonable; thus, there was no constitutional violation.” … [T]he dashboard-camera videos confirm that the plaintiff’s dog behaved aggressively by attacking Cpl. McGuire and then immediately advancing toward Officer Mitchell. Viewed from the perspective of an objectively reasonable officer, we conclude that, based on its aggressive behavior, the dog posed an imminent threat of harm to Officer Mitchell and others.

Ms. *11.

The Court notes “that municipalities are not entitled to qualified immunity in § 1983 actions,” Ms. *12, and denies the City’s petition seeking dismissal of the 1983 claims because the City’s motion for summary judgment raised only qualified immunity. Ms. *13.

The Court concludes that both the officer and the City are immune from Castro’s state-law claims because “the dashboard-camera videos, ... show that[] immediately before the shooting, the dog became aggressive when Cpl. McGuire attempted to attach the leash onto the dog’s collar, that the dog attacked Cpl. McGuire, and that the dog immediately advanced toward Officer Mitchell, who shot it.” Ms. *15.

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