State Immunity – State-Agent Immunity – Deputy Fire Marshal


Ex parte Pinkard, [Ms. 1200658, May 27, 2022] __ So. 3d __ (Ala. 2022). The Court (Mitchell, J.; Bryan, Mendheim, and Stewart, JJ., concur; Parker, C.J. concurs specially; Mitchell, J., concurs specially, which Parker, C.J., joins; Bolin, J., concurs in the result; Shaw, J., concurs in the result, with opinion, which Sellers, J., joins; Wise, J., recuses) denies State Deputy Fire Marshal Greg Pinkard’s (“Pinkard”) petition for a writ of mandamus seeking dismissal of Ronnie Taylor’s claims for malicious prosecution and defamation. Pinkard investigated a fire at Taylor’s cabin and after interviewing him, reported to prosecutors that Taylor admitted to maintaining the fire and destroying evidence. After a transcript of Pinkard’s interview of Taylor surfaced, it was clear that Taylor had not confessed and prosecutors dropped criminal charges against him. Ms. *2.

In his motion for summary judgment, Pinkard argued he was entitled to State Immunity under Article I § 14 because “he was acting within the scope of his duties as a Deputy State Fire Marshal when he investigated Taylor’s cabin fire.” Ms. *16. Pinkard relied on Barnhart v. Ingalls, 275 So. 3d 1112 (Ala. 2018), where the Court had held for the first time that “claims against a State officer alleging that the officer breached ‘duties ... that ... existed solely because of [the officer’s] official position[]’ are, ‘in effect,’ claims against the State and likewise trigger § 14 immunity. Id. at 1126.” Ms. *15.

The Court rejects Pinkard’s argument and reverses Barnhart

Alabama courts have long recognized the right of tort victims to recover damages from State employees who injure them while acting within the scope of their official duties… Barnhart and its progeny dispensed with that ancient rule by cloaking State agents with absolute and unqualified sovereign immunity for any claim alleging breach of an official duty, including individual-capacity tort actions. That result is unmoored from the text and history of § 14 and is at odds with this Court’s more carefully reasoned precedents. Having recognized our mistake, we are determined not to repeat it. The expansive interpretation of § 14 announced in Barnhart and its progeny is overruled.

Ms. *20.

Turning to Pinkard’s argument that he is entitled to state-agent immunity, the Court concludes that genuine issues of fact exist on whether Pinkard acted maliciously. “Taylor has put forth evidence that Pinkard misrepresented his denials as a confession. While we do not rule out the possibility of an innocent explanation for this discrepancy, a reasonable jury could conclude that Pinkard’s misrepresentations were malicious. The trial court was correct to deny summary judgment.” Ms. **24-25.

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