Tolling of Limitations Period on State-Law Claims Dismissed By Federal Court Following Removal – State-Agent Immunity

Murey, etc. v. City of Chickasaw, et al., [Ms. 1210384 and 1210392, Mar. 17, 2023] __ So. 3d __ (Ala. 2023). The Court (Stewart, J.; Parker, C.J., and Wise, Sellers, and Cook, JJ., concur) affirms the Mobile Circuit Court’s summary judgment dismissing wrongful death claims filed by Carlos Murey as personal representative of Carlos Lens Fernandez (“Lens”). Murey alleged federal and state law claims arising from the defendants’ failure to assess and monitor Lens following his arrest. Lens died on May 26, 2016, in the Chickasaw City jail approximately seven hours after his arrest for DUI. His autopsy report listed “hypertensive and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease” as the cause of death.

The case was removed to federal court, and on November 26, 2019, the federal district court entered a summary judgment in favor of the jail “defendants on the federal claims and dismissed the state-law wrongful-death claim, over which it had exercised supplemental jurisdiction ... pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a), without prejudice.” Ms. *5. Section 1367(d), provides “[t]he period of limitations for any claim asserted under subsection (a), and for any other claim in the same action that is voluntarily dismissed at the same time as or after the dismissal of the claim under subsection (a), shall be tolled while the claim is pending and for a period of 30 days after it is dismissed unless State law provides for a longer tolling period.”

The personal representative then filed a second action in the trial court on December 24, 2019. On the plaintiff’s motion, the trial court consolidated the 2018 and 2019 actions. Ms. *6.

The Court first explains 28 U.S.C. § 1446, provides that after a removal, “ ‘the State court shall proceed no further unless and until the case is remanded.’ 28 U.S.C. § 1446(d) (emphasis added). This Court has previously interpreted 28 U.S.C. § 1446(d) as requiring an order of remand before a state trial court may proceed with an action that has been removed.” Ms. *10. Because the first action was dismissed and not remanded, all actions taken by the trial court in that action following removal are void. Ms. **13-14. Accordingly, the Court dismisses the appeal from the summary judgment entered in the first action as void. Ms. *14.

Jailer Arellia Taylor, and Sergeant George Taylor were not named defendants until December 2019 when the second action was filed. Citing Ex parte Profit Boost Mktg., Inc., 254 So. 3d 862, 872 (Ala. 2017), the Court explains “§ 1367(d) was inapplicable to toll the statute of limitations for a plaintiff’s claims that were added against a new defendant after the action was remanded from federal court because those claims had not been asserted at the time that the case was removed to federal court.” Ms. **15-16. The Court further holds

The Taylors were specifically named as defendants in the original complaint filed in the second action; they were not substituted for fictitiously named defendants against whom claims had previously been asserted in the second action. The second action was commenced after the expiration of the applicable limitations period. The complaint filed in the second action cannot relate back to the original complaint filed in the first action. Although the second action was purportedly consolidated with the first action, consolidated actions retain their separate identities and the parties and pleadings in each action are not merged into a single action.

Ms. *18.

The Court affirms the summary judgment as to the remaining defendants on grounds of state-agent immunity. Murey conceded that Reynolds, as the City’s public-safety director, engaged in a function that would entitle him to State-agent immunity but argued Reynolds lost that immunity by acting beyond his authority when he failed to provide medical training to jail personnel. The Court rejects this argument because “the contract imposed a duty on Reynolds to direct and develop certain training programs, [but] none of those programs involved medical training.” Ms. *23.

The Court also affirms the summary judgment as to jailer Burt

The evidence submitted indicates that Jailer Burt was tasked with exercising her discretion in conducting the operations of the jail and in supervising inmates in custody, which, in turn, constitutes administering the policies and procedures of the City. Accordingly, Jailer Burt presented evidence demonstrating that Murey’s claim against her – which was based on how she handled Lens’s supervision and care while in custody – arose from Burt’s performance of a job function that would entitle her to State-agent immunity.

Ms. *27.

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