Malicious Prosecution – Abuse of Process – Litigation Accountability


Seibert v. Stricklen and Aldige, [Ms. SC-2023-0741, Apr. 26, 2024] __ So. 3d __ (Ala. 2024). The Court (Sellers, J.; Mendheim, Stewart, Mitchell, and Cook, JJ., concur; Parker, C.J., concurs in part and concurs in the result; Shaw and Bryan, JJ., concur in the result; Wise, J., recuses) affirms the Madison Circuit Court’s summary judgment dismissing malicious prosecution and abuse of process claims filed by Carl Seibert against his former Lorri Stricklen and Lorri’s neighbor, Zoe Aldige.

A standing order entered in Lori and Carl’s divorce proceeding forbade both parties from contacting the other in person or electronically or going near the other’s home or places of work “for the purpose of harassing, threatening, intimidating, or assaulting the other.” Ms. *3.

Zoe notified Lori that she had seen Carl walking around Lori’s residence and looking in her windows. While the divorce was pending Carl went to the home of Lori’s alleged paramour and photographed Lorri’s car in the driveway. Carl was arrested and indicted for Aggravated Stalking in the Second Degree. Carl’s criminal trial resulted in a hung jury, and the State then nolle prossed the charges.

The Court reiterates that “ [i]t is axiomatic that there can be no cause of action for malicious prosecution unless the evidence shows that the judicial proceeding was instigated by the defendant.’” Ms. * 8, quoting Alabama Power Co. v. Neighbors, 402 So. 2d 958, 962 (Ala. 1981). Summary judgment was appropriate because law enforcement, not Lorri, initiated the charges against Carl.

Seibert’s claim that alleges Stricklen and Aldige “conspired by fabricating false evidence to support the felony charge against him so that Stricklen could acquire a favorable property settlement in the divorce proceeding” was also rejected. Ms. *12. “... [A]buse of process ‘rests upon the improper use of a regularly issued process’” used for an improper purpose. Ms.*12, quoting, Clikos v. Long, 231 Ala. 424, 426 (1936). Summary judgment was appropriate because Seibert presented no evidence that Stricklen and Aldige used the criminal proceedings to influence the divorce proceedings. Ms. *13.

The Court reverses the award of attorney’s fees and costs to Lorri and Zoe under the Alabama Litigation Accountability Act (“ALAA”) because such an award must be part of the court’s judgment on the merits, not by separate order and because an award under the ALAA must be supported by detailed findings. Ms. *17, citing Williams v. Board of Water & Sewer Comm’rs of the City of Prichard, 763 So. 2d 938, 942 (Ala. 1999).

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