Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Murky Alabama law on state immunity boils down to this -- sheriffs and deputies are protected for negligent acts, but not for acts of intentional wrongdoing

Chris Blevins
Alabama law on state immunity for sheriffs and deputies has a murky quality to it. But upon digging into the subject, you realize it boils down to two pretty clear concepts:

(1) Under Alabama's outdated and racist constitution of 1901, and subsequent case law, sheriffs and their "alter egos" (deputies), are immune from lawsuits for negligent acts;

(2) Immunity does not protect sheriffs and deputies for acts of intentional wrongdoing -- the kind alleged in our Jail Case.

Senior U.S. District Judge Virginia Emerson Hopkins, who unlawfully dismissed our complaint in the Jail Case, apparently can't grasp those concepts -- even when they are melted down into a simple format, as we've done above. Actually, Hopkins probably can grasp the subject but she is so riddled with Richard Shelby/Jeff Sessions/George W. Bush corruption -- from buying her judicial seat via donations to those GOP scoundrels -- that she simply cannot apply the law properly.

To simplify things even further, the U.S. Eleventh Circuit issued a 2010 published opinion that states the current law on immunity for law-enforcement officers in Alabama -- in language that is about as clear as you ever will find. We have cited that law in our Rule 59 Motion to Alter or Amend Judgment, plus two amendments to that motion, which currently are pending before Hopkins. We will see if she can get it right this time, although I don't advise anyone to hold his breath. (Hopkins dismissal order and our Rule 59 motion -- plus amendments -- are embedded at the end of this post.)

Case law outlining the two central points noted above goes back at least 30 to 50 years -- and probably much further. On point No. 1, this is from our Rule 59, Second Amendment:

On multiple occasions, the Alabama Supreme Court has held: “A sheriff is an employee of the State and, as such, is immune from suit, in his official capacity, for negligent performance of his statutory duties.” (See Alexander v. Hatfield, 652 So. 2d 1142, Ala., 1994 and Parker v. Amerson, 519 So. 2d 442, Ala., 1987.) The Shulers’ allegations go way beyond negligence to intentional violations of state, federal, and constitutional laws. The Shelby County sheriff officials have not, and cannot, show they are immune from such acts of malice, fraud, and bad faith – which are way beyond their authority, as described by Code of Alabama.

As for point No. 2 above, here is this from the Rule 59, Second Amendment (with lengthy citations omitted):

Further, the Alabama Supreme Court held in Spring Hill Lighting v. Square D. Co. Inc 662 So.2d 1141 (Ala. 1995): “Clearly, a state officer or employee is not protected by § 14 when he acts willfully, maliciously, illegally, fraudulently, in bad faith, beyond his authority, or under a mistaken interpretation of the law." The court in Spring Hill Lighting went on to state: “Because this action can proceed only on allegations of intentional wrongdoing, the defendants are not protected by immunity.” The Shulers have alleged repeated acts of intentional wrongdoing, so the defendant officers are not protected by immunity.

So far, Hopkins essentially has found that it was A-OK for Deputy Chris Blevins to intentionally break into our home without a warrant, without stating his grounds for being there, shoving me to a concrete floor three times, dousing me with pepper spray, and hauling me off for a five-month incarceration -- without the slightest hint of a felony allegation, or any criminal allegation at all. That, of course, is preposterously contrary to the law cited above. Nothing that Blevins did was negligent; it was intentional in nature, so he and his cohorts are stripped of immunity's cloak.

Virginia Emerson Hopkins
By the way, I am opposed to immunity for sheriffs and deputies under any circumstances. The whole goofy notion is based in Sec. 14 of Alabama's antiquated constitution, and that is one of many reasons the state desperately needs constitutional reform, not to mention tax reform. If the state in November were to elect Democrat Walt Maddox as governor, that might push us toward a modern and fair constitution. But until something like that happens, we are left to deal with a constitution that holds Alabama back with every day that passes.

Perhaps the best statement of Alabama's current law is found in a case styled Phillips v. Thomas, 555 So. 2d 81 (Ala., 1989). From that case, with lengthy citations omitted (citations are included in court documents below):

This Court has recognized that a state officer or employee may not escape individual tort liability by "arguing that his mere status as a state official cloaks him with the state's constitutional immunity." Clearly, a state officer or employee is not protected by § 14 when he acts willfully, maliciously, illegally, fraudulently, in bad faith, beyond his authority, or under a mistaken interpretation of the law.

What about the Eleventh Circuit case that provides the most recent and clear-cut statement on immunity for Alabama law-enforcement officers? We will examine that in an upcoming post.

(To be continued)

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