Chappell v. Chilton County et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER: It is ORDERED as follows: 1. The City of Clanton and Maddox's 26 Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED, and all claims against the City of Clanton and against Maddox in both his individual and official capacities are DI SMISSED with prejudice. 2. Sheraon's 37 Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED, and all claims against him in both his individual and official capacities are DISMISSED with prejuidce. 3. Mims and Reeves' Partial 38 Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED, and Chappell's state-law wrongful death claim against them is DISMISSED with prejudice. 4. The City of Clanton and Maddox's 27 Motion to Strike Fictitious Parties is GRANTED, and all claims asserted against fictitious parties are DISMISSED with prejudice. Signed by Honorable Judge Gray M. Borden on 9/14/2017. (dmn, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
JERRY W. CHAPPELL,
CITY OF CLANTON, et al.,
CASE NO.: 2:17-cv-370-GMB
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Before the court are the Motions to Dismiss filed by Defendants Keith Maddox and
the City of Clanton (the “City”) (Doc. 26), John Shearon (Doc. 37), and Jessica Mims and
Jason Reeves (Doc. 38). The court is also considering the Motion to Strike Fictitious
Parties filed by Maddox and the City of Clanton. Doc. 27. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)
and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73, the parties have consented to the jurisdiction of
the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge. Docs. 52–55. After careful consideration
of the parties’ submissions and the relevant law, it is ORDERED that:
City of Clanton and Maddox’s Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 26) is GRANTED;
Shearon’s Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 37) is GRANTED;
Mims and Reeves’ Partial Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 38) is GRANTED; and
City of Clanton and Maddox’s Motion to Strike Fictitious Parties (Doc. 27)
I. JURISDICTION AND VENUE
The court has subject-matter jurisdiction over the claims in this lawsuit pursuant to
28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1367. The defendants do not contest personal jurisdiction or venue,
and the court finds adequate allegations to support both.
II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND
This lawsuit arises out of a shooting incident on June 17, 2015, in Chilton County,
Alabama. Wendy Chappell Price was driving southbound on Interstate 65 in Shelby
County, Alabama, when she was pursued by Alabama state trooper Adam Ezekiel for
failing to stop at his order. Doc. 1 at 10. Wendy’s husband, Adam Price, had informed
Ezekiel that Wendy had two unloaded firearms in her vehicle. Doc. 1 at 10. After
coordination between the Alabaster Police Department, Chilton County Sheriff’s
Department, and Clanton Police Department, officers successfully stopped Price’s vehicle
between the hours of 8:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. at exit 212 in Clanton, Alabama. Doc. 1 at
10. Price did not exit her vehicle during the traffic stop. Doc. 1 at 10. During the encounter,
officers fired their weapons at Price a total of 17 times, striking her four times. Doc. 1 at
10–11. Price passed away at the scene. Doc. 1 at 11.
Plaintiff Jerry Chappell is the administrator and personal representative of Price’s
estate, and brought suit in that capacity on June 8, 2017, against Ezekiel; Jessica Mims and
Jason Reeves, Chilton County deputy sheriffs; Chilton County and its sheriff, John
Shearon; the City of Clanton and its chief of police, Keith Maddox; and fictitious
defendants. Doc. 1 at 4. The crux of Chappell’s complaint is that the officers used
unreasonable and excessive force in violation of Price’s Fourth Amendment rights, and
that Chilton County, the City of Clanton, Shearon, and Maddox are liable for the
constitutional deprivation on a supervisory basis. He also brings a state-law wrongful death
claim against all defendants. Mims and Reeves have answered the constitutional claims
and moved to dismiss the wrongful death claim, while Ezekiel has answered all claims. See
Docs. 34, 39 & 46. Shearon, Maddox, and the City of Clanton have moved to dismiss all
claims and Chappell voluntarily dismissed his claims against Chilton County. See Docs.
26, 37, 51 & 56.
Chappell does not allege in the complaint the circumstances leading to the police
chase or causing the officers at the scene to fire their weapons at Price. However, Chappell
claims that afterwards the individual defendants “engaged or participated in, adopted,
ratified, or condoned a deliberate campaign of false information to discredit Wendy
Chappell Price in an attempt to justify the shooting and killing of Ms. Price.” Doc. 1 at 11.
This effort allegedly included the false statements that Price brandished weapons at the
officers prior to the shooting, threatened the officers, fired at the officers, and exited her
vehicle immediately prior to the shooting, “all of which were false and were made with the
intention of misleading investigators, officials, and the public.” Doc. 1 at 11.
III. STANDARD OF REVIEW
In considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules
of Civil Procedure, the court must “take the factual allegations in the complaint as true and
construe them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Pielage v. McConnell, 516 F.3d
1282, 1284 (11th Cir. 2008). To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must include
“enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). A claim is “plausible on its face” if “the plaintiff
pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the
defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).
The complaint “requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of
the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Factual
allegations need not be detailed, but “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the
speculative level,” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, and “unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfullyharmed-me accusation[s]” will not suffice. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.
Chappell’s complaint is divided into three counts. Count I asserts a § 1983 claim
for excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment against Ezekiel, Mims, Reeves,
and fictitious defendants; Count II asserts a § 1983 claim for deliberate indifference and
supervisory liability against Chilton County, Shearon, the City of Clanton, Maddox, and
fictitious defendants; and Count III asserts a claim under Alabama’s wrongful death statute
against all of the named defendants and fictitious defendants. See generally Doc. 1.
Chappell’s claims are brought against the individual defendants in their official and
individual capacities. Doc. 1 at 2.
Motion to Strike
Chappell brings claims against unnamed defendants who bear some connection to
his claims against the existing defendants. See Doc. 1 at 8–10. Chappell anticipates that
he will learn the unnamed defendants’ “names and culpable actions or failures to act”
during discovery. Doc. 1 at 9.
“As a general matter, fictitious-party pleading is not permitted in federal court.”
Richardson v. Johnson, 598 F.3d 734, 738 (11th Cir. 2010). A “limited exception” to the
general rule exists where “the plaintiff’s description of the defendant is so specific as to be
at the very worst, surplusage.” Id. (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).
Chappell’s description of the fictitious defendants here falls outside of this limited
exception. Far from specific, Chappell essentially describes any person who may be
subject to supervisory liability, who may have directly participated in the shooting itself,
who may have failed to prevent the shooting, or who may have engaged in the later coverup. Doc. 1 at 8–9. Chappell’s claims against the fictitious defendants are impermissibly
vague and not permitted under established standards of federal-court pleading. The motion
to strike them from the complaint is due to be GRANTED.
Chappell states claims against Shearon, Maddox, Mims, and Reeves in their
individual and official capacities. However, “an official capacity suit is, in all respects
other than name, to be treated as a suit against the [governmental entity for which the
named individual serves].” Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165 (1985).
Chappell’s claims against Maddox in his official capacity are due to be dismissed because
the City of Clanton is a named defendant in this action. See, e.g., Brown v. Neumann, 188
F.3d 1289, 1290 n.1 (11th Cir. 1999) (suing a government officer in his official capacity is
“duplicative and superfluous” where the agency for which he serves is also a defendant).
Furthermore, as Chappell has conceded, his claims against Shearon, Mims, and
Reeves in their official capacities are barred for two reasons.
First, the Eleventh
Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits suits for money damages against a
state by citizens of that state. Carr v. City of Florence, Ala., 916 F.2d 1521, 1524 (11th Cir.
1990). This immunity has been extended to suits against state officials in their official
capacities where money damages would be paid by the state. Id. Thus, as Chappell has
brought suit against Shearon, Mims, and Reeves in their official capacities for monetary
damages, these claims are barred by the Eleventh Amendment.1 Moreover, state officials
acting in their official capacities are not “persons” subject to suit within the meaning of
§ 1983. See Will v. Mich. Dep’t of St. Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989). Accordingly, all of
Chappell’s official-capacity claims against Shearon, Maddox, Mims, and Reeves are
subject to dismissal.
Claims Against Shearon, Maddox, and the City of Clanton
Chappell seeks to hold Shearon, Maddox, and the City liable under § 1983 under
three primary theories: (1) that they failed to develop an adequate policy regarding the use
of force that would protect against an unconstitutionally unreasonable use of force; (2) that
they failed to develop and implement adequate training to protect against unreasonable
force; and (3) that they ratified the allegedly excessive force by making deliberately false
statements in the aftermath of the incident or by failing to stop the dissemination of false
Eleventh Amendment immunity is subject to two limited exceptions: where the state has statutorily waived
its immunity or Congress has limited the state’s immunity. See Carr, 916 F.2d at 1524. Neither exception
applies here, as Alabama has not waived its immunity and Congress has not abrogated Alabama’s immunity
in § 1983 cases. See id. at 1525.
Maddox and the City of Clanton curiously assert that the court should accept the truth of Reeves’ assertion
that he was working as a Chilton County deputy sheriff during the incident in question, and dismiss them
from the lawsuit on this basis. Maddox and the City have also submitted two declarations to that effect.
See Doc. 48. Of course, the court cannot resolve factual determinations at the motion-to-dismiss stage and
instead must accept Chappell’s factual allegations in the complaint as true. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. And
if it were to consider any matters outside the pleadings, the court must convert the motion to dismiss into
one for summary judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. Speaker v. U.S. Dep’t of Health &
Shearon and Maddox contend that they are entitled to qualified immunity in the face
of Chappell’s § 1983 claims. Docs. 26 at 13–14 & 45 at 8–12. Qualified immunity shields
government officials performing discretionary functions from suit “in their individual
capacities unless their conduct violates clearly established statutory or constitutional rights
of which a reasonable person would have known.” Dalrymple v. Reno, 334 F.3d 991, 994
(11th Cir. 2003) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Its purpose is to hold
public officials accountable for legitimately unlawful conduct while shielding them from
harassing lawsuits when they have acted reasonably. Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223,
To be entitled to qualified immunity, a “public official must first prove that he was
acting within the scope of his discretionary authority when the allegedly wrongful acts
occurred.” Lee v. Ferraro, 284 F.3d 1188, 1194 (11th Cir. 2002). If the public official has
done so, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to demonstrate that qualified immunity is
inappropriate. Dalrymple, 334 F.3d at 995. To satisfy this burden, the plaintiff must
demonstrate that the defendant committed a violation of a constitutional right and that this
right was “clearly established” at the time of the violation. Carollo v. Boria, 833 F.3d 1322,
1328 (11th Cir. 2016).
When a defendant raises qualified immunity on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss,
the court applies the familiar Twombly/Iqbal plausibility standard. See, e.g., Bowen v.
Warden Baldwin St. Prison, 826 F.3d 1312, 1319 (11th Cir. 2016); Randall v. Scott, 610
Human Services Ctrs. for Disease Control & Prevention, 623 F.3d 1371, 1379 (11th Cir. 2010). In the
interest of efficiency and economy for both the court and the parties, the court declines to do so here, and
therefore will not consider the declarations. Maddox and the City may move for summary judgment on
this basis at an appropriate time and with an appropriate factual record.
F.3d 701, 707–10 (11th Cir. 2010); Williams v. Ala. State Univ., 102 F.3d 1179, 1182 (11th
Cir. 1997) (stating that the defendants are entitled to qualified immunity on a motion to
dismiss if the complaint “fails to allege the violation of a clearly established constitutional
right”). The court “begin[s] by identifying conclusory allegations that are not entitled to
an assumption of truth––legal conclusions must be supported by factual allegations.”
Randall, 610 F.3d at 709–10. As it would on any other motion to dismiss, the court accepts
the truth of well-pleaded factual allegations “and then determine[s] whether they plausibly
give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Id. at 710. There is no dispute that Shearon and
Maddox were acting within the scope of their discretionary authority as the chief law
enforcement officers in Chilton County and the City of Clanton, respectively, when
performing any of the acts that would subject them to liability. Thus, the court must
determine whether Chappell has plausibly alleged that Shearon and Maddox violated
Price’s clearly established Fourth Amendment rights.
Unconstitutional Custom or Policy
As an initial matter, Chappell cannot assert a respondeat superior theory of liability
under § 1983. See, e.g., Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 676; Cottone v. Jenne, 326 F.3d 1352, 1360
(11th Cir. 2003). Instead, liability under § 1983 will only stand where “the supervisor
either directly participated in the unconstitutional conduct or . . . a causal connection exists
between the supervisor’s actions and the alleged constitutional violation.” Keith v. DeKalb
Cnty., Ga., 749 F.3d 1034, 1047–48 (11th Cir. 2014); see also Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 676 (“[A]
plaintiff must plead that each Government-official defendant, through the official’s own
individual actions, has violated the Constitution.”). Chappell does not claim that Shearon
or Maddox directly participated in the shooting incident. Thus, he must allege facts
demonstrating causation. See, e.g., Keith, 749 F.3d at 1047–48.
“The necessary causal connection can be established when a history of widespread
abuse puts the responsible supervisor on notice of the need to correct the alleged
deprivation, and he fails to do so.” Cottone, 326 F.3d at 1360 (citation and internal
quotation marks omitted). In addition, a causal connection can be shown “when a
supervisor’s custom or policy results in deliberate indifference to constitutional rights or
when facts support an inference that the supervisor directed the subordinates to act
unlawfully or knew that the subordinates would act unlawfully and failed to stop them from
doing so.” Id. (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). The standard by which a
supervisor is held liable in his individual capacity for the unconstitutional conduct of a
subordinate is “extremely rigorous.” Id. (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).
Against this rigorous standard, Chappell’s complaint is rife with legal conclusions
and fatally devoid of facts. While he recites the legal elements for a § 1983 deliberate
indifference claim, “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by
mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Chappell alleges that
Shearon, Maddox, and the City failed to promulgate a policy regarding their officers’ use
of deadly force, which directly contributed to the officers’ alleged use of excessive force.
E.g., Doc. 1 at 14. But while the absence of a policy may under some circumstances
constitute a viable claim, see Rivas v. Freeman, 940 F.2d 1491, 1495 (11th Cir. 1991),
Chappell “cannot simply assert that there should be a policy; he must show that a custom
exists.” Tomberlin v. Clark, 1 F. Supp. 3d 1213, 1230 (N.D. Ala. 2014).
Chappell has not done so here. He has provided no specific factual allegations
suggesting the existence of a custom or policy leading to a deprivation of Price’s Fourth
Amendment rights. Nor has he pointed to a history of widespread abuse in Chilton County
or Clanton that would have put Shearon or Maddox on notice of the potential for such
incidents. In fact, Chappell has not pointed to a sinlge past instance of excessive force or
any other constitutional deprivation by a member of the Chilton County Sheriff’s
Department or the Clanton Police Department. And, finally, Chappell does not argue that
Shearon, Maddox, or any other member of the Chilton County Sheriff’s Department or
Clanton Police Department either directed the officers to act unlawfully or knew that they
would do so and neglected to stop them. As a result, Chappell has not pleaded facts
allowing the court to draw a reasonable inference that a causal connection exists between
the conduct of Shearon or Maddox and the alleged constitutional deprivation. Iqbal, 676
U.S. at 678. Instead, he has offered up––and tenuously at that––only the “possibility of
misconduct.” Id. at 679.
Chappell also argues that Shearon, Maddox, and the City of Clanton should be held
liable due to a failure to train the officers involved in the incident, implicating “a different,
albeit very similar, rule: under § 1983, a supervisor can be held liable to failing to train his
or her employees ‘only where the failure to train amounts to deliberate indifference to the
rights of persons with whom the [officers] come into contact.’” Keith, 749 F.3d at 1052
(quoting City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 388 (1989)). Deliberate indifference is a
“stringent standard of fault,” and exists only “when city policymakers are on actual or
constructive notice that a particular omission in their training program causes . . .
employees to violate citizens’ constitutional rights.” Connick v. Thompson, 563 U.S. 51,
62 (2011). To establish actual or constructive notice, “[a] pattern of similar constitutional
violations by untrained employees is ordinarily necessary.” Connick, 563 U.S. at 62
(internal quotation marks omitted). “Only where a failure to train reflects a ‘deliberate’ or
‘conscious’ choice by a municipality––a ‘policy’ as defined in [the Supreme Court’s] prior
cases––can a city be liable for such a failure under § 1983.” City of Canton, 489 U.S. at
389 (citation omitted).
Again, Chappell’s factual allegations are insufficient to raise his “right to relief
above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Chappell perfunctorily states that
each department’s failure to train was a “deliberate choice” and constituted a “custom,
practice, or policy of deliberate indifference.” Doc. 1 at 14. But Chappell does not allege
how Shearon and Maddox were deliberately indifferent or how they had actual or
constructive notice that their training (or lack thereof) caused employees to violate citizens’
constitutional rights by pointing to a past history of similar constitutional violations or
some other glaring deficiency. While Chappell counters that he will provide the necessary
factual predicate during discovery, Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure does not
“unlock the doors of discovery for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than conclusions.”
Iqbal, 676 U.S. at 678–79. Indeed, “qualified immunity protects government officials not
only from having to stand trial, but from having to bear the burdens attendant to litigation,
including pretrial discovery.” Blinco v. Green Tree Serv., LLC, 366 F.3d 1249, 1252 (11th
Even so, Chappell is correct that the Supreme Court has “hypothesized” that “in a
narrow range of circumstances, a pattern of similar violations might not be necessary to
show deliberate indifference.” Connick, 563 U.S. at 63. Because “city policymakers know
to a moral certainty that their police officers will be required to arrest fleeing felons,” the
Supreme Court reasoned in City of Canton, and cities arm their officers with firearms “in
part to allow them to accomplish this task[,] the need to train officers in constitutional
limitations on the use of deadly force can be said to be ‘so obvious’ . . . that a failure to do
so could properly be characterized as ‘deliberate indifference’ to constitutional rights.” City
of Canton, 489 U.S. at 390 n.10 (citation omitted). However, Chappell mischaracterizes
the effect of this pronouncement on failure-to-train allegations relating to what has come
to be known as “single-incident liability.” Chappell asserts that he “is not required to show
a historical pattern of prior constitutional violations to establish liability” wherever there is
a use of deadly force. Doc. 50 at 10. However, the waters are significantly muddier than
Chappell suggests and guidance in the application of the single-incident liability exception
is scant, “as neither the Supreme Court nor Eleventh Circuit has ever applied it.” Whitaker
v. Miami-Dade Cnty., 126 F. Supp. 3d 1313, 1325 (S.D. Fla. 2015).
In Whitaker, a Florida district court was forced to apply the single-incident liability
exception where the plaintiffs claimed that a Florida county acted with deliberate
indifference to its citizens’ civil rights by improperly training its police officers in the use
of deadly force. See id. at 1323. The plaintiffs responded to the defendant’s motion to
dismiss by claiming that they identified the existence of a widespread practice of police
officers using excessive force, but that the single-incident exception applied even without
this allegation. See id. The court explored the contours of the single-incident liability
exception by examining a Fifth Circuit case affirming a jury verdict against a county based
on the exception. See id. at 1325 (citing Brown v. Bryan Cnty., 219 F.3d 450 (5th Cir.
2000)). In Brown, the jury had concluded that the county had a policy of providing no
training of any kind to its officers and reserve deputies. Brown, 219 F.3d at 455. The Fifth
Circuit thus held that the “jury could have concluded that it was obvious to [the sheriff]
that his policy decision not to train [its officers] would result in a constitutional
deprivation.” Id. at 363. However, as the Whitaker court noted, the Fifth Circuit limited
the holding in Brown to its facts in subsequent cases. See, e.g., Davis ex rel. McCully v.
City of N. Richland Hills, 406 F.3d 375, 386 (5th Cir. 2005) (distinguishing Brown where
“there was training and [the plaintiffs did not show] that those training sessions were so
deficient as to constitute deliberate indifference”). Moreover, Brown and the subsequent
Fifth Circuit cases that limited its reach were summary-judgment cases, and “do not
specifically speak to the burden of stating” a single-incident deliberate indifference claim.
Whitaker, 126 F. Supp. 3d at 1327.
The Whitaker plaintiffs alleged that the county did not “adequately train its police
officers to employ safe, reasonable and necessary techniques” to handle a variety of policesuspect encounters. Id. Like Price, the two decedents in Whitaker were fatally shot by
police officers after a motor-vehicle pursuit. See id. at 1317. The court concluded that the
complaint’s allegations were “not well-pled facts, but rather conclusory allegations not
entitled to the presumption of truth.” Id. at 1327. Moreover, the plaintiffs’ factual
allegations did “not give rise to the reasonable inference that the deaths were a result of the
County’s deliberate indifference to” the decedents’ constitutional rights. Id. The complaint
did not allege that a policymaker for the county made a conscious decision not to train its
officers or that it was obvious that the failure to do so would result in a violation of citizens’
constitutional rights. Id. Finally, the court distinguished Brown, pointing to the various
facts proven in Brown that were not alleged in the Whitaker complaint. See id. at 1328.
Identically, Chappell has alleged no actual facts suggesting that there was an
obvious but unmet need for training in either the Chilton County Sheriff’s Department or
the Clanton Police Department. Instead, Chappell relies purely on legal conclusions and
§ 1983 boilerplate language that is insufficient under the Iqbal/Twombly regime. Like the
Whitaker plaintiffs, Chappell has done little, if anything, to tie the constitutional
deprivation alleged in this case to a specific lack of training.3 He does not plead any facts
showing that Shearon and Maddox made the conscious decision not to train their officers
in the face of an obvious need (despite his strategic and continuous use of the word
“deliberately”), or that this failure to do so would obviously result in a constitutional
violation. “[A] plaintiff’s obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief
requires more than labels and conclusions,” and there must be enough factual matter
pleaded “to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence” of liability.
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555–56. Chappell has failed to plead any facts in support of his
failure-to-train allegations, let alone enough facts sufficient to raise a reasonable
expectation that discovery will reveal evidence that Shearon and Maddox failed entirely to
Indeed, the fact that Chappell has asserted the same boilerplate allegations generically against Shearon,
Maddox, and the City, with no differentiation or specificity, highlights Chappell’s blanket approach to
train their officers on the use of deadly force and that this failure directly contributed to the
constitutional deprivation Chappell has alleged.
Finally, Chappell claims that Shearon, Maddox, and the other individual defendants
knowingly made false statements in the wake of the incident in a deliberate campaign to
discredit Price. See, e.g., Doc. 1 at 11–12. Because these allegations are not grouped under
any specific count in the complaint, it is unclear which––if any––claims these allegations
support. Regardless, the dissemination of false information, without more, cannot support
a cognizable supervisory liability claim under § 1983. Chappell cites to City of St. Louis
v. Praprotnik, 485 U.S. 112 (1988), and Matthews v. Columbia County, 294 F.3d 1294,
1297 (11th Cir. 2002), for the proposition that Shearon and Maddox acquiesced in, and
therefore ratified, the officers’ unconstitutional conduct by trying to cover it up. Neither
In City of St. Louis, the Supreme Court reaffirmed that, where a municipality’s
“authorized policymakers approve a subordinate’s decision and the basis for it, their
ratification would be chargeable to the municipality because their decision is final.” City
of St. Louis, 485 U.S. at 127. In Matthews, the Eleventh Circuit similarly held that liability
on the basis of ratification occurs “when a subordinate public official makes an
unconstitutional decision and when that decision is then adopted by someone who does
have final policymaking authority.” Matthews, 294 F.3d at 1297. Chappell, of course, has
not pleaded facts that suggest Shearon and Maddox approved of the officers’ conduct or
the basis for it. Accordingly, any ratification theory of liability that had been asserted in
Chappell’s § 1983 claims fails.
Chappell brings a state-law wrongful death claim against the City and also against
Shearon and Maddox in both their individual and official capacities.
Shearon contends that he is entitled to absolute immunity under the Alabama
Constitution from any state-law claims. Doc. 45 at 12–14. Under Article I, Section 14 of
the Alabama Constitution, “the State of Alabama shall never be made a defendant in any
court of law or equity.” Ala. Const. art. I, § 14. “Under Alabama law, both sheriffs and
deputy sheriffs are considered executive officers of the state, immune from suit under
Section 14.” Tinney v. Shores, 77 F.3d 378, 383 (11th Cir. 1996). Suits against sheriffs
and their deputies in their individual capacities for “actions taken in the line and scope of
their employment” constitute suits against the state, and are therefore prohibited by § 14.
Ex Parte Shelley, 53 So. 3d 887, 895 (Ala. 2009). “The wall of immunity erected by § 14
is nearly impregnable.” Ex parte Davis, 930 So. 2d 497, 500 (Ala. 2005).
The Alabama Supreme Court has articulated five exceptions to § 14 immunity:
Section 14 immunity is not applicable when an action is brought: (1) to
compel state officials to perform their legal duties; (2) to compel state
officials to perform ministerial acts; (3) to enjoin state officials from
enforcing unconstitutional laws; (4) to enjoin state officials from acting in
bad faith, fraudulently, beyond their authority, or under mistaken
interpretation of the law, or (5) to seek construction of a statute under the
Declaratory Judgment Act.
Parker v. Amerson, 519 So. 2d 442, 445 (Ala. 1987). None of these exceptions applies in
this case, as Chappell has sued purely for monetary damages outside of a boilerplate request
for any relief, “at law or in equity,” to which he “may be entitled in the circumstances.”
Doc. 1 at 19.
Chappell contends that § 14 immunity does not apply where a sheriff acts “willfully,
maliciously, illegally, fraudulently, in bad faith, beyond his authority, or under a mistaken
interpretation of the law,” Doc. 50 at 18, but he has misunderstood the contours of
immunity under Alabama law. In Ex parte Moulton, the Alabama Supreme Court restated
the exception to state immunity Chappell invokes. The court concluded that § 14 immunity
does not apply in “actions for damages brought against State officials in their individual
capacity where it is alleged that they had acted fraudulently, in bad faith, beyond their
authority, or in a mistaken interpretation of the law, subject to the limitation that the action
not be, in effect, one against the State.” Ex parte Moulton, 116 So. 3d 1119, 1141 (Ala.
2013). Yet, as already stated, suits against sheriffs and deputy sheriffs for actions taken
in the line and scope of their employment are tantamount to suits against the state. Davis,
930 So. 2d at 500–01. There is no doubt that, with respect to any actions that Shearon may
have taken which would subject him to liability, he was acting within the line and scope of
his employment as the sheriff of Chilton County. Thus, this limited exception cannot save
Chappell’s claim against Shearon.
Alternatively, Chappell asserts that Alabama Code § 36-22-34 substantially
Section 36-22-3 prescribes the duties of sheriffs in Alabama. Subsection (b) states:
Any of the duties of the sheriff set out in subsection (a) or as otherwise provided by law
may be carried out by deputies, reserve deputies, and persons employed as authorized in
Section 14-6-1 as determined appropriate by the sheriff in accordance with state law.
Persons undertaking such duties for and under the direction and supervision of the sheriff
shall be entitled to the same immunities and legal protections granted to the sheriff under
the general laws and the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, as long as he or she is acting
within the line and scope of his or her duties and is acting in compliance with the law.
abrogates § 14 immunity. Doc. 50 at 18–20. In essence, Chappell claims that Shearon
cannot claim a right to § 14 immunity because Chappell has alleged that Shearon did not
act in compliance with the law. The court disagrees. Section 14 “wholly withdraws from
the legislature, or any other state authority, the power to consent to an action against the
state.” Parker v. Amerson, 519 So. 2d 442, 445 (Ala. 1987). Chappell acknowledges that
he has found no authority for the proposition that § 36-22-3 has somehow abrogated
Alabama’s constitutional immunity. See Doc. 50 at 19 (“Plaintiff’s research has not
revealed a case . . . address[ing] the impact of the 2011 amendment to Ala. Code § 36-222(b) [sic] on its previous application of state immunity.”). On the contrary, courts
interpreting § 14 immunity in the wake of the state legislature’s 2011 amendment of
§ 26-22-3 routinely conclude that sheriffs and deputy sheriffs are immune from suits for
monetary damages. See, e.g., Holmes v. Hale, 2017 WL 2804893, at *4 (11th Cir. June 28,
2017) (holding that, even where the plaintiff alleged that a deputy sheriff “acted with
extreme difference toward his wellbeing,” the deputy was absolutely immune from all
state-law claims); Scott v. City of Mobile, 2017 WL 3262137, at *8 (S.D. Ala. July 5, 2017)
(same); Bey v. Abrams, 2017 WL 1407507, at *10 (N.D. Ala. Apr. 20, 2017) (same);
Harrington v. City of Phenix City, 2012 WL 204168, at *7 (M.D. Ala. Jan. 24, 2012) (“So
long as a sheriff or deputy sheriff acts within the scope of his or her employment, immunity
exists with respect to state-law claims, even for willful or malicious actions.”). Shearon is
thus immune from Chappell’s state-law wrongful death claim, and this claim is due to be
Ala. Code § 36-22-3(b). Section 36-22-3 was amended by the Alabama Legislature in June of 2011. See
Johnson v. Conner, 720 F.3d 1311, 1314 n.3 (11th Cir. 2013).
Chappell seeks to hold Maddox liable under Alabama’s wrongful death statute
under the same supervisory liability theories underpinning his § 1983 claims. However,
Chappell’s state-law claim against Maddox fails because Maddox is entitled to statutory
discretionary-function immunity under Alabama Code § 6-5-338. That provision provides,
in relevant part:
Every peace officer . . . who is employed or appointed pursuant to the
Constitution or statutes of this state . . . shall at all times be deemed to be
officers of this state, and as such shall have immunity from tort liability
arising out of his or her conduct in performance of any discretionary function
within the line and scope of his or her law enforcement duties.
Ala. Code § 6-5-338(a). “Whether a qualified peace officer is due § 6-5-338(a) immunity
is now judged by the restatement of State-agent immunity articulated in Ex parte Cranman,
792 So. 2d 392 (Ala. 2000) . . . .” Hollis v. City of Brighton, 885 So. 2d 135, 143 (Ala.
2004). The Alabama Supreme Court has explained:
A State agent asserting State-agent immunity bears the burden of
demonstrating that the plaintiff’s claims arise from a function that would
entitle the State agent to immunity. Should the State agent make such a
showing, the burden then shifts to the plaintiff to show that one of the two
categories of exceptions to State-agent immunity recognized in Cranman is
Ex parte Kennedy, 992 So. 2d 1276, 1282 (Ala. 2008) (citations and internal quotation
marks omitted). The court in Cranman listed “exercising his or her judgment in the
administration of a department or agency of government” as one example of conduct
entitling an official to peace-officer immunity. Cranman, 792 So. 2d at 405. Of course,
there is no doubt that, to the extent Maddox could be subjected to any liability, it would
arise out of the exercise of his judgment as the Chief of Police in Clanton. Thus, the burden
shifts to Chappell to demonstrate that one of the exceptions articulated in Cranman applies.
The Cranman court provided two exceptions to discretionary-function immunity:
(1) when state or federal law require otherwise, or (2) when the state official “acts willfully,
maliciously, fraudulently, in bad faith, beyond his or her authority, or under a mistaken
interpretation of the law.” Cranman, 792 So. 2d at 405. Chappell has not argued that either
exception applies to Maddox. Indeed, Chappell’s entire basis for Maddox’s liability is his
inadequate supervision of the officers under his command; Chappell does not allege that
Maddox himself violated Price’s constitutional rights. Accordingly, the court concludes
that Maddox is entitled to discretionary-function immunity under § 6-5-338(a) and is
immune from suit under Alabama law. See, e.g., Howard v. City of Atmore, 887 So. 2d
201, 209–10 (Ala. 2003) (finding that immunity shielded a police chief from a plaintiff’s
“faulty training and supervision” wrongful death claim).
City of Clanton
Alabama municipalities are statutorily immune from intentional tort claims. See
Ala. Code § 11-47-190; Walker v. City of Huntsville, 62 So. 3d 474, 501 (Ala. 2010). Under
§ 11-47-190, municipal liability is limited “to injuries ‘suffered through the neglect,
carelessness, or unskillfulness of some agent.’” Walker, 62 So. 3d at 501 (quoting Ala.
Code § 11-47-190). Because Chappell contends that Reeves acted deliberately, and not
negligently or carelessly, any state-law claim against the City based on Reeves’ conduct is
due for dismissal, and only claims based on Maddox’s alleged negligence bear further
consideration. However, where a police officer is entitled to immunity under § 6-5-338(a),
“pursuant to § 6-5-338(b), the city by which he is employed is also immune.” Ex parte
Dixon, 55 So. 3d 1171, 1179 (Ala. 2010) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted);
see also Shaw v. City of Selma, 2017 WL 1025677, at *19 (S.D. Ala. Mar. 15, 2017)
(holding that where a police officer was entitled to peace-officer immunity, the city
defendant was “likewise immune”). Accordingly, based on the court’s findings above,
Chappell’s state-law claim against the City is due to be dismissed.
Claims against Mims and Reeves
Because the § 1983 official-capacity claims against Mims and Reeves are subject to
dismissal and these defendants have answered the § 1983 individual-capacity claims, only
the state-law wrongful death claim remains in dispute. However, for the same reasons that
Shearon is entitled to state immunity under the Alabama Constitution, so are Mims and
Reeves. See, e.g., Holmes, 2017 WL 2804893, at *4 (“[B]ecause a deputy sheriff’s duties
include making arrests, see Ala. Code § 15-10-1, [the defendant deputy sheriff’s] actions
were taken in the line and scope of his employment. . . . [and] [a]s a result, he is absolutely
immune from [the plaintiff’s] state law claims.”). Chappell has not argued that Mims and
Reeves were not acting within the line and scope of their employment during the incident
in question, and instead advances the same argument against immunity he asserted against
Shearon. See Doc. 49 at 6–8. In fact, Chappell explicitly alleges that Mims and Reeves
were acting within the line and scope of their employment. See Doc. 1 at 5–6. Accordingly,
the court concludes that Mims and Reeves are entitled to § 14 immunity and Chappell’s
wrongful death claim against them should be dismissed.
Based on the foregoing, it is ORDERED as follows:
The City of Clanton and Maddox’s Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 26) is
GRANTED, and all claims against the City of Clanton and against Maddox in both his
individual and official capacities are DISMISSED with prejudice.
Shearon’s Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 37) is GRANTED, and all claims against
him in both his individual and official capacities are DISMISSED with prejudice.
Mims and Reeves’ Partial Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 38) is GRANTED, and
Chappell’s state-law wrongful death claim against them is DISMISSED with prejudice.
The City of Clanton and Maddox’s Motion to Strike Fictitious Parties (Doc.
27) is GRANTED, and all claims asserted against fictitious parties are DISMISSED with
DONE this 14th day of September, 2017.
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