Bonner v. Kilgore et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Magistrate Judge John E Ott on 3/21/2017. (KAM)
2017 Mar-21 PM 02:45
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
JIMMY KILGORE, SHERIFF, in his
official and individual capacity; the
TALLADEGA COUNTY CIVIL
SERVICE BOARD; and the
TALLADEGA COUNTY COMMISSION, )
Civil Action Number:
In this action, Plaintiff Scott Bonner brings claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
1983 alleging violations of his federal due process rights in connection with the
termination of his employment as a deputy with the Sheriff’s Department of
Talladega County, Alabama. (Doc. 1 1 (“Complaint” or “Compl.”)). Bonner brings
those claims against: (1) Talladega County Sheriff Jimmy Kilgore in both his
official and individual capacity; (2) the Talladega County Civil Service Board; and
Citations herein to “Doc(s). __” are to document numbers assigned to the pleadings, motions,
and other materials in the court file, as compiled and designated by on the docket sheet by the
Clerk of the Court. Pinpoint citations to the Complaint are to the relevant paragraph number(s).
Pinpoint citations to other materials are to the page of the electronically filed document in the
court’s CM/ECF system, which may not correspond to the pagination on the original “hard
copy” presented for filing.
(3) the Talladega County Commission (hereinafter collectively “Defendants”).
The cause comes to be heard on Defendants’ motion to dismiss for a failure to state
a claim under FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6), or, in the alternative, for summary judgment
under Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. (Doc. 4). Included within that motion is a demand for an
award of attorney’s fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988. (Doc. 4 at 2). Upon
consideration, the court2 concludes that Defendants’ alternative motion for
summary judgment is due to be granted but that their request for attorneys’ fees is
due to be denied.
Plaintiff is Terminated and Seeks Administrative and
Judicial Review under Alabama State Law
Plaintiff alleges that he began working as a deputy in the Talladega County
Sheriff’s Department (the “Department”) in 2002. (Compl. ¶ 12). He also pleads,
however, that, in that post, he had been “hired by,” and was “employed with,” the
Talladega County Commission (“County Commission”). (Id.) In any case, on
June 9, 2014, Plaintiff was placed on administrative leave with pay, and ten days
later he received a notice from Sheriff Kilgore advising that he intended to
terminate Plaintiff’s employment. (Id. ¶ 13). Such disciplinary action appears to
have been related to a charge that Plaintiff misrepresented facts in verbal and
The parties have consented to an exercise of plenary jurisdiction by a magistrate judge pursuant
to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). (Doc. 10).
written complaints to a Department supervisor, Chief Deputy Ken Flowers. In
particular, it seems to have been alleged that Plaintiff had falsely claimed that
another member of the Department, a Captain Howard Bussie, had “cursed him
out” during an argument. (See Doc. 5-3 at 3-5). On July 1, 2014, after a hearing
before Sheriff Kilgore, Plaintiff was advised he was discharged. (Compl. ¶¶ 12,
Plaintiff pursued an administrative appeal of Sheriff Kilgore’s termination
decision to the Talladega County Civil Service Board (hereinafter the “Board”),
pursuant to Alabama Act No. 88-438. (See id.; Doc. 15 at 105). The Board held
an evidentiary hearing of its own, which included the following attendees:
Plaintiff; his attorney; Sheriff Kilgore; an attorney representing him and the
Department; the three members of the Board; the Board’s attorney; and Toni
Kilgore, who happens to be both the Board’s Secretary and Sheriff Kilgore’s wife
(hereinafter “Mrs. Kilgore”). (Id.) On September 9, 2014, the Board issued a brief
order affirming Sheriff Kilgore’s decision to terminate Plaintiff. (Compl. ¶ 17;
Doc. 15 at 105-06). In so doing, the Board found that Plaintiff “did personally
misrepresent statements to a supervisor, namely Chief Deputy Ken Flowers,”
which the Board deemed a “deliberate falsification of records and/or personal
misrepresentation of statements given to a supervisor, an official, the public, or the
Board.” (Doc. 15 at 105-06). The Board further noted that, under its published
rules, such was a “Group Two” offense (see id.; see also id. at 59-60, §
I(3)(b)(1)(e)), for which even an initial violation “will normally constitute grounds
for dismissal.” (Id. at 105-06; see also id. at 61, § I(3)(b)(2)). As a consequence,
the Board determined that Sheriff’s Kilgore’s decision to fire Plaintiff was justified
and due to be upheld. (Doc. 15 at 105-06).
Plaintiff then sought judicial review in the Circuit Court of Talladega
County, Alabama (hereafter the “Circuit Court”), also pursuant to Ala. Acts 88438. (Compl. ¶ 17; Doc. 5-1). In his pleading, Plaintiff named Sheriff Kilgore, the
Board, and the County Commission as the “Appellees.” (Doc. 5-1). In support of
his claim for relief, Plaintiff asserted that the decision to terminate his employment
“lack[ed] a basis in law or fact”; was “in violation of Appellees’ own policies,”
was “in violation of the Civil Service Act of the State of Alabama,” and was “in
violation of [Plaintiff’s] right to due process and/or equal protection of the law.”
(Doc. 5-1, ¶ 4).
After the Board supplied the record to be considered on appeal, Plaintiff
moved the Circuit Court to amend or correct it. (Doc. 15 at 69-87). In particular,
Plaintiff asserted that the record was incomplete because it omitted certain
discussions between Mrs. Kilgore and the members of the Board, at least some of
which were ex parte, occurring on the day of the Board’s hearing. (Id. at 69-71).
On that score, Plaintiff explained that he had made his own digital recording of the
Board’s hearing, after giving notice to the Board that Plaintiff intended to do so
and the Board did not object. (Id. at 69, ¶ 1). In reviewing that recording, Plaintiff
discovered that, after he and his counsel had left the hearing room during a recess,
their recording device had continued to run. And during that recess, Mrs. Kilgore
could be heard discussing the case with the members of the Board in an ex parte
conversation as follows:
[Board Member George] Sims: Who are y’all thinking about
[Board Member Tommy] Spears: I kinda would like to hear from
[Plaintiff Scott] Bonner and I would kinda like to hear
from [Sheriff] Jimmy [Kilgore].
[Board Chairman Mike] Walker: Well you know to me I don't
know why we haven’t heard from him before. There was
no statement. Ya know why didn’t Scott give a statement. I
understand he’s got a lawyer, but if you’re telling the truth,
what difference does it make.
Sims: I don’t know he may have something he don’t want us to
know. Ya know what I was thinking look at it if you make a
decision on that other stuff I mean them cussing one another I
don’t see that being a big deal if he did or not I don’t know he
probably did you know uh but uh I think it just boils down to
the thing with [Captain] Howard [Bussie’s] wife I think I saw
something in some of this stuff.
Spears: Now to me that immaterial.
Oh it is?
Spears: Because Bonner or she said that Bonner or maybe Bussie
said Bonner tried to call him later and he didn't answer
the phone so I can see where Bonner might have gone up
there to talk to Bussie face to face and thought he would
catch him at lunch where he knew he would always be.
Walker: Well I don’t know if there are rules against it or not but
that’s not why were are here.
Spears: That’s why I think Peggy is insufficience (sic).
Walker: Well let’s get back to ...
Spears: Well I got like a half page of stuff right here I would like
[Mrs.] Kilgore: Well he’s an employee so y’all got every right to
Walker: We might even call you.
[Mrs.] Kilgore: I wouldn’t care.
[Board Attorney Will] Hollingsworth: I thought the big beef was
lying about the Draper stuff. You know he meets with
[Chief Deputy] Flowers and I think the sheriff even
denies that ever happened then you got Haynes tell him
what he heard him say ya know why...
Walker: Brantley Shaw is not telling the truth.
Spears: Ya know about that phone call is something I wanted to
ask directly to Bonner. Let him answer it um about the
Draper business rather than hearing two other people’s
story. Ones saying he didn’t the other saying he
overheard it mentioned and other party say no ain’t no
Walker: Should we break for lunch. Spears: If she can postpone
Walker: She has a thing at 3:00.
Spears: Take in consideration postpone if we had to.
Walker: It’s not like you have anything to do.
[Mrs.] Kilgore: I do I do have a job.
Walker: You have a job.
[Mrs. Kilgore]: Yes.
Sims: I got dogs on the couch at home watching TV.
[Mrs.] Kilgore: Tommy [Spears] works I know.
Walker: You know this will be a lengthy if you know [Sheriff]
Jimmy [Kilgore’s] testimony probably won’t be long but
Bonner’s probably won't be long because he probably
won’t say anything you know I guess he can evoke (sic)
his Fifth Amendment right.
Hollingsworth: Well it’s not a criminal thing.
Spears: Well I know that.
Walker: Well I don’t know. My best defense would be myself.
Sims: Yea[h,] me to[o,] I agree.
Walker: I would be chopping at the bit to defend myself.
[Mrs.] Kilgore: Did she agree you could talk to him a while ago?
Did she agree she would stay and you could call him?
Spears: Well she hasn’t agreed to stay we agreed on well I guess
the next thing we need to do is ask her if she can stay
longer and if not then we need to adjourn or recess and
come back at a later time.
Walker: Sounds good to me. What about you George?
Sims: I can come back anytime I mean I had rather come back
Spears: I can sec maybe needing 30 minutes more. You think
Walker: I think longer.
(Doc. 15 at 79-81 (emphasis added)). At that point, the attorneys returned to the
hearing, whereupon Barry Vaughn, the attorney for Sheriff Kilgore and his
Department, advised the members of the Board that they could not hold it against
Plaintiff Bonner if he chose not to testify. (Id. at 81). After that, the recording
captured the following:
My question would be about his abusive criticize of a
superior. Includes the sheriff or Kennedy or Howard
[Bussie] or whoever. You know there seems like there’s
a big problem with his supervisors. And I realize that.
You’re suppose[d] to you know I’m having a hard time
with that you know criticize who I’m working for. If you
don’t want to work for ‘em them so I would like to ask
him about that. I mean what is his problem with the
Sheriff’s Department? Where he has been employed 8
some odd years. And um you know you um were not
showing a pattern of being reprimanded as such like he
should be you know written up for this um then you
terminate someone. Uuhhno (sic). This right here is well
you know there is politics in it. You can’t get around
politics. Politics in law enforcement. But you know but
if you’re that unhappy then you know you’re causing
a problem and uhh my experience with the Sheriff’s
Department is they work very well. Look at the length of
employment on all these guys I mean they work smooth.
They never have any problems. This is a rare occurrence.
So I want to talk to Lt. Bonner and ask him questions.
That is my opinion and the way I feel.
(Doc. 15 at 81-82). The attorneys then left the room, at which point the group
discussed whether to eat lunch and whether to continue the hearing until some later
Walker: If she can stay George we can all stay. What I’m saying we
can go eat and all come back and get this done before 5:00.
[Mrs.] Kilgore: And you’re buying lunch.
Spears: That’s fine with me if she can stay but you know.
[Mrs.] Kilgore: She can stay. She’s been knowing for a month
that she’s coming today.
Spears: She said three I thought she said two earlier.
Walker: Will [Hollingsworth’s] got something at 2:00.
Spears: Let’s break an hour for lunch and you will be through by
Hollingsworth: Oh yea.
[Mrs.] Kilgore: So we are going to come back in at 3:00.
Spears: So if [Plaintiff Bonner’s attorney] Ms.[Gina] Coggin can
stay that good with you[?]
All: Oh yea[h].
Sims: What if she can’t though[?]
Hollingsworth: Then we will have to come back.
[Mrs.] Kilgore: She said not to worry about it. Not to have that as
Walker: We will get Judge Sims to draw up a thing to tell
[Mrs.] Kilgore: Y’all good want me to cut it and tell them to come
back a 3:00[?]
Sims: I can come back quicker than that.
Hollingsworth: Don’t tell me you’re not going to eat.
Sims: I was just gonna walk over to Tina’s.
Spears: She still open?
Hollingsworth: Want me to call-to see if she is still serving?
Spears: Let’s go to lunch. Who need[s] to go get her.
Sims: I think I will just jump out.
Hollingsworth: Want me to go ask her what her plan is.
Sims: Y’all going to call him and Jimmy both?
Walker: I don't need to talk to Jimmy.
Hollingsworth: It will probably just be his letter that’s in the records.
Spears: Let me look at that. I’m sure I did.
Hollingsworth: That probably needs to be in there for sure.
[Mrs.] Kilgore: You have it in your packet Tommy.
Spears: You know which folder it’s in?
Hollingsworth: Bonner has that Facebook message.
Sims: I don’t know nothing about seeing that.
[Mrs.] Kilgore: [Inaudible].
Sims: I might have. I read every bit of if.
[Mrs.] Kilgore. Yea[h] it’s going to be in the very first one.
Under disciplinary action.
Hollingsworth: It’s eri (sic).
Walker: They are trying to make this like a trial.
[Mrs.] Kilgore: Alright I’m (sic) go tell them.
(Doc. 15 at 82-84) (emphasis added).
Plaintiff argued to the Circuit Court that Mrs. Kilgore’s statements during
the recess as shown on the recording demonstrated that “she was improperly acting
as an agent of the Sheriff rather than an impartial secretary of the Board” and
“were clearly intended to influence the Board’s decision and to negatively impact
the Plaintiff.” (Id. at 70, ¶ 5). Plaintiff asked the Circuit Court, therefore, to
consider, in addition to the record supplied by the Board, Plaintiff’s recording of
the recess discussions and an unofficial transcript thereof. (Id. at 70, 79-84).
On August 21, 2015, the Circuit Court entered an order indicating its
agreement that the administrative record submitted by the Board was “inaccurate
and incomplete” in certain respects and that such deficiencies had to be corrected
before the court could resolve Plaintiff’s appeal. (Doc. 5-2 at 11, ¶ 16). However,
the Circuit Court also concluded that determinations regarding the content of the
record on appeal had to be addressed by the Board rather than by the court. (Id. at
14, ¶ 21). Therefore, the court deferred a ruling on the merits and remanded the
matter to the Board, directing it to “supplement,” “correct,” and “certify” the
record on appeal”; to “rule on any motions filed with it to amend and/or correct
[the] transcript of record”; and to “issue appropriate factual findings supporting its
ruling” affirming the Sheriff’s decision to terminate Plaintiff. (Id. at 15, ¶ 6).
On return from the remand to the Board, the Circuit Court entered a final
order in Plaintiff’s appeal on December 29, 2015. (Doc. 5-3). The Circuit Court
first outlined various additional materials that had been filed by the Board as
included in the record on appeal. (Id. at 1-5). In that vein, however, the Circuit
Court also recognized that, on remand, the Board had denied a motion by Plaintiff
asking the Board to amend or correct the record on appeal and that the Board had
likewise denied as moot a motion by Plaintiff asking Mrs. Kilgore to recuse as the
Board’s Secretary in connection with his case. (Id. at 2, ¶ 1(c)). In addition, the
Circuit Court’s order quoted in its entirety the Board’s amended final
administrative order dated September 23, 2015, by which it again affirmed Sheriff
Kilgore’s decision to terminate Plaintiff’s employment. (Id. at 3-5, ¶ 2). The
Board reiterated therein that it found Plaintiff to have committed a “Group Two
Offense” by making misrepresentations to Chief Deputy Flowers, thereby
authorizing Sheriff Kilgore to discharge Plaintiff under the Board’s rules and
regulations. (Id. at 3, ¶ 2). But unlike in its order of September 9, 2014, the
Board’s amended final order set out the nature of subject misrepresentations and
the evidence the Board considered in reaching its determination. (Doc. 5-3 at 3-5,
¶ 2). Namely, the Board found that Plaintiff had “undermine[d] and demean[ed]
the chain of command” by lying to Flowers about Bussie having used profanity in
his argument with Plaintiff. (Id.) The Board acknowledged that Bussie had
admitted to calling Plaintiff a “baby” and a “spoiled brat.” (Id.) Nonetheless, the
Board concluded that Plaintiff had made verbal and written misrepresentations by
telling Flowers that Bussie had “cussed” Plaintiff, including by stating, “You ain’t
worth a shirt,” “Your ass will be gone,” and “I want your ass gone,” and by calling
Plaintiff a “big ass titty baby,” “a spoiled ass brat cry baby,” and “a baby ass.” (Id.
at 4, ¶2).
After outlining the materials submitted by the Board on appeal, the Circuit
Court dismissed both the Board and the County Commission on the basis that they
were not necessary or proper parties to the judicial review action. (Doc. 5-3 at 8).
That left Sheriff Kilgore as the sole remaining appellee. In resolving the merits of
the appeal, the Circuit Court observed at the outset that, under Alabama law, its
review of the Board’s decision was limited. (Id. at 6-7, ¶ 5). The Circuit Court
recognized that it could not substitute its judgment for that of the Board and that,
so long as the Board properly applied the law and its findings were supported by
substantial evidence, its decision was bound to be affirmed. (Id., citing City of
Dothan Personnel Bd. v. Herring, 612 So. 2d 1231 (Ala. Civ. App. 1992)).
Employing those standards, the Circuit Court concluded that the Board had
correctly applied the law and the “record on appeal before [the] Court provided
sufficient and substantial evidence to ascertain that the decision of the [Board] was
not arbitrary, was not capricious, and was supported by reasonable, substantial and
probative evidence on the record considered as a whole.” (Doc. 5-3 at 7, ¶ 5).
Thus, the Circuit Court concluded that the Board was authorized the make the
findings it did based on its authority to weigh the witness testimony and documents
evidence before it, including by resolving credibility and any other conflicts in the
evidence. (Id.) Accordingly, the Circuit Court affirmed the Board, denying all of
Plaintiff’s contentions as being without merit (id. at 7-8, ¶¶ 5-9), including
specifically his claims alleging violations of constitutional guarantees to due
process of law and equal protection of the laws. (Id. at 8, ¶ 7). Subsequently, the
Circuit Court’s judgment became final when Plaintiff did not seek further review
in the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals or the Alabama Supreme Court.
Procedural History of the Instant § 1983 Action
On July 1, 2016, after the Circuit Court’s judgment had become final,
Plaintiff filed the instant action in this court. (Compl. at 1). Here, Plaintiff seeks
relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Sheriff Kilgore, the Board, and the County
Commission, claiming that his discharge violated both “substantive” and
“procedural” rights guaranteed by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth
Amendment. (Id. ¶¶ 24, 25). That is so, Plaintiff says, because he has a property
right in his continued employment such that he could be discharged only for cause,
which he claims was lacking. (Id. ¶¶ 13, 14, 15). Plaintiff further pleads that he
was afforded “constitutionally-inadequate process.” (Id. ¶ 26). More specifically,
Plaintiff alleges that Mrs. Kilgore, in her capacity as Secretary of the Board, made
improper statements to the members of the Board during the recess that were
intended influence them to uphold her husband’s decision to fire Plaintiff. (Id. ¶
16). Plaintiff also contends that, in violation of the Talladega Civil Service Board
Act, the Board refused to certify the complete hearing record to include Mrs.
Kilgore’s recess statements and “was also afforded the opportunity to provide
written findings contrary to [that] Act.” (Id. ¶ 18). Finally, Plaintiff alleges that
the three Defendants “acted with malice and/or reckless indifference” to his rights
and “in concert with one another to violate his right to a hearing before an
impartial tribunal.” (Id. ¶ 27). On his claims, Plaintiff demands declaratory and
injunctive relief; reinstatement; back pay; and compensatory damages, including
for mental anguish. (Id. at p. 8-9).
Defendants now move to dismiss the Complaint for failure to state a claim
pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), or, in the alternative, for entry of summary
judgment under Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. (Doc. 4). In support, Defendants raise the
Plaintiff’s claims against Sheriff Kilgore in his official capacity
are barred by the Eleventh Amendment and because, in that
capacity, he is not a “person” for purposes of § 1983;
Plaintiff’s claims are barred by the doctrines of res judicata
“and/or” collateral estoppel, based on the Circuit Court’s
Plaintiff fails to allege facts supporting that the County
Commission took any action in connection with his discharge;
Plaintiff’s substantive and procedural due process claims fail
on the merits; and
Sheriff Kilgore is entitled to qualified immunity as it relates to
claims against him in his individual capacity.
(See Docs. 5, 16). Defendants also claim that they are entitled to an award of
attorney’s fees from Plaintiffs pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988. (Doc. 4 at 2; Doc. 5
at 13-14; Doc. 16 at 7). Plaintiff has filed a brief in opposition to Defendants’
dispositive motion and their request for attorney’s fees. (Docs. 14, 15). Both sides
have also filed evidence in support of their respective positions. (Docs. 5-1, 5-2, 53; Doc. 15 at 16-106).
Motion to Dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6)
Rule 12(b)(6), Fed. R. Civ. P., authorizes a motion to dismiss a complaint on
the ground that its allegations fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.
On such a motion, the “‘issue is not whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail but
whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims.’” Little v.
City of North Miami, 805 F.2d 962, 965 (11th Cir. 1986) (quoting Scheur v.
Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)). The court assumes the factual allegations in
the complaint are true and gives the plaintiff the benefit of all reasonable factual
inferences. Hazewood v. Foundation Financial Group, LLC, 551 F.3d 1223, 1224
(11th Cir. 2008) (per curiam).
In analyzing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court is generally limited to
examining the four corners of the complaint itself, although the court may also
look to documents referenced in the complaint or attached thereto, provided they
are central to the plaintiff’s claims and their authenticity is unchallenged. See SFM
Holdings, Ltd. v. Banc of Amer. Securities, LLC, 600 F.3d 1334, 1337 (11th Cir.
2010); Day v. Taylor, 400 F.3d 1272, 1275-76 (11th Cir. 2005); Horsley v. Feldt,
304 F.3d 1125, 1134 (11th Cir. 2002). If a district court considers materials
beyond that scope, however, it is required to treat the motion to dismiss as one for
summary judgment under Rule 56, see Rule 12(d), Fed. R. Civ. P.; SFM Holdings,
600 F.3d at 1337; Harper v. Lawrence County, Ala., 592 F.3d 1227, 1232 (11th
Pursuant to Rule 56, Fed. R. Civ. P., a party is authorized to move for
summary judgment on a claim asserted against it. Under that rule, the “court shall
grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to
any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.
R. Civ. Proc. 56(a). The party moving for summary judgment “always bears the
initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion,”
relying on submissions “which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine
issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986); see
also Clark v. Coats & Clark, Inc., 929 F.2d 604, 608 (11th Cir. 1991); Adickes v.
S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144 (1970). Once the moving party has met its burden,
the nonmoving party must “go beyond the pleadings” and show that there is a
genuine issue for trial. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324.
Both the party “asserting that a fact cannot be,” and a party asserting that a
fact is genuinely disputed, must support their assertions by “citing to particular
parts of materials in the record,” or by “showing that the materials cited do not
establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party
cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.” Fed. R. Civ. P.
56(c)(1)(A), (B). In its review of the evidence, a court must credit the evidence of
the non-movant and draw all justifiable inferences in the non-movant’s favor.
Stewart v. Booker T. Washington Ins., 232 F.3d 844, 848 (11th Cir. 2000). At
summary judgment, “the judge’s function is not himself to weigh the evidence and
determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue
for trial.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986).
Claims against Sheriff Kilgore in his Official Capacity
Sheriff Kilgore makes a threshold argument that claims raised against him in
his official capacity must be dismissed because, in that capacity, he is an official of
the State of Alabama, such that he both enjoys immunity under the Eleventh
Amendment and is not a “person” for purposes of § 1983 3. Sheriff Kilgore is
correct that, in his official capacity, he enjoys Eleventh Amendment immunity
from suit and he is not a “person” under § 1983. See Dean v. Barber, 951 F.2d
1210, 1215 n. 5 (11th Cir. 1992); Carr v. City of Florence, Ala., 916 F.2d 1521,
42 U.S.C. § 1983 provides in relevant part:
Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or
usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to
be subjected, any citizen of the United States … to the deprivation of any rights,
privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to
the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for
1524-25 & n. 3 (11th Cir. 1990). However, those arguments cannot carry the day
to the limited extent Plaintiff demands reinstatement or other prospective
injunctive relief. See Welch v. Laney, 57 F.3d 1008-09 (11th Cir. 1995); Lane v.
Central Ala. Cmty. Coll., 772 F.3d 1349, 1351 (11th Cir. 2014). Accordingly,
except insofar as they seek reinstatement or other prospective injunctive relief,
Plaintiff’s official capacity claims against Sheriff Kilgore shall be dismissed on
The Claims against the County Commission
The County Commission argues that all claims against it are due to be
dismissed because, it says, the factual allegations of the Complaint do not allow a
plausible inference that the County Commission caused or is otherwise responsible
for any alleged violation of Plaintiff’s due process rights. In support, the County
Commission maintains that, as a matter of Alabama law, Plaintiff is a state
employee of the Sheriff’s Department, not the County Commission. It further
argues that Plaintiff has not alleged any facts reasonably supporting that the
County Commission was involved in the decision or process by which Plaintiff’s
employment was terminated. The court agrees.
Plaintiff has summarily pled that, in his capacity as a deputy sheriff, he was
“hired by” and “employed with” the County Commission. (Compl. ¶ 12). It is
well established, however, that, under Alabama law, deputy sheriffs are executive
officers of the State of Alabama rather than county employees. See Turquitt v.
Jefferson Cty., Ala., 137 F.3d 1285, 1289 (11th Cir. 1998); Carr v. City of
Florence, Ala., 916 F.2d 1521, 1525-26 (11th Cir. 1990); Terry v. Cook, 866 F.2d
373, 379 (11th Cir. 1989); Heard v. Hannah, 51 F. Supp. 3d 1129, 1139 (N.D. Ala.
2014); see also McMillian v. Monroe Cty., Ala., 520 U.S. 781, 786-93 (1997)
(sheriff was final policymaker for the State of Alabama, not for the county).
Indeed, Plaintiff now concedes that to be so. (Doc. 15 at 7).
Falling back, Plaintiff highlights that the County Commission is obligated
under state law to provide the Board with telephone service, office supplies,
stationery, clerical assistance, and office space, and to reimburse the Board for
legal, consulting, and other, reasonably necessary expenses it incurs up to $5,000
per year. See Ala. Acts 88-438, § 6; (see also Doc. 15 at 26). Plaintiff insists that
the County Commission’s duty to provide such financial assistance to the Board
creates a “relationship between” them whereby the County Commission might be
held liable for the Board’s actions. (Doc. 15 at 7-8). The court disagrees.
The fact is that Plaintiff’s has not made any effort, through either his
pleading or evidence, to explain how the County Commission or its members
purportedly played any role in the decision or proceedings by which Plaintiff was
terminated. To the extent that Plaintiff now relies on the County Commission’s
obligation to provide basic funding and reimbursement of the Board’s operational
expenses, such is not itself a sufficient basis for imposing § 1983 liability against
the County Commission for constitutional violations that might arise from the
Board’s activities. See McMillian, 520 U.S. at 791-92 (that county funds were
used to pay Alabama county sheriff’s salary and to provide equipment and supplies
for sheriff’s department did not render sheriff a final policymaker for county such
that county might be liable under § 1983 for sheriff’s actions in conducting law
enforcement activities); Turquitt, 137 F.3d at 1289-90 (Alabama county was not
liable under § 1983 for harms befalling inmates due to allegedly improper
operation of the jail under control of sheriff, despite the fact that county was
required under state law to provide facilities to house the jail and to fund its
operation). Conspicuously absent from Plaintiff’s brief is a citation to any legal
authority to the contrary or otherwise in support of his argument. The claims
against the County Commission are thus due to be dismissed.
The Merits of the Due Process Claims
Defendants also contend that they are entitled to prevail as a matter of law
because Plaintiff’s due process claims fail on the merits. The Due Process Clause
of the Fourteenth Amendment provides: “nor shall any State deprive any person of
life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” U.S. Const., Amend. XIV, §
1. This provision affords two different kinds of constitutional due process
protection: “procedural” and “substantive.” See McKinney v. Pate, 20 F.3d 1550,
1555 (11th Cir. 1994) (en banc). “The substantive component of the Due Process
Clause protects those rights that are ‘fundamental,’ that is, rights that are ‘implicit
in the concept of ordered liberty.’” McKinney, 20 F.3d at 1556 (quoting Palko v.
Connecticut, 302 U.S. 319, 325 (1937)) (footnote omitted). “A finding that a right
merits substantive due process protection means that the right is protected against
certain government actions regardless of the fairness of the procedures used to
implement them.” Id. (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). A
“procedural” due process claim, by contrast, is founded on the proposition that a
State is constitutionally obligated to “provide fair procedures and an impartial
decisionmaker before infringing on a person’s interest in life, liberty, or property.”
Id. at 1561; see also Zinermon v. Burch, 494 U.S. 113, 125-26 (1990) (“Procedural
due process rules are meant to protect persons not from the deprivation, but from
the mistaken or unjustified deprivation of life, liberty, or property” (quoting Carey
v. Piphus, 435 U.S. 247, 259 (1978)). A violation of either procedural or
substantive due process may form the basis for a suit under § 1983, id. at 1555, and
Plaintiff has pled both types of claims. (Compl. ¶¶ 24, 25). Defendants, however,
argue that all of them are subject to dismissal on the merits, as a matter of law. As
explained below, the court agrees with Defendants.
Substantive Due Process
The court first considers Plaintiff’s substantive due process claim. (See
Compl. ¶¶ 13-15, 24-26). It is not disputed that Plaintiff was subject to a county
civil service system created by Alabama law such that he had a constitutionally
protected property interest in his continued employment. See generally Epps v.
Watson, 492 F.3d 1240, 1246-47 (11th Cir. 2007); Heard v. Hannah, 51 F. Supp.
3d at 1138-39; Fowler v. Johnson, 961 So. 2d 122, 131-32 (Ala. 2006). Despite
that, the en banc Eleventh Circuit recognized in McKinney that “areas in which
substantive rights are created only by state law (as is the case with tort law and
employment law) are not subject to substantive due process protection under the
Due Process Clause because ‘substantive due process rights are created only by the
Constitution.’” 20 F.3d at 1556 (quoting Regents of Univ. of Mich. v. Ewing, 474
U.S. 214, 229 (1985) (Powell, J. concurring)). Therefore, even if a public
employee possesses a constitutionally protected interest in his employment, such
arises solely from State-created rights rather than from the Constitution, so his
discharge might implicate only “procedural” due process protections, not those of
“substantive” due process. McKinney, 20 F.3d at 1559-61; see also Silva v.
Bieluch, 351 F.3d 1045, 1047 (11th Cir. 2003); Bussinger v. City of New Smyrna
Beach, Fla., 50 F.3d 922, 925 (11th Cir. 1995); Narey v. Dean, 32 F.3d 1521,
1526-28 (11th Cir. 1994); Engquist v. Oregon Dep’t of Agr., 553 U.S. 591, 599
(2008) (“[T]he Due Process Clause does not protect a public employee from
discharge, even when such discharge was mistaken or unreasonable.” (citing
Bishop v. Wood, 426 U.S. 341, 350 (1976)). As such, Plaintiff’s § 1983 claim
alleging a violation of substantive due process plainly fails under McKinney and its
Procedural Due Process
By contrast, McKinney does authorize § 1983 claims for procedural due
process violations brought by discharged public employees who possessed a
protected property interest in their continued employment. See 20 F.3d at 1561-62.
In that context, the Due Process Clause generally requires that a public employee
receive a pre-termination notice of the charges and evidence against him and an
opportunity to present his side of the story. McKinney, 20 F.3d at 1561 (citing
Cleveland Bd. of Educ. v. Loudermill, 470 U.S. 532, 546 (1985)). However, that
hearing may be informal and need not be before an impartial decisionmaker. See
id. at 1561-62; Loudermill, 470 U.S. at 542, 545-46. But where such abbreviated
pre-termination proceedings are used, an employee has a procedural due process
right following his termination to a full evidentiary hearing before an impartial
decisionmaker. See Loudermill, 470 U.S. at 546-47; Hatcher v. Board of Pub.
Educ. & Orphanage for Bibb Cty., 809 F.2d 1546, 1554 (11th Cir. 1987); Kelly v.
Smith, 764 F.2d 1412, 1415 (11th Cir. 1985), overruled on other grounds by
McKinney, supra; Reeves v. Thigpen, 879 F. Supp. 1153, 1174 (M.D. Ala. 1995);
cf. McKinney, 20 F.3d at 1561 (“[I]n general, the Constitution requires that the
state provide fair procedures and an impartial decisionmaker before infringing on a
person’s interest in life, liberty, or property.”).
Plaintiff’s procedural due process claims involve purported defects in the
post-termination review of Sheriff Kilgore’s decision to fire him. For the sake of
argument and disposition of the instant motion, the court assumes that Plaintiff has
raised § 1983 claims alleging that his post-termination procedures were
constitutionally deficient based on the following: (1) during the hearing before the
Board, its three voting members heard statements from Mrs. Kilgore, who was
both the Board’s Secretary and Sheriff Kilgore’s wife, that were intended to
influence the Board to uphold her husband’s decision to fire Plaintiff, thereby
compromising Plaintiff’s right to a hearing before an impartial tribunal (Compl. ¶¶
16, 27); (2) the Board refused to certify a complete hearing transcript that included
Mrs. Kilgore’s recess statements (id. ¶ 18); (3) the Board was improperly allowed
an additional opportunity on remand from the Circuit Court to articulate factual
findings supporting its decision (id.); (4) the Board’s Chairman, Mike Walker,
contributed $1,000 to Sheriff Kilgore’s then-ongoing campaign for re-election
(Doc. 15 at 10, 88); and (5) Sheriff Kilgore appointed one of the three members of
the Board. (Doc. 15 at 10, citing id. at 24, ¶ 2(a)).
Defendants contend, however, that McKinney precludes Plaintiff’s
procedural due process claims as well. In support, Defendants point to
McKinney’s recognition that, even “when a state procedure is inadequate, no
procedural due process right has been violated unless and until the state fails to
remedy that inadequacy.” 20 F.3d at 1560 (citing Zinermon, 494 U.S. at 123). “In
other words, the state may cure a procedural deprivation by providing a later
procedural remedy; only when the state refuses to provide a process sufficient to
remedy the procedural deprivation does a constitutional violation actionable under
section 1983 arise.” Id. at 1557. As the Eleventh Circuit later explained:
It is the state’s failure to provide adequate procedures to remedy the
otherwise procedurally flawed deprivation of a protected interest that
gives rise to a federal procedural due process claim. This rule …
recognizes that the state must have the opportunity to remedy the
procedural failings of its subdivisions and agencies in the appropriate
fora -- agencies, review boards, and state courts [--] before being
subjected to a claim alleging a procedural due process violation.
Cotton v. Jackson, 216 F.3d 1328, 1331 (11th Cir. 2000) (citations, internal
quotation marks and footnote omitted). However, “[t]his directive is not an
exhaustion requirement. Instead, [it] is a recognition that procedural due process
violations do not even exist unless no adequate state remedies are available.” Id. at
1331 n. 2 (internal citation omitted). When determining whether a plaintiff has
established a valid procedural due process claim, this court looks to whether the
available state procedures were adequate to correct the procedural deficiencies
alleged by the plaintiff. Id. at 1331.
Defendants urge that “Plaintiff’s allegations of certain irregularities in his
post-termination appeal are insufficient as a matter of law to state a claim …
because Alabama provides adequate post-termination remedies that could cure any
initial deficiencies.” (Doc. 5 at 8). That is, Defendants emphasize that Plaintiff
had a right under state law to appeal the Board’s decision to the Circuit Court, of
which Plaintiff availed himself. And that court reviewed Board’s decision to
determine whether it applied the law correctly, whether the Board’s findings were
supported by substantial evidence, and whether the Board complied with due
process, which is enough, Defendants say, to afford Plaintiff an adequate remedy
and defeat his procedural due process claims in this court.
Plaintiff replies that although Alabama law afforded him judicial review of
the Board’s decision in the Circuit Court, he insists that such was not, in fact, an
adequate remedy. (See Doc. 15 at 9-11). Plaintiff emphasizes that the Circuit
Court’s review was appellate in nature, not de novo, and was limited to the record
on appeal. And the content of that record, he emphasizes, was determined solely
by the Board he claims was biased against him and that denied his motion to
supplement the record on remand from the Circuit Court. Further, he claims that
he had “no ability to argue new or additional facts” in the Circuit Court, which
effectively deprived him of an opportunity to litigate his due process claims in that
forum. (Id. at 5).
However, Plaintiff is simply incorrect in his assertions that the Alabama
courts lack the power to remedy deficiencies or cure violations of due process in
employment termination cases like this one, where it is alleged that bias on the part
of a personnel board tainted its post-termination hearing decision. See Bell v. City
of Demopolis, Ala., 86 F.3d 191, 192-93 (11th Cir. 1996). It is true that Alabama
courts characterize a circuit court’s judicial review of administrative decisions in
employment cases as being in the nature of certiorari, limited to determining
merely whether the board applied the law correctly and whether its findings are
supported by evidence in the record. See, e.g., Fox v. City of Huntsville, 9 So. 3d
1229, 1232 (Ala. 2008); Civil Serv. Bd. of Appeals for Lauderdale Cty. Sheriff’s
Dep’t v. Daniels, 642 So. 2d 426, 428 (Ala. 1994). Nevertheless, it is clear that an
aggrieved employee is permitted, at least in a collateral suit if not as part of an
appeal from the board’s decision, both (1) to bring claims in an Alabama circuit
court alleging that the board was not impartial or that his termination otherwise
failed to comply with due process, and (2) to present evidence beyond the
administrative record to establish such claims. See City of Huntsville v. Biles, 489
So. 2d 509, 512-13 (Ala. 1986); Board of Dental Examiners v. King, 364 So. 2d
318, 318 (Ala. 1978); Ex parte City of Homewood, 835 So. 2d 1038, 1040-42 (Ala.
Civ. App. 2002). Further, the Eleventh Circuit held in Bell that Alabama’s postdeprivation remedies and standards of judicial review in this context are not
materially distinguishable from the Florida state remedies sanctioned as adequate
in McKinney. 86 F.3d at 192. Therefore, under binding Eleventh Circuit
precedent, even if Plaintiff’s allegations of bias on the part of the Board members
and irregularities in its proceedings are true, he cannot state a viable procedural
due process claim. See Bell, 86 F.3d at 192-93; McKinney, 20 F.3d at 1560-64;
Ellis v. City of Boaz, 2017 WL 897597, at *5-6 (N.D. Ala. Mar. 7, 2017); see also
Tinney v. Shores, 77 F.3d 378, 383 (11th Cir. 1996) (“The [plaintiffs] ... failed to
state a valid procedural due process claim because they [did] not allege [ ] that
Alabama law provided them with an inadequate post-deprivation remedy.”).
Finally, Defendants’ motion to dismiss or for summary judgment also
includes a demand for attorney’s fees under 42 U.S.C. § 1988. (Doc. 4 at 2; Doc. 5
at 13-14). Under the “American Rule,” each party is generally required to bear his
own litigation expenses, including attorney’s fees, regardless of whether he wins or
loses. Fox v. Vice, 563 U.S. 826, 832 (2011); Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. v.
Wilderness Society, 421 U.S. 240, 247 (1975); Heard, 51 F. Supp. 3d at 1145-47.
However, Congress has authorized the award of “a reasonable attorney’s fee” to
“the prevailing party” in various kinds of civil rights cases, including suits brought
under § 1983. 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b). The Supreme Court has recognized that when
the plaintiff in such an action is the prevailing party, he “should ordinarily recover
an attorney’s fee” from the defendant—the party whose misconduct created the
need for legal action. Christiansburg Garment Co. v. EEOC, 434 U.S. 412, 416
(1978) (internal quotation marks omitted). Section 1988(b) also authorizes a fee
award to a prevailing defendant, but only upon a finding by the court that the
plaintiff’s action was “frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation, even though
not brought in subjective bad faith.” Id., 434 U.S. at 421; see also Fox, 563 U.S. at
833; Hughes v. Rowe, 449 U.S. 5, 14-15 (1980). “Factors that are important in
determining whether a claim is frivolous include (1) whether the plaintiff
established a prima facie case; (2) whether the defendant offered to settle; and (3)
whether the trial court dismissed the case prior to trial or held a full-blown trial on
the merits.” Quintana v. Jenne, 414 F.3d 1306, 1309 (11th Cir. 2005) (quotation
omitted). However, courts must be cautious not to judge in hindsight whether a
claim was frivolous when it was filed. See Christiansburg Garment Co., 434 U.S.
at 421-22; Sullivan v. School Bd. of Pinellas Cty., 773 F.2d 1182, 1188-89 (11th
Cir. 1985). Within these constraints, the decision whether to award attorney’s fees
to a prevailing party under § 1988 is discretionary with the court. Heard, 51 F.
Supp. 3d at 1146.
Defendants candidly recognize that, even if Plaintiff’s due process claims
are due to be rejected, they “do not appear, at least from the face of the pleadings,
to meet [the] very high standard” under which a defendant might be awarded
attorney’s fees under § 1988(b). (Doc. 5 at 13-14). Despite that, Defendants urge
that the court still should award such fees because “the rather unusual fact that
Plaintiff has brought this suit improperly seeking a second bite at the apple after
receiving a ruling from the Circuit Court specifically stating that … his due process
rights … were [not] violated … militates in favor of a finding that [this action] is
frivolous, unreasonable, and without foundation.” (Id. at 14). For the reasons
explained below, the court disagrees.
Boiled down, Defendants’ argument is that Plaintiff’s § 1983 claims in this
action alleging that his termination violated due process were frivolous or
otherwise unreasonable from the outset on the theory that they were so
unmistakably barred by res judicata, collateral estoppel, or both, in light of the
Circuit Court’s judgment that had already rejected Plaintiff’s assertion that his
termination violated due process. “Under res judicata, a final judgment on the
merits of an action precludes the parties or their privies from relitigating issues that
were or could have been raised in that action. Under collateral estoppel, once a
court has decided an issue of fact or law necessary to its judgment, that decision
may preclude relitigation of the issue in a suit on a different cause of action
involving a party to the first case.” San Remo Hotel, L.P. v. City & Cty. of San
Francisco, Cal., 545 U.S. 323, 336 n. 16 (2005) (quoting Allen v. McCurry, 449
U.S. 90, 94 (1980)); see also Jaffree v. Wallace, 837 F.2d 1461, 1463 n. 1 (11th
Cir. 1988). In § 1983 actions, this court is bound to give res judicata and collateral
estoppel effect to a prior state-court judgment to the same extent required under
state law. 28 U.S.C. § 1738; Allen v. McCurry, 449 U.S. 90 (1980); Migra v.
Warren City Sch. Dist. Bd. of Educ., 465 U.S. 75 (1984); Laskar v. Peterson, 771
F.3d 1291, 1299-1300 (11th Cir. 2014).
However, even assuming arguendo that Defendants might ultimately be
correct that res judicata or collateral estoppel do, in fact, preclude Plaintiff’s §
1983 claims, there are at least non-frivolous grounds for arguing that they do not.
First, under Alabama law, res judicata and collateral estoppel require substantial
identity of parties in both cases. See Stewart v. Brinley, 902 So. 2d 1, 9 (Ala.
2004). While the Circuit Court ruled that Plaintiff’s due process rights were not
violated, that court’s order also unambiguously states that both the Board and the
County Commission were dismissed on the purely procedural ground that they
were not proper parties to Plaintiff’s appeal of the Board’s decision. Accordingly,
one might argue, as Plaintiff indeed does (see Doc. 15 at 7), that the Circuit Court
ruled on the merits of Plaintiff’s due process cause of action only as it related to his
claims against Sheriff Kilgore, not as to those against the Board or the County
Commission. And while acknowledging that the Circuit Court dismissed them on
procedural grounds, the Board and the County Commission do not address why
they are nonetheless entitled to claim res judicata or collateral estoppel protection
in this court.
Also, Alabama courts recognize that res judicata and collateral estoppel do
not apply where the party against whom they are asserted was not given a “full and
fair opportunity” to litigate the claim or issue in question. See Smith v. Cahill, 72
So. 3d 692, 697 (Ala. Civ. App. 2011); Green v. Daughtrey, 926 So. 2d 341, 346
(Ala. Civ. App. 2005); see also Kremer v. Chem. Const. Corp., 456 U.S. 461, 48081 (1982). There is at least a non-frivolous argument that such principle applies
here on the basis that Plaintiff was prevented from fully litigating his due process
claims in the Circuit Court. In particular, although the Circuit Court rejected
Plaintiff’s due process claim, there is reason to believe the court did so without
considering any of Plaintiff’s evidence offered in support. That is, Plaintiff sought
to supplement the record on appeal, both before the Circuit Court and before the
Board on remand, apparently for the purpose of having it include (1) the recording
and transcript of the hearing recess at which Mrs. Kilgore allegedly made improper
statements to the voting Board members and (2) documents showing that the
Board’s chairman had contributed $1,000 to Sheriff Kilgore’s re-election
campaign. (See Doc. 15 at 69-88). However, both the Circuit Court and the Board
on remand declined Plaintiff’s requests to supplement the record. (Doc. 5-2 at 14;
Doc. 5-3 at 2). Nonetheless, on return to remand, the Circuit Court proceeded to
summarily deny Plaintiff’s due process claim, apparently based only on the
administrative record as approved by the Board. (Doc. 5-3 at 8).
Finally, res judicata and collateral estoppel also require that the prior
judgment was rendered by a court of competent jurisdiction. Stroeker v. Harold,
111 So. 3d 138, 147-48 (Ala. Civ. App. 2012) (citing Lloyd Noland Found., Inc. v.
HealthSouth Corp., 979 So. 2d 784, 793 (Ala. 2007)); Equity Res. Mgmt., Inc. v.
Vinson, 723 So. 2d 634, 636 (Ala. 1998); see also Ex parte Howard, 710 So. 2d
460, 464 (Ala. 1997). And although the Circuit Court ruled upon Plaintiff’s due
process claim, it is arguable that it lacked jurisdiction to do so. To be sure, there
are Alabama state appellate decisions reviewing judgments in which a circuit court
had addressed whether the procedures employed in terminating a public employee
comported with due process standards. See, e.g., Guinn v. City of Eufala, 437 So.
2d 516 (Ala. 1983); Ex parte Conecuh Cty. Bd. of Educ., 495 So. 2d 1108, 1109
(Ala. 1986); Biles, 489 So. 2d at 512-14; Guthrie v. Civil Serv. Bd. of City of
Jasper, 342 So. 2d 372, 373 (Ala. Civ. App. 1977). However, administrative
boards in Alabama typically lack authority to resolve constitutional claims. See Ex
parte Boyette, 728 So. 2d 644, 645 (Ala. 1998) (“[A]dministrative agencies
ordinarily have limited authority to decide allegations of constitutional and
statutory violations”); Ex parte Averyt, 487 So. 2d 912, 913-14 (Ala. 1986); City of
Homewood v. Caffee, 400 So. 2d 375, 378 (Ala. 1981); Wright v. City of Mobile,
170 So. 3d 656, 661 (Ala. Civ. App. 2014). And where a board cannot hear such
claims, and the relevant legislation provides for judicial review limited to the
administrative record and to the issues before the board, a line of Alabama
decisions holds that the reviewing circuit court likewise lacks jurisdiction to
resolve hear and determine constitutional claims on an appeal from the board’s
decision. See Ex parte Averyt, 487 So. 2d at 912-13; Caffee, 400 So. 2d at 378;
Wright, 170 So. 3d at 661-62; City of Mobile v. Robertson, 863 So. 2d 117, 120
(Ala. Civ. App. 2003); Ex parte City of Homewood, 835 So. 2d at 1040-42; Turner
v. Mobile Cty. Personnel Bd., 689 So. 2d 168, 170 (Ala. Civ. App. 1997); Joyner v.
City of Bayou La Batre, 572 So. 2d 492, 493 (Ala. Civ. App. 1990); compare Ex
parte Boyette, 728 So. 2d at 645, 648-49 (contrasting a circuit court’s limited
review of local administrative board actions under state laws generally and the
broader review afforded under the Alabama Administrative Procedure Act
(“AAPA”), which authorizes a court to reverse or modify an action of a State
administrative agency if “in violation of constitutional or statutory provisions,”
Ala. Code § 41-22-20(k)(1)); but see King, 364 So. 2d at 318 (holding, before the
adoption of the AAPA, that a circuit court had the authority to assess whether state
board proceedings complied with due process and to consider evidence beyond the
administrative record in doing so); cf. Biles, 489 So. 2d at 512-14 (holding that
circuit court properly considered evidence beyond the administrative record to
decide § 1983 “count” alleging that city personnel board was biased in violation of
due process, although it is unclear from the opinion whether the action was styled
as an appeal of the board’s decision or an independent, collateral suit). Rather,
those authorities indicate that in such case, the only avenue by which a party may
raise constitutional claims, or other claims beyond the purview of the board, is a
“separate and distinct collateral suit” that invokes the general jurisdiction of the
circuit court, thereby allowing it to consider additional evidence beyond the
administrative record. Wright, 170 So. 3d at 661; see also Ex parte Averyt, 487 So.
2d at 913-14; Ex parte Boyette, 728 So. 2d at 649; Caffee, 400 So. 2d at 378.
Here, the court’s review of Alabama Acts 88-438 does not reveal any clear
provisions authorizing the Board to hear and determine constitutional claims.
Further, the state law granting a right to judicial review of a decision by the Board
states in relevant part as follows:
Either the sheriff or the members of the classified service subject to
such disciplinary action may appeal the order of the Board to the
Talladega County Circuit Court within thirty days from date of such
order. Review by the court shall be without a jury and shall be
confined to the record, and to a determination of questions of law
presented. Upon such appeal, the Board’s finding of facts shall be
final and conclusive.
Ala. Acts. 88-438, § 10(b). Alabama courts have held that similar provisions did
not allow a circuit court to determine constitutional claims in an action styled as an
appeal from a local personnel board’s ruling. See Wright, 170 So. 3d at 661-62;
Turner, 689 So. 2d at 170; Robertson, 863 So. 2d at 120; Ex parte City of
Homewood, 835 So. 2d at 1041-42. And here, Plaintiff’s pleading in the Circuit
Court was expressly styled as an “appeal” pursuant to Ala. Acts 88-438, not as a
separate and independent action invoking the court’s general jurisdiction. (Doc. 51). As such, the circumstances support non-frivolous arguments that collateral
estoppel and res judicata do not preclude Plaintiff’s § 1983 due process claims.
Accordingly, Defendants’ request for attorney’s fees under § 1988(b) is due to be
Based on the foregoing, Defendants’ alternative motion for summary
judgment on all claims (Doc. 4) is due to be GRANTED. However, Defendants’
request for attorney’s fees under 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b) is due to be DENIED. A
separate final order will be entered.
DATED this 21th day of March, 2017.
JOHN E. OTT
Chief United States Magistrate Judge
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