Chaney v. McBride et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge Abdul K Kallon on 7/18/2014. (PSM)
2014 Jul-18 PM 02:40
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
JAMES W. CHANEY,
JERRY MCBRIDE, et al.,
Civil Action Number
Before the court are defendant G.UB.MK Constructors’ (G.UB.MK) motion
for judgment on the pleadings, or, alternatively, for summary judgment, doc. 33,
and defendant Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) motion to dismiss plaintiff
James W. Chaney’s (Chaney) punitive damages claim and strike Chaney’s jury
demand, doc. 31. For the reasons explained below, both motions are due to be
I. G.UB.MK’S MOTION FOR JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS
A. Factual Background and Procedural History
Chaney also filed a motion for leave to file a surreply. Doc. 40. Although the court’s
briefing schedule does not permit a non-movant to file a reply brief, the court has considered the
arguments Chaney raises in his surreply. Therefore, the court will grant his motion.
Page 1 of 9
On June 26, 2012, a vehicle driven by Jerry McBride struck Chaney, who
was bicycling near Wilson Dam. Doc. 1 at 8. Chaney suffered serious injuries as a
result of the collision, and subsequently commenced this action against McBride,
the TVA, and G.UB.MK. Id. at 1, 9. Chaney and G.UB.MK agree that at the time
of the accident, “McBride was acting as an agent and/or employee and/or servant”
of both the TVA and G.UB.MK. See id. at 11–12; doc. 34 at 2.
On March 3, 2014, the court issued an order dismissing McBride as a
defendant to this action pursuant to 16 U.S.C. §831c-2, which provides that if an
individual, like Chaney, suffers a personal injury due to the fault of a TVA
employee acting within the scope of his employment, the injured person’s remedy
is a suit against TVA, not the TVA employee. Doc. 24 at 7–8. In light of this
order, G.UB.MK contends that it is also due to be dismissed from this case and has
moved for a judgment on the pleadings.
B. Standard of Review
“Judgment on the pleadings is appropriate when there are no material facts
in dispute, and judgment may be rendered by considering the substance of the
pleadings and any judicially noticed facts.” Hawthorne v. Mac Adjustment, Inc.,
140 F.3d 1367, 1370 (11th Cir.1998) (citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c)). The court must
“accept the facts in the complaint as true” and “view them in the light most
Page 2 of 9
favorable to the nonmoving party.” Id. As such, the “complaint must not be
dismissed ‘unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of
facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief.’” Id. (quoting
Slagle v. ITT Hartford, 102 F.3d 494, 497 (11th Cir.1996)).
Chaney’s sole theory of liability against G.UB.MK is that as McBride’s
principal/employer, “G.UB.MK  is vicariously liable for [McBride’s] negligent
and/or wanton conduct.” Doc. 1 at 11. Consequently, G.UB.MK contends that it is
due to be dismissed as a defendant to this action “because the [c]ourt has held . . .
that . . . McBride is entitled to absolute immunity under . . . 16 U.S.C. § 831c-2,
and as a matter of Alabama respondeat superior law, there is no basis for imposing
vicarious liability on the putative master if the putative servant is immune from
liability.” Doc. 34 at 2 (citing Hollis v. City of Brighton, 885 So. 2d 135, 141–42
(Ala. 2004)). Chaney counters G.UB.MK’s argument by contending that the
authority G.UB.MK relies upon is inapplicable to the present matter because it
merely stands for the premise that “where a municipal employee/servant is
shielded from immunity, then, generally, the municipality employing, (or acting as
the principal of), the employee/servant cannot be held vicariously liable for the
employee/servant’s negligent conduct.” Doc. 37 at 22.
Page 3 of 9
In support of their respective positions, Chaney and G.UB.MK point to a
line of cases in which Alabama courts have limited the vicarious liability of
principals for the actions of their agents based on the agents’ immunity from suit.
See Wheeler v. George, 39 So. 3d 1061 (Ala. 2009); Hollis v. City of Brighton,
885 So. 2d 135 (Ala. 2004); Gore v. City of Hoover, 559 So. 2d 163 (Ala. 1990),
overruled on other grounds by Franklin v. City of Huntsville, 670 So. 2d 848 (Ala.
1995); Larry Terry Contractors, Inc. v. Bogle, 404 So. 2d 613 (Ala. 1981); Willow
Lake Residential Ass’n, Inc. v. Juliano, 80 So. 3d 226, 249 (Ala. Civ. App. 2010).
In some of these cases the defendants are municipalities2, in others the defendants
are private entities3 , which undermines Chaney’s argument that case law only
See Wheeler, 39 So. 3d at 1090–91 (upholding the lower court’s grant of summary
judgment to the Industrial Development Board (IDB) of the city of Montgomery on the grounds
that the IDB could not be vicariously liable for the actions of its chairman because the chairman
enjoyed statutory immunity); Hollis, 885 So. 2d at 141–42 (upholding the lower court’s grant of
summary judgment to the city of Brighton on the grounds that the city could not be vicariously
liable for the negligence of its volunteer firefighters, who enjoyed statutory immunity); Gore, 559
So. 2d at 165–66 (upholding the lower court’s grant of summary judgment to the city of Hoover
on the grounds that the city could not be vicariously liable for the negligence of a magistrate,
who enjoyed judicial immunity).
See Larry Terry Contractors, 404 So. 2d at 614 (reversing a jury verdict against a
contractor when the only claim the plaintiff pursued against the contractor was vicarious liability
for the negligence of its employee, whom the jury exonerated); Willow Lake Residential Ass’n,
80 So. 3d at 349 (finding that a homeowners’ association could not be vicariously liable for the
alleged trespass of its agents who had permission to enter the property at issue and enjoyed
statutory immunity); see also United Steelworkers of Am. AFL-CIO-CLC v. O’Neal, 437 So. 2d
101, 103 (Ala. 1983) (reversing a jury verdict finding a union liable on a respondeat superior
theory for the actions of its member, whom the jury exonerated).
Page 4 of 9
provides authority for shielding municipalities from vicarious liability for the
negligence of their employees. Moreover, even in the cases in which the
defendants are municipalities, Chaney simply fails to explain how the defendants’
status as municipalities, as opposed to their more general status as principals,
factors into the courts’ analyses and ultimate conclusion that the defendants are
not vicariously liable for their agents’ actions. See e.g., Hollis, 885 So. 2d at 142
(stating that “if a putative servant is not liable, either because he is innocent or
because he is immune, no liability exists to be visited upon the putative master
under the rule of respondeat superior”) (citing Gore, 559 So. 2d at 165); Gore, 559
So. 2d at 1654 (stating that “if the agent is not liable, the principal cannot be held
In arguing that, under Alabama law, only municipalities are immune from vicarious
liability for the actions of their agents when the agents themselves are immune, Chaney primarily
relies upon Gore, arguing that “pursuant to Gore, as a matter [of] public policy, a municipality
cannot be held vicariously liable for the negligent acts of its agent or employee  if the agent or
employee is immune from suit,” doc. 37 at 15, and that those public policy considerations “are
not applicable to G.UB.MK, a private entity,” doc. 37 at 16. The text of Gore, however, fails to
support Chaney’s argument:
If the magistrate acted merely negligently, then he or she is protected by judicial
immunity. The city could be liable only by respondeat superior, and if the agent is not
liable, the principal cannot be held liable, either. United Steelworkers of America v.
O'Neal, 437 So.2d 101 (Ala.1983); Larry Terry Contractors, Inc. v. Bogle, 404 So.2d 613
(Ala.1981). Although those cases, and the ones cited therein, concerned instances in
which a jury found the agent not liable, we hold that the same principle should apply here.
If the judicial officer cannot be held liable as a matter of public policy for negligent acts,
similar considerations of public policy dictate that the municipality itself cannot be held
Gore, 559 So. 2d 165–66. Although Chaney is correct that Gore holds that, “[i]f [a] judicial
officer cannot be held liable as a matter of public policy for negligent acts, similar considerations
Page 5 of 9
liable either”) (citing United Steelworkers of America, 437 So. 2d 101; Larry
Terry Contractors, 404 So. 2d 613); see also Indus. Dev. Bd. of City of
Montgomery v. Russell, 124 So. 3d 127, 137 (Ala. 2013) (stating that Wheeler, 39
So. 3d 1061, stands for “[t]he principle that an entity may be insulated from
vicarious liability that would otherwise result from the misfeasance or malfeasance
of its employee or agent where the employee or agent enjoys immunity for his or
her acts or omissions”).5
of public policy dictate that [a] municipality itself cannot be held liable” for those acts, id., that
holding is based upon the principle set forth in United Steelworkers of America and Larry Terry
Contractors that “if the agent is not liable, the principal cannot be held liable, either,” id., at 165,
and, as explained above, the United Steelworkers of America and Larry Terry Contractors
defendants were private entities. Consequently, Gore does not support Chaney’s argument that
under Alabama law, only municipalities are immune from vicarious liability for the actions of
their agents when the agents themselves are immune.
Similarly, Chaney’s observation that the Hollis court “cited Gore . . . and only Gore, for
the proposition that a municipality cannot be held vicariously liable where its employee is
immune from suit,” doc. 37 at 11 (emphasis in original) (citing Hollis, 885 So. 2d at 141–42),
carries little weight in light of the fact that the Hollis court also quoted the Larry Terry
Contractors opinion as standing for the broader principle that “‘when [a] principal and his agent
are sued in [a] joint action in tort for misfeasance or malfeasance of the servant, and his liability
for the conduct of said servant is under the rule of respondeat superior, a verdict in favor of the
servant entitles the master to have the verdict against him set aside,’” Hollis, 885 So. 2d at
141–42 (quoting Larry Terry Contractors, 404 So. 2d at 614).
In light of these cases, it is clear that to the extent, as Chaney contends, that Mi-Lady
Cleaners v. McDaniel stands for the premise that “the immunity of the agent does not shield the
principle from liability,” see doc. 27 at 17 (citing 179 So. 908 (Ala. 1938)), subsequent cases
have overruled it. Moreover, if the court views Mi-Lady Cleaners through the narrow lens
Chaney applies to the more recent Alabama vicarious liability/agent immunity cases discussed
above, it merely supports the position that if parents injure their children within the scope of their
employment, their employers are not freed from liability because of “any special immunity
resulting from the domestic relation existing between the person injured and the
[employee/parent] who committed the negligent or wrongful act,” Mi-Lady Cleaners, 179 So. at
911, and because of its factual specificities, applicable only in rare circumstances.
Page 6 of 9
The court concludes that G.UB.MK is correct that under Alabama law, a
principal cannot be vicariously liable for the acts of its agent when the agent is
immunized from liability for those acts, and rejects Chaney’s reading of the
previously discussed cases as unduly narrow. It follows that, because Chaney’s
sole claim against G.UB.MK is based on its purported liability for McBride’s
actions, doc. 11 at 1, because Chaney does not dispute that McBride was
G.UB.MK’s agent at the time of the accident, id. at 11–12, and because the court
previously determined that McBride is immune from liability in this matter
pursuant to 16 U.S.C. §831c-2, doc. 24 at 7–8, Chaney has failed to plead a set of
facts that entitle him to relief under Alabama law. Consequently, G.UB.MK’s
motion for judgment on the pleadings is due to be granted.6
Likewise, as Alabama law governs Chaney’s claim against G.UB.MK, see doc. 1 at 3
(stating that this court has subject matter jurisdiction over Chaney’s claim against G.UB.MK
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367), and Alabama’s highest court clearly has indicated on multiple
occasions that a principal cannot be vicariously liable for the actions of its agent when the agent
enjoys immunity and consequently cannot be liable for those actions, see Erie R.R. Co. v.
Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 78 (1938) (stating that “[e]xcept in matters governed by the Federal
constitution, the law to be applied in any case is the law of the state . . . [as] declared by its
legislature in a statute or by its highest court in a decision”), federal courts’ interpretation of
Alabama case law and cases from other jurisdictions examining the implications of agent
immunity on principal liability, see doc. 37 at 17–22; doc. 40 at 2–3 (collecting cases), are
irrelevant to the court’s analysis of the immunity issue.
Because G.UB.MK’s immunized-servant argument is dispositive, the court declines to
address G.UB.MK’s borrowed servant argument.
Page 7 of 9
II. THE TVA’S MOTION TO STRIKE CHANEY’S JURY DEMAND7
The TVA moves to strike Chaney’s jury demand on the grounds that “there
is no right to a jury trial against the United States or its agencies unless Congress
expressly confers such a right by statute.” Doc. 32 at 5. Chaney’s arguments to the
contrary are nonstarters because this court has previously held that there is no right
to a jury trial against the TVA. See Brown v. Tenn. Valley Auth., No. 5:14-cv00064-CLS, Order at 2, (N.D. Ala. Apr. 2, 2014); Bobo v. ACGO Corp. et al., No.
5:12-cv-1930-CLS, 2013 WL 1668332, at * 1 (N.D. Ala. Apr. 15, 2013); N. Ala.
Elec. Coop. v. Tenn. Valley Auth., No. 5:10-cv-03252-CLS, Mem. Op. at 7–8
(N.D. Ala. Sept. 28, 2011). Chaney’s contention that these cases misapply relevant
law is unpersuasive because it relies on legal authority that directly conflicts with
this circuit’s precedent.8 Consequently, the TVA’s motion to strike Chaney’s jury
The TVA also moves to dismiss Chaney’s punitive damages claim. Doc. 31 at 1.
However, this issue is moot because Chaney has clarified that he does not seek punitive damages
from the TVA. see doc. 36 at 1 n. 1, and, indeed, a review of the complaint indicates that Chaney
only seeks punitive damages against McBride and G.UB.MK, doc. 1 at 13.
Chaney argues that these cases rely on authority that incorrectly interprets Lehman v.
Nakshian, 453 U.S. 156 (1981), to stand for the premise that when Congress abrogates the
sovereign immunity of a federal instrumentality, it must “affirmatively and unambiguously” grant
the right to trial by jury for this right to apply to actions against that instrumentality. Doc. 36 at
8–10. Instead, he urges the court to follow the reasoning of Doe v. Am. Nat. Red Cross, which
based its refusal to strike a jury demand against the American National Red Cross (“Red Cross”)
on a determination that the previously described presumption against the right to a jury trial
applied only to the federal government, and that a countervailing presumption in favor of a right
to a jury trial applied in suits against federal instrumentalities. 847 F. Supp. 643, 657 (W.D. Wis.
1994). This circuit, however, has held that Lehman precludes a jury trial against a federal
Page 8 of 9
demand is due to be granted.
The court will enter a contemporaneous order consistent with this opinion.
Done this 18th day of July, 2014.
ABDUL K. KALLON
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
instrumentality, namely the Red Cross, absent an express Congressional grant of a right to a jury
trial. Barton v. Am. Red Cross, 826 F. Supp. 412, 414–15 (M.D. Ala. 1993), aff’d without
opinion, 43 F.3d 679. In light of this persuasive precedent, the court declines to follow Doe.
Page 9 of 9
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?