Doe v. Madison County School Board et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by US Magistrate Judge T Michael Putnam on 12/17/2013. (KAM, )
2013 Dec-17 PM 03:22
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
JAMES HILL, as guardian and next friend,
of BHJ, a minor,
MADISON COUNTY SCHOOL BOARD,
Case No. 5:10-cv-2593-TMP
This action is before the court on defendant Jeanne Dunaway’s (“Dunaway”) motion to
dismiss (doc. 114), and plaintiff James Hill’s (“Hill”) motion to certify judgment as a final and
appealable order (doc. 119). The parties have consented to the exercise of jurisdiction by the
undersigned pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c); accordingly, the court enters this memorandum
opinion. For the reasons set out below, Dunaway’s motion to dismiss (doc. 114) is due to be and
hereby is granted.1
“[I]n any civil action of which the district courts have original jurisdiction, the district
courts shall have supplemental jurisdiction over all other claims that are so related to claims in
the action within such original jurisdiction that they form part of the same case or controversy
Because the order entered contemporaneously with this memorandum opinion is a final
judgment, Plaintiff’s motion to certify judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b)
(doc. 119) is due to be and hereby is DISMISSED as MOOT.
under Article III of the United States Constitution.” 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a). An exception to
supplemental jurisdiction under § 1367(a) provides:
(c) The district courts may decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over a
claim under subsection (a) if –
(1) the claim raises a novel or complex issue of State law,
(2) the claim substantially predominates over the claim or claims over
which the district court has original jurisdiction,
(3) the district court has dismissed all claims over which it has original
(4) in exceptional circumstances, there are other compelling reasons for
28 U.S.C. § 1367(c) (emphasis added).
This court has dismissed all claims over which it had original jurisdiction. The only
claims remaining are state-law negligence and wantonness claims against Dunaway and
defendant June Simpson (“Simpson”). A preliminary hurdle in whether the state-law negligence
and wantonness claims may proceed is deciding whether Dunaway and Simpson are entitled to
state-agent immunity under Alabama law. This court determined that while Dunaway and
Simpson are within the protections of state-agent immunity as employees of a county school
board (doc. 104, p. 35), their behavior fell within the “beyond authority” exception to state-agent
immunity.2 However, the question of how to properly apply the “beyond authority” exception to
state-agent immunity is unsettled in Alabama law.
In L.N. v. Monroe County Board of Education, Justice Murdock’s concurring opinion
calls into question how Alabama courts have previously applied the “beyond authority”
exception when determining state-agent immunity, suggesting that previous applications have
been too quick to say that a school official acted “beyond his or her authority.” ___ So.3d ___,
No. 1110672, 2013 Ala. LEXIS 81 (Ala. July 12, 2013). Although Justice Murdock’s
concurrence is not binding on this court, it signals that the guidelines still are unsettled for
determining what behavior is “beyond one’s authority” for purposes of state-agent immunity
under Alabama law. Accordingly, the question of whether Dunaway and Simpson acted beyond
their authority as state agents can best be resolved by the Alabama state court.
The Eleventh Circuit established a four-part test for district courts to consider when
determining whether to exercise discretionary jurisdiction under § 1367(c).
The district court’s discretionary decision whether or not to entertain pendent state
claims is generally guided by four factors: (1) whether the state law claims
predominate in terms of proof, the scope of the issues raised, or the
comprehensiveness of the remedy sought; (2) whether comity considerations
warrant determination by a state court (i.e., is the state claim novel or particularly
complex such that an accurate definitive interpretation of state law is necessary);
(3) whether judicial economy, convenience, and fairness to the litigants would
best be served by trying the federal and state claims together; and (4) whether “the
If a defendant claiming immunity shows that she was exercising a discretionary
function within the scope of her authority at the time of the alleged tort, the burden shifts to the
plaintiff to show that the immunity does not apply because the defendant “acted willfully,
maliciously, fraudulently, in bad faith, or beyond his or her authority.” Ex parte Montgomery
County Board of Education, 88 So.2d 1046, 1052 (Ala. 2003).
state claim is so closely tied to questions of federal policy that the argument for
exercise of pendent jurisdiction is particularly strong.”
Draper v. Wheelabrator-Frye, 735 F.2d 414, 428 (11th Cir. 1984) (quoting Jackson v.
Stinchcomb, 635 F.2d 462, 473 (5th Cir. 1981)).
“[I]n the usual case in which all federal-law claims are eliminated before trial, the balance
of factors to be considered under the pendent jurisdiction doctrine - judicial economy,
convenience, fairness, and comity - will point toward declining to exercise jurisdiction over the
remaining state-law claims.” Carnegie-Mellon University v. Cohill, 484 U.S. 343, 350 n. 7, 108
S. Ct. 614, 98 L. Ed. 2d 720 (1988). The instant case is one of the “usual cases.” The state-law
claims predominate the issues raised in the instant case, because the state-law claims are the only
claims pending. Comity considerations warrant determination of the state-law claims in state
court because Alabama law is not yet settled on what constitutes behaving “beyond one’s
authority” for purposes of state-agent immunity. Finally, the state-law claims are no longer “so
closely tied to questions of federal policy that the argument for exercise of pendent jurisdiction is
particularly strong” because there are no federal claims pending and, therefore, no remaining
questions of federal policy.
This court is aware that declining to exercise jurisdiction over the pending state-law
claims is likely to cause some inconvenience to the parties. However, much of the record
established in this court can be transferred and applied in any state-court action Hill may decide
to pursue. This should serve to partially ameliorate the inconvenience faced by the parties. In
terms of fairness, Hill will not be prejudiced by this judgment because she will have 30 days
under 28 U.S.C. § 1367(d) to file her state-law claims in state court without exposing her statelaw claims to a statute of limitations defense.3 See Carnagie-Mellon Univ. v. Cohill, 484 U.S.
343, 350 n. 7, 108 S. Ct. 614, 619 n. 7, 98 L. Ed. 2d 720 (1988). Any issues in terms of fairness
and judicial economy resulting from this court’s decision to decline to exercise jurisdiction under
§ 1367(c) are outweighed by the other concerns listed in the Draper analysis.
Because the only claims remaining are state claims dependent upon the application of an
unsettled principle of Alabama law, this court declines to exercise jurisdiction over the state-law
claims under § 1367(c) subsections (1) and (3). Accordingly, the plaintiff’s remaining claims
with respect to defendants Dunaway and Simpson are due to be dismissed without prejudice. An
order of dismissal will be entered concurrently herewith.
DONE this 17th day of December, 2013.
T. MICHAEL PUTNAM
U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Even without the 30-day period provided in 28 U.S.C. § 1367(d), Hill should not be
barred by statutes of limitations from bringing her claim. Under the Alabama Code, if someone’s
right to commence an action accrues before she is 19 years of age (the age of majority), she “shall
have three years, or the period allowed by law for the commencement of an action.” Ala. Code.
§ 6-2-8. Because Hill was 14 years old when her right to commence the action accrued, she has
two years from the date of her 19th birthday to file her state-law claim. Ala. Code § 6-2-38.
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