Caffey v. Mobile Police Department et al
ORDER granting 24 Motion to Dismiss filed by Mobile Police Department. This dismissal with without prejudice to the plaintiff's ability to seek leave to amend her complaint to name a suable entity. Signed by Chief Judge William H. Steele on 8/12/2013. Copy mailed to Plaintiff. (tgw)
Caffey v. Mobile Police Department et al
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
MOBILE POLICE DEPARTMENT,
) CIVIL ACTION 12-0400-WS-M
This matter is before the Court on the motion to dismiss filed by the Mobile Police
Department (“MPD”). (Doc. 24). The parties have filed briefs in support of their
respective positions, (Docs. 25, 31), and the motion is ripe for resolution.
In a Section 1983 suit such as this one, “‘capacity to sue or be sued shall be
determined by the law of the state in which the district court is held.” Dean v. Barber,
951 F.2d 1210, 1214 (11th Cir. 1992) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 17(b)).1 The Dean Court
noted that “[p]olice departments are not usually considered legal entities subject to suit,”
id., but it cited no case resolving the question under Alabama law. Nor did Dean – which
involved a sheriff’s department, not a police department – resolve the question or purport
to do so. Although a number of federal courts cite Dean as dispositive, it is not. On the
contrary, Dean directs the lower courts to look to state law for an answer.
In Ex parte Dixon, 55 So. 3d 1171 (Ala. 2010), the plaintiff sued two individual
officers and the City of Montgomery Police Department. The City of Montgomery
appeared on behalf of the police department, claiming the department was not a legal
The current version of Rule 17(b) similarly provides that the capacity to sue or be sued
of any party other than a corporation or most individuals “is determined …by the law of the state
where the court is located ….”
entity capable of being sued. Id. at 1172. The Supreme Court related this procedural
history and, without further comment, dropped a footnote quoting a secondary authority
for the proposition that “[a]mong subordinate entities [of municipalities] generally
lacking the capacity to sue or be sued separately are police departments ….” Id. at 1172
n.1 (internal quotes omitted). Because the legal status of a police department was not an
issue on appeal, and because the Supreme Court did not decide any such issue but merely
quoted a secondary authority without comment, Dixon is not dispositive. MPD concedes
as much but asserts that Dixon is persuasive. (Doc. 25 at 5).
The Court concludes that Dixon, although not a holding, accurately expresses
Alabama law. The Court notes that the Alabama Supreme Court has expressly held that a
sheriff’s department “is not a legal entity subject to suit.” White v. Birchfield, 582 So. 2d
1085, 1087 (Ala. 1991); accord Ex parte Haralson, 853 So. 2d 928, 931 (Ala. 2003);
King v. Colbert County, 620 So. 2d 623, 626 (Ala. 1993). White cited no authority and
provided no analysis, but rather simply announced the conclusion. King merely cited
White, and Haralson merely cited White and King. What the Court draws from these
cases is that the Alabama Supreme Court deems it obvious that a sheriff’s department is
not a suable entity. What the Court thus draws from Dixon is that the Supreme Court
deems it equally obvious that a municipal police department is not a suable entity. Based
on the limited clues available, the Court concludes that MPD is not a legal entity subject
Even if state law does not recognize an entity as capable of being sued, “a
partnership or other unincorporated association with no such capacity under that state’s
law may sue or be sued in its common name to enforce a substantive right existing under
the United States Constitution or laws ….” Fed. R. Civ. P. 17(b)(3)(A). But this
provision does not extend to “government units, subdivisions or agencies.” Dean, 951
F.2d at 1214 n.4. It therefore cannot be used as a means of suing MPD.
For the reasons set forth above, MPD’s motion to dismiss is granted. This
dismissal is without prejudice to the plaintiff’s ability to seek leave to amend her
complaint to name a suable entity.
DONE and ORDERED this 12th day of August, 2013.
s/ WILLIAM H. STEELE
CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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