Sawyer v. Collins et al
Order certifying question to the Alabama Supreme Court re: 61 REPORT AND RECOMMENDATIONS re 56 MOTION to Dismiss FRCP 12(b)(1) filed by Bobby Sanders, Sylvia Collins and 40 MOTION to Dismiss First Amended Complaint filed by James Hood, Bobby Sanders, Sylvia Collins.. Signed by Judge Kristi K. DuBose on 12/5/2012. (cmj)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
JOHNNIE MAE SAWYER, as daughter
and Administrator of the Estate
of Arthur Waters, deceased,
SYLVIA COLLINS, BOBBY SANDERS,
and JAMES HOOD,
CIVIL ACTION NO. 2:12-0020-KD-M
This action is before the Court on the Report and Recommendation of the Magistrate
Judge on the motion to dismiss filed by defendants Sylvia Collins, Bobby Sanders and James
Hood. (Docs. 40-41, 56-57, 61) Among the grounds for dismissal, defendants Collins and
Sanders argue that the Alabama Legislature passed certain laws in 2011 that provide them with
immunity and therefore, deprive this Court of subject-matter jurisdiction over plaintiff’s state
law claims against them. The statutes state as follows.
The sheriff has the legal custody and charge of the jail in his or her county and
all prisoners committed thereto, except in cases otherwise provided by law. The
sheriff may employ persons to carry out his or her duty to operate the jail and
supervise the inmates housed therein for whose acts he or she is civilly
responsible. Persons so employed by the sheriff shall be acting for and under the
direction and supervision of the sheriff and 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 such persons are acting
within the line and scope of their duties and are acting in compliance with the
Ala. Code. § 14-6-1 (1975) (effective June 14, 2011) (2011 Ala. Acts 2011-685, p. 2067, §1).
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.
Ala. Code § 36-22-3(b) (1975) (effective June 14, 2011) (2011 Ala. Acts 2011-685, p. 2067, §§
These statutes both state that persons acting or undertaking duties under the “direction
and supervision” of the Sheriff “shall be entitled to the same immunities and legal protections
granted to the sheriff” so long as the person is “acting within the line and scope” of their duties
and are “acting in compliance with the law”. Id. The first requirement – acting within the line
and scope of their duties – is the same requirement for a sheriff to receive immunity. However,
there does not appear to be any requirement under Alabama law that requires a sheriff to act “in
compliance with the law” in order to receive immunity. The meaning of the requirement that a
jailer must act “in compliance with the law” in order to receive immunity has not been addressed
by the state court.
“When substantial doubt exists about the answer to a material state law question upon
which the case turns, a federal court should certify that question to the state supreme court in
order to avoid making unnecessary state law guesses and to offer the state court the opportunity
to explicate state law.” Forgione v. Dennis Pirtle Agency, Inc., 93 F. 3d 758, 761 (11th Cir.
1996); Union Planters Bank, N.A. v. New York, 436 F.3d 1305, 1306 (11th Cir. 2006) (“Where
there is doubt in the interpretation of state law, a federal court may certify the question to the
state supreme court to avoid making unnecessary Erie guesses and to offer the state court the
opportunity to interpret or change existing law.”) “Only through certification can federal courts
get definitive answers to unsettled state law questions. Only a state supreme court can provide
what we can be assured are ‘correct’ answers to state law questions, because a state’s highest
court is the one true and final arbiter of state law.” Forgione, 93 F. 3d at 761.
Accordingly, the following question is certified to the Alabama Supreme Court:
Alabama Code § 14-6-1 provides that persons, such as jail employees, who act or
undertake duties at the direction and supervision of the sheriff are immune from
state law claims to the same extent as a Sheriff "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". How should this court interpret "acting in compliance with the law" in
order to not render the grant of immunity meaningless or the phrase superfluous?
Specifically, what "law" is encompassed by the requirement that a jail employee
act in compliance with the law?
DONE and ORDERED this 5th day of December, 2012.
s/Kristi K. DuBose
KRISTI K. DuBOSE
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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