When Are Police Officers Entitled to Immunity?
Ex parte City of Homewood, et al.: Under Alabama law, in order for a police officer to demonstrate that he is entitled to immunity from a party’s claims against him in his official and individual capacities, he must establish that (1) he was a peace officer (2) performing law-enforcement duties at the time of the accident and (3) was exercising judgment and discretion.
On December 14, 2013, two City of Homewood police officers, Clifton and Davis, were dispatched to Babies-R-Us in response to a shoplifting incident involving Bristinia Fuller and Bria Mines. Upon their arrival, the officers learned that Mines and Fuller were leaving the parking lot in a vehicle being operated by Fuller. Officers Clifton and Davis, who were in separate vehicles, attempted to stop Fuller’s vehicle. When Fuller eluded the officers by speeding through the parking lot and onto Lakeshore Drive, the officers pursued them. Fuller continued speeding on Lakeshore drive, ran through multiple traffic lights, and ultimately lost control of her vehicle and struck a light pole. As a result of the collision, Fuller died and Mines was seriously injured.
On December 13, 2015, Mines filed suit against Officers Clifton and Davis (both in their individual and official capacities), the City of Homewood, and others. Mines alleges the officers (and vicariously, Homewood) were negligent and reckless/wanton in their pursuit of Fuller and Mines. On March 11, 2016, Homewood and Officers Clifton and Davis moved to dismiss the claims against them on the following grounds: (1) Homewood was statutorily immune from the wantonness claim pursuant to Alabama Code (1975) § 11-41-190; (2) the claim alleging negligent training and supervision against Homewood was not a cognizable claim; (3) Alabama does not recognize an independent cause of action for liability arising from a law-enforcement officer’s pursuit of a suspected criminal; (4) that the officers are entitled to peace-officer immunity under Alabama Code (1975) § 6-5-640; (5) that the officers are entitled to state-agent immunity; and that all of Mine’s claims are barred by Fuller’s intervening criminal acts.
To support their position, the officers included in support of their motion the video footage of the accident. Mines contended that because the officers had relied on evidence outside of the pleadings, their motion to dismiss had been converted to a motion for summary judgment. Mines convinced the court she needed to undertake discovery in order to support her claims. The defendants responded that they were entitled to immunity as a matter of law, and no amount of discovery would establish otherwise; moreover, Mines had failed to identify what specific discovery was necessary to respond to any of the grounds asserted in Defendants’ motion. The trial court denied the Defendants’ motion for summary judgment and ordered the parties to participate in discovery. Thereafter, the Defendants petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the trial court to vacate its denial and enter summary judgment in their favor. Ex parte City of Homewood, et al. [Ms. 1151310 Mar. 24, 2017] — So.3d — (Ala. 2017).
Under Alabama law, in order for an officer to demonstrate that he is entitled to immunity from a party’s claims against him in his official and individual capacities, he must establish that:
- he was a peace officer
- performing law-enforcement duties at the time of the accident and
- was exercising judgment and discretion.
If the officer is able to make this showing, the burden shifts to the claimant to show that one of the Cranman exceptions applies (below).
The Supreme Court of Alabama found it was undisputed that Officers Clifton and Davis were employed as “peace officers” by the City of Homewood and were performing law-enforcement duties at the time of the accident. As pertained to the third factor affecting immunity, this court has previously held that arresting or attempting to arrest an individual is a discretionary function. Based on the video evidence before the Alabama Supreme Court, the court found that the officers were exercising discretion and judgment during their pursuit of Fuller’s vehicle.
Mines did not offer any evidence to refute or contradict the evidence presented by the officers. Rather Mines, by claiming that the defendants had effectively converted their Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss into a Rule 56 motion for summary judgment, was effectively moving for a continuance to permit discovery under Alabama Rule of Civil Procedure 56(f). However, she failed to properly support her motion. Moreover, the Alabama Supreme Court has previously determined that pending discovery does not bar summary judgment if the court can ascertain that the discovery will not give rise to questions of fact crucial to the non-moving party’s case. In this case, the Supreme Court was not convinced that any additional discovery could aid Mines’s argument.
As pertains to whether the officers qualified for immunity, the court found that the officers were engaged in conduct that qualified for immunity and the officers were not the proximate cause of Mines’s injuries. Mines did not refute any this evidence or offer any evidence to change the immunity defense. As such, the trial court erred in not granting the officers’ motion for summary judgment. Likewise, the City of Homewood was due the same immunity granted to the officers. Therefore, the Alabama Supreme Court granted the defendants’ petition and issued the writ directing the trial court to enter summary judgment in favor of the officers and the City of Homewood.
 See Ott v. City of Mobile, 169 F.Supp.2d 1301 (S.D.Ala. 2001)
 See Ex parte Brown, 182 So. 3d 495 (Ala. 2015); Gooden v. City of Talladega, 966 So. 2d 232 (Ala. 2007); Doran v. City of Madison, 519 So. 2d 1308 (Ala. 1988);
 See Ex parte Hayles, 852 So. 2d 117 (Ala. 2002); Hollis v. City of Brighton, 950 So. 2d 300 (Ala. 2006)
 See Gooden v. City of Talladega, 966 So. 2d 232 (Ala. 2007); Prill v. Marrone, 23 So. 3d 1 (Ala. 2009).
 Ex parte City of Midfield, 161 So. 3d 1158, 1163-64 (Ala. 2014).
 Per Ex parte Cranman, 792 So.2d 392, 405 (Ala. 2001), a state agent “shall not be immune from civil liability in his or her personal capacity (1) when the Constitution or laws of the United States, or the Constitution of this State, or laws, rules, or regulations of this State enacted or promulgated for the purpose of regulating the activities of a governmental agency require otherwise; or (2) when the State agent acts willfully, maliciously, fraudulently, in bad faith, beyond his or her authority, or under a mistaken interpretation of the law.”
 Hollis v. City of Brighton, 950 So.2d 300, 309 (Ala. 2006).
 See Doran v. City of Madison, 519 So. 2d 1308, 1314 (Ala. 1998)(quoting Madison v. Weldon, 446 So. 2d 21, 28 (Ala. 1984), quoting in turn City of Miami v. Horne, 198 So. 2d 10, 13 (Fla. 1967))(“‘The rule governing the conduct of [a] police [officer] in pursuit of an escaping offender is that he must operate his vehicle with due care and in doing so he is not responsible for the acts of the offender. Although pursuit may contribute to the reckless driving of the pursued, the officer is not obliged to allow him to escape.”‘).
 Reeves v. Porter, 521 So. 2d 963, 965 (Ala. 1988)
 Ex parte City of Gadsden, 781 So.2d 936 (Ala. 2000)(holding that because the officer’s decision to pursue the suspect was a discretionary act entitled to immunity, the plain language of § 6–5–338(b), Ala. Code 1975, extended that immunity to the municipality that employed the officer).
Photo by Tim Kuzdrowski.