How Subjective Intent Affects the Validity of an Arrest
Ex parte Jimmy Harris: Subjective intent for an arrest and subsequent prosecution is immaterial so long as there is probable cause, even when there is evidence of personal animosity and a competing financial interest.
On July 29, 2016, the Supreme Court of Alabama decided jointly the related matters of Ex parte Jimmy Harris [Ms. 1141345] and Ex parte Town of Mosses [Ms. 1141385], — So.3d — (Ala. 2016), subsequent to separate writs of mandamus on the heels of the parties’ motions for summary judgment.
Geraldine Bryson brought suit against the Town of Mosses and its police chief Tommy Harris arising out of Harris’ arrest of Bryson, as the owner of “The Spot.” On May 2, 2010, a beer bash was held at The Spot despite Bryson not having a liquor license for the premises. A citizen made the mayor aware of the occasion, and the mayor advised police chief Harris. Bryson was arrested and charged with selling alcohol without a license; ultimately, the charges were dismissed because the prosecution was unable to produce any witness to testify in its behalf. There was also evidence of personal animosity between Harris and Bryson.
Bryson brought claims against Harris and the Town of Mosses for false arrest/false imprisonment and malicious prosecution, as well as other claims not decided herein, alleging (among other things) that her arrest and prosecution were driven by Chief Harris’ contentious relationship with Bryson and a competing financial interest. The Alabama Supreme Court held that even where an arresting officer has personal animosity and a competing financial interest against an arrestee, an arresting officer’s subjective intent is immaterial, and the only criteria for determining whether the arrest was valid is that at the time of the arrest, the officer had probable cause. Likewise, as pertains to a claim of malicious prosecution, subjective intent is immaterial when there is probable cause to initiate a judicial proceeding. In the instant case, there was probable cause for both the arrest and prosecution. The Court further found that both Harris and the Town had statutory state-agent immunity from these claims.
Additionally, the Town argued that Bryson’s claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress against Harris could not be imputed to the Town, pursuant to Alabama Code (1975) § 11-47-190. The Court agreed that the Town is immune from any intentional tortious conduct alleged against its agent.