Appeal from Tallapoosa Circuit Court
Steagall, Justice. Torbert, C. J., and Jones, Shores, and Adams, JJ., concur.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Steagall
Plaintiff, Grady Gibson, alleged slander and "outrageous conduct" on the part of defendants Jimmy Abbott, John Perdue, Byron Prescott, Jerry Shoemaker, Larry Williams, and certain fictitious parties. Gibson's complaint alleged that during the course of investigating the death of Dana Hart, these named defendants, as investigators with the Alabama Bureau of Investigation (ABI), slandered Gibson while inquiring about the case with persons not associated with the ABI by implying that he had killed Dana Hart, that he was a drug dealer, and that he intended to kill the parties to whom the allegedly slanderous remarks were made. Gibson appeals from a Rule 12(b)(6), A.R.Civ.P., dismissal of his complaint.
Dana Hart and her husband, Eddie Hart, were informants to the ABI. Their contact with the agency was Grady Gibson, an ABI investigator at the time. On March 14, 1985, Dana Hart was found dead, the victim of multiple stab wounds. During the subsequent investigation both Eddie Hart and Grady Gibson became suspects in Dana Hart's murder, and it was during this investigation the slander and outrageous conduct allegedly occurred. After a Butler County grand jury returned a "no bill" as to Gibson, he resigned his post with the ABI. After further investigation, a "Be On The Look Out" bulletin or "BOLO" was issued by ABI for Grady Gibson. Gibson fled the state, going to California, where he resided until returning to Alabama in October 1986. Sometime after his return to the state, another grand jury in Butler County issued a true bill against Gibson, and he, along with Eddie Hart, was tried for the murder of Dana Hart. On or about September 15, 1987, a jury convicted Gibson of the capital murder of Dana Hart.
The defendants filed a motion to dismiss, in lieu of an answer, affirmatively stating they were absolutely privileged for their statements made during the course of an official investigation. After the trial court granted Gibson's motion for leave to amend the complaint in response to defendants' motion for a more definite statement, the court heard oral argument on the defendants' original motion to dismiss. From a judgment dismissing his complaint and an order denying his motion to alter, amend, or vacate the judgment, Gibson appeals.
"'"The well-understood position of an appellate court reviewing the grant of a motion to dismiss is, taking the allegations of the complaint most strongly in favor of the pleader, to determine whether the plaintiff could prove any set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief."'" Harris v. City of Montgomery, 435 So.2d 1207, 1210 (Ala. 1983). (Citations omitted.)
As to whether State officers and agents can be held individually liable in civil litigation, this Court held:
"Article I, Section 14, Constitution of Alabama, 1901, prohibits the State and its agencies from being made defendants in any court of law. . . . The State of Alabama, and [its agencies], are, therefore, absolutely immune from tort liability."
Rutledge v. Baldwin County Com'n, 495 So.2d 49, 51 (Ala 1986). (Citations omitted.)
"'Section 14 of the Constitution not only prevents a suit against the State, but against its officers and agents in their official capacity when a result favorable to the plaintiff would directly affect a contract or property right of the State.'"
Rutledge, supra, at 52. (Citations omitted.) (Emphasis added in Rutledge.)
However, "a suit may be made against State officials in their official capacity for acts allegedly committed fraudulently, in bad faith, beyond their authority, or under a mistaken interpretation of the law." Rutledge, supra, at 52. (Citations omitted.)
"In defamation actions, the only absolutely privileged communications recognized under the law are those made during legislative or judicial proceedings (or, in such situations as that dealt with in Webster v. Byrd, [494 So.2d 31 (Ala. 1986)], quasi-judicial proceedings), or contained ...