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Ex parte City of Homewood

Supreme Court of Alabama

March 24, 2017

Ex parte City of Homewood et al.
v.
City of Homewood et al. In re: Bria Mines

         Jefferson Circuit Court, CV-15-904768

          PETITION FOR WRIT OF MANDAMUS

          STUART, Justice.

         Officer J.C. Clifton and Officer Jason Davis, law-enforcement officers for the City of Homewood, and the City of Homewood petition this Court for a writ of mandamus directing the Jefferson Circuit Court to enter a summary judgment in their favor on the ground of immunity. We grant the petition and issue the writ.

         Facts and Procedural History

         In December 14, 2013, Officer Clifton and Officer Davis were dispatched to the Babies "R" Us specialty retail store located in the Wildwood Shopping Center in response to a shoplifting incident involving Bristinia Fuller and Bria Mines. When the officers arrived, they learned that Fuller and Mines were leaving the parking lot of the store in a vehicle being driven by Fuller. Officer Clifton and Officer Davis, driving separate patrol cars, attempted to stop the vehicle. Instead of stopping, Fuller eluded the officers by speeding through the parking area and onto Lakeshore Drive. The officers pursued. Fuller continued speeding on Lakeshore Drive and ran through multiple red traffic lights before losing control of her vehicle while attempting to turn onto Oxmoor Road. Fuller's vehicle struck a light pole and a vehicle stopped at the intersection. Fuller was killed and Mines was seriously injured.

         On December 13, 2015, Mines sued Officer Clifton and Officer Davis, both in their official and individual capacities; Homewood; and others not before this Court in the petition.[1] Mines alleged that she was injured as a result of the negligent, reckless, and/or wanton conduct of the officers and Homewood during the officers' pursuit of Fuller's vehicle. She also alleged that Homewood was vicariously liable for the officers' conduct and was negligent in hiring and supervising the officers. Mines served interrogatories with the complaint.

         On March 11, 2016, Homewood, Officer Clifton, and Officer Davis moved to dismiss the claims against them on the bases that Homewood was statutorily immune from the wantonness claim, see § 11-47-190, Ala. Code 1975; that the claim alleging negligent training and supervision against Homewood was not a cognizable claim, see Ott v. City of Mobile, 169 F.Supp.2d 1301 (S.D. Ala. 2001); that Alabama does not recognize an independent cause of action for liability arising out of a law-enforcement officer's pursuit of a criminal suspect, see Ex parte Brown, 182 So.3d 495 (Ala. 2015), Gooden v. City of Talladega, 966 So.2d 232 (Ala. 2007), and Doran v. City of Madison, 519 So.2d 1308 (Ala. 1988); that the officers are entitled to peace-officer immunity (§ 6-5-640, Ala. Code 1975); that the officers are entitled to State-agent immunity, see Ex parte Hayles, 852 So.2d 117 (Ala. 2002), and Hollis v. City of Brighton, 950 So.2d 300 (Ala. 2006); and that all of Mines's claims are barred by Fuller's intervening criminal acts, see Gooden, supra, and Prill v. Marrone, 23 So.3d 1 (Ala. 2009).

         Homewood, Officer Clifton, and Officer Davis attached to the motion to dismiss a copy of a video recording of the pursuit and Fuller's accident made by the dashboard camera in Officer Clifton's vehicle. The video recording indicates that the officers were engaged in a high-speed pursuit of Fuller's vehicle, that Officer Clifton was driving the lead vehicle in pursuit of Fuller's vehicle, that Fuller was driving recklessly, and that, as Mines stated in her complaint, "Fuller lost control of the vehicle while attempting to turn onto Oxmoor Road [and] struck a pole and another vehicle." The video recording shows Officer Clifton slowing his vehicle at times during the pursuit to safely negotiate the traffic and shows that, although law-enforcement vehicles were pursuing Fuller's vehicle, no law-enforcement vehicle made contact with Fuller's vehicle during the pursuit. Indeed, the video recording establishes unequivocally that no law-enforcement vehicle was near Fuller's vehicle when Fuller attempted to turn onto Oxmoor Road and struck a light pole and another vehicle.

         On May 9, 2016, Mines filed her opposition to the motion to dismiss, maintaining that because Homewood, Officer Clifton, and Officer Davis had relied on matters outside the pleadings in their motion, the motion to dismiss had been converted to a summary-judgment motion. She argued that because the motion had been converted to a summary-judgment motion she needed a reasonable opportunity to discover evidence and to respond. Mines did not attach an affidavit proffering what she expected discovery to reveal, and she did not challenge the authenticity of the video recording.

         On July 6, 2016, the trial court conducted a hearing on the motion to dismiss.

         On August 4, 2016, Mines moved the trial court to order Homewood, Officer Clifton, and Officer Davis to answer the interrogatories she had served with her complaint.[2]

On August 10, 2016, the trial court ordered:
"This matter comes before the court on the defendants' motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Ala. R. Civ. P. Since the defendants request that this court consider matters outside the pleadings, the court will treat this motion as a motion for summary judgment under Rule 56 of the Ala. R. Civ. P..
"Is therefore ORDERED, ADJUDGED, and DECREED that the defendants' motion for summary judgment is hereby DENIED.
"Both parties are hereby informed that the court will again entertain those issues presented in the defendants' motion after the discovery phase of this litigation, upon the filing of a properly crafted motion."

         On August 19, 2016, Homewood, Officer Clifton, and Officer Davis moved the trial court to alter, amend, or vacate the order denying their motion, arguing that the trial court erred in not entering a summary judgment in their favor because, they said, they were entitled to immunity from liability as a matter of law and that, in light of the video recording, discovery would not establish otherwise. They pointed out that Mines did not identify what specific discovery was necessary to respond to any of the grounds asserted in their motion. On September 13, 2016, the trial court conducted a hearing on the motion to alter, amend, or vacate. Mines argued that additional discovery was needed but again did not state what evidence she expected discovery to reveal that would create a genuine issue of material fact with regard to the issue of immunity.

         On September 21, 2016, Homewood, Officer Clifton, and Officer Davis timely petitioned this Court for a writ of mandamus directing the trial court to vacate its order denying their motion for a summary judgment and to enter a summary judgment in their favor. On January 8, 2017, Mines filed her response to the petition.

         Standard of Review

"'"This Court has stated:
"'"'"While the general rule is that the denial of a motion for summary judgment is not reviewable, the exception is that the denial of a motion grounded on a claim of immunity is reviewable by petition for writ of mandamus. Ex ...

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