Montgomery Circuit Court, CV-16-000004
PETITION FOR WRIT OF MANDAMUS
Alabama Department of Corrections ("ADOC")
petitions this Court for a writ of mandamus directing the
Montgomery Circuit Court to enter an order dismissing, on the
ground of sovereign immunity, Art. I, § 14, Ala. Const.
1901 (also referred to as State immunity), the claims
asserted against it by Jean Clowers and Scott Clowers.
Because ADOC has demonstrated a clear legal right to this
relief, we grant the petition and issue the writ.
October 8, 2015, Jean Clowers sued ADOC, Isabella Cowan, and
fictitiously named parties, seeking to recover damages for
injuries she alleges she sustained as a result of a collision
between a vehicle she was driving and an ADOC van driven by
Cowan, who, at the time of the accident, was a work-release
inmate in the custody of ADOC. Clowers alleged in her
complaint that ADOC was vicariously liable for Cowan's
alleged negligence and/or wantonness in running a red light
and thus causing the accident. Clowers's husband, Scott,
joined the action, claiming damages for loss of consortium.
10, 2016, ADOC filed a motion to dismiss the complaint on the
basis that ADOC, as a State agency, is entitled to sovereign
immunity under § 14. On January 10, 2017, the circuit
court entered an order denying ADOC's motion to dismiss.
This petition followed.
of mandamus is an extraordinary remedy available only when
the petitioner can demonstrate: "'(1) a clear legal
right to the order sought; (2) an imperative duty upon the
respondent to perform, accompanied by a refusal to do so; (3)
the lack of another adequate remedy; and (4) the properly
invoked jurisdiction of the court.'" Ex parte
Nall, 879 So.2d 541, 543 (Ala. 2003)(quoting Ex
parte BOC Grp., Inc., 823 So.2d 1270, 1272 (Ala. 2001)).
It is well established that "a court's failure to
dismiss a case for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction based
on sovereign immunity may properly be addressed by a petition
for the writ of mandamus." Ex parte Alabama
Dep't of Mental Health & Mental Retardation, 837
So.2d 808, 810-11 (Ala. 2002). "A ruling on a motion to
dismiss is reviewed without a presumption of
correctness." Newman v. Savas, 878 So.2d 1147,
1148-49 (Ala. 2003).
only issue for the Court's review is whether the circuit
court erred in failing to dismiss the Clowerses' claims
against ADOC on the basis of sovereign immunity. In
Alabama Department of Corrections v. Montgomery County
Commission, 11 So.3d 189, 191-92 (Ala. 2008), this Court
stated the well established law regarding sovereign or State
"Section 14, Ala. Const. 1901, provides: '[T]he
State of Alabama shall never be made a defendant in any
court of law or equity.' (Emphasis added.) 'The
wall of immunity erected by § 14 is nearly
impregnable.' Patterson v. Gladwin Corp., 835
So.2d 137, 142 (Ala. 2002). Indeed, as regards the State
of Alabama and its agencies, the wall is
absolutely impregnable. Ex parte Alabama
Dep't of Human Res., 999 So.2d 891, 895 (Ala. 2008)
('Section 14 affords absolute immunity to both the State
and State agencies.'); Ex parte Jackson County Bd. of
Educ., 4 So.3d 1099, 1102 (Ala. 2008) (same);
Atkinson v. State, 986 So.2d 408, 410-11 (Ala. 2007)
(same); [In re] Good Hope [Contracting Co. v. Alabama
Dep't of Transp., 978 So.2d 17 (Ala. 2007)] (same);
Ex parte Alabama Dep't of Transp., 764 So.2d
1263, 1268 (Ala. 2000) (same); Mitchell v. Davis,
598 So.2d 801, 806 (Ala. 1992) (same). 'Absolute
immunity' means just that--the State and its agencies are
not subject to suit under any theory.
"'This immunity may not be waived.'
Patterson, 835 So.2d at 142. Sovereign immunity is,
therefore, not an affirmative defense, but a
'jurisdictional bar.' Ex parte Alabama Dep't
of Transp., 985 So.2d 892, 894 (Ala. 2007). The
jurisdictional bar of § 14 simply 'preclud[es] a
court from exercising subject-matter jurisdiction' over
the State or a State agency. Lyons v. River Road Constr.,
Inc., 858 So.2d 257, 261 (Ala. 2003). Thus, a complaint
filed solely against the State or one of its agencies is a
nullity and is void ab initio. Ex parte Alabama
Dep't of Transp. (In re Russell Petroleum, Inc. v.
Alabama Dep't of Transp.), 6 So.3d 1126 (Ala. 2008)
.... Any action taken by a court without subject-matter
jurisdiction--other than dismissing the action--is void.
State v. Property at 2018 Rainbow Drive, 740 So.2d
1025, 1029 (Ala. 1999)."
it is an agency of the State of Alabama, ADOC is entitled to
absolute immunity under § 14 as to the claims asserted
against it by the Clowerses. Therefore, the circuit court
lacked jurisdiction over those claims.
has established a clear legal right to the relief requested.
Accordingly, we grant the petition for the writ of mandamus
and direct the circuit court to dismiss the claims against
ADOC based on the doctrine of sovereign immunity.
GRANTED; WRIT ISSUED.
Stuart, C.J., and Bolin, Parker, Murdock, Shaw, Main, Wise,