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Ex parte McClintock

Supreme Court of Alabama

December 1, 2017

Ex parte Angela McClintock et al.
v.
Angela McClintock et al. In re: K.H., as parent and next friend of T.H., a minor; and T.H., as parent and next friend of K.W., a deceased minor

         Jefferson Circuit Court, CV-14-900844

          PETITION FOR WRIT OF MANDAMUS

          WISE, JUSTICE

         Angela McClintock, Stephanie Streeter, and Christa Devaughn (hereinafter referred to collectively as "the petitioners"), all of whom are employees of the Jefferson County Department of Human Resources ("JCDHR") and defendants below, petitioned for a writ of mandamus requesting that this Court direct the Jefferson Circuit Court to enter a summary judgment in their favor based on State-agent immunity. We grant the petition and issue the writ.

         Facts and Procedural History

         On June 30, 2011, T.H. was charged with third-degree domestic violence when S.W., T.H.'s mother, filed charges against her for striking a sibling in the face. On December 21, 2011, T.H. gave birth to K.W. On December 23, 2011, while T.H. was still in the hospital, T.H.'s grandmother reported to JCDHR that she had concerns that T.H. would not be able to care for her new baby, that T.H. had left her father's home, and that T.H. had a history of running away. After conducting an investigation, JCDHR allowed T.H. to be discharged from the hospital to the home of K.M., T.H.'s second cousin.

         On December 27, 2011, a social worker with JCDHR contacted K.M. to schedule a home visit. At that time, K.M. advised the social worker that T.H. had left with K.W. shortly after arriving at her house. She also indicated that she thought that T.H. and K.W. were living with K.W.'s father.

         On December 29, 2011, K.H., T.H.'s father, filed a dependency complaint, seeking custody of K.W. In his complaint, he alleged:

"[T.H.] is a 15-year old who think[s] she is grown, she do[es] not want to follow rules. She is real disrespectful, t[o]ward me, and she do[es] not want to do anything I say. She is so out of control, and says I, can't tell her what to do, because she [is] grown; so that's why I need legal help, before she get[s] hurt or hurt[s] her baby. Also mother 15 gave birth to a baby boy on 12-21-2011 and ran away and left baby unattendent [sic]."

         On January 4, 2012, K.H. filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, stating that he had "found [T.H.] and her infant baby boy and now have them in my care, and if for any reason she run[s] away, I am to contact Det. Thomas."

         On January 20, 2012, Devaughn filed a dependency complaint as to T.H. and a request for a pickup order for K.W. She alleged that T.H., who was a minor, was not living with her custodian, K.H.; that K.H. was being investigated for abandonment; that T.H. had a history of running away; and that T.H. had not shown that she could responsibly care for K.W. K.W. was picked up and placed in the foster home of Dennis Gilmer on that same date.

         K.W. died on February 24, 2012, while in foster care. At the time of K.W.'s death, McClintock was the director of JCDHR; Streeter was an assistant director of child welfare for JCDHR; and Devaughn was a child-abuse and neglect investigative worker for JCDHR.

         On February 21, 2014, K.H. and T.H. filed a complaint in the Jefferson Circuit Court against the petitioners, Brandon Hardin, Dennis Gilmer, and JCDHR.[1] They stated claims of wrongful death of a minor, negligence, wantonness, and negligent/wanton training and supervision. K.H. and T.H. alleged that the petitioners had negligently, wantonly, and/or recklessly removed K.W. from T.H.'s custody; that they had negligently, wantonly, and/or recklessly placed him in Gilmer's care; and that they had negligently, wantonly, and/or recklessly failed to properly train, instruct, and supervise Gilmer. They also alleged that Gilmer had negligently, wantonly, or recklessly allowed K.W. to be placed face-down on a sheet that was allegedly too large for the mattress in his crib and that, as a result, K.W. had suffered fatal injuries.

         On August 29, 2016, the petitioners filed a motion for a summary judgment. They argued that they were entitled to immunity on several bases, including an assertion that they were entitled to State-agent immunity pursuant to Ex parte Cranman, 792 So.2d 392 (Ala. 2000). On March 9, 2017, K.H. and T.H. filed a motion in opposition to the petitioners' motion.

         The trial court conducted a hearing on the motion for a summary judgment.[2] On February 20, 2017, it denied the motion. This petition followed.

         Standard of Review

"'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 for summary judgment grounded on a claim of immunity is reviewable by petition for writ of mandamus.' Ex parte Rizk, 791 So.2d 911, 912 (Ala. 2000). A writ of mandamus is an extraordinary remedy available only when there is: '(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 BOC Group, Inc., 823 So.2d 1270, 1272 (Ala. 2001)."

Ex parte Nall, 879 So.2d 541, 543 (Ala. 2003). Also,

"whether review of the denial of a summary-judgment motion is by a petition for a writ of mandamus or by permissive appeal, the appellate court's standard of review remains the same. If there is a genuine issue as to any material fact on the question whether the movant is entitled to immunity, then the moving party is not entitled to a summary judgment. Rule 56, Ala. R. Civ. P. In determining whether there is a material fact on the question whether the movant is entitled to immunity, courts, both trial and appellate, must view the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, accord the nonmoving party all reasonable favorable inferences from the evidence, and resolve all reasonable doubts against the ...

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