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Ex parte Price

Supreme Court of Alabama

January 12, 2018

Ex parte Cheryl Price and Greg Lovelace
v.
Jefferson Dunn et al. In re: Marcus Parrish

         Montgomery Circuit Court, CV-16-900178

          PETITION FOR WRIT OF MANDAMUS

          BRYAN, Justice.

         Cheryl Price and Greg Lovelace, two of the defendants below, petition this Court for a writ of mandamus directing the trial court to enter a summary judgment in their favor on the ground of State-agent immunity. We grant the petition and issue the writ.

         Price was formerly the warden at Donaldson Correctional Facility ("the prison"), which is operated by the Alabama Department of Corrections ("the DOC"). Lovelace is a deputy commissioner of the DOC in charge of construction and maintenance. The plaintiff, Marcus Parrish, is a correctional officer employed by the DOC. The evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to Parrish, the nonmovant, see Wilma Corp. v. Fleming Foods of Alabama, Inc., 613 So.2d 359 (Ala. 1993), reveals the following facts. Parrish was supervising inmate showers in a segregation unit in the prison. Parrish left the shower area briefly to retrieve shaving trimmers, and, when he returned, inmate Rashad Byers had already entered a shower cell, which had an exterior lock on it. Byers indicated that he was finished with his shower, and Parrish told him to turn around to be handcuffed. Parrish then approached Byers's shower door with the key to the lock on the door in his hand. Parrish was getting ready to unlock the shower door when Byers unexpectedly opened the door, exited the shower cell, and attacked Parrish. During the attack, Byers took Parrish's baton from him and began striking Parrish with it. Parrish was knocked unconscious, and he sustained injuries to his head.

         Parrish sued Price and Lovelace in their official capacities. Parrish later filed an amended complaint naming Price and Lovelace as defendants in their individual capacities only. Thus, it appears that Price and Lovelace are now being sued only in their individual capacities. Parrish also sued other defendants, but those claims are not relevant to this petition. Parrish's allegations concern the cell-door locks and staffing at the prison. Parrish alleged that many of the locks at the prison were defective, which allowed prisoners to open supposedly locked doors, and that the prison was understaffed with correctional officers. Parrish alleged that Price and Lovelace willfully breached their duties by failing to monitor the prison for unsafe conditions and by failing to repair or replace the allegedly defective locks. The complaint further alleged that Price willfully breached a duty by failing to remedy the alleged understaffing at the prison. Although the allegations concern both faulty locks and understaffing, it appears that the primary allegation concerns the locks; Parrish does not mention the alleged understaffing in his brief to this Court.

         Price and Lovelace moved for a summary judgment, asserting, among other things, that they are entitled to State-agent immunity. Price and Lovelace supported their summary-judgment motion mainly with excerpts from their own depositions. In response, Parrish argued that Price and Lovelace are not entitled to State-agent immunity. Following a hearing, the trial court denied the summary-judgment motion. The trial court concluded, without elaboration, that genuine issues of material fact exist so as to preclude a summary judgment. Price and Lovelace then petitioned this Court for a writ of mandamus, arguing that they are immune from liability based on State-agent immunity.

         Generally, the denial of a summary-judgment motion is not reviewable by a mandamus petition, but an exception to that general rule exists here. The denial of a summary-judgment motion grounded on a claim of immunity is reviewable by a mandamus petition. Ex parte Turner, 840 So.2d 132, 135 (Ala. 2002).

"A writ of mandamus is an extraordinary remedy, and it will be 'issued only when there is: 1) a clear legal right in the petitioner 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) properly invoked jurisdiction of the court.' Ex parte United Serv. Stations, Inc., 628 So.2d 501, 503 (Ala. 1993)."

Ex parte Empire Fire & Marine Ins. Co., 720 So.2d 893, 894 (Ala. 1998).

         Moreover,

"[i]n reviewing a trial court's ruling on a motion for a summary judgment, we apply the same standard the trial court applied initially in granting or denying the motion. Ex parte Alfa Mut. Gen. Ins. Co., 742 So.2d 182, 184 (Ala. 1999).
"'The principles of law applicable to a motion for summary judgment are well settled. To grant such a motion, the trial court must determine that the evidence does not create a genuine issue of material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Rule 56(c)(3), Ala. R. Civ. P. When the movant makes a prima facie showing that those two conditions are satisfied, the burden shifts to the nonmovant to present "substantial evidence" creating a genuine issue of material fact.'

"742 So.2d at 184. '[S]ubstantial evidence is evidence of such weight and quality that fair-minded persons in the exercise of impartial judgment can reasonably infer the existence of the fact sought to be proved.' West v. Founders Life Assurance Co. of Florida, 547 So.2d 870, 871 (Ala. 1989)." Swan v. City of Hueytown, 920 So.2d 1075, 1077-78 (Ala. 2005).

         In Ex parte Cranman, 792 So.2d 392 (Ala. 2000) (Cranman was a plurality decision, but a majority of this Court later adopted the Cranman standard in Ex parte Butts, 775 So.2d 173 (Ala. 2000)), this Court restated the standard governing State-agent immunity:

"A State agent shall be immune from civil liability in his or her personal capacity when the conduct made the basis of the claim against the agent is ...

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