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McInturff v. St. Clair County Sheriff Department

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division

October 17, 2018

WALKER HENDERSON B. McINTURFF, Plaintiff,
v.
ST. CLAIR COUNTY SHERIFF DEPARTMENT, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ANNEMARIE CARNEY AXON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter comes before the court on Defendants' unopposed motion to dismiss the complaint. (Doc. 10).

         Plaintiff Walker Henderson B. McInturff filed this lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, asserting that the St. Clair County Sheriff's Department and its sheriff, Terry Surles, denied his right to reasonable bail, in violation of federal and state law. (Doc. 1). Defendants move to dismiss the complaint. (Doc. 10).

         The court WILL GRANT the motion to dismiss and WILL DISMISS the complaint. The court concludes that the Sheriff's Department is not a legal entity subject to suit; Mr. Surles is entitled to immunity from the state law claims against him in his official capacity; Mr. McInturff failed to state a valid state law claim against Mr. Surles in his individual capacity; Mr. Surles is entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity from the federal claim against him in his official capacity; and Mr. Surles is entitled to qualified immunity from the federal claim against him in his individual capacity.

         I. BACKGROUND

         At this stage, the court must accept as true the factual allegations in the complaint and construe them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Butler v. Sheriff of Palm Beach Cty., 685 F.3d 1261, 1265 (11th Cir. 2012). Mr. McInturff alleges that in the early morning hours of May 12, 2016, he was arrested and charged with driving under the influence of alcohol and reckless driving. (Doc. 1 at 1-2). His father requested release on bond, but a Sheriff's Department policy prohibited setting a bond or releasing an arrestee on bond for at least 24 hours after the arrest if the arrestee was charged with driving under the influence. (Id. at 2-3). Bail was not set and Mr. McInturff was not released until 24 hours after the arrest. (Id. at 3).

         Based on those facts, Mr. McInturff asserts that the Sheriff's Department and Mr. Surles violated his right, under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, to a reasonable bail. (Id. at 4). He also asserts, under Alabama law, that they wrongfully arrested him and falsely imprisoned him. (Id.).

         II. DISCUSSION

         Defendants move to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim, under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss attacks the legal sufficiency of the complaint. “To survive a motion to dismiss, the plaintiff must plead ‘a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Butler, 685 F.3d at 1265 (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

         Mr. McInturff names the Sheriff's Department and Mr. Surles, but he does not specify whether he sues Mr. Surles in his individual or official capacities. In the interest of judicial economy, the court will address both types of liability.

         First, Defendants contend that the Sheriff's Department must be dismissed because it is not a legal entity subject to suit. (Doc. 11 at 8-9). The court agrees. “Under Alabama law, a county sheriff's department lacks the capacity to be sued.” Dean v. Barber, 951 F.2d 1210, 1215 (11th Cir. 1992); King v. Colbert Cty., 620 So.2d 623, 626 (Ala. 1993). Accordingly, the court WILL DISMISS WITH PREJUDICE the claims against the Sheriff's Department.

         Next, Defendants contend that Mr. Surles is entitled to absolute immunity from the state law claims. (Doc. 11 at 15-16). Again, the court agrees. Article I, § 14 of the Alabama Constitution protects the State and its agents from liability for monetary damages on state law claims brought against it. See Ala. State Univ. v. Danley, 212 So.3d 112, 124 (Ala. 2016) (“[Section] 14 provides absolute immunity from suit-and thus liability-for monetary damages based on state-law claims . . . .”); Parker v. Amerson, 519 So.2d 442, 442-43 (Ala. 1987) (holding that, with exceptions for cases seeking certain types of injunctive relief, “[a] sheriff is an executive officer of the State of Alabama, who is immune from suit under Article I, § 14, Alabama Constitution of 1901, in the execution of the duties of his office”). Mr. McInturff seeks only monetary damages; as such, the Alabama Constitution bars his state law claims against Mr. Surles in his official capacity. The court WILL DISMISS WITH PREJUDICE the state law claims against Mr. Surles in his official capacity.

         As for Mr. McInturff's state law claims against Mr. Surles in his individual capacity, the court finds that Mr. McInturff has failed to state a claim for wrongful arrest or false imprisonment. The complaint does not allege that Mr. Surles was present at Mr. McInturff's arrest or that he personally denied Mr. McInturff bail. (See Doc. 1 at 1-3). Accordingly, the court WILL DISMISS WITHOUT PREJUDICE the state law claims against Mr. Surles in his individual capacity.

         Next, Mr. McInturff asserts a claim that Mr. Surles violated his right to reasonable bail under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. (Id. at 4). To the extent Mr. McInturff asserts that claim against Mr. Surles in his official capacity, the Eleventh Amendment provides him with immunity from the federal claim. “Eleventh Amendment immunity bars suits brought in federal court when the State itself is sued and when an ‘arm of the State' is sued.” Manders v. Lee, 338 F.3d 1304, 1308 (11th Cir. 2003) (en banc). An Alabama sheriff sued for monetary damages in his official capacity is considered an arm of the State. Carr v. City ...


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