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Dennis v. William Bernard Blackwell and City of Birmingham

Alabama Court of Civil Appeals

October 26, 2018

Belinda Dennis
v.
William Bernard Blackwell and City of Birmingham

          Appeal from Jefferson Circuit Court (CV-15-904969)

          MOORE, Judge.

         Belinda Dennis appeals from a summary judgment entered by the Jefferson Circuit Court ("the trial court") in favor of William Bernard Blackwell and the City of Birmingham ("the City") with regard to her negligence claims against Blackwell and the City. We affirm the trial court's judgment.

         Procedural History

         On December 30, 2015, Dennis filed a complaint against Blackwell and the City asserting, among other things, that Blackwell, a police officer employed by the City, had negligently "caused or allowed the vehicle he was operating ... to suddenly and improperly collide with [Dennis's] vehicle" and that, "[a]s a proximate consequence, [Dennis] suffered severe and permanent injuries." Dennis further alleged that the vehicle operated by Blackwell was "owned, leased, or otherwise controlled" by the City. On January 26, 2016, Blackwell and the City jointly filed an answer to the complaint.

         On November 7, 2017, Blackwell and the City filed a motion for a summary judgment and a brief and evidentiary materials in support thereof. They argued, with regard to the negligence claim, that Blackwell was not liable for negligence because, they said, the accident had resulted from an "act of God." On November 28, 2017, Dennis filed a response to the summary-judgment motion, arguing, with regard to the negligence claim, that "[a]n Act of God [did] not preclude [Blackwell] from his responsibility to act reasonably." Specifically, she argued, in part:

"When circumstances worsened to the point that traveling would make it too dangerous to proceed, [Blackwell] had a choice to avoid the roadways altogether. However, he chose instead to continue his trip back to his home precinct. He failed to check underneath his vehicle prior to putting [the vehicle] in gear and did not notice that the icy conditions had worsened. He was aware of the worsening conditions and simply did not do enough to ensure it was safe for him to attempt to drive down the [steep] terrain of this particular roadway."

         On November 30, 2017, the trial court entered a summary judgment as to fewer than all the claims. The trial court subsequently entered a summary judgment on February 12, 2018, disposing of the remaining claims, including the negligence claim. The trial court specifically found that "Blackwell's actions [did] not constitute a breach in his duty of care owed to ... Dennis."

         On March 26, 2018, Dennis filed her notice of appeal to this court. On May 2, 2018, this court transferred the appeal to the Alabama Supreme Court for lack of appellate jurisdiction; that court transferred the appeal back to this court, pursuant to § 12-2-7, Ala. Code 1975.

         Facts

         Blackwell testified in his deposition that, on January 18, 2014, he left the North Precinct of the Birmingham Police Department around lunchtime and drove to a restaurant. He testified that the weather had been cloudy at that time. According to Blackwell, he ate lunch at the restaurant and, when he left the restaurant, it was sleeting but no ice or snow had accumulated on the roadways. He testified that he drove from the restaurant to the South Precinct of the Birmingham Police Department to visit with other officers and that, upon completion of that meeting, he left that precinct en route back to the North Precinct. Blackwell testified that, at that time, it had just started snowing and "freezing up," but, he said, he had felt like it was safe to drive and that he had not had any concerns about driving on the roadways at that point.

         Blackwell testified that, when en route to the North Precinct, he had encountered a citizen whose vehicle was stuck; according to Blackwell, he stopped his vehicle, parked it on the roadway in the middle of a hill, and exited the vehicle to assist the citizen. He testified that, after assisting the citizen for approximately 5 to 10 minutes, the roadways were collecting with ice and snow. He testified that he reentered his vehicle and put the vehicle into gear, at which time, he said, his vehicle began to slide. According to Blackwell, his vehicle slid, striking the vehicle of the citizen that he had assisted, which caused that vehicle to strike another vehicle, and then, he said, his vehicle collided with Dennis's vehicle, which was parked on the side of the roadway. According to Blackwell, a sheet of ice had formed under his vehicle while he had been assisting the citizen whose vehicle had been stuck. Blackwell testified that, after the incident report was completed on the scene of the accident, he had driven away without incident.

         Dennis testified in her deposition that she had driven her vehicle down a steep hill and, that, while driving, she had noticed that the road was a little icy. She testified that she found a place to park her vehicle, that she parked her vehicle, and that she then put her head down to pray. According to Dennis, while she was praying, Blackwell's vehicle struck her vehicle.

         Standard ...


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