United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division
GLENDA LOCKHART and STRAIGHTLINE DRYWALL & ACOUSTICAL, LLC, Plaintiffs,
ANA FRANKLIN, ROBERT WILSON, BLAKE ROBINSON, and JUSTIN POWELL, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
MADELINE HUGHES HAIKALA UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
to Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure, defendants Robert Wilson and Blake Robinson have
asked the Court to dismiss from the plaintiffs' third
amended complaint the state law claims against them. (Doc.
107). Mr. Wilson and Mr. Robinson are deputy sheriffs in
Morgan County, Alabama. (Doc. 79, ¶¶ 4, 5). As
such, they contend that they “have absolute immunity
from suits for damages based upon their official acts.”
(Doc. 107, ¶ 3).
Rule 12(b)(1), a district court must dismiss a claim over
which it lacks subject matter jurisdiction. Rule 12(b)(6)
enables a defendant to move to dismiss a complaint for
“failure to state a claim upon which relief can be
granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Pursuant to Rule
8(a)(2), a complaint must contain, “a short and plain
statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled
to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). “Generally, to
survive a [Rule 12(b)(6)] motion to dismiss and meet the
requirement of Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), a complaint need not
contain ‘detailed factual allegations,' but rather
‘only enough facts to state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face.'” Maledy v. City of
Enterprise, 2012 WL 1028176, at *1 (M.D. Ala. Mar. 26,
2012) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S.
544, 555, 570 (2007)). “Specific facts are not
necessary; the statement need only ‘give the defendant
fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon
which it rests.'” Erickson v. Pardus, 551
U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at
555). In deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a
district court must view the allegations in a complaint in
the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Watts
v. Fla. Int'l Univ., 495 F.3d 1289, 1295 (11th Cir.
2007). A district court must accept well-pled facts as true.
Grossman v. Nationsbank, N.A., 225 F.3d
1228, 1231 (11th Cir. 2000).
Article I, § 14 of the Alabama Constitution, an Alabama
sheriff is immune from state law claims for damages when the
conduct that forms the basis of the state law claims was
“performed within the course and scope of the
officer's employment.” Ex parte Davis, 930
So.2d 497, 500-01 (Ala. 2005). A sheriff is not immune from
state law claims based on conduct that is outside of the
“course and scope” of the sheriff's
employment, such as conduct “undertaken for some
personal motive to further some personal interest and not as
a part of [her] duties.” Davis, 930 So.2d at
501. Under Alabama law, the same rules apply to deputy
sheriffs. Tinney v. Shores, 77 F.3d 378, 388 (11th
Cir. 1996). Accepting the allegations of the plaintiffs'
complaint as true, the plaintiffs' state law claims
against Deputy Sheriff Wilson and Deputy Sheriff Robinson are
based on conduct “undertaken for some personal motive
to further some personal interest” and not as a part of
the defendants' official duties. Davis, 930
So.2d at 501.
plaintiffs have sued Deputy Sheriffs Wilson and Robinson in
their individual capacities. (Doc. 79, ¶¶ 5, 6).
The plaintiffs allege that plaintiff Glenda Lockhart
regularly blogged about “public corruption by employees
of the Morgan County Sheriff's Department, ” and
each defendant has “been the subject of multiple blog
posts, ” including posts about Sheriff Ana
Franklin's and Deputy Sheriff Robinson's
“involvement in and corruption related to Priceville
Partners.” (Doc. 79, ¶¶ 10, 12,
The plaintiffs contend that Sheriff Franklin “wanted
[Ms. Lockhart's] Whistleblower Blog shut down, ”
and Sheriff Franklin wanted to arrest Ms. Lockhart. (Doc. 79,
¶ 24). The plaintiffs allege that Sheriff Franklin,
working with Deputy Sheriff Wilson and Deputy Sheriff
Robinson, embarked upon a campaign to develop information
that would give Sheriff Franklin the means to arrest Ms.
Lockhart and silence the Whistleblower Blog. That campaign
allegedly involved intimidation, bribery, and other
misconduct. (Doc. 79, pp. 21-28).
efforts by Sheriff Franklin, Deputy Sheriff Robinson, and
Deputy Sheriff Wilson purportedly culminated in a warrant
request for plaintiff Straightline's office; the warrant
application allegedly contained fraudulent information based
on a “false and misleading affidavit” that Deputy
Sheriff Robinson executed. (Doc. 79, ¶¶ 62-63, 68).
Pursuant to that warrant, Sheriff Franklin and the other
defendants purportedly seized every computer and electronic
device at Straightline and later returned many of the devices
in a damaged or inoperable condition. (Doc. 79, ¶¶
69, 72). Moreover, according to the plaintiffs, Sheriff
Franklin and the other defendants did not return many of the
devices that the defendants seized. (Doc. 79, ¶ 73).
plaintiffs allege that Sheriff Franklin and her co-defendants
acted “in an effort to suppress and retaliate against
Lockhart's lawful speech made in the Whistleblower Blog.
The Defendants' actions were made willfully, maliciously,
fraudulently, in bad faith, beyond their respective
authority, or under a mistaken interpretation of the
law.” (Doc. 79, ¶ 79). The plaintiffs include
additional factual allegations in their third amended
complaint, but the allegations summarized here are enough to
address the motion to dismiss that Deputy Sheriff Robinson
and Deputy Sheriff Wilson filed.
deputies have cited no authority for the proposition that a
deputy sheriff acts within the line and scope of his
employment when he engages in bribery, intimidation, and
other misconduct to silence a private citizen who has been
publicly critical of the sheriff and her deputies. The Court
is aware of no such authority. See generally Cooper v.
Smith, 2013 WL 252382 (M.D. Ala. 2013). Accepting the
allegations of the third amended complaint as true, at this
phase of the litigation, neither Deputy Sheriff Robinson nor
Deputy Sheriff Wilson can establish that he is entitled to
absolute immunity from the plaintiffs' state law claims
for damages. Therefore, the Court denies the motion to
dismiss that Deputy Sheriff Robinson and Deputy Sheriff
 The blog posts described in the
third-amended complaint repeatedly mention Sheriff Franklin,
Deputy Sheriff Robinson, and Deputy Sheriff Wilson. (Doc. 79,
pp. 5-20). For example, the August 17, 2016 blog post
mentions all ...