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, defendant Ana Franklin has asked the Court to
dismiss from the plaintiffs' third amended complaint the
state law claims against her. (Doc. 97). Ms. Franklin is the
sheriff of Morgan County, Alabama. As such, she contends that
she is “absolutely immune from suits for
damages” based upon her official acts by virtue of her
position as an executive officer of the State of Alabama.
(Doc. 97, p. 2) (emphasis in motion).
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. Nati .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. Accepting the allegations of the plaintiffs'
complaint as true, the plaintiffs' state law claims
against Sheriff Franklin are based on conduct
“undertaken for some personal motive to further some
personal interest” and not as a part of Sheriff
Franklin's official duties. Davis, 930 So.2d at
plaintiffs have sued Sheriff Franklin in her individual
capacity. (Doc. 79, ¶ 3). The plaintiffs allege that
plaintiff Glenda Lockhart regularly blogged about Sheriff
Franklin's involvement in purported public corruption.
(Doc. 79, ¶¶ 10, 19). 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 some of
her deputy sheriffs, 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).
Franklin's effort purportedly culminated in a warrant
request for plaintiff Straightline's office; the warrant
application allegedly contained fraudulent information. (Doc.
79, ¶ 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 Sheriff Franklin's motion to dismiss.
Franklin has cited no authority for the proposition that a
sheriff acts within the line and scope of her employment when
she engages in bribery, intimidation, and other misconduct to
silence a private citizen who has been publicly critical of
the sheriff. 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, the Court finds that Sheriff Franklin
cannot establish at this phase of the litigation that she is
entitled to absolute immunity from the plaintiffs' state
law claims for damages. Therefore, the Court denies Sheriff
Franklin's motion to dismiss.