from Calhoun Circuit Court (CV-17-900555)
Heining and his son, Tyler Heining, appeal from a summary
judgment entered by the Calhoun Circuit Court in favor of
Robert J. Dean, Jr., Public Works Director of the City of
Anniston, and Darryl Abernathy, a supervisor in the Public
Works Department, in the Heinings' action seeking damages
for false arrest, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution,
and conspiracy. We affirm.
and Procedural History
evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the Heining
as the nonmovants for a summary judgment, reveals the
following relevant facts: In June or July 2012, Ronald
Heining discovered a sealed envelope that had been slipped
underneath the door at his place of employment, B&T
Supplies, which was owned by Ronald's son Tyler; B&T
at the time sold janitorial supplies to the City of Anniston
("the City"). Ronald was the contact person for
those sales. The envelope stated on the outside "Deliver
Ben Little" and contained two or three pages of ethical
violations allegedly committed by several employees of the
Public Works Department, including Dean and Abernathy. Little
was a councilman for the City. After reviewing the contents
of the envelope, Ronald took the envelope and its contents to
Councilman Little, who he claimed he did not know. Ronald and
Councilman Little, in turn, took the information to Don Hoyt,
the city manager, who conducted an extensive investigation
into the alleged ethical violations.
Councilman Little presented the allegations of ethical
violations at a city-council meeting. Ronald Heining was
present at that council meeting, during which he sat next to
James Fluker, an employee in the Public Works Department. At
that meeting, Fluker confided in Ronald that he had put
"coolant seal" belonging to the City on the truck
Abernathy used for his personal business. After the council
meeting concluded, Ronald introduced Fluker to Councilman
Little as "the guy that put coolant seal" on
Abernathy's truck. Apparently, at that time, Councilman
Little ordered Fluker to obtain from Abernathy's office a
copy of a surveillance video allegedly depicting the theft of
two city-owned utility trailers. Fluker informed Abernathy of
Councilman Little's instructions; because Abernathy
thought that stealing a surveillance video would violate the
City's council-manager act and would also constitute
theft, this information was provided to the Anniston Police
Department and was investigated by Lt. Allen George, an
investigator with the department. Lt. George monitored a
telephone call from Fluker to Councilman Little, which
confirmed Councilman Little's instruction to Fluker to
obtain the surveillance video. Subsequently, Councilman
Little was arrested and was charged with violating the
City's council-manager act; Fluker was a witness in that
after Councilman Little's arrest, Fluker told Abernathy
that Ronald Heining had tried to bribe him not to testify
against Councilman Little. Abernathy telephoned Lt. George
and reported that conversation. The next day, Abernathy
accompanied Fluker to the police department to report the
bribery and witness-intimidation allegations.
August 24, 2012, the Heinings were arrested for attempting to
bribe and intimidate Fluker. The details of the alleged
bribery and intimidation are set forth in the Alabama Uniform
Incident/Offense Report, prepared by Lt. George and dated
August 23, 2012:
"Fluker ... is a witness in a case against Councilman
Benjamin Little .... For the last several weeks, he has
received threats by phone ... and was followed for an
extended period of time on August 14, 2012 by Ronald Heining.
Fluker feels that all of these actions are because of him
coming forward against Councilman Little.
"On August 18, 2012, at approximately 7pm, Fluker and
his wife Amy Fluker drove to Scott's Grocery ... to
purchase fuel. While they were at the fuel pumps ... Ronald
Heining and a [white male] Fluker believed to be [Ronald]
Heining's son pulled up in a small black SUV (4 Door).
Fluker said that the [white male] with Ronald Heining stated
'I have $1, 000 cash if you don't go to trial with
Ben Little and keep your mouth shut.' Fluker said that
the [white male] held up what appeared to be a roll of $100
bills. Fluker said to his wife 'something is fishy about
this, this is a set up.' He said that Ronald Heining kept
saying 'Take the money; you know you need the money, just
take it.' Fluker said that Ronald told him, 'I will
be at Ben Little's trial and will be on his side and
testify about all of this crap.' He said that Ronald
Heining then got into his vehicle and left the parking lot at
a high rate of speed like he was mad.
"On August 23, 2012, I met with Mr. Fluker and showed
him six separate photos in a stapled packet that contained a
photo of Tyler Heining and five other similar white males.
Mr. Fluker identified photo number four as being the
individual that offered him the money to not testify. Photo
number four is a photo of Tyler Heining. ...
"At approximately 4pm, I met with Amy Fluker and asked
her what she had observed. She stated that she and [Mr.
Fluker] were at the fuel pumps at Scott's grocery when a
small black SUV pulled up beside them. She said that the
driver exited the vehicle and she saw the passenger holding
up a roll of money. She said that she heard the driver who
she believed was Ronald Heining, offering [Mr. Fluker] money.
She said that she asked [Mr. Fluker] why he was offering him
money and when he told her, she said that she told [Mr.
Fluker] 'you better not take that money.' [Mrs.
Fluker] said that after a few minutes, the vehicle sped away.
Mrs. Fluker stated that at some point, the vehicle ended up
behind them and began following them for a short distance
before turning off. I asked Mrs. Fluker if she ever saw the
individual holding up the money and she said that she
couldn't see them real well. I showed Mrs. Fluker a photo
packet containing the same photos that I showed Mr. Fluker,
but in a different order. Mrs. Fluker was unable to identify
the suspect from the array, saying that she didn't get a
good enough look to be able to identify them.
"Mr. Fluker will come to [the Anniston Police
Department] on August 24, 2012, to be escorted to the
District Attorney's office to seek warrants."
bribery and witness-intimidation charges against the Heinings
were ultimately nolle prossed. The Heinings, thereafter, sued
Dean and Abernathy, asserting claims of false arrest, false
imprisonment, malicious prosecution, and
conspiracy. The complaint essentially alleges that
Dean and Abernathy "fabricated a story for Fluker to
tell police[, i.e., ] that Ronald and Tyler Heining attempted
to bribe and influence Fluker into not testifying in an
ethics case against [Councilman Little]." Dean and
Abernathy moved for a summary judgment pursuant to Rule
56(c), Ala. R. Civ. P., denying that they had taken any
action to falsely accuse the Heinings of a crime and
contending that, in any event, Lt. George's independent
investigation into Fluker's allegations insulated them
from liability. After conducting two hearings and allowing
the Heinings to produce supplemental information, the trial
court entered a summary judgment in favor of Dean and
Abernathy, concluding, as a matter of law, that Lt.
George's investigation into the allegations of bribery
and witness-intimidation established probable cause to
support the Heinings' arrests. The Heinings filed a
motion to alter, amend, or vacate that judgment, which the
trial court denied. This appeal followed.
"This Court's review of a summary judgment is de
novo. Williams v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co.,
886 So.2d 72, 74 (Ala. 2003). We apply the same standard of
review as the trial court applied. Specifically, we must
determine whether the movant has made a prima facie showing
that no genuine issue of material fact exists and that the
movant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Rule
56(c), Ala. R. Civ. P.; Blue Cross & Blue Shield of
Alabama v. Hodurski, 899 So.2d 949, 952-53 (Ala. 2004).
In making such a determination, we must review the evidence
in the light most favorable to the nonmovant. Wilson v.
Brown, 496 So.2d 756, 758 (Ala. 1986). Once the movant
makes a prima facie showing that there is no genuine issue of
material fact, the burden then shifts to the nonmovant to
produce 'substantial evidence' as to the existence of
a genuine issue of material fact. Bass v. SouthTrust Bank
of Baldwin County, 538 So.2d 794, 797-98 (Ala. 1989);
Ala. Code 1975, § 12-21-12. '[S]ubstantial evidence