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Alabama Sheriff Made Party on Counterclaim Alleging Prisoners Subjected to Sexual Abuse

The Alabama Supreme Court has held that a third party to a lawsuit may be made a party when a counterclaim is filed. The Court also held a sheriff named as a defendant was not entitled to qualified immunity on a federal claim in her individual capacity, but was entitled to immunity on a federal official capacity claim and state law claims.

The case involved a lawsuit filed by Scott Cotney, an administrator at the Clay County Jail, against former jail guard Phillip E. Green and prisoners Anthony Haywood and Daniel Hall, alleging defamation, slander, libel, invasion of privacy, negligence and wantonness. The claims resulted from a report filed by Green, Haywood and Hall with the Alabama Department of Corrections, claiming that Cotney had used his position to sexually abuse or assault Haywood and Hall while they were held at the jail.

Haywood and Hall filed a counterclaim against Cotney for violations of their Fourth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. They also filed counterclaims against the Clay County Commission and Sheriff Dorothy “Jean Dot” Alexander, in her official and individual capacities. They alleged Alexander “had knowledge of [Cotney’s] unlawful acts ... and permitted the abuse to occur,” and made the same claims against her as those against Cotney in addition to a claim of negligent supervision.

The counterclaims against the Commission were dismissed with Hall and Haywood’s consent, and the circuit court granted Alexander’s motion to dismiss without specifying its reasons for doing so. On appeal, the Alabama Supreme Court addressed the grounds in Sheriff Alexander’s motion.

First, the Court held that Alexander could be made party to a counterclaim or cross-claim under Rules 13(h) and 20(a) of the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure, and the circuit court’s dismissal on that basis was error. Next, Haywood and Hall were convicted felons during at least part of the time the tortious conduct at the jail occurred, so dismissal of their Eighth Amendment claim also was erroneous.

The Supreme Court further found that Hall and Haywood alleged a causal connection between Sheriff Alexander and the deprivation of their Fourth Amendment rights related to strip searches, under a theory of supervisory liability; thus, she was not entitled to have the “claims against her dismissed on the basis that she cannot be held vicariously liable for the alleged violations.”

Finally, the Court addressed immunity issues, holding that Alexander was entitled to immunity under Article I § 14 of the Alabama Constitution on state law claims in her individual and official capacities. It also held she was entitled to Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity as to a federal official capacity claim.

However, Sheriff Alexander was not entitled to qualified immunity on a federal individual capacity claim at this stage of the proceedings, as Hall and Haywood had alleged sufficient facts to show her failure to act led to a violation of their rights. They also alleged the harm they suffered resulted from customs or policies attributable to Alexander.

The circuit court’s order was therefore affirmed in part and reversed in part, and the case remanded. See: Haywood v. Alexander, 121 So.3d 972 (Ala. 2013).

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