Plaintiffs, minor female children in the custody of Alabama’s Department of Youth Services (“DYS”), brought an action against DYS and its executive director, in which they alleged that the defendants failed to adequately respond to “a sexually hostile education environment” and sexual abuse and harassment. The plaintiffs brought federal claims under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. § 1681, et seq. (“Title IX”) and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (“§ 1983”), and state-law claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent hiring and supervision of employees, and intentional misrepresentation. The trial court denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss the claims based on various immunity arguments. The defendants filed a petition for writ of mandamus directing the Alabama Supreme Court to dismiss the complaint. In ruling on the defendants’ petition, the Alabama Supreme Court considered each claim for immunity. First, the Alabama Supreme Court held that DYS was not entitled to sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment for claims brought under Title IX. Second, the Alabama Supreme Court found that the executive director was not entitled to federal qualified immunity for the § 1983 because the complaint alleged that he had notice of the sexual harassment and abuse yet failed to protect the plaintiffs from further harm. Finally, the Alabama Supreme Court considered the sovereign immunity provision of the Alabama constitution and found that dismissal of the plaintiffs’ state-law claims against the executive director in his official capacity was proper. Nonetheless, the Alabama Supreme Court found that the doctrine of state-agent immunity did not warrant dismissal of the plaintiffs’ state-law claims against the executive director in his individual capacity.
Women and Justice: Court: Alabama Supreme Court
Ex Parte Alabama Department of Youth Services Alabama Supreme Court (2003)
N.C. v. Caldwell Alabama Supreme Court (2011)
N.C., a minor, filed a personal injury action against her physical education teacher, her school principal, and the Tallapoosa County Board of Education. N.C. alleged that after her seventh grade physical education class, she was pulled into the boys’ locker room and raped by A.H., a 12th grade student whom her teacher, Caldwell, had appointed as a teacher’s aide. N.C.’s complaint alleged that Caldwell had actual knowledge that A.H. was sexually harassing students and had negligently or wantonly supervised N.C. and the other students in her class. Caldwell, the principal, and the Board filed motions for summary judgment, arguing that N.C.’s claims were barred by the doctrine of state-agent immunity. N.C. opposed entry of summary judgment against only Caldwell. The trial court reasoned that the Alabama Supreme Court “has been particularly reluctant to hold an educator responsible for sexual misconduct by another” and granted summary judgment in favor of Caldwell based on stage-agent immunity. On appeal, the Alabama Supreme Court considered an exception to state-agent immunity: “a State agent shall not be immune from civil liability in his or her personal capacity . . . when the State acts willfully, maliciously, fraudulently, in bad faith, beyond his or her authority, or under a mistaken interpretation of the law.” The Alabama Supreme Court found that Caldwell was exercising judgment in the discharge of his duty to supervise students at the time of the rape, which occurred after the dismissal bell had rung. Nonetheless, the Alabama Supreme Court held that there was a genuine issue of material fact as to (i) whether Caldwell actually appointed A.H. as a student aide, and, if so, whether he acted beyond his authority in doing so, and (ii) whether Caldwell ignored and failed to report allegations of sexual harassment from other female students about A.H.. The Alabama Supreme Court also found that there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Caldwell was aware that A.H. was sexually harassing other female students and, if so, whether he failed to respond to the allegations. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded that these issues of material fact precluded summary judgment and accordingly reversed the trial court.
N.C. v. P.R. Caldwell Alabama Supreme Court (2011)