Notice: This opinion is subject to formal revision before publication in the advance
sheets of Southern Reporter. Readers are requested to notify the Reporter of Decisions,
Alabama Appellate Courts, 300 Dexter Avenue, Montgomery, Alabama 36104-3741 ((334)
229-0649), of any typographical or other errors, in order that corrections may be made
before the opinion is printed in Southern Reporter.
ALABAMA COURT OF CIVIL APPEALS
SPECIAL TERM, 2009
Al Joseph Felder, Sr.
Richard Allen, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of
Corrections, et al.
Appeal from Montgomery Circuit Court
Al Joseph Felder, Sr., was convicted of a drug-related
offense in case number CC-90-92.
In 1996, the Montgomery
Circuit Court entered a judgment vacating Felder's conviction
in case number CC-90-92.
Felder was incarcerated in federal
prison until January 20, 2005, at which time the State of
petition based on the sentences imposed in case number CC-9092, took custody of Felder and incarcerated him in a state
See Felder v. State, 943 So. 2d 802 (Ala. Crim. App.
2006). Felder objected to his incarceration because, as noted
earlier, his conviction in case number CC-90-92 had been
vacated in 1996.
Felder filed a petition for the writ of habeas corpus in
incarcerated in a state prison.
Felder, 943 So. 2d at 802.
petition, and Felder appealed that dismissal to the Court of
Criminal Appeals. Id. The Court of Criminal Appeals remanded
the action to the Escambia Circuit Court for it to hold a
hearing on the merits of Felder's petition. Id. The Escambia
Circuit Court held the required hearing, at which the Alabama
Department of Corrections ("DOC") conceded that the Montgomery
Circuit Court's 1996 judgment had vacated the conviction in
case number CC-90-92; upon return to remand, the Court of
Criminal Appeals, in an unpublished memorandum issued on May
12, 2006, dismissed Felder's appeal because the Escambia
Circuit Court had granted his petition for the writ of habeas
See note from the report of decisions, Felder, 943
So. 2d at 803.
Felder was released from state prison on June
1, 2006, after having been unlawfully incarcerated for nearly
In May 2008, Felder filed an action in the Montgomery
Circuit Court ("the trial court"), pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
1983, against Richard Allen, the Commissioner of DOC; Donal
Campbell, the former Commissioner of DOC; Renee Barker, an
employee in the central records division of DOC; Katrina
Atkins, an employee in the central records division of DOC;
Betty Teague, the former director of the central record
division of DOC; Jerry Farrell, the former warden of Fountain
Correctional Facility; Debra Hackett, the former circuit clerk
of Montgomery County; and Melissa Rittenour, the present
circuit clerk of Montgomery County.
In his complaint, Felder
alleged, generally, that the defendants had violated his
constitutional rights by incarcerating him in a state prison
without a valid conviction.
In his complaint, Felder alleged
that Allen and Campbell "knew or should have known" of the
illegality of his confinement; regarding all other defendants,
Felder alleged that they "were informed" or had notice of the
illegality of Felder's confinement.
Felder alleged that his
Thirteenth and the Fourteenth Amendments to the United States
Constitution. Felder later amended his complaint to add Kathy
Holt, another employee of the central records division of DOC,
as a defendant.
Although Campbell, Atkins, and Teague were not served,
the Attorney General filed a motion to dismiss Felder's
complaint on behalf of all defendants except Campbell.
that motion, the Attorney General alleged that the defendants,
insofar as they were sued in their official capacities, were
entitled to immunity under the Eleventh Amendment of the
United States Constitution and that, insofar as they were sued
in their individual capacities, Felder's "claims ... cannot be
maintained for failure to release the plaintiff from prison or
failure to tell someone else to release him from prison, prior
to the appellate court ruling issued on May 12, 2006."
later filed an answer on behalf of Allen, Ferrell, Barker, and
Holt (hereinafter "the DOC defendants"); in that answer, DOC
asserted that Felder's complaint was due to be dismissed for
failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted
and specifically claimed that the DOC defendants were entitled
to sovereign immunity and/or qualified immunity.
After a hearing, the trial court entered a judgment
judgment, in its entirety, reads:
"The above-styled matter comes before the Court on
submissions of [the] Parties, the Court finds that
the MOTION is due to be and is hereby GRANTED.
Although there was some debasement of Felder's
rights, the Court finds that the Defendants named in
this suit are protected by sovereign, qualified, and
state agent immunity, and there is no means by which
to compensate Felder for said debasement of rights.
Therefore it is hereby ORDERED that the matter is
hereby DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE."
(Capitalization in original.)
Felder appealed the dismissal
transferred the appeal to this court, pursuant to Ala. Code
1975, § 12-2-7(6).
"'When the sufficiency of a complaint is at
issue, this Court will liberally construe
the complaint in favor of stating a claim
12(b)(6)[, Ala. R. Civ. P.,] should be
granted sparingly, and such a dismissal is
proper only when it appears beyond a doubt
that the plaintiff can prove no set of
facts in support of the claim which would
entitle him or her to relief." Garrett v.
Hadden, 495 So. 2d 616, 617 (Ala. 1986).
"'"Where a [Rule] 12(b)(6) motion has been
granted and this Court is called upon to
review the dismissal of the complaint, we
must examine the allegations contained
therein and construe them so as to resolve
all doubts concerning the sufficiency of
the complaint in favor of the plaintiff."'"
Boswell v. Liberty Nat'l Life Ins. Co., 643
So. 2d 580, 581 (Ala. 1994), quoting Grant
v. Butler, 590 So. 2d 254, 255 (Ala. 1991),
quoting in turn Greene County Bd. of Educ.
v. Bailey, 586 So. 2d 893, 897-98 (Ala.
"'"Unless it appears beyond reasonable
doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set
of facts in support of his claim that would
entitle him to relief under some cognizable
theory of law, the court should not grant
a motion to dismiss a complaint." American
Auto. Ins. Co. v. McDonald, 812 So. 2d 309,
311 (Ala. 2001), citing Rice v. United Ins.
Co. of America, 465 So. 2d 1100 (Ala.
1984). In our review, we need not determine
"whether the plaintiff will ultimately
prevail, only whether he has stated a claim
on which he may possibly prevail." Fontenot
v. Bramlett, 470 So. 2d 669, 671 (Ala.
McCammon v. Youngblood, 853 So. 2d 249, 251 (Ala. Civ. App.
2002) (quoting Radenhausen v. Doss, 819 So. 2d 616, 619-20
Felder does not appear to challenge the trial court's
dismissal insofar as it applied to claims asserted against the
defendants in their official capacities.1
It is well settled
that "'[t]he State of Alabama, its agencies, and its officials
"persons" for purposes of an action for damages under 42
U.S.C. § 1983.'"
King v. Correctional Med. Servs., Inc., 919
So. 2d 1186, 1191 (Ala. Civ. App. 2005) (quoting State Dep't
of Pub. Safety v. Sexton, 748 So. 2d 200, 216 (Ala. Civ. App.
1998) (citing in turn Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 27 (1991)));
see Will v. Michigan Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 66
(1989) (holding that a state is not a "person" under § 1983
and therefore that a § 1983 action brought in state court
could not be maintained against a state), and Quern v. Jordan,
440 U.S. 332 (1979) (holding in a § 1983 action brought in
federal court that § 1983 does not override Eleventh Amendment
Insofar as the judgment dismissed the claims
against the defendants in their official capacities, the
Felder argues on appeal that the trial court erred in
dismissing Allen and Rittenour, who were successors to
Campbell and Hackett, respectively, and who, therefore, he
argues, were properly made parties pursuant to Rule 25(d)(1),
Ala. R. Civ. P. However, because the trial court dismissed
all the defendants on the basis of immunity, we will not
address Felder's successor-party argument.
judgment is affirmed.
Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982), the defendants were not
entitled to qualified immunity because the conduct of the
constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have
"'While the defense of qualified immunity
is typically addressed at the summary
judgment stage of a case, it may be, as it
was in this case, raised and considered on
a motion to dismiss. See Chesser v. Sparks,
248 F.3d 1117, 1121 (11th Cir. 2001). The
motion to dismiss will be granted if the
"complaint fails to allege the violation of
right." Id. (citing Williams v. Ala. State
Univ., 102 F.3d 1179, 1182 (11th Cir.
1997)). Whether the complaint alleges such
a violation is a question of law that we
review de novo, accepting the facts alleged
in the complaint as true and drawing all
reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's
Ex parte Alabama Dep't of Youth Servs., 880 So. 2d 393, 402-03
Felder makes no argument on appeal concerning the trial
court's reliance on the State-agent-immunity doctrine, and no
party advanced State-agent immunity as a basis for the
dismissal. Because State-agent immunity is not applicable to
a § 1983 action, see King v. Correctional Med. Servs., 919 So.
2d at 1191, the trial court's reference to it must have been
(Ala. 2003) (quoting St. George v. Pinellas County, 285 F.3d
1334, 1337 (11th Cir. 2002)) (emphasis omitted).
determine, then, whether Felder's complaint meets the abovestated requirement that it allege a violation of a clearly
established constitutional right.
Felder alleged in his complaint and argues on appeal that
Our first inquiry is "whether 'the applicable
law was clearly established at the time of the challenged
Felder has not cited any authority recognizing that a
clearly established constitutional right to be free from
confinement under a vacated conviction arises under the
Thirteenth Amendment. But see Pahk v. Hawaii, 109 F. Supp. 2d
1262 (D. Haw. 2000) (denying qualified immunity to officials
who had discharged the plaintiff from probation but had
subsequently rescinded his discharge without due process while
considering a plaintiff's claim under § 1983 alleging a
violation of the Thirteenth Amendment right to be free from
involuntary servitude). As noted in the text, infra, Felder's
claim is essentially a claim of false imprisonment, and it is
typically analyzed, for purposes of a § 1983 claim, under the
Fourteenth Amendment. However, some federal circuits consider
such claims under the Eighth Amendment. See, e.g., Moore v.
Tartler, 986 F.2d 682 (3d Cir. 1993); Haygood v. Younger, 769
F.2d 1350 (9th Cir. 1985). Because the caselaw supports a
conclusion that Felder had a clearly established right to be
free from confinement under the vacated conviction under the
Fourteenth Amendment, as will be explained infra, we will not
consider whether Felder's confinement was a violation of his
rights under the Thirteenth Amendment.
action.'" Ex parte Hale, 6 So. 3d 452, 459 (Ala. 2008)
(quoting Adams v. Franklin, 111 F. Supp. 2d 1255, 1263-64
(M.D. Ala. 2000)).
However, federal courts have held that
allegations of false imprisonment, such as Felder's accusation
that he was confined based on a vacated conviction can be a
violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. See Davis v. Hall, 375
F.3d 703 (8th Cir. 2004); Slone v. Herman, 983 F.2d 107 (8th
Cir. 1993); Cannon v. Macon County, 1 F.3d 1558 (11th Cir.
1993); and Douthit v. Jones, 619 F.2d 527 (5th Cir. 1980).
Thus, we conclude that the right to be free of the conduct
that Felder alleged in his complaint –- confinement under a
vacated conviction –- is a clearly established constitutional
We must now turn to whether the specific conduct that
Felder alleges each defendant committed would, in fact, amount
Ex parte Hale, 6 So. 3d at 459
(quoting Ex parte Alabama Dep't of Youth Servs., 880 So. 2d at
402 (quoting in turn St. George, 285 F.3d at 1337 (quoting in
2001)))) (emphasis added).
1121 (11th Cir.
To determine whether Felder has
sufficiently alleged claims against each defendant, we must
consider the allegations raised in the complaint and we must
"'accept the facts alleged in the complaint as true and
draw all reasonable inferences in [Felder's] favor.'" Ex
parte Hale, 6 So. 3d at 459 (quoting Ex parte Alabama Dep't of
Youth Servs., 880 So. 2d at 403). Felder alleged specifically
that Barker, Holt, Hackett, and Rittenour were all informed of
Felder's illegal confinement but failed to "resolve" it.
Felder alleged specifically that Farrell "was put on notice
that [Felder] was being illegally detain[ed] due [to the]
March 7, 1996[, judgment vacating the conviction in case
number CC-90-92], but failed to resolve this illegal act."
Regarding Allen, Felder alleged that he "knew or should have
known that a valid and uncontested court order shall be
enforce[d] according to the law, but he failed to resolve
complaint that "each of the defendants were giv[en] notice
amendment rights (DUE PROCESS AND EQUAL PROTECTION CLAUSE)"
and that "each defendant in this said cause had authority to
correct this illegal activity (false conviction) or report
this illegal activity to someone in authority higher than
them, but each failed to do so, upon notice of service,
depriv[ing] [Felder] of his liberty interest, in violation of
his constitution rights due to [the] incarcerat[ion] [of
Felder] without jurisdiction of the court and probable cause."
(Capitalization in original.)
Felder further alleged that he
"show[ed] on numerous of occasion [sic] to defendants that the
conviction that the defendants reference as basis of their
fugitive warrant is a case that was ruled on by Montgomery
Circuit Court ... granting [Felder's] relief on March 1, 1996
(all charges and sentences vacated)."
Felder's allegations, when accepted as true, as they must
be on our review of the dismissal of his complaint, ex parte
Alabama Dep't of Youth Servs., 880 So. 2d at 403, establish
that the defendants incarcerated Felder based on a vacated
conviction depriving Felder of his liberty without due process
of law. Felder alleged that each defendant, other than Allen,
"was informed" or "was put on notice" of his claim of illegal
confinement and of the 1996 judgment vacating the conviction
in case number CC-90-92. Regarding Allen, Felder alleged that
he knew or should have known of the illegality of Felder's
confinement; however, in Felder's more general allegations,
Felder indicated that the basis of each defendant's knowledge
of Felder's illegal confinement was actual notice of the 1996
judgment vacating his conviction.
At this stage of the proceedings, we cannot agree with
the trial court that the defendants have proven entitlement to
Felder's allegations, when accepted as
true, indicate that the defendants all had notice of the 1996
judgment vacating the conviction in case number CC-90-92 and
that, despite knowledge of that judgment, did nothing to
determine whether, in fact, Felder's continued confinement was
Because Felder has alleged the violation of a clearly
established constitutional right, the trial court's dismissal
individual capacities was error.
We therefore reverse the
trial court's judgment dismissing Felder's complaint insofar
as it alleges a § 1983 claim against each defendant in their
individual capacity, and we remand the cause for further
AFFIRMED IN PART; REVERSED IN PART; AND REMANDED.
Thompson, P.J., and Pittman, Bryan, and Moore, JJ.,