Ex parte Susan Runnels.Annotate this Case
Susan Runnels petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the trial court to enter a summary judgment in her favor of a spoliation-of-evidence claim asserted against her by Amir Fooladi, as father and next friend of Malia Fooladi ("Malia"), was barred by the defense of State-agent immunity. This case arose from an incident in which Malia, a four-year-old student in the prekindergarten program at Elsanor Elementary School, was injured while playing on playground equipment located at the school. Runnels was the principal of the school, operated by the Baldwin County Board of Education. In February 2016, an attorney retained by Malia's family sent a letter to the Board advising it of Malia's injuries and requesting that it preserve the glider. Runnels received a copy of a response letter sent by an attorney for the Board agreeing that the glider would be stored for an indefinite period and that the Board would provide advance notification before disposing of the glider. In response to those requests, Runnels asked the head custodian at the school to put the glider into storage on school grounds, and the head custodian moved the glider into the boiler room of the school. At some point between February 2016 and March 2018, a new custodial assistant at the school removed the glider from the boiler room and placed the glider in the trash. Fooladi alleged Runnels had been negligent and wanton: (1) in failing to ensure that the glider was appropriate for use on a school playground; (2) in failing to ensure that the glider would be safe for children to play on; (3) in failing to maintain the glider in proper working order; and (4) in failing to inspect the glider for defects. Fooladi further alleged that, by permitting the disposal of the glider, Runnels had spoliated evidence, and that spoliation severely impacted Fooladi's ability to prove the product-liability claims asserted against the manufacturer of the glider. Because Fooladi presented no arguments or evidence regarding Runnels's entitlement to State-agent immunity with respect to the spoliation-of-evidence claim, the Supreme Court concluded Fooladi failed to carry his burden of either raising a genuine issue of material fact as to Runnels's entitlement to State-agent immunity or showing that one of the exceptions to State-agent immunity applied in this case. Runnels' petition was granted and the trial court directed to enter an order granting her motion for summary judgment.