CITY OF BIRMINGHAM v. BENSON1921322.
631 So.2d 902 (1993)
CITY OF BIRMINGHAM
Frederick B. BENSON, father of Blair Benson, a deceased minor.
Frederick B. BENSON, father of Blair Benson, a deceased minor.
Supreme Court of Alabama.
December 22, 1993.
Demetrius C. Newton, Thomas Bentley III and John M. Edens, Birmingham, for appellant.
D. Leon Ashford, Scott A. Powell and Bruce J. McKee of Hare, Wynn, Newell & Newton, Birmingham, for appellee.
The City of Birmingham ("the City") appeals from a $1.6 million judgment rendered against it in an action filed by Frederick B. Benson based on the alleged wrongful death of his minor son, Blair Giles Benson ("Blair"). The City's liability is predicated upon the activities of James S. Vining, a Birmingham police officer, while he was engaged in part-time employment as a security guard at Gene's Jukebox ("the bar") in Birmingham, Alabama. Benson alleges that in the part-time employment Vining was acting as the City's agent, servant, or employee.
It was undisputed that on the night of December 14, 1990, Vining was at the bar in full police uniform, with radio, gun, nightstick, flashlight, handcuffs, and mace, and that Vining, in accordance with the rules and regulations of the Birmingham Police Department, had notified his supervisor that he was working as a security guard at the bar. It was undisputed that among minors it was common knowledge that minors could purchase alcoholic beverages at the bar; and it was undisputed that minors (16, 17, 18, and 19 years old) were being served alcoholic beverages at the bar while Vining was at the bar as a security guard. It was further undisputed that on that night of December 14, Vining was aware of growing tension in the bar between Blair and Billy Weidler.
The evidence, viewed most favorably toward the plaintiff, for whom the jury found, as it must be viewed under our standard of review (although much of this evidence is also undisputed), indicates that Blair was threatened by Weidler and that afterwards Blair asked Vining to escort him and three minors who were with Blair to their car. Vining repeatedly told them that they could not fight inside the bar. Vining escorted the four, including Blair, outside. A large crowd followed Vining out the door. As Blair and his three friends crossed 22nd Street, Vining stood on the sidewalk; Weidler asked him what he was going to do. Vining replied: "I don't care what you do, I am going back inside." At that time, a group of people (at least 15), including Weidler and Sean Brooks, chased the four and pulled Blair, who was halfway in the car, out of the car and beat him for 5 to 10 minutes. Blair was knocked down, kicked, and run over by the car in which his friends were trying to leave. Blair died; the cause of his death was "asphyxiation, shock, and cardiac arrest as complications of severe multiple blunt force trauma."
Lee Ann Self, a lieutenant in the Birmingham Police Department's Internal Affairs Division, investigated the events at the bar that led to Blair's death. Lt. Self testified that from her investigation she concluded that Vining had violated rules and regulations of the department, that he had neglected his duties, that he had failed to take appropriate action, that he could have intervened, that had he done so "things might have turned out differently," and that a reasonable police officer should have tried to stop the hostilities leading to Blair's death. Vining was fired as the result of charges brought against him for his conduct on the occasion of Blair's death.
Sometimes the Justices of this Court may not understand a particular jury's award (BMW of North America, Inc. v. Gore, [Ms. 1920324, October 29, 1993], 1993 WL 462033 (Ala.1993), or its failure to award punitive damages, Yates v. BMW of North America, Inc., [Ms. 2910714, April 2, 1993], 1993 WL 93670 (Ala.Civ.App.1993), writ quashed, [Ms. 1921062, October 29, 1993], 1993 WL 462068 (Ala.1993). Sometimes the Justices of this Court may not understand why a jury awarded the amount of punitive damages that it did award. Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. v. Sheridan,
The City raises these issues:
I. Whether the City is entitled to the defense of substantive immunity;
II. Whether Vining was an employee of the City for purposes of statutory municipal liability; and
III. Whether the criminal assault by Weidler and Brooks was an intervening and superseding cause of Blair's death.
The City asks this Court "to uphold the settled law of Alabama that police officers and municipalities employing them may not be held liable for failing to prevent private acts of violence." (Appellant's brief, p. 9.) The City insists that substantive immunity (Rich v. City of Mobile,
In Rich v. City of Mobile, this Court created the defense of substantive immunity:
410 So.2d at 387-88. (Emphasis added.)
In Calogrides v. City of Mobile,
We have considered the New Jersey and New York cases cited by the City, but they do not persuade us that we should broaden our umbrella of substantive immunity. The New Jersey cases appear to have been decided upon the basis of a very specific New Jersey statute; Alabama has no similar statute. (Pico v. State,
The City also maintains that Vining was not acting as its agent and, therefore, that it could not be held liable for his actions or his inaction. Ala.Code 1975, § 11-47-190, provides:
Thus, the issue becomes whether, under the facts of this case, Vining, an off-duty police officer employed by the bar as a security guard, was acting within the line and scope of his duty with the City for purposes of imposing liability under the doctrine of respondeat superior. It is well settled that
Suffice it to say that the City's "control" over Vining is evidenced by the inter-office communication from the City's then chief of police setting forth the police department's rules and regulations governing the "Conduct and Responsibility of Police Officers Working Police Related Off Duty Jobs." Pursuant to these rules and regulations, any police officer who wanted to work police-related off-duty jobs was required to submit a request for extra work to the officer's commanding officer for approval, specifying the location of the extra job, the hours, the employer, the duties involved, whether the job was a one-time event or would be continuous, and whether the job was to be worked in uniform. The rules and regulations specifically stated that "any outside police activity will be considered to be regular police work insofar as conduct, performance of duty and compliance with the Rules and Regulations are concerned" and "will be under the direction of the superior officer on duty in the district where the police work is being performed." Furthermore, the rules and regulations state that at least once during the shift of the precinct supervisor, the supervisor shall inspect the police officer working extra duty jobs in uniform to ensure compliance with the rules and regulations.
The evidence shows that Vining had complied with these rules and regulations—he filed the request form, obtained approval to work at the bar, and called the local precinct in the area upon his arrival at the bar.
In addition, according to the testimony of Lt. Self (the person called in to investigate Vining's conduct), Vining's work at the bar was police-related; and, Lt. Self concluded, whether Vining was off-duty or not, he had violated the rules and regulations of the department and had neglected his duties by failing to take appropriate action at the time of the incident. There was substantial evidence that at the time of the incident, Vining was an agent of the City and was acting in the line and scope of his duty.
Finally, the City contends that the criminal assault on Blair by Weidler and Brooks was the sole proximate cause of Blair's death. The City insists that the assault on Blair was an unforeseeable intervening criminal act for which it cannot be held liable. Benson argues that the evidence was sufficient to show that the assault on Blair was foreseeable from Vining's perspective. In Thetford v. City of Clanton, supra, this Court stated:
605 So.2d at 840.
The evidence, as previously discussed, was more than sufficient to support a finding by the jury that Vining could have, and should have, foreseen the assault that ultimately resulted in Blair's death. That assault occurred immediately after Vining had told Weidler, a known aggressor, that Vining would not intervene in any altercation between Weidler and Blair that occurred outside the bar. Foreseeability was an issue for the jury to resolve. Thetford v. City of Clanton.
HORNSBY, C.J., and MADDOX, STEAGALL and INGRAM, JJ., concur.
COOK, J., concurs in the result.
ALMON, J., dissents.
ALMON, Justice (dissenting).
I respectfully dissent from the affirmance of this judgment. I do not think that Vining was acting as an agent of the City of Birmingham at the time of the event in question. He was serving as an employee of Gene's Jukebox; his duty was to prevent fights on the premises of his employer. The fact that the City of Birmingham imposes some rules on its officers regarding their off-duty work does not make them its agents when they undertake such work on their own time.
Moreover, I stand by my special concurrence in Thetford v. City of Clanton,
Leagle.com reserves the right to edit or remove comments but is under no obligation to do so, or to explain individual moderation decisions.
- No Cases Found