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Dottie Perry
Dottie Perry
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What Rights Trigger an Exception to Alabama State Immunity?

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Article I, Section 14 of the Alabama Constitution of 1901 creates absolute immunity for the State and its agents with this simple proclamation:

[T]he State of Alabama shall never be made a defendant in any court of law or equity.

This effectively limits the ability to impose obligations on and enforce obligations against the State, unless the State consents to such obligations or suit.

Exceptions to State and State-agent immunity arise in Alabama where State officials have acted willfully, maliciously, fraudulently, in bad faith, beyond their authority, or in a mistaken interpretation of the law. See Ex parte Kennedy. These exceptions to the general rule that prevents suit against the State were articulated in the Alabama Supreme Court's recent decision of Ex parte Moulton (In re: Teplick v. Moulton). There, the Court ordered a Mobile County trial court judge to grant the defendants' request for dismissal of a case against them, determining they were immune from suit under the facts of the case.

Moulton involved claims against the University of South Alabama ("USA"), which operates hospitals and a medical school in Mobile, Alabama, and several of its employees. The suit was filed by a former hospital employee and associate dean of the medical school, Dr. Richard Teplick ("Teplick").

Teplick served as chief of staff of the USA hospitals from 2001 until his termination in 2008 when USA laid off staff due to alleged budget restraints. Teplick's suit sought reinstatement, money damages and/or due process procedures be followed.

In Alabama, private causes of action seeking prospective injunctive relief, or suits brought to compel State officials to perform their duties, are not barred by the doctrine of State immunity. One such duty State agents are sometimes required to undertake is providing due process prior to or during the termination of employees. The Moulton Court concluded that, as an "at-will" employee, Teplick did not have a property interest in continued employment, and therefore could not claim his due process rights were violated by the defendants' failure to have a hearing prior to his termination.

The concept of sovereign immunity stems from the feudal system and the English axiom that "the King can do no wrong." As in the case of Ex parte Moulton, it is zealously applied by courts in the United States despite our rejection of England's monarchical system. Many legal scholars argue that the entire doctrine is inconsistent with the United States Constitution, and should be eliminated by the Supreme Court, because no one should be above the law. I tend to agree.