Delchamps, Inc. v. Bryant

CourtSupreme Court of Alabama
Citation738 So.2d 824
PartiesDELCHAMPS, INC. v. James Sterling BRYANT.
Decision Date23 April 1999

738 So.2d 824

James Sterling BRYANT


Supreme Court of Alabama.

April 23, 1999.

738 So.2d 827
Davis Carr, Frank L. Parker, Jr., and Kathleen Cobb Kaufman of Carr, Alford, Clausen & McDonald, L.L.C., Mobile, for appellant

James E. Harris, Birmingham; and William K. Bradford, Birmingham, for appellee.

LYONS, Justice.

James Sterling Bryant (hereinafter "J. S. Bryant") sued Delchamps, Inc., alleging malicious prosecution arising from a case of mistaken identity and continued prosecution after notice of a potentially unassailable alibi. After a mistrial, based on the jury's being unable to agree as to the amount of damages, the jury in a second trial returned a verdict in favor of J.S. Bryant and awarded him compensatory damages in the amount of $400,000. J.S. Bryant did not seek punitive damages. The trial court denied Delchamps's post-judgment motion for a judgment as a matter

738 So.2d 828
of law ("JML"),1 a new trial, or a remittitur of damages. Delchamps appeals from the trial court's denial of its postjudgment motion. We affirm conditionally


The evidence presented during the second trial suggests the following facts.

On December 31, 1991, Charles Holloway and James Robert Bryant ("J. R. Bryant"), who is not one and the same as J.S. Bryant, entered a Delchamps grocery store in Birmingham. The assistant store manager, Stephen Scott, testified that he saw J.R. Bryant pick up two cartons of cigarettes and take them to Holloway, who, Scott said, had walked to the back of the store. Scott heard the alarm on the cigarette counter beeping and told two co-workers to keep an eye on the two men. One of the co-workers stated that he saw Holloway place both cartons in the back of his pants. Scott then went to the front of the store to question the two men about the cigarettes; however, both of them were permitted to leave. The two men got into a Chevrolet Celebrity automobile driven by a third man. As they drove away, one of the Delchamps employees wrote down the automobile's license-plate number.

Scott then telephoned the Jefferson County Sheriffs Department to report the shoplifting incident. That same night, he completed a "Uniform Incident/Offense Report," giving an account of the events, a description of the two suspects, and the license-plate number of the automobile. The sheriff's department learned that the automobile was registered to Dorothy Holloway and James Kimberly.

A few days later, a deputy sheriff drove to the Holloway address provided by the report generated from an inquiry based on the license-plate number and spoke with Charles Holloway's wife. The deputy left a message asking that Mr. Holloway telephone him the next day. Holloway complied, and in talking with the deputy he admitted to having been in the Delchamps store on the night of the incident, with J.R. Bryant and J.R. Bryant's son, Jamey. Holloway stated that at the Delchamps store he lent J.R. Bryant $20 to buy cigarettes, that he did not recall any theft, and that he could not be sure whether J.R. Bryant had stolen anything.

The next day, two deputy sheriffs met with the two Delchamps employees who had been alerted by Scott to keep an eye on Holloway and J.R. Bryant. One of the deputies had obtained the name "James Bryant" from earlier interviews with the Delchamps employees. The sheriff's department created a photographic lineup; the lineup included a picture of J.S. Bryant because his name matched that obtained from the Delchamps employees and because he had a criminal record reflecting a conviction for sodomy. Both Delchamps employees viewed the photographic lineup and immediately identified Holloway. As to the other suspect, one of the employees narrowed the choice to two other pictures, one of which was a picture of J.S. Bryant. The other employee picked the picture of J.S. Bryant immediately. On the following day, the two sheriff's deputies returned to the Delchamps store to meet with Scott and show him the photographic lineup. Within seconds, Scott indicated that he identified both Holloway and J.S. Bryant. Scott reported that he had looked at the video monitor and had seen the person now known to be J.R. Bryant pick up the cigarettes and walk away hurriedly. Scott also said that he had confronted that suspect before he left the store. Later that afternoon, the two deputies talked with J.R. Bryant at the trailer park where he lived. Apparently, they did not recognize that the James Bryant to whom they were then speaking was not the same James Bryant whose picture was in the photographic

738 So.2d 829
lineup. J.R. Bryant admitted to having been in the Delchamps store on the night of the incident, but denied stealing anything. One of the deputies stated in his incident report that he would have the information he had obtained screened at the district attorney's office and that warrants would be obtained. He marked the case closed and cleared by arrest

A few days later, a deputy district attorney issued two felony warrants for Holloway and J.S. Bryant. No action was taken by the sheriff's department on the Bryant arrest warrant until the morning of February 23, 1994, when J.S. Bryant was arrested at his parents' home. Despite his protest that the arresting officers had the wrong man, J.S. Bryant was taken to the county jail. He was released later that day after his father had posted bond. When J.S. Bryant's father learned of the time when the offense was alleged to have been committed, he telephoned Delchamps's headquarters and informed a paralegal assistant for Delchamps's corporate counsel that his son could not have committed the crime because on that date, December 31, 1991, his son was incarcerated in the Bullock County Correctional Facility on a conviction of sodomy. Delchamps's corporate counsel then referred the matter to outside counsel for further investigation.

Outside counsel's paralegal assistant met with J.S. Bryant's father to copy his son's prison records. She located and met with the three Delchamps employees who had witnessed the shoplifting incident and had identified J.S. Bryant. She also contacted and met with Edward McGuffie, one of the deputies who had investigated the shoplifting incident. The paralegal stated that McGuffie told her that J.S. Bryant's prison records did not necessarily prove that he was physically in the prison on the date in question because on that date he could have been on a furlough or a pass. Outside counsel also met with some of the potential witnesses. In notes he prepared for a planned meeting with Scott, beside a list labeled "Things to discuss with Stephen Scott," appears the notation "Importance of winning this case!" (Defendant's Exhibit 5.)

The paralegal had no prior experience with a law firm that handled criminal cases, but she recognized that determining whether J.S. Bryant was in prison on the relevant date was the most important question. Nevertheless, she worked on the case for 10 days before attempting to locate the records necessary to determine whether J.S. Bryant had been on a pass or furlough on December 31, 1991. She ascertained that a record at the prison where he had been confined showed that he left the prison for a court appearance on two consecutive days in October 1991, two months before the shoplifting incident, but that the prison had no record of his being away on the date of the shoplifting incident. She learned that the Central Records Office at the Department of Corrections maintained the kind of records necessary to answer the question, but she never requested those records, because, she said, someone in the Central Records Office told her that the records had been purged. Outside counsel then advised Delchamps that he had been unable to determine for certain that J.S. Bryant physically was in prison on the date in question, but that the case should proceed.

The records that had eluded outside counsel's investigation existed, however, and J.S. Bryant's defense attorney located them. The defense attorney testified that he telephoned the Central Records Office, issued a subpoena for the necessary information, and arranged for a witness from the Department of Corrections to be present at J.S. Bryant's preliminary hearing on the shoplifting charge. That witness was prepared to establish that J.S. Bryant had been incarcerated on December 31, 1991. The defense attorney testified that before the preliminary hearing, he telephoned Delchamps's outside counsel and told him, "You guys have got the wrong guy." (R. 109.) Outside counsel, however, denied

738 So.2d 830
that he had been contacted by the defense attorney.

The three witnesses from Delchamps attended the preliminary hearing. Before it began, J.S. Bryant's defense attorney told the sheriff's deputies and the district attorney that his witness from the Department of Corrections was prepared to testify that J.S. Bryant had been incarcerated on the date in question. During a break in the hearing, the two deputies returned to the trailer park where they previously had spoken with J.R. Bryant. The manager of the trailer park informed them that J.R. Bryant had moved to Kentucky shortly after their initial conversation with him. The case against J.S. Bryant subsequently was nol-prossed. J.S. Bryant then commenced this action against Delchamps, seeking damages for malicious prosecution.


As previously noted, this case has been tried two times, the first resulting in a mistrial and the second resulting in a jury verdict awarding J.S. Bryant $400,000 in compensatory damages. On this appeal by Delchamps, our review is limited to the testimony and other evidence presented to the jury in the second trial. Accordingly, Delchamps's motion to strike excerpts and facts from the first trial that were included by J.S. Bryant in his brief is granted. The record from the first trial is not a part of the record on appeal presently before this Court.



To continue reading

Request your trial
172 cases
  • Butler v. Town of Argo
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Alabama
    • 30 Junio 2003 the prevailing party, and it will set aside the verdict only if it is plainly and palpably wrong. Id.' "Delchamps, Inc. v. Bryant, 738 So.2d 824, 830-31 I.C.U. Investigations, Inc. v. Jones, 780 So.2d 685, 688 (Ala.2000). Alabama has long recognized that a wrongful intrusion into one's p......
  • Long v. Dietrich, Case No. 1:10-cv-02859-HGD
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Alabama
    • 20 Septiembre 2012
    ...prosecution are the same, except that they require only a "judicial proceeding" not a "criminal prosecution." Delchamps, Inc. v. Bryant, 738 So.2d 824, 831-32 (Ala. 1999). As to the second prong, it is well established that an arrest without probable cause is an unreasonable seizure that vi......
  • Rogers v. City of Selma, CIVIL ACTION NO. 14-586-CG-M
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Southern District of Alabama
    • 8 Abril 2016
    ...accused.” Wood, 323 F.3d at 882. Alabama's elements for malicious prosecution follow the common law elements. Delchamps, Inc. v. Bryan t, 738 So.2d 824, 831–32 (Ala.1999). As established above, an arrest becomes constitutionally unreasonable if done without probable cause. Madiwale, 117 F.3......
  • Daniels v. City of Hartford, Ala., Case No. 1:08-CV-668.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Middle District of Alabama
    • 18 Agosto 2009
    ...v. Kesler, 323 F.3d 872, 881 (11th Cir.2003); Uboh v. Reno, 141 F.3d 1000, 1002-04 (11th Cir. 1998); see also Delchamps, Inc. v. Bryant, 738 So.2d 824, 831-32 (Ala.1999). Thus, the false arrest, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution claims share one common element: they all require ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT