Ex parte McCoy, 012221 ALSC, 1190403

Docket Nº1190403
Opinion JudgeMITCHELL, Justice.
Party NameEx parte Dylan McCoy, Stephen Scott, and James Henderson v. Donald Hornsby Wright II et al. In re: James B. Griffin, as personal representative of the Estateof James Richard Olvey, deceased
Judge PanelParker, C.J., and Bolin, Shaw, Wise, Bryan, and Mendheim, JJ., concur. Sellers, J., concurs in the result. Stewart, J., dissents.
Case DateJanuary 22, 2021
CourtSupreme Court of Alabama

Ex parte Dylan McCoy, Stephen Scott, and James Henderson

In re: James B. Griffin, as personal representative of the Estateof James Richard Olvey, deceased

v.

Donald Hornsby Wright II et al.

No. 1190403

Supreme Court of Alabama

January 22, 2021

Jefferson Circuit Court, CV-18-903480

PETITION FOR WRIT OF MANDAMUS

MITCHELL, Justice.

James Richard Olvey was killed when his vehicle was struck head on by a vehicle driven by Donald Hornsby Wright II, who was driving the wrong way on Interstate 65 ("I-65") while attempting to flee the police. James B. Griffin, the personal representative of Olvey's estate, sued Wright, the City of Trafford ("Trafford"), the City of Warrior ("Warrior"), and other named and fictitiously named parties, alleging that they shared responsibility for Olvey's death. Over a year later, Griffin amended his complaint to substitute Trafford police officer Dylan McCoy and Warrior police officers Stephen Scott and James Henderson ("the defendant officers") for fictitiously named defendants. The defendant officers moved the Jefferson Circuit Court to enter a judgment in their favor, arguing that the amended complaint was untimely and thus barred by the applicable statute of limitations. The trial court denied their motion, and the defendant officers petitioned this Court for mandamus relief. We grant their petition and issue the writ.

Facts and Procedural History

On September 7, 2016, Officer Henderson observed a vehicle within the city limits of Warrior run two red lights on Highway 31 without stopping. Officer Henderson turned on his lights and siren and pursued the vehicle, but the driver, later identified as Wright, refused to stop. As the pursuit continued, Officer Scott, Officer McCoy, and at least one other police officer joined in. Wright eventually led the pursuing officers to I-65, near the city limits of the City of Kimberly ("Kimberly"), where he drove the wrong way down an exit ramp -- at which point the pursuing officers say they backed off -- and began driving north in the southbound lanes. After Wright drove against the flow of traffic for approximately a mile, his vehicle collided head on with Olvey's vehicle, killing Olvey. Wright was injured in the collision and taken to the hospital for medical treatment.1

Two days later, a Kimberly police officer completed a "uniform incident/offense report" identifying Officer Henderson as the "reporting officer," Officer McCoy as an "assisting officer," and Officer Scott as a "supervisor." The narrative in that report further identified (1) Officer Henderson as the officer who initiated the pursuit of Wright and (2) Officers McCoy and Scott as officers who "followed [Wright] from a distance" once he entered the I-65 exit ramp going the wrong direction.

On December 2, 2016, Griffin filed a "notice of claim" with both Trafford and Warrior, alleging that Olvey's death was caused by the negligence and wantonness of Trafford and Warrior police officers as they pursued Wright. See § 11-47-192, Ala. Code 1975 (explaining that "[n]o recovery shall be had against any [municipality] on a claim for personal injury received, unless a sworn statement be filed with the clerk ... stating substantially the manner in which the injury was received, the day and time and the place where the accident occurred and the damages claimed").

On August 31, 2018, Griffin sued Trafford and Warrior, claiming among other things that their police officers' pursuit of Wright was negligent. Griffin's complaint invoked Rule 9(h), Ala. R. Civ. P., and asserted additional negligence claims against fictitiously named defendants G, H, and I, whom he said were those yet-to-be-identified "officers or individuals who [were] in pursuit of the vehicle being driven by [Wright] on September 7, 2016, just prior to the collision made the basis of this lawsuit."

Along with the complaint, Griffin served Trafford and Warrior with interrogatories and document requests. The interrogatories did not specifically ask the municipalities to identify the police officers known to have participated in the pursuit of Wright, but they did request, among other things, the identity of each person known to have witnessed or to have knowledge of "the incident made the basis of this lawsuit." Griffin also asked the municipalities to produce "the entire personnel file for the officer, or individual, who was in pursuit of the vehicle being driven by [Wright]."

On November 16, 2018, Trafford responded to the interrogatories by stating that "Trafford Chief of Police Stephen Scott and part-time Trafford police officer Dylan McCoy may have knowledge concerning the incident made the basis of this lawsuit."2

Two weeks later, Warrior submitted its responses indicating that Wright was the only person known to have witnessed the accident but that "the following persons have knowledge of the pre-accident events of this incident: James Henderson, Stephen Scott, Dylan McCoy, and Terry Williams."3

Both Trafford and Warrior objected to Griffin's request to produce the personnel files of the police officers who had participated in the pursuit of Wright, asserting that personnel files are private, confidential, and privileged. See, e.g., HealthSouth Rehab. Hosp. of Gadsden, LLC v. Honts, 276 So.3d 185 (Ala. 2018) (noting that personnel files are afforded special protection under Alabama law and that there exists a strong public policy against their disclosure).

The materials before us do not indicate what happened over the next six months, but, on June 12, 2019, Griffin sent letters to Trafford and Warrior asking them to supplement their discovery responses and to provide the personnel files for fictitiously named defendants G, H, and I. Griffin sent a follow-up letter to Warrior on July 24, 2019, and he states that, in a telephone conversation around that same time, counsel for the municipalities revealed for the first time that the defendant officers had participated in the pursuit of Wright. On August 16, 2019, Griffin notified Warrior that he wanted to depose Officers Scott and Henderson. Five days later, Griffin notified Trafford that he wanted to depose Officer McCoy. The defendant officers then gave depositions on September 19, 2019, and, in the course of their testimony, confirmed that they had taken part in the pursuit of Wright.

On October 17, 2019, Griffin filed an amended complaint substituting the defendant officers for fictitiously named defendants G, H, and I. The defendant officers then jointly moved the trial court to enter a summary judgment in their favor, arguing that the claims against them were barred by the applicable two-year statute of limitations.[4] Griffin opposed their motion, arguing that he had properly substituted the defendant officers for fictitiously named defendants who were specifically described in the original complaint and that his claims against them were therefore timely under Rules 9(h) and 15(c), Ala. R. Civ. P. Griffin...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP