Fontenot v. Bramlett

Decision Date19 April 1985
Citation470 So.2d 669
PartiesJohnnie Francis FONTENOT and Richard Fontenot v. E.C. BRAMLETT. 83-1309.
CourtAlabama Supreme Court

Irvin J. Langford for Howell, Johnston & Langford, Mobile, for appellants.

W. Boyd Reeves and Robert J. Mullican for Armbrecht, Jackson, DeMouy, Crowe, Holmes & Reeves, Mobile, for appellee.

MADDOX, Justice.

This is an appeal from an order granting a Rule 12(b)(6), Ala.R.Civ.P., motion to dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. We reverse.

On April 7, 1983, Johnnie Francis Fontenot, an employee of Mobile Infirmary, was injured when a hospital elevator in which she was riding dropped several floors during a power outage. It is undisputed that the injury occurred while Mrs. Fontenot was working within the course of her employment, within the meaning of the Alabama Workmen's Compensation Act, Code 1975, § 25-5-1.

Mrs. Fontenot and her husband brought separate suits against E.C. Bramlett, the vice-president and administrator of Mobile Infirmary; Montgomery Elevator Company; Alabama Power Company; and several fictitious parties, alleging negligence. Specifically, they alleged that Bramlett negligently failed to provide Mrs. Fontenot with a safe place to work and with a safe elevator. After the two suits were consolidated for trial on a motion by Alabama Power, Bramlett filed a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. On April 4, 1984, his motion was granted and on June 15, 1984, the Fontenots' motion to reconsider was denied. On July 16, 1984, the trial court certified the dismissal as final, pursuant to Rule 54(b), Ala.R.Civ.P., and the Fontenots appealed here.

The sole issue before us is whether the trial court erred in granting Bramlett's motion to dismiss. We find that it did. It is a well-established principle of law in this state that a complaint, like all other pleadings, should be liberally construed, Rule 8(f), Ala.R.Civ.P., and that a dismissal for failure to state a claim is properly granted only when it appears beyond a doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts entitling him to relief. Winn-Dixie Montgomery, Inc. v. Henderson, 371 So.2d 899 (Ala.1979). Stated another way, if under a provable set of facts, upon any cognizable theory of law, a complaint states a claim upon which relief could be granted, the complaint should not be dismissed. Childs v. Mississippi Valley Title Insurance Co., 359 So.2d 1146 (Ala.1978).

Where a 12(b)(6) motion has been granted and this Court is called upon to review the dismissal of the complaint, we must examine the allegations contained therein and construe them so as to resolve all doubts concerning the sufficiency of the complaint in favor of the plaintiff. First National Bank v. Gilbert Imported Hardwoods, Inc., 398 So.2d 258 (Ala.1981). In so doing, this Court does not consider whether the plaintiff will ultimately prevail, only whether he has stated a claim under which he may possibly prevail. Karagan v. City of Mobile, 420 So.2d 57 (Ala.1982).

Applying this standard of review to the present case, we are not persuaded that the Fontenots would be unable to recover against Bramlett under any cognizable theory of law or under any set of facts. Quite the contrary, the Fontenots' complaint clearly sets forth a cause of action sounding in negligence, a theory upon which plaintiffs in similar actions have previously prevailed.

Code 1975, § 25-1-1, specifically provides:

"(a) Every employer shall furnish employment which shall be reasonably safe for the employees engaged therein and shall furnish and use safety devices and safeguards and shall adopt and use methods and processes reasonably adequate to render such employment and the places where the employment is performed reasonably safe for his employees and others who are not trespassers, and he shall do everything reasonably necessary to protect the life, health and safety of his employees and others who are not trespassers.

"(b) Every employer and every owner of a place of employment, place of public assembly or public building, now or hereafter constructed, shall so construct, repair and maintain the same as to render it reasonably safe; provided, however, that nothing contained in this section shall be construed or applied so as to impose upon any such owner any duties to his tenant, the members of his family, employees, guests or invitees or others entering upon the premises under the tenant's title, or the public, not now imposed upon him by law.

"(c) For the purposes of this section, the following terms shall have the meanings ascribed to them by this subsection:

"(1) EMPLOYER. Such term includes every person, firm, corporation, partnership, joint stock association, agent, manager, representative, foreman or other person having control or custody of any employment, place of employment or of any employee, but the terms of this section shall not be construed to cover the employment of agricultural workers or domestic servants.

"(2) EMPLOYEE. Such term does not and shall not include agricultural workers or domestic servants.

"(3) SAFE and SAFETY. Such terms, applied to any employment or place of employment, place of public assembly or public building, shall mean 'reasonably safe' or 'reasonable safety' consistent with the lawful purpose of the use and occupancy of the place of employment, place of public assembly or public building and the inherent danger of the employment, the process, operation or situation involved, and, shall include conditions and methods of sanitation and hygiene reasonably necessary for the protection of the life, health and safety of the employees and others who are not trespassers. (Acts 1939, No. 161, p. 232; Code 1940, T. 26, § 12.)"

In accord with this statute, which is merely a codification of earlier common law, Foreman v. Dorsey Trailers, Inc., 256 Ala. 253, 54 So.2d 499 (1951), it has been recognized that, under proper facts, supervisory personnel, including corporate officers, may be held liable as co-employees for negligently failing to provide their subordinates with a reasonably safe place in which to work. Fireman's Fund American Insurance Co. v. Coleman, 394 So.2d 334 (Ala.1980); United States Fire Insurance Co. v. McCormick, 286 Ala. 531, 243 So.2d 367 (1970). Such liability may be imposed if it is proved that, as a part of their responsibilities, the defendant supervisory personnel were delegated or assumed their employer's duty to provide a safe work place or a material portion of that duty. Coleman, supra, at 336-338. As was stated by Justice Jones in a concurring opinion in Coleman:

"The mere fact that an employee has incurred a compensable injury under the Workmen's Compensation Act, resulting from an otherwise breach of the employer's duty, does not of itself mandate liability of any particular co-employee. ... Liability can be imposed only for the breach of a personal duty owed the injured employee. The doctrine of vicarious fault (respondeat superior)--which imposes liability upon the principal for the culpability of his agent--does not operate in reverse to impose liability, as a matter of law, upon the agent (not even a managerial...

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