Tuscaloosa County v. Henderson

In Tuscaloosa County v. Henderson, 699 So. 2d 1274 (Ala. Civ. App. 1997) the Court of Civil Appeals considered and rejected the argument that Tuscaloosa County and Tinsley were agents of the state for the purpose of enforcing the business-license laws. In Henderson, the plaintiff sued Tinsley and the County after Tinsley had had the plaintiff arrested for operating a business without a business license when, in fact, he was not operating a business. Tinsley's office had followed the telephone-call and letter procedure outlined above before Tinsley requested a warrant for the plaintiff's arrest. In Henderson, the plaintiff was arrested, booked, fingerprinted, and photographed, but the case against him was dismissed when he explained to officials that he was no longer operating a business. In Henderson, the Court of Civil Appeals held that Tinsley was not immune from the plaintiff's claims because he was "employed by Tuscaloosa County, not by the State of Alabama," and there was "no evidence indicating that the judgments against Tuscaloosa County and Tinsley affect any state interest." 699 So. 2d at 1277. Thus, implicitly, the Court of Civil Appeals held that Tinsley was not a state agent. The Court of Civil Appeals held, alternatively, that "even if Tinsley was otherwise entitled to the protection of sovereign immunity, the evidence shows that the nature of Tinsley's actions would prevent immunity from applying," because "Tinsley never actually investigated to determine whether [the plaintiff] was operating a business" without a license, and, therefore, "the evidence presented supported a finding that Tinsley acted with malice, willfulness, or ... so beyond his authority that sovereign immunity would not apply." Id. Finally, the Court of Civil Appeals held that Tinsley was not entitled to discretionary-function immunity because he had automatically requested warrants for the arrest of persons who failed to renew their business licenses or to respond to his telephone calls or letters, and, the court said, "this process involved no discretion and no judgment on his part." Id. Judge Crawley and Judge Yates dissented from the Court of Civil Appeals' decision in Henderson, arguing that "Tinsley was an agent of the State of Alabama, not of Tuscaloosa County," because the business-license tax, including the portion to be remitted to the County, is prescribed by state law and Ala. Code 1975, 40-12-2(f), "unambiguously states that it is the State of Alabama, not the county, that enforces the license statute, even if, as in this case, the tax is a combination state and county tax." 699 So. 2d at 1278-79.