05/25/2012, Jefferson County, AL
Ex parte Board of Dental Examiners of Alabama
(In re: Wilkinson v. Board of Dental Examiners of Alabama)
Mary Ann Wilkinson was employed by the Board of Dental Examiners of Alabama (“the Board”) for several years until her employment was terminated in 2009. She sued the Board seeking compensation she alleged was due pursuant to her employment contracts with the Board. The Board filed a motion to dismiss on the ground that as a State agency, it was immune from suit under Ala. Const. 1901, Art. I, Section 14. The trial court agreed and dismissed the complaint. On appeal, the Court of Civil Appeals reversed, concluding that the Board did not qualify as an “immediate and strictly governmental agency of the State,” and therefore was not entitled to Section 14 immunity. The Board petitioned for a writ of certiorari. Reversed. In determining whether the Board was a State agency entitled to immunity, the Court first looked at the character of power delegated to the Board. Chapter 9 of Title 34, Ala. Code 1975, provides detailed requirements and regulations regarding the practice of dentistry and dental hygiene in the State. The Board is thereby vested with the authority to carry out the purposes and enforce the pro- visions of that chapter. Further, Ala. Code 1975, Section 34-9-46, gives the Board the power to issue subpoenas, and to compel the attendance of witnesses and production of documents relating to disciplinary proceedings. The Court found that the character of these powers and duties delegated to the Board supported a finding that it was a State agency entitled to Section 14 immunity. The Court next looked to the relation of the Board to the State, noting that immunity, among other things, is designed to shield the State treasury and not to afford immunity to every entity created by statute. The legislature requires the Board to establish and collect fees, but provides the maximum fees that can be established and collected. The Court stated that once the Board collects the funds established by the legislature, they become State funds. “The mere fact that the legislature appropriates those funds before they reach the State treasury does not alter their status as State funds.” Ala. Code 1975, Section 41-20-12, provides that if the Board, among other agencies, is terminated, its funds will revert back to the state fund from which its appropriation was made. The Court found that these factors showed that the relationship between the Board and the State supported the conclusion that the Board is a State agency. Finally, the Court concluded that the nature of the function performed by the Board supported a finding that it was entitled to State immunity. The Board promulgates rules and regulations governing the practice of dentistry, investigates violations, and takes disciplinary action against those found to be guilty. The Court found that the facts of this case were akin to those in Mooneyham v. State Board of Chiropractic Examiners, 802 So.2d 200 (Ala. 2001). There, the Court concluded that the Board of Chiropractic Examiners was entitled to immunity as a regulatory body that receives its funding from the State. “Based on the foregoing, it is clear that the Board is ‘an arm of the state’ rather than a mere ‘franchisee licensed for some beneficial purpose.’” Accordingly, the Board was entitled to Section 14 immunity.