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Veteto v. Swanson Services Corp.


On May 29, 2002, Ronald D. Veteto ("Veteto") sued Swanson Services Corporation ("Swanson") and, "in both their individual and official capacities," Michael Haley, commissioner of the Alabama Department of Corrections ("DOC"); Billie Mitchem, warden of the William E. Donaldson Correctional Facility, a prison operated under the auspices of DOC and located in Bessemer, Alabama; Hurbert Etheridge, a captain at Donaldson; and Officer Marion C. Espy, a correctional officer supervisor II at Donaldson (Haley, Mitchem, Etheridge, and Espy are hereinafter referred to collectively as the DOC defendants). The trial court entered a summary judgment in favor of the DOC defendants and dismissed for want of prosecution the claims against Swanson. We affirm.

Veteto, an inmate at Donaldson, alleged in his complaint that he had completed Swanson order forms distributed to inmates by Donaldson employees for the purpose of selecting items, to be paid for by his parents, available to inmates under Swanson's "Holiday Package Program." The order forms represented that orders received by November 13, 2000, would be delivered between December 11 and December 22, 2000. Veteto's parents subsequently completed their portion of the forms and mailed them to Swanson along with an "official" bank check made out to the order of Swanson in the amount of $158.68. Veteto did not receive his holiday packages during the promised time frame; they were finally delivered on January 5, 2001. Donaldson employees checked the contents of the packages, but, according to Veteto, they "rushed the process," comingling the contents, thereby failing to detect "some of the shortages and overages" that Veteto subsequently determined to exist in the packages. Veteto determined that a number of items were missing, that some items were included that he had not ordered, and that various items of candy and snack foods were damaged or degraded. Veteto concluded that the total value of the shortages was $40.09.

Veteto alleges that he made numerous, but unsuccessful, attempts to locate Swanson and communicate with it about the situation, and that he also sent written communications about the situation to various Donaldson employees and to Commissioner Haley. Etheridge finally reported to Veteto that Donaldson employees were "in the process of resolving this now"; that the full amount of Veteto's purchases would be refunded; and that Donaldson would remedy the problem.

In addition to making numerous factual assertions against Swanson and asserting a variety of theories of legal liability against it, Veteto asserted that the DOC defendants "conspired with and/or aided and abetted" Swanson in its breach of contract and tortious wrongdoings. Veteto sought actual damages for breach of contract in the amount of $40.09; $20,000 in compensatory damages against Swanson "for hungry, sickness, mental pain and anguish, and emotional distress"; $10,000 in compensatory damages against the DOC defendants "for conspiring with and aiding and abetting Swanson"; and $50,000 in punitive damages against Swanson and the DOC defendants.

On September 4, 2001, the DOC defendants filed a motion to dismiss, or, alternatively, for a summary judgment. The motion was accompanied by the affidavit of Espy, who attested that, after he became aware of the problems with Veteto's packages, he had checked with Swanson and had been told that it was "working on resolving all disputes concerning refunds" and that "Veteto's name was on the list for a refund." Espy gave Veteto Swanson's address so that his parents could correspond directly with Swanson. The DOC defendants argued various legal points in a supporting brief, including their immunity from suit and that ther

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