AELE LAW LIBRARY OF CASE SUMMARIES:
Civil Liability
of Law Enforcement Agencies & Personnel


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Defenses: Official Immunity

     A man filed a lawsuit against a police canine after the dog inflicted serious damage by refusing to release his bite, as well as against the officers, the county, and the police chief. The dog bit him after he allegedly broke into the residence of his ex-girlfriend and ran off with a television set. The officers were entitled to qualified immunity as no binding precedent clearly established that their actions in allowing the dog to apprehend the plaintiff violated his Fourth Amendment rights. Georgia state law did not allow negligence actions directly against dogs. The county and police chief were entitled to sovereign immunity on state law claims, and the officers were entitled to official immunity as they did not act with malice. Jones v. Fransen, #16-10715, 2017 U.S. App. Lexis 8816 (11th Cir.).

     The plaintiff sued for injuries suffered when a Texas state trooper collided with him while running a red light while pursuing a reckless driver. The state Department of Public Safety argued that a damage claim should be rejected based both on the trooper's official immunity and the emergency response exception to the state Tort Claims Act's waiver of sovereign immunity. The Texas Supreme Court overturned the lower courts' rejections of these arguments. The need to establish the "good faith" of the trooper was not equivalent to a general negligence standard, but rather protected all but the plainly incompetent. Texas Depít of Pub. Safety v. Bonilla, #14-0694, 2015 Tex. Lexis 1085.
     When a man was taken by ambulance from his home to a hospital, his two dogs remained behind. In the emergency room, and concerned as to whether he would live, he claimed that a deputy sheriff pressured him to sign a release form regarding his dogs, which authorized county animal control to destroy them, which he didn't realize, as he did not have his glasses and therefore could not read the form. The dogs were killed before he recovered, and he sued the deputy, the hospital, the sheriff, and the county's animal shelter provider. While the trial court granted summary judgment to all defendants, an intermediate appeals court ruled that, while state law official immunity protected the deputy from liability for his decision to ask the plaintiff to sign the form, it did not protect him from liability for the execution of his decision to do so. The Supreme Court of Georgia disagreed. It noted that the owner said that the deputy told him to "Just sign this d* *n form," when the owner was under medication. Such facts, if true, could raise a question of whether the deputy was engaged in an act performed with malice or an intent to injure, which could defeat the immunity. Roper v. Greenway, #S12G2030. 2013 Ga. Lexis 951.
     Two officers were entitled to qualified immunity on an excessive force claim and public officer immunity on a North Carolina state law claim. One officer acted in an objectively reasonable manner in firing a Taser in the dart mode, after a warning, and activating it three times, and then pepper-spraying an arrestee who posed an immediate safety threat and resisted arrest. His crime of property destruction of an address sign was more than a minor crime. Before the force was used, the plaintiff had approached the officer three times, ignoring orders to get back, while saying "Sir, I have lost my mind." A second officer's action in activating his Taser three times in dart mode while the arrestee lay prone and unarmed on the ground while an officer sitting on his back in control was not clearly established as unlawful, as the plaintiff was not then "effectively secured." The Taser was also used several times in the stun mode before the arrestee was fully handcuffed. Two other officer were properly denied immunity on both federal and state claims when they allegedly punched and struck the arrestee because he did not pose an immediate safety threat and was not resisting, and they inflicted severe injury. All officers who were bystanders to the incident were granted qualified immunity as they did not have a reasonable time in which to intervene to prevent harm. Thomas v. Holly, #12-2076, 2013 WL 3722350, 2013 U.S. App. Lexis 14437 (4th Cir.).
     An arrestee sued a city, claiming that he had suffered a broken leg when an officer allegedly compelled him to sit down while he was restrained in handcuffs. The Mississippi Supreme Court held that the city was entitled to summary judgment as it was immune from liability for acts of its employees performing police duties unless the officers acted in reckless disregard of the safety and well-being of any person not engaged in criminal activity at the time of the injury. Nothing showed that the officer acted in reckless disregard for the plaintiff's safety and well being. City of Jackson v. Gardner, #2012-IA-00517-SCT, 108 So.3d 927, 2013 Miss. Lexis 68.
     A woman seriously injured when struck by a vehicle driven by a drug suspect being chased at high speed by officers could not recover damages from the city or its personnel for negligence. The woman was standing behind a car struck by the suspect's vehicle, and lost her left leg as a result. An intermediate Minnesota Appeals court ruled that the defendants were entitled to official immunity under state law for the exercise of discretion in deciding whether or not to initiate and continue the pursuit of a suspect attempting to flee arrest for a serious drug felony. There was no evidence that the officers acted willfully or maliciously, which would have defeated their official immunity defense. Plaster v. City of St. Paul, # A10-1738, (Minn. App.).
     Police officers had a non-discretionary duty under their department's pursuit policy to discontinue the vehicular pursuit of a suspect whose identity was known, in the absence of specified serious felonies, and were therefore not entitled to official immunity under Minnesota law for failing to discontinue their pursuit in a lawsuit brought by the widow of a pedestrian killed as a result of the pursuit. Mumm v. Mornson, #A04-729, 708 N.W.2d 473 (Minn. 2006). [N/R]
     Minnesota police officer was not entitled to official immunity under state law for the alleged action of loading a shotgun with lethal ammunition which was then used to shoot a suspect when he actually intended to load it with "less-lethal" ammunition. His act of loading the weapon with less-lethal ammunition was not an exercise of discretion or independent judgment, but rather a "ministerial" act, so that he was not entitled to official immunity for his alleged negligence in failing to do so properly. Brown v. City of Bloomington, No. A04-2221, 706 N.W.2d 519 (Minn. App. 2005). [N/R]
     Officer was entitled to official immunity under Georgia state law from liability for injuries to three passengers and death of driver in vehicle struck by car fleeing from him during high-speed pursuit. The officer's decision to engage in the chase was discretionary, and there was no evidence that the officer went beyond the scope of that discretion by any wrongful act or any intention to cause harm to the deceased motorist or his passengers. Hanse v. Phillips, No. A05A0955, 623 S.E.2d 746 (Ga. App. 2005). [N/R]
     Officer was entitled to official immunity under Texas law from liability for injuries suffered by motorist whose vehicle struck officer's car as the officer drove around other cars stopped at an intersection during his response to a domestic violence call. The officer was acting in good faith and within the scope of his duties. His actions were reasonable in light of a report that the suspect was threatening his wife or girlfriend and was going to shoot her. Johnson v. Campbell, No. 06-04-00016-CV, 142 S.W.2d 592 (Tex. App. 2004). [N/R]
     Deputy sheriff acted in good faith entitling him to official immunity under Texas state law on claims for injury asserted by mental patient he restrained and handcuffed for purposes of transport to mental health facility. Hidalgo County v. Gonzalez, No. 13-03-00131-CV, 128 S.W.3d 788 (Tex. App. --Corpus Christi--2004). [N/R]
     Alabama sheriff had Eleventh Amendment immunity from federal civil rights lawsuit over alleged rape of burglary victim by deputy sheriff dispatched to assist her, as he acted, under state law, on behalf of the state, not the county. Sheriff also had absolute immunity from state law official capacity claims and discretionary function immunity from individual capacity claims for negligent hiring, supervision, or training of the deputy, under state law. McClure v. Houston County, Alabama, 306 F. Supp. 2d 1160 (M.D. Ala. 2003). [N/R]
     Commissioner of Minnesota state Department of Public Safety was entitled to official immunity against lawsuit by disabled individual claiming that fees which are charged for a disabled parking permit violated a state disability discrimination statute. Podruch v. State Department of Public Safety, No. A03-809, 674 N.W.2d 252 (Minn. App. 2004). [N/R]
     Police officers' decision to make a warrantless arrest of an elementary school principal for allegedly obstructing an officer by hindering an arrest of two students for fighting was a discretionary action under Georgia law, entitling them to official immunity from liability for false arrest, false imprisonment, or malicious prosecution, so long as the plaintiff could produce no evidence that her arrest had been the result of malice or an intent to injure her by the officers. Reed v. DeKalb County, No. A03A1083, 589 S.E.2d 584 (Ga. App. 2003). [N/R]
     Police officer was acting in good faith in performing normal law enforcement duties in ticketing motorist in no-parking zone and in accompanying "belligerent" motorist to his home to retrieve his license, entitling him to official immunity from liability for alleged negligently caused injury to motorist's wrist. Motorist fell when officer pushed house door when motorist attempted to close it with officer in the way. Cherqui v. Westheimer Street Festival Corp., No. 14-02-00731-CV, 116 S.W.3d 337 (Tex. App. 2003). [N/R]
     Negligence claim against deputy sheriff arising out of motor vehicle accident could not be dismissed on the basis of official immunity when there was evidence from which the plaintiff motorist could possibly show that at the time of the incident the deputy was engaged in a personal errand or otherwise had departed from the scope of his official duty. Ex parte Haralson, No. 1012071, 853 So. 2d 928 (Ala. 2003). [N/R]
     Officer acted in good faith in keeping his gun drawn while assisting another officer handcuff an arrestee following a high-speed chase, entitling him to official immunity under Texas state law for injuries arrestee suffered when the gun accidentally discharged. Telthorster v. Tennell, #01-0074, 92 S.W.3d 457 (Tex. 2002). [2003 LR Apr]
     Motorist's claim that he had been "threatened" and sworn at, as well as "slammed" on the hood of a patrol car in the course of a deputy's investigation of a report of shots being fired was insufficient to show "actual malice" as required to set aside the deputy's official immunity, and any "use" of the deputy's car in connection with the investigation was insufficient to support a waiver of sovereign immunity by the county. Use of profanity by police, in the absence of epithets or words indicating personal bias, does not show "actual malice." Tittle v. Corso, No. A02A0828, 569 S.E.2d 873 (Ga. App. 2002). [N/R]
     Sheriff's office employees had official immunity from liability for an alleged improper sale of property seized from an art gallery in satisfaction of judgment, since they were performing actions within the scope of their authority in good faith. County was also entitled to sovereign immunity from alleged property owner's claim. Bowles v. Yeganeh, No. 05-01-00937-CV, 84 S.W.2d 252 (Tex. App. 2002). [N/R]
     Officer did not have official immunity under Louisiana state law in a negligence lawsuit brought by an arrestee who claimed that he was injured by the too-tight application of handcuffs. The decision to apply the handcuffs did not involve policy matters, but instead was "ministerial." Saine v. City of Scott, No. 2002-265, 819 So. 2d 496 (La. App. 2002). [N/R]
     Texas police officer was engaged in a discretionary action in pursuing a fleeing suspect, even though he was ordered by a superior to give pursuit, when the manner of conducting the pursuit was left to his discretion. Officer was therefore entitled to official immunity as a defense to a lawsuit brought by an individual injured in a collision with the pursued car. Clark v. University of Houston, No. 14-96-00005-CV, 60 S.W.3d 206 (Tex. App. 2001). [2002 LR Mar]
     Off-duty police officer working as a private security guard at a hotel was not entitled to assert public official immunity from lawsuit for personal injuries filed by hotel guest struck by bullet that officer fired during gun battle with two armed robbers in hotel lobby. Genuine issue of material fact existed, however, as to whether officer was acting as a private security guard and within the scope of his employment, during the gun battle. Lovelace v. Anderson, No. 70, Sept. Term. 1999, 785 A.2d 726 (Md. 2001). [N/R]
     347:168 Police chiefs were entitled to official immunity on arrestee's negligent supervision claim; record showed that prior complaints about officer who allegedly used excessive force against plaintiff were investigated and the manner of supervising the officer involved discretionary actions under Texas state law. Dovalina v. Nuno, #04-00- 00738-CV, 48 S.W.3d 279 (Tex. App. 2001).
     345:138 Deputy working off-duty as store security guard was acting as a law enforcement officer rather than a store employee when he arrested a customer outside the store for allegedly disturbing the peace; store was not liable for deputy's actions, and deputy was entitled to official immunity from customer's false arrest/malicious prosecution claims under Texas law. Larkin v. Johnson, No. 14-98- 00789-CV, 44 S.W.2d 188 (Tex. App. 2001).
     344:122 Motor vehicle exception to governmental immunity for negligence under Pennsylvania law applies to cars, but not to bicycles; pedestrian struck by officer riding a bicycle on the sidewalk in violation of a city ordinance could not sue city and officer for damages. Harding v. City of Philadelphia, No. 2189 C.D. 2001, 777 A.2d 1249 (Pa. Cmmw. 2001).
     338:19 Officer was entitled to official immunity against liability for malicious prosecution under Georgia state law for obtaining arrest warrants, in the absence of any proof that he acted with "actual malice" or intent to cause harm. Todd v. Kelly, No. A00A0712, 535 S.E.2d 540 (Ga. App. 2000). 337:12 Brief detention of residence occupants during execution of proper search warrant was not unlawful; supervising officer was entitled to official immunity under Georgia state law for discretionary action in detaining occupants. White v. Traino, No. A00A0129, 535 S.E.2d 275 (Ga. App. 2000).
     290:27 Arresting officer was not liable for motorist's suicide when told he was under arrest for driving while intoxicated; officer was entitled to official immunity, under Missouri state law, for failure to prevent motorist from using gun in his truck to shoot himself in the head; officer did not exhibit "deliberate indifference" for purposes of federal civil rights claim, when he had no reason to suspect that motorist was suicidal Miller v. Smith, 921 S.W.2d 39 (Mo App. 1996).
     297:136 Police officer was not entitled to official immunity under Texas law from lawsuit brought by motorcyclist injured in collision with her vehicle at intersection as officer answered emergency call reporting officer shot and needing assistance; dispute about whether officer had activated her lights and sirens raised issue about whether officer acted in good faith Beatty v. Charles, 936 S.W.2d 28 (Tex. App. 1996).
     284:122 Pursuing a vehicle which had run a stop sign was a discretionary act; deputy was entitled to official immunity, under Georgia state law, for initiating and continuing pursuit and was not individually liable for injuries resulting from his vehicle's collision with another car during the pursuit Morgan v. Causey, 910 F.Supp. 651 (M.D. Ga 1996).
     272:118 Texas Supreme Court rules that officers engaging in high speed pursuit of motorcycle which ran red light had a duty to drive carefully to prevent injury to passenger on back of motorcycle; adopts objective reasonableness/good-faith requirement for official immunity under state law; rules that officers' conduct did not "shock the conscience" and therefore that no federal civil rights claim was stated Lancaster, City of v. Chambers, 883 S.W.2d 650 (Tex. 1994).
     Officer's decision to handcuff arrestee behind his back was a discretionary one, entitling officers and city to governmental immunity, Nevada Supreme Court rules Maturi v. Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Dept, 871 P.2d 932 (Nev 1994). Trooper who stopped motorist's car for alleged speeding and failing to drive within a single lane was entitled to official immunity under Texas law from motorist's lawsuit since he acted in good faith and in the performance of his duty of enforcing traffic laws Edgar v. Plummer, 845 S.W.2d 452 (Tex. App. 1993).
     Officers who obtained and executed a search warrant following an allegedly "incomplete or incompetent" investigation were protected from liability by official immunity under Minnesota law, since they did not act with "bad faith or malicious intent" Johnson v. County of Dakota, 510 N.W.2d 237 (Minn. App. 1994).
     Officer's choices of a route to take and a speed to travel at in responding to call indicating another officer needed assistance were "discretionary" acts entitling him to official immunity from liability for collision with another motorist Bachmann v. Welby, 860 S W 2d 31 (Mo App. 1993).
     Highway patrol sergeant was entitled to immunity under Tennessee law from liability for his discretionary function of directing traffic at the scene of a fatal traffic accident Youngblood v. Clepper, 856 S.W.2d 405 (Tenn App. 1993).

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