AELE LAW LIBRARY OF CASE SUMMARIES:
Civil Liability of Law Enforcement Agencies & Personnel
Defenses: Sovereign 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.).
A man at a legal casino presented
what appeared to be an altered driver's license while trying to collect a slot
machine jackpot. He was briefly handcuffed, detained, and turned over to
police. Each of these actions by an Illinois Gaming Board agent were carried
out in the exercise of his statutory duties arising from his state employment,
so he was entitled to sovereign immunity on false imprisonment and intentional
infliction of emotional distress state law claims. Even if he acted without
probable cause, he did not act beyond the scope of his authority. The
intermediate Illinois appeals court upheld a jury verdict in favor of the
casino and casino security supervisor on a false imprisonment claim. Grainger v. Harrah's Casino, #3-13-002, 2014 IL App (3d) 130029,
2014 Ill. App. Lexis 670.
Police officers, seeking a person named "Jacquelyn O. Walker" sought under a capias warrant issued in a civil case, arrested a person with a similar name, "Jacquelyn R. Walker," and took her to a jail where she was held for an extended period of time. They allegedly failed to follow departmental procedures requiring officers to carefully verify the identity of persons taken into custody on capias warrants, in order to avoid such problems. In a false arrest lawsuit, an intermediate Ohio appeals court rejected defenses of sovereign immunity for the defendant city and qualified immunity for the defendant arresting officers. It found that the alleged ignoring of departmental procedures could be "reckless or wanton misconduct," constituting an exception to the otherwise applicable state immunity statutes. Claims against the county sheriff's department, however, were dismissed, as it followed normal jail booking procedures. Walker v. City of Toledo, #09-1004, 923 N.E.2d 688 (Ohio App. 2009).
A suspect left unrestrained in a running police vehicle jumped in the driver's seat and drove away. Occupants of another car were subsequently injured when their vehicle was struck by another police car pursuing the suspect. A jury awarded $4,052,572 and $159,069 to the two injured plaintiffs on claims against the city, after the trial court directed a verdict for the defendant officer on a claim that he acted in a willful and wanton manner by failing to turn off the engine, remove the car keys, restrain the suspect, or place the suspect in a vehicle with a protective divider or lock or secure the vehicle's rear door. The city was held, on appeal, to be entitled to sovereign immunity under a statute immunizing municipalities for failure to provide adequate police protection or service or failure to prevent a crime, as well as for injuries resulting from the actions of an escaped prisoner. The city could not be liable for the result of the officer's actions where the officer was not liable. As for claims relating to the conduct of other officers in pursuing the suspect, a section of the statute providing an exception to immunity for willful and wanton misconduct applies to municipal employees, and not to municipalities themselves, and the city was the only remaining defendant. Ries v. City of Chicago, #1-07-3085, 2009 Ill. App. Lexis 1177 (1st Dist.).
The Department of Homeland Security, as an agency of the U.S. government, has not waived its sovereign immunity to suit. A lawsuit against employees of the Department in their official capacity under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 and Sec. 1985 was basically a lawsuit against the government, requiring dismissal of the lawsuit, which asserted claims against Department employees who work for the Division of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Federal civil rights claims against federal employees in their official capacity under Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971) are also barred on the basis of sovereign immunity. Cuevas v. Dept. of Homeland Security, No. 05-15649, 2007 U.S. App. Lexis 11841 (9th Cir.).
Police officers' alleged actions of continuing to beat handcuffed arrestee after he was subdued was malicious and therefore beyond the scope of their employment. The city which employed them was therefore not liable for their actions but rather immune from liability under the Mississippi Tort Claims Act. City of Jackson v. Powell, No. 2003-CA-01013, 917 So. 2d 59 (Miss. 2005). [N/R]
City was entitled to sovereign immunity under Texas state law in a lawsuit for wrongful death brought by the estate of a juvenile arrestee who died when he exited from a police car traveling on a freeway and another car hit him. An officer's alleged negligent failure to properly secure the arrestee in the back seat of the patrol car did not come within a waiver of sovereign immunity for use of motor vehicles. City of Sugarland v. Ballard, No. 01-04-00418-CV, 174 S.W.3d 259 (Tex. App. 1st Dist. 2005). [N/R]
In a lawsuit under Texas state law for negligence, filed by an arrestee who was shot by a sheriff's deputy after a car chase, a county was entitled to sovereign immunity. A state statute waiving immunity for certain negligent acts of governmental employees did not apply, as the shooting was an intentional action. An intermediate state appeals court reasoned that the exception to the statute's waiver of immunity for intentional acts could not be "circumvented" merely by claiming that the county was "negligent" in supervising the employee who commits an intentional act, such as a shooting. Harris County, Texas v. Cabazos, No. 01-03-00772-CV, 177 S.W.3d 105 (Tex. App. 1st Dist. 2005). [N/R]
Female motorist's allegation that a state patrol officer, during a routine traffic stop, touched her outside of her pants near the vaginal area, and then placed his hand underneath her clothing, inserting at least one finger into her vagina, if true, was sufficient to state a federal civil rights claim for sexual battery and sexual assault against the officer individually. The Georgia State Patrol and Department of Public Safety, however, were state agencies not subject to a lawsuit for damages under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983, and claims under state law were barred by sovereign immunity for losses resulting from assault, battery, or false imprisonment, based on an exception to a statute waiving sovereign immunity for certain injuries caused by governmental employees. Davis v. Standifer, No. A05A1292, 621 S.E.2d 852 (Ga. App. 2005). [N/R]
Illinois state trooper was entitled to sovereign immunity under state law for claims arising out of vehicle collision with motorist's car on a state toll highway which occurred while she was responding to a report of an accident involving injuries, which she was required to treat as an emergency. Because she was acting in a manner "unique" to her employment by the state, she was not required to have her lights and sirens activated for the court to find that she was entitled to sovereign immunity. Kawaguchi v. Gainer, No. 2-04-1017, 835 N.E.2d 435 (Ill. App. 2nd Dist. 2005). [N/R]
Texas city was entitled to a ruling on its motion for sovereign immunity before trial in motorist's personal injury lawsuit against city, police department, and officer who allegedly caused the motorist's auto accident. In re Greenwell and City of Texarkana, No. 06-05-0035, 160 S.W.3d 286 (Tex. App. 2005). [N/R]
Claims by an arrestee's daughter for his death based on the alleged use of excessive force during the arrest were based on alleged intentional misconduct, rather than negligence, and therefore were excluded from the scope of a Texas state statute waiving sovereign immunity, so that complaint should be dismissed in its entirety. City of Garland, Texas v. Rivera, No. 05-04-00516-CV, 146 S.W.3d 334 (Tex. App. 2004). [N/R]
Passenger in parked police vehicle could not recover damages against city for injuries suffered when the car was struck in the rear by another parked police vehicle which was itself struck in the rear by a truck. Under Texas state law, the city did not waive sovereign immunity when the cause of the injuries was not attributable to the car in which the passenger was sitting, but rather to the negligence of a third party, the truck driver. City of Kemah v. Vela, No. 14-03-01091-CV, 149 S.W.3d 199 (Tex. App. -- Houston 14th Dist. 2004). [N/R]
Under Florida state law, court clerk and county sheriff were entitled to sovereign immunity from liability for damages allegedly arising out of the plaintiff's arrest and incarceration based on clerk's alleged failure to inform the sheriff that a capias for the arrest had been canceled by the court. Lovett v. Forman, No. 4D03-2048, 883 So. 2d 319 (Fla. App. 2004). [N/R]
Driver of fire truck was not entitled to sovereign immunity under Virginia state law for liability for injuries a motorist suffered when the fire truck struck his vehicle. At the time of the accident, the fire truck was responding to a call concerning an infant locked inside a vehicle, and was driving in a non-emergency manner without his sirens or lights activated, and was therefore required to obey all traffic regulations. Supreme Court of Virginia reverses judgment for the defendant, ordering further proceedings. Spivey v. Collier, No. 032315, 601 S.E.2d 591 (Va. 2004). [N/R]
Alabama deputy sheriff was entitled to sovereign immunity under state law against liability for injuries suffered by motorist his vehicle collided with while he was working within the "line and scope of his employment," as conceded by the motorist. The motorist claimed that the deputy had negligently or wantonly sped through an intersection without utilizing his blue overhead lights and his audible siren, but under Alabama law, the deputy was entitled to sovereign immunity, now called State immunity, even under these circumstances, so long as he was acting in pursuit of his official duty. Ex parte McWhorter (In re McCarley v. McWhorter), 1021638, 880 So. 2d 1116 (Ala. 2003).[N/R]
Delaware Supreme Court rules that state statutes waived sovereign immunity only to the extent that any loss was covered by insurance. Trial court therefore properly granted summary judgment in favor of police officer and state in lawsuit seeking to collect more than the amount of insurance available for injuries sustained by vehicle occupants in an accident involving a state police vehicle. Pauley v. Reinoehl, No. 679, 2002, 848 A.2d 561 (Del. 2004). [N/R]
Deputy sheriff, who was acting within the scope of his duties in driving evidence to a forensic lab at the time that his vehicle had an accident with another motorist's car, causing injuries, was entitled to sovereign immunity from liability for negligence under Alabama state law. Ex Parte Haralson, No. 1020783, 871 So. 2d 802 (Ala. 2003). [N/R]
Delaware Supreme Court rules that state statute prevents the state, as owner of a police emergency vehicle, from asserting sovereign immunity as a complete defense to a personal injury claim based on the alleged negligence of the vehicle's driver, but that any liability is limited, under state law, to the amount of liability insurance purchased. Pauley v. Reinoehl, No. 679,2002, 2003 Del. Lexis 625 (2004). [2004 LR Jun]
Under Georgia law, county which had not purchased liability insurance for damages arising from officers' negligence in the performance of their duties did not waive sovereign immunity and could not be held liable for motorists' injuries from collision with truck pursued by police. Smith v. Chatham County, No. A03A1133, 501 S.E.2d 388 (Ga. App. 2003). [N/R]
Under Connecticut law, state statutory requirement that sheriffs purchase personal liability insurance for damages caused by their wrongful acts was not a legislative waiver of sovereign immunity for claims against the state and sheriffs in their official capacity. The purpose of the statute was to protect the public from the sheriffs' acts and hold the sheriffs personally liable, not to authorize claims against the government. Connecticut Supreme Court also holds that an exception to sovereign immunity for acts by state officers in excess of their legal authority only applies to lawsuits seeking injunctive or declaratory relief, and does not authorize claims for monetary damages, overruling prior caselaw. Miller v. Egan, No. 16730, 828 A.2d 549 (Conn. 2003). [N/R]
Provisions of Administrative Procedure Act (APA), 5 U.S.C. Sec. 702, waived the federal government's sovereign immunity for purposes of a claim by a former Israeli citizen against the FBI director claiming that a purported 15-year pattern of constant surveillance and harassment violated his civil rights. The statute expressly waives sovereign immunity for any non-monetary relief sought against the government. The plaintiff claimed that the constant surveillance, allegedly because of his expression of "unpopular political opinions" about the Israeli-Arab conflict, resulted in rumors in the area that he was a "spy," individuals breaking into his home, hog-tying him, and severely beating him, and interfered with his ability to re-marry and procreate because the ongoing surveillance "scares away potential dates," as well as making it "nearly impossible to find employment." Raz v. Lee, No. 03-1420, 343 F.3d 937 (8th Cir. 2003). [N/R]
The U.S. government has not waived sovereign immunity for a Fourth Amendment lawsuit against the U.S. Marshal Service and the Marshal in his official capacity. Curtis v. Pracht, 202 F. Supp. 2d 406 (D. Md. 2002). [N/R]
301:13 Alabama sheriff and sheriff's deputy were both entitled to sovereign immunity from liability under state law in lawsuit brought by woman shot by fugitive that deputy failed to arrest when he found him at home after receiving a report he had shot and killed an officer in another state. Purvis, Ex parte, 689 So.2d 794 (Ala. 1997).
291:38 Ga State Department of Public Safety was entitled to sovereign immunity from claims that its officers "negligently" made arrests without probable cause, used excessive force, or failed to prevent the use of excessive force; the first two acts would clearly be intentional rather than negligent, and the third involved the use of discretion, so that the state was entitled to sovereign immunity on all such claims Rhoden v. Dept of Public Safety, 473 S.E.2d 537 (Ga App. 1996).
291:38 New York high court rules that sovereign immunity no longer protects state government against lawsuits for violations of state constitutional rights, such as protection against unreasonable search and seizure and equal protection of law; NY state government can now be sued for monetary damages in state court for violation of state constitution Brown v. State, No 186, NY Ct of Appeals, 89 NY2d 172, 674 N.E.2d 1129, 652 N.Y.S.2d 223, 1996 NY Lexis 3175 (Nov 19, 1996).
299:167 City was not liable for death of cocaine intoxicated arrestee taken to jail rather than to medical facility; city was entitled to sovereign immunity under Texas state law and exception for wrongful use of vehicle did not apply City of Orange v. Jackson, 927 S.W.2d 784 (Tex. App. 1996).
277:10 Ohio Supreme Court rules that highway patrol was immune from liability for injuries caused by patrol vehicle striking a motorist's vehicle while responding to an emergency call, in the absence of willful or wanton misconduct Baum v. Ohio State Highway Patrol, 72 Ohio St 3d 469, 650 N.E.2d 1347 (1995).
283:101 Mother's claim against state police for allegedly mishandling her daughter's remains and failing to turn remains over to her for burial were properly dismissed; intentional infliction of emotional distress claim was barred by Pennsylvania sovereign immunity and negligent infliction of emotional distress claim was not made in absence of assertion that mother witnessed a "traumatic event involving her daughter's remains" Ray v. Pennsylvania State Police, 654 A.2d 140 (Pa/Cmwlth. 1995).
266:20 Pennsylvania court overturns $43 million award to motorist killed and another motorist injured in accident which occurred when officer on foot entered traffic lane with hands raised to attempt to stop turnpike traffic; court rules that state was entitled to sovereign immunity from liability Barr v. Pennsylvania, No 86-1509, trial court Delaware County, Pa, June 1994
266:21 Unpaid volunteer reserve deputy sheriff was not an "employee" for whose actions county could be liable under Texas law; state statute only waives sovereign immunity for certain acts of paid employees Harris County v. Dillard, 883 S.W.2d 166 (Tex. 1994).
Indian tribal police officer was entitled to sovereign immunity for giving intoxicated driver, who was not a tribal member, a ride to a phone to call for transportation home, and for later driving back and accidentally hitting and killing him with vehicle while transporting a tribal member/arrestee to jail Suarez v. Newquist, 855 P.2d 1200 (Wash App. 1993).
City's possible liability for officers' alleged misuse of autopsy photographs and videotape, claimed to constitute the intentional infliction of emotional distress by reckless conduct, was barred by sovereign immunity under Florida law Williams v. City of Minneola, 619 So.2d 983 (Fla App. 1993).
Alabama Supreme Court holds that a sheriff, as an executive officer of the State, is immune from a suit for assault and false arrest Boshell v. Walker County Sheriff, 598 So.2d 843 (Ala 1992).