Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Qualified Immunity Definition:

Shields public official from any litigation in regards to acts undertaken in good faith.

Related Terms: Absolute Immunity

Justice Scalia of the United States Supreme Court, in Anderson v Creighton, wrote:

"When government officials abuse their offices, actions for damages may offer the only realistic avenue for vindication of constitutional guarantees. On the other hand, permitting damages suits against government officials can entail substantial social costs, including the risk that fear of personal monetary liability and harassing litigation will unduly inhibit officials in the discharge of their duties.

"Our cases have accommodated these conflicting concerns by generally providing government officials performing discretionary functions with a qualified immunity, shielding them from civil damages liability as long as their actions could reasonably have been thought consistent with the rights they are alleged to have violated."

In Stafford, Justice Carpeneti wrote:

"[T]he doctrines of absolute and qualified immunity protect public officials from tort suits for discretionary acts committed within the scope of their authority.

"Absolute immunity immunizes officials from suit for all official acts without regard to motive.

"Qualified immunity immunizes official acts only when undertaken in good faith.

"Both forms of immunity seek to balance the protection of private citizens' rights and the substantial social costs of imposing liability on public officials.

"A three-step inquiry is generally used to determine the existence and scope of official immunity. First, does the doctrine of official immunity apply to the state official's conduct? Second, if it does apply, is the immunity absolute or qualified? And third, if it is only a qualified immunity, did the state official act corruptly, maliciously, or in bad faith?"

Previously, in Alpine Industries, the Alaska Court had specified:

"If the immunity is absolute, the inquiry ends; if it is only qualified, inquiry into motive becomes relevant.

"[T]hree factors were relevant when deciding whether absolute or qualified immunity should apply: (1) The nature and importance of the function that the officer performed to the administration of government (i.e. the importance to the public that this function be performed; that it be performed correctly; that it be performed according to the best judgment of the officer unimpaired by extraneous matters); (2) The likelihood that the officer will be subjected to frequent accusations of wrongful motives and how easily the officer can defend against these allegations; and (3) The availability to the injured party of other remedies or other forms of relief (i.e. whether the injured party can obtain some other kind of judicial review of the correctness or validity of the officer's action)."

REFERENCES:

  • Alpine Industries, Inc. v. Feyk, 22 P. 3d 445 ((Supreme Court of Alaska, 2001)
  • Anderson v. Creighton, 483 US 635 (1987)
  • Smith v. Stafford, 189 P. 3d 1065 (Supreme Court of Alaska, 2008)

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