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Law School Case Brief

Blair v. Anderson - 325 A.2d 94 (Del. 1974)

Rule:

The Delaware Constitution provides that suits may be brought against the state, according to such regulations as shall be made by law, Del. Const. art. 1, § 9, and the judicial history of the provision makes it plain that the defense of sovereign immunity may be waived by legislative act and only by legislative act. It is clear, however, that waiver need not be made in express statutory language. Specifically, when the general assembly authorizes a contract to be made it implicitly and necessarily waives immunity to suit for breach by the state of that contract. While the justice of that proposition stands on its own merit, there is a tendency to narrow the doctrine of sovereign immunity.

Facts:

Robert Blair, formerly a Federal prisoner, alleges that while incarcerated in the New Castle County Correctional Institution he was attacked by a fellow prisoner and that defendants, including the State, were negligent in permitting such assault. The State argued that it could not have been sued by Blair because the doctrine of sovereign immunity permitted such suit only after waiver by a legislative act and claimed that the general assembly had not passed such an act. 

Issue:

Can the State invoke the defense of immunity in this case, wherein the State had entered a contract with the federal government under 18 U.S.C.S. § 4042, which regarded the safekeeping and protection of prisoners?

Answer:

No

Conclusion:

The Court found that the State was, generally, entitled to the defense of immunity. However, the Court found that the State had entered a contract with the federal government under 18 U.S.C.S. § 4042, which regarded the safekeeping and protection of prisoners. By entering that contract, the State waived sovereign immunity in a suit for its own breach of that contract. Though Blair was not a party to the contract, the Court found that he was indeed a third-party beneficiary to the contract and, as such, could bring a claim to enforce it. Under § 4042, the federal government owed a duty of care and subsistence to a person it caused to be committed and it owed him a statutory duty, which, by the contract the State agreed to perform. The former prisoner, therefore, had a claim under contract.

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