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Law School Case Brief

Dickens v. De Bolt - 288 Or. 3, 602 P.2d 246 (1979)

Rule:

One is privileged to commit an act which will otherwise be a conversion if he is acting in discharge of duty created by law to preserve the public safety, health, peace or other interest, and his act is reasonably necessary to the performance of his duty or the exercise of his authority.

Facts:

The fisherman caught a sturgeon and tied it to a pier. During the night, the officer confiscated the sturgeon on the ground that it was illegally caught. The officer took the sturgeon to his house and put it in his freezer. There was evidence that the officer ate a portion of the sturgeon. The fisherman filed a conversion action against the officer. The trial court entered a judgment for the fisherman. The appellate court reversed the trial court's judgment, holding that the officer was immune from liability pursuant to Or. Rev. Stat. § 496.620, which granted immunity to officials who enforced wildlife laws.

Issue:

Was the officer engaged in the enforcement of wild life laws as to immune himself from liability pursuant to Or. Rev. Stat. § 496.620 and Oregon Tort Claims, which granted immunity to officials who enforced wildlife laws?

Answer:

NO.

Conclusion:

The Supreme Court of Oregon reversed the ruling of the Court of Appeals, concluding that the officer was not engaged in the enforcement of wildlife laws when he took the sturgeon to his home and put it in his freezer, so he was not immune from liability under the two Oregon statutes. While the state supreme court agreed that the state police officer who seized a fish that he believed to have been caught illegally he is entitled to immunity, the court could not construe the statute to mean when a state police officer "eats the evidence," he was engaged in either the "enforcement or attempted enforcement" of the game laws or the "exercise or attempted exercise" of any of his "duties or privileges" as an officer. Therefore, the court held that the reasoning upon which the Court of Appeals based its decision was faulty and that it was in error in holding that Or. Rev. Stat. § 496.620 granted an immunity to the defendant as a complete defense.

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