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Harlow v. Fitzgerald - 457 U.S. 800, 102 S. Ct. 2727 (1982)

Rule:

Government officials performing discretionary functions generally are shielded from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.

Facts:

A. Ernest Fitzgerald, a civilian employee of the Department of the Air Force was terminated from his position. He brought a suit for civil damages in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia against Bryce Harlow and Alexander Butterfield, two senior aides and advisers of the President of the United States, alleging that they participated in a conspiracy to violate his constitutional and statutory rights. Fitzgerald further alleged that Harlow and Butterfield had entered the conspiracy in their official capacities to effect his unlawful discharge. At the conclusion of discovery, the supporting evidence remained inferential, whereupon Harlow and Butterfield moved for summary judgment. The District Court denied their motion, concluding that Harlow and Butterfield were not entitled to absolute immunity from suit. Harlow and Butterfield appealed the denial of their immunity defense to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, which dismissed the appeal.

Issue:

Are senior aides and advisors of the President of the United States entitled to absolute immunity from suit?

Answer:

No, but they are entitled to some form of immunity.

Conclusion:

The Court found that Harlow and Butterfield were entitled to some form of immunity from suits for damages. The Court held that Harlow and Butterfield were entitled to qualified immunity that would be defeated if they knew or reasonably should have known that the action violated Fitzgerald’s constitutional rights or if the action was taken with malicious intention to cause a deprivation of respondent's constitutional rights. As such, the judgment denying petitioners' immunity defense was vacated and remanded.

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