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Law School Case Brief

Owen v. Independence - 445 U.S. 622, 100 S. Ct. 1398 (1980)

Rule:

Two mutually dependent rationales are identified as to which the doctrine of official immunity rests: (1) the injustice, particularly in the absence of bad faith, of subjecting to liability an officer who is required, by the legal obligations of his position, to exercise discretion; and (2) the danger that the threat of such liability would deter his willingness to execute his office with the decisiveness and the judgment required by the public good. The first consideration is simply not implicated when the damages award comes not from the official's pocket, but from the public treasury.

Facts:

Petitioner police chief alleged, under 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983, that respondent city, its manager, council, discharged him in violation of his due process rights. The appellate court reaffirmed its original determination that the city violated the chief's rights, but held that all respondents, including the city, were entitled to qualified immunity. Petitioner was granted certiorari.

Issue:

Were the respondents entitled to qualified immunity?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The Court held that the city was not qualifiedly immune from liability and could not assert the good faith of its officers as a defense under § 1983. There was no tradition of immunity for cities, and neither history nor policy supported a construction of § 1983 that would justify the qualified immunity. The court further held that because sovereign immunity insulated the city from unconsented suits altogether, the presence or absence of good faith was irrelevant.

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