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:

Petitioners, Presidential senior aides and advisors, sought review of the judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that denied petitioners' immunity defense in a motion for summary judgment in an action by respondent for civil damages for petitioners' alleged conspiracy to violate respondent's constitutional and statutory rights. Respondent brought an action against petitioners for civil damages for petitioners' alleged conspiracy to violate respondent's constitutional and statutory rights. Respondent averred that petitioners entered into the conspiracy in their capacities as senior presidential aides. Petitioners unsuccessfully asserted an immunity defense. At issue was the scope of the immunity available to senior aides and advisors of the President of the United States in a suit for damages based on their official acts. On review, the court vacated the judgment and remanded the cause.

ISSUE:

Are petitioners absolutely immune from suit?

ANSWER:

No.

CONCLUSION:

In performing discretionary functions, petitioners were generally shielded from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct did not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have had knowledge. The court found that petitioners were entitled to some form of immunity from suits for damages. The court held that petitioners were entitled to qualified immunity that would be defeated if they knew or reasonably should have known that the action violated respondent's constitutional rights or if the action was taken with malicious intention to cause a deprivation of respondent's constitutional rights. 

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