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Contract Attorneys and Other Individuals Hired on Temporary Basis by Cities and Other Government Agencies Entitled to Qualified Immunity

April 20, 2012

The United States Supreme Court issued a unanimous and very favorable decision for cities in Filarsky v. Delia this week.

The court held that the law does not distinguish between providing immunity for city or other public employees and those individuals hired by a city or other public agencies on a contract or temporary basis to perform government services.
A contract attorney providing investigation services for a city was sued along with the city and other city employees for alleged constitutional violations. The trial court found that the city, its employees and the contract attorney were entitled to qualified immunity, a rule that protects government officials from civil damages as long as they conduct their duties with a good faith belief in their legality. However, on appeal, the Court of Appeals concluded that the contract attorney was not eligible for the immunity because he was not a permanent, full-time city employee. The Supreme Court reversed the decision, finding no justification for the distinction.
The court observed that a government employee performing public service is entitled to seek the protection of qualified immunity, and so too should a person performing the same duties on a contract or less than full-time basis. By ensuring that qualified immunity applies to all individuals providing government services, the opinion reserves for cities and other public agencies the ability to make effective and cost-efficient use of private individuals in providing services to the public on something other than a permanent or full-time basis.
The League thanks Kent Bullard of Greines, Martin, Stein & Richland LLP for preparing the League’s amicus brief in this case.

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