FEDweek

Liability Issue Could Be Clarified

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard oral arguments in a case

that could help clarify the often murky area of personal

liability for actions taken in the line of duty, an issue of

keen interest to managers who may find themselves the subject

of suits after taking disciplinary action against employees

or suits alleging wrongdoing in their conduct on the job.

The case, Groh v. Ramirez (02-811), involves a federal law

enforcement officer and a dispute over the serving of a

warrant. But the circumstances could lead the court to

develop a broader policy that goes beyond the law

enforcement realm.

The lower court found the officer personally liable for

proceeding to act without reading the warrant and dismissed

all other defendants except him, saying he bore the most

responsibility because he led the search-principles that

could be applied as well to management decisions in general.

Legal experts say the case-which may not be decided for

many months-could redefine the standards for enjoying

“qualified immunity” from personal liability for official

actions so long as the actions are taken in good faith.