Suing State Law Enforcement Officials In State Court:Easier Said Than Done

Under the law of the State of Georgia, law enforcement officials enjoy official immunity for acts performed within the scope of their discretionary authority. As long as they are performing discretionary acts and not ministerial duties, they can only be held liable if they are acting outside the scope of his authority or with actual malice or intent to injure. These are very difficult propositions to prove in the routine case. If an officer, however, violates a simple ministerial task, he can be liable but even here sometimes there is a difficulty suing a particular law enforcement official because of the doctrine of sovereign immunity, which more often than not is implicated in these cases.
If a county official is involved, typically, the county can only be liable for acts where there has been a statutory waiver of immunity such as the statute which exists providing for a waiver of sovereign immunity in connection with damages caused by the negligent use of motor vehicles. As an example, in a police chase, if the officer recklessly disregards proper police procedure, the officer can be sued and official immunity overcome assuming there is evidence of reckless disregard of proper police procedure for the chase because of the statutory waiver of immunity. In other contexts, it is difficult to prove a waiver of sovereign immunity and consequently it is difficult to hold an officer liable for acts committed within the scope of his/her discretionary authority.
In many of the articles we have written thus far, we keep using “easier said than done” when it comes to bringing legal claims against law enforcement officials. The law is protective of officers acting within the scope of their authority and usually only allows claims to go forward when there has either been a clear breach or abuse of the authority and/or an intent to cause injury such that misconduct is established to exist. If the officer violates a simple ministerial task, again, he may be liable on a different legal basis.
Any such case against a law enforcement officer in state court must be analyzed under state law and sovereign immunity implications are always involved. Again, anyone with a case involving claims against a state law enforcement officials should confer with counsel as soon as possible in order to have the issues properly reviewed. Ante-litem pre-suit notices of claims are oftentimes required in these cases as well.

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