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Definition of Qualified immunity

Qualified immunity Definition from Law Dictionaries & Glossaries
The 'Lectric Law Library
The defense of qualified immunity protects "government officials . . . 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." Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). The rule of qualified immunity " `provides ample support to all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.' " Burns v. Reed, 500 U.S. 478, 494-95 (1991) (quoting Malley v. Briggs, 475 U.S. 335, 341 (1986)). "Therefore, regardless of whether the constitutional violation occurred, the officer should prevail if the right asserted by the plaintiff was not `clearly established' or the officer could have reasonably believed that his particular conduct was lawful." Romero v. Kitsap County, 931 F.2d 624, 627 (9th Cir. 1991) (emphasis added). Furthermore, "[t]he entitlement is an immunity from suit rather than a mere defense to liability; .. . it is effectively lost if a case is erroneously permitted to go to trial." Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 526 (1985).

The qualified immunity test requires a two-part analysis: "(1) Was the law governing the official's conduct clearly established? (2) Under that law, could a reasonable officer have believed the conduct was lawful?" Act-Up!, 988 F.2d at 871; see also Tribble v. Gardner, 860 F.2d 321, 324 (9th Cir. 1988), cert. denied, 490 U.S. 1075 (1989).

The qualified immunity doctrine protects government officials 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." Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). In determining whether an official is entitled to qualified immunity, we (1) identify the specific right allegedly violated; (2) determine whether the right was "clearly established;" and (3) determine whether a reasonable officer could have believed that his or her conduct was lawful. Alexander v. City and County of San Francisco, 29 F.3d 1355, 1363-64 (9th Cir. 1994).

Courts apply the test articulated by the Supreme Court in Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635 (1987), to determine whether the right is "sufficiently clear that a reasonable official would understand that what he is doing violates that right." Id. at 639-40. It is not necessary that the specific action in question previously have been declared unconstitutional, so long as the unlawfulness was apparent in light of preexisting law. Id. at 640. We consider whether "the particular facts of [the] case support a claim of clearly established right." Backlund v. Barnhart, 778 F.2d 1386, 1389 (9th Cir. 1985).

Even where a constitutional violation has occurred, an officer will be immune from suit if he or she "could have reasonably believed that his particular conduct was lawful." Romero, 931 F.2d at 627.

"[A] district court's denial of a claim of qualified immunity, to the extent that it turns on an issue of law, is an appealable 'final decision' within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. section 1291 notwithstanding the absence of a final judgment." Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 530 (1985). -----Brought to you by - THE 'LECTRIC LAW LIBRARY(tm) The Net's Finest Legal Resource For Legal Pros & Laypeople Alike. WWW: https://www.lectlaw.com -- e-mail: staff@lectlaw.com
Courtesy of the 'Lectric Law Library.
Qualified immunity Definition from Encyclopedia Dictionaries & Glossaries
English Wikipedia - The Free Encyclopedia
Qualified immunity is a doctrine in U.S. federal law that arises in cases brought against state officials under 42 U.S.C Section 1983 and against federal officials under Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971). Qualified immunity, when applicable, shields government officials from liability for the violation of an individual's federal constitutional rights. This grant of immunity is available to state or federal employees performing discretionary functions where their actions, even if later found to be unlawful, did not violate "clearly established law". The defense of qualified immunity was created by the U.S. Supreme Court, replacing a court's inquiry into a defendant's subjective state of mind with an inquiry into the objective reasonableness of the contested action. A government agent's liability in a federal civil rights lawsuit now no longer turns upon whether the defendant acted with "malice", but on whether a hypothetical reasonable person in the defendant's position would have known that his or her actions violated clearly established law.

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