U.S. Supreme Court Grants Immunity to Part-Time Municipal Attorney

Scarinci hollenbeck malpracticeThe U.S. Supreme Court recently expanded immunity from suit to private attorneys and other individuals hired by the government to carry out its work. The case, Filarsky v. Delia, will have a wide impact on cities and towns across New Jersey, particularly smaller communities that hire private New Jersey attorneys and other consultants on a part-time or as needed basis.

The Facts of the Case

Steve Filarsky, a private attorney, was retained by the city of Rialto, California to conduct an investigation after firefighter Nicholas Delia was seen buying fiberglass insulation at a home improvement store while on medical leave. During an interview, Delia acknowledged buying the supplies, but denied having done any work on his home. To verify Delia’s claim, Filarsky asked Delia to allow a fire department official to enter his home and view the unused materials. When Delia refused, Filarsky ordered him to bring the materials out of his home for the official to see.

While Delia ultimately produced the materials, he later brought an action under 42 U. S. C. § 1983 against the city, the fire department, and Filarsky, alleging that the order to produce the building materials violated his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit concluded that Filarsky was not entitled to seek qualified immunity under Section 183 because he was a private attorney, not a city employee.

Section 1983 creates a cause of action for any person who has been deprived of rights secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States by a person acting under color of state law. Qualified immunity protects government officials from lawsuits as individuals under Section 183; only allowing suits where officials violated a “clearly established” statutory or constitutional right.

The Supreme Court’s Decision

The justices unanimously ruled that individuals were not barred from enjoying the benefit of immunity simply because they are not full-time employees. As the Court highlighted, “The government interest in avoiding ‘unwarranted timidity’ on the part of those engaged in the public’s business … is equally implicated regardless of whether the individual sued as a state actor works for the government full-time or on some other basis.”

The Court acknowledged that the government may look outside its permanent workforce to secure the services of private individuals with particular skills and expertise and that the most talented candidates might decline these positions if they did not receive the same immunity enjoyed by their public employee counterparts.

The Practical Implications for Municipalities

The public law decision will have broad ramifications to New Jersey towns that have increasingly turned to contract employees to carry out their work in the midst of shrinking state and municipal budgets. It will be interesting to see if the law in Filarsky will be expanded to include attorney malpractice as well as 1983 civil rights violations.

One Reply to “U.S. Supreme Court Grants Immunity to Part-Time Municipal Attorney”

  1. This could not be more improper. The immu­nity gets extended as the [ille­gal] actions of the con­trac­tor can be used as lever­age to avoid pros­e­cu­tion for those actions for the contractor’s other clients.

    Real life exam­ple: My wife hired the pri­vate inves­ti­ga­tor used by the county for [ille­gal] sur­veil­lance. The PI has hacked my com­put­ers and phones and used tech­nol­ogy to harass and ter­ror­ize me. Law enforce­ment refuses to respond to any report of intrusion/​harassment. This has been ongo­ing since 2007. There is no end in sight because they can­not be pros­e­cuted. My ter­ror continues.

    There can be no log­i­cal eth­i­cal or moral way that this rul­ing can stand.

    My case is doc­u­mented at http://​www​.work2b​done​.com/​l​ive

    Not only was the PI used to lever­age immu­nity for their crimes, but a judge inten­tion­ally issued an order which was kept secret — undock­eted and undis­trib­uted. The result was the com­plete per­ver­sion of any court pro­ceed­ing as the lawyers lever­aged the ‘secret order’ to obtain immu­nity to defy EVERY court order.

    I am seek­ing to find a lawyer, but no lawyer wants to go against the county depart­ments, law enforce­ment and 8 judges,… The sit­u­a­tion is insane, but the vic­tim is not.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.