Tort Actions Against State Officials

Tort Actions Against State Officials.—In Tindal v. Wesley,153 the Court adopted the rule of United States v. Lee,154 a tort suit against federal officials, to permit a tort action against state officials to recover real property held by them and claimed by the State and to obtain damages for the period of withholding. The immunity of a State from suit has long been held not to extend to actions against state officials for damages arising out of willful and negligent disregard of state laws.155 The reach of the rule is evident in Scheuer v. Rhodes,156 in which the Court held that plaintiffs were not barred by the Eleventh Amendment or other immunity doctrines from suing the governor and other officials of a State alleging that they deprived plaintiffs of federal rights under color of state law and seeking damages, when it was clear that plaintiffs were seeking to impose individual and personal liability on the officials. There was no "executive immunity" from suit, the Court held; rather, the immunity of state officials is qualified and varies according to the scope of discretion and responsibilities of the particular office and the circumstances existing at the time the challenged action was taken.157

153 167 U.S. 204 (1897).

154 106 U.S. 196 (1883).

155 Johnson v. Lankford, 245 U.S. 541 (1918); Martin v. Lankford, 245 U.S. 547 (1918).

156 416 U.S. 233 (1974).

157 These suits, like suits against local officials and municipal corporations, are typically brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and typically involve all the decisions respecting liability and immunities thereunder. On the scope of immunity of federal officials, see "Suits Against United States Officials," supra.

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Last modified: June 9, 2014