M.J. v. United States

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Tort Law
  • Date Filed: 07-01-2013
  • Case #: 11-35625
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge N. Smith for the Court; Circuit Judges Tashima and Tallman
  • Full Text Opinion

An injured party will fail to hold a city vicariously liable for an immune independent contractors' negligent conduct if the party seeks relief under the "non-delegable duty" theory of vicarious liability.

M.J. and J.P. (both minors) brought a negligence suit against the city of Quinhagak, Alaska (the “City”), for injuries caused by a Native Village of Kwinhagak (“NVK”) tribal police officer. M.J. and J.P. sought to hold the City liable based on the theory that the City had a “‘non-delegable’ duty to provide law enforcement services to the community.” When the alleged negligence occurred, the City had previously transferred the Annual Funding Agreements (“AFA”) for public safety and policing powers from the federal government to NVK. The district court denied the City’s motion for summary judgment. However, upon reconsideration, the district court ordered supplemental briefing and granted summary judgment to the City. The Ninth Circuit held that the police officer qualified for tort liability immunity and that his immunity extended to the City, therefore barring M.J. and J.P.’s negligence claims. The panel stated that is the officer was immune from the claims under both the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”) and the tribe's sovereign immunity. The officer was immune under the FTCA because in the AFA the “NVK agreed to ‘assume responsibility for implementation and administration of...programs, services, functions and activities’ including ‘Public Safety/Policing.’” M.J. and J.P. argued that the “non-delegable duty doctrine is not a theory of vicarious liability.” The panel rejected this argument because the non-delegable duty doctrine is an exception to the “general rule that an employer cannot be held vicariously liable for the torts of his independent contractor” and “applying the doctrine would permit such vicarious liability to attach.” Therefore, it was a theory of vicarious liability, and under Alaskan law "an employee's immunity from tort liability precludes an employer from being held vicariously liable for the employee's negligence." AFFIRMED.

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