Willamette Law Online

Oregon Supreme Court


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Westfall v. State

Summarized by: 

Date Filed: 04-10-2014
Case #: S060416
Linder, J. for the Court; En Banc.
Full Text Opinion: http://www.publications.ojd.state.or.us/docs/S060416.pdf

Sovereign Immunity: Under ORS 30.265(6)(c), government employees responsible for applying policies enacted by high-level officials are protected by discretionary immunity when following the explicit orders of their superiors.

Chester C. Westfall (Westfall) brought an action against the State of Oregon (state), alleging he had been kept in prison longer than his lawful term; specifically, Westfall alleged his sentence should have run consecutively to a previous sentence as opposed to another sentence imposed the same day. At trial, the state moved for summary judgment, claiming policies requiring sentences imposed the same day to run consecutively fell under discretionary immunity. The trial court granted the state’s motion. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding the discretionary immunity to adopt policies did not apply to employees who carry out those policies. On appeal to the Supreme Court, the state argued discretionary immunity extends to the written policy and the employees who put the policy into effect. Westfall argued that the power given to employees was sufficiently ministerial as to not be protected by discretionary immunity. The Court held the “employees did not have any authority under the policy to” run Westfall’s later sentence consecutively to any earlier sentence; because employees did not have any actual choice in applying the state’s policies, their actions were not ministerial, and therefore were protected under discretionary immunity. Remanded to the Court of Appeals to consider unaddressed arguments by Westfall.