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Filarsky v. Delia

Summarized by: 

Date Filed: April 17, 2012
Case #: 10-1018
Roberts, C. J., for a unanimous Court. Ginsburg, J., and Sotomayor, J., each wrote a concurrence.
Full Text Opinion: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/11pdf/10-1018.pdf

Civil Rights § 1983: A private individual temporarily retained by the government is entitled to seek qualified immunity from a §1983 suit.

The City of Rialto hired Petitioner to interview Respondent as part of the city's investigation of Respondent's claim of illness necessitating prolonged absence from work. Petitioner asked Respondent to allow city officials into his home to view evidence of his activities while on leave, and after Respondent refused, Petitioner ordered him to bring the evidence out of his home so it could be viewed by officials. Respondent brought suit under 42 USC § 1983 against the city, Petitioner, and others. The District Court granted summary judgment to all individual defendants on the grounds of qualified immunity, and the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed with respect to all individual defendants except Petitioner.

In a unanimous opinion, the Supreme Court held that a private individual temporarily retained by the government is entitled to seek qualified immunity from a § 1983 suit. The Court reasoned that historically the common law did not distinguish between full-time public servants and private individuals engaged in public service, and since common law principles of immunity were incorporated into § 1983, that those principles should be maintained in the absence of legislative intent to override them. Additionally, including private actors engaged in public service serves the policy goals of avoiding "unwarranted timidity" by these actors, ensuring the government can retain capable individuals, avoiding distraction of litigation to the temporary public servants, and creating a bright-line rule that allows actors to anticipate when their conduct may give rise to liability.