566 U.S. 377 (2012), 10-1018, Filarsky v. Delia

Docket Nº:10-1018
Citation:566 U.S. 377, 132 S.Ct. 1657, 182 L.Ed.2d 662, 80 U.S.L.W. 4318, 23 Fla.L.Weekly Fed. S 266
Opinion Judge:Roberts Chief Justice.
Party Name:STEVE A. FILARSKY, Petitioner v. NICHOLAS B. DELIA
Attorney:Patricia A. Millett argued the cause for petitioner. Nicole A. Saharsky argued the cause for United States, as amicus curiae, by special leave of court. Michael A. McGill argued the cause for respondent.
Judge Panel:Roberts, C. J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. Ginsburg, J., post, p. ___, and Sotomayor, J., post, p. ___, filed concurring opinions. CONCUR BY: GINSBURG; SOTOMAYOR Justice Ginsburg, concurring. Justice Sotomayor, concurring.
Case Date:April 17, 2012
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 377

566 U.S. 377 (2012)

132 S.Ct. 1657, 182 L.Ed.2d 662, 80 U.S.L.W. 4318, 23 Fla.L.Weekly Fed. S 266

STEVE A. FILARSKY, Petitioner

v.

NICHOLAS B. DELIA

No. 10-1018

United States Supreme Court

April 17, 2012

Argued January 17, 2012.

ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT.

SYLLABUS

[182 L.Ed.2d 664] [132 S.Ct. 1658] Respondent Delia, a firefighter employed by the city of Rialto, California (City), missed work after becoming ill on the job. Suspicious of Delia's extended absence, the City hired a private investigation firm to conduct surveillance on him. When Delia was seen buying fiberglass insulation and other building supplies, the City initiated an internal affairs investigation. It hired petitioner Filarsky, a private attorney, to interview Delia. At the interview, which Delia's attorney and two fire department officials also attended, 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. This prompted Delia's attorney to threaten a civil rights action against the City and Filarsky. Nonetheless, after the interview concluded, officials followed Delia to his home, where he produced the materials.

Delia brought an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the City, the fire department, Filarsky, and other individuals, alleging that the order to produce the building materials violated his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The District Court granted summary judgment to the individual defendants on the basis of qualified immunity. The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed with respect to all individual defendants except Filarsky, concluding that he was not entitled to seek qualified immunity because he was a private attorney, not a City employee.

Held: A private individual temporarily retained by the government to carry out its work is entitled to seek qualified immunity from suit under § 1983. Pp. ___ - ___, 182 L.Ed.2d, at 668-675.

(a) In determining whether the Court of Appeals made a valid distinction between City employees and Filarsky [182 L.Ed.2d 665] for qualified immunity purposes, this Court looks to the general principles of tort immunities and defenses applicable at common law, and the reasons the Court has afforded protection from suit under § 1983. See Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 418, 96 S.Ct. 984, 47 L.Ed.2d 128. The common law as it existed in 1871, when Congress enacted § 1983, did not draw a distinction between full-time public

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servants and private individuals engaged in public service in according protection to those carrying out government responsibilities. Government at that time was smaller in both size and reach, had fewer responsibilities, and operated primarily at the local level. Government work was carried out to a significant extent by individuals who did not devote all their time to public duties, but instead pursued private callings as well. In according protection from suit to individuals doing the government's work, the common law did not draw distinctions based on the nature of a worker's engagement with the government. Indeed, examples of individuals receiving immunity for actions taken while engaged in public service on a temporary or occasional basis are as varied as the reach of government itself. Common law principles of immunity were incorporated into § 1983 and should not be abrogated absent clear legislative intent. See [132 S.Ct. 1659] Pulliam v. Allen, 466 U.S. 522, 529, 104 S.Ct. 1970, 80 L.Ed.2d 565. Immunity under § 1983 therefore should not vary depending on whether an individual working for the government does so as a permanent or full-time employee, or on some other basis. Pp. ___ - ___, 182 L.Ed.2d, at 668-672.

(b) Nothing about the reasons this Court has given for recognizing immunity under § 1983 counsels against carrying forward the common law rule. First, the government interest in avoiding " unwarranted timidity" on the part of those engaged in the public's business--which has been called " the most important special government immunity-producing concern," Richardson v. McKnight, 521 U.S. 399, 409, 117 S.Ct. 2100, 138 L.Ed.2d 540--is equally implicated regardless of whether the individual sued as a state actor works for the government full time or on some other basis. Second, affording immunity to those acting on the government's behalf serves to " 'ensure that talented candidates [are] not deterred by the threat of damages suits from entering public service.' Id., at 408, 117 S.Ct. 2100, 138 L.Ed.2d 540. The government, in need of specialized knowledge or expertise, may look outside its permanent work force to secure the services of private individuals. But because those individuals are free to choose other work that would not expose them to liability for government actions, the most talented candidates might decline public engagements if they did not receive the same immunity enjoyed by their public employee counterparts. Third, the public interest in ensuring performance of government duties free from the distractions that can accompany lawsuits is implicated whether those duties are discharged by private individuals or permanent government employees. Finally, distinguishing among those who carry out the public's business based on their particular relationship with the government creates significant line-drawing problems and can deprive state actors of the ability to " 'reasonably anticipate when their conduct may give rise to liability for damages,' Anderson v. Creighton, [182 L.Ed.2d 666] 483 U.S. 635, 646, 107 S.Ct. 3034, 97 L.Ed.2d 523. Pp. ___ - ___, 182 L.Ed.2d, at 672-673.

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(c) This conclusion is not contrary to Wyatt v. Cole, 504 U.S. 158, 112 S.Ct. 1827, 118 L.Ed.2d 504, or Richardson v. McKnight, supra, 117 S.Ct. 2100, 138 L.Ed.2d 540. Wyatt did not implicate the reasons underlying recognition of qualified immunity because the defendant in that case had no connection to government and pursued purely private ends. Richardson involved the unusual circumstances of prison guards employed by a private company who worked in a privately run prison facility. Nothing of the sort is involved here, or in the typical case of an individual hired by the government to assist in carrying out its work. Pp. ___ - ___, 182 L.Ed.2d, at 673-674.

621 F.3d 1069, reversed.

Patricia A. Millett argued the cause for petitioner.

Nicole A. Saharsky argued the cause for United States, as amicus curiae, by special leave of court.

Michael A. McGill argued the cause for respondent.

Roberts, C. J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. Ginsburg, J., post, p. ___, and Sotomayor, J., post, p. ___, filed concurring opinions.

OPINION

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[132 S.Ct. 1660] Roberts Chief Justice.

Section 1983 provides a cause of action against state actors who violate an individual's rights under federal law. 42 U.S.C. § 1983. At common law, those who carried out the work of government enjoyed various protections from liability when doing so, in order to allow them to serve the government without undue fear of personal exposure. Our decisions have looked to these common law protections in affording either absolute or qualified immunity to individuals sued under § 1983. The question in this case is whether an individual hired by the government to do its work is prohibited from seeking such immunity, solely because he works for the government on something other than a permanent or full-time basis.

I

A

Nicholas Delia, a firefighter employed by the city of Rialto, California (or City), became ill while responding to a toxic spill in August 2006. Under a doctor's orders, Delia missed three weeks of work. The City became suspicious of Delia's extended absence, and hired a private investigation firm to conduct surveillance on him. The private investigators observed Delia purchasing building supplies--including several rolls of fiberglass insulation--from a home improvement store. The City surmised that Delia was missing work to

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do construction on his home rather than because of illness, and it initiated a formal internal affairs investigation of him.

Delia was ordered to appear for an administrative investigation interview. The City hired Steve Filarsky to conduct the interview. Filarsky was an experienced employment lawyer who had previously represented the City in several investigations. Delia and his attorney attended the interview, along with Filarsky and two fire department officials, Mike Peel and Frank Bekker. During the interview, Filarsky questioned...

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