Elected officials, law enforcement officers, tax collectors, zoning inspectors and other public officials sometimes face lawsuits over decisions they have made or actions they have taken. To prevent the fear of lawsuits from unduly influencing the judgment of public officials, the law extends personal liability protection to them in the form of public official immunity (“POI”).
POI will usually shield public officials from claims of negligent conduct, so long as they acted within the scope of their duties and without malice or corruption. The state’s case law is split, though, over whether POI can ever protect public officials from intentional tort claims such as assault, battery, and trespass. One line of cases answers that question in the negative. In the other line, public officials have successfully invoked POI to defeat intentional tort claims.
The North Carolina Court of Appeals recently issued a decision that comes down firmly on one side of the divide, keeping the split alive. After setting out POI’s basic features, this blog post briefly reviews that case and then examines the split in more detail, concluding that POI probably should be understood to bar some intentional tort claims. The post refers in several places to a 2016 Local Government Law Bulletin published by the School of Government and found online here. Continue Reading