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Absolute or Qualified Immunity

Absolute immunity is the right to be free from the consequences of a suit’s results, and from the burden of defending oneself altogether.  Qualified immunity only shields an administrative officer from liability if the officer’s activities are:

  • within the scope of his/her office;
  • are in objective good faith, and
  • do not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would be aware.[i]

Qualified immunity protects all, except the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.  Generally, determining whether an official protected by qualified immunity may be held personally liable turns on the objective legal reasonableness of the allegedly unlawful action.[ii]

Absolute privilege extends to administrative bodies in the exercise of quasi-judicial powers, which bodies are required by statute to exercise.[iii]  The absolute immunity afforded to an administrative agency based on prosecutorial immunity is limited to the same quasi-judicial functions for which immunity would apply to a traditional prosecutor.  Moreover, an agency is not entitled to absolute immunity for administrative or investigative functions, although such conduct may be related to a prosecution.[iv]

[i] Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 102 S. Ct. 2727, 73 L. Ed. 2d 396 (1982).

[ii] Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 107 S. Ct. 3034, 97 L. Ed. 2d 523 (1987).

[iii] Belcher v. Kentucky Parole Bd., 917 S.W.2d 584 (Ky. Ct. App. 1996).

[iv] State v. Superior Court In and For County of Maricopa, 186 Ariz. 294, 921 P.2d 697 (Ct. App. Div. 1 1996).

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