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Immunity protects officers, not employers in New York municipality

On Behalf of | Apr 9, 2022 | False Arrest/False Imprisonment

The New York municipality of Nassau County has been in the news for an incident of wrongful imprisonment leading to a case that illuminates some of the nuances of qualified immunity. It is possible that the municipality will be deemed liable for wrongful acts committed by an employee.

The alleged wrongful action occurred in spite of the fact that this employee had previously been given individual immunity. The New York police detective in question had been found liable for an incident of false arrest in a decision made by a jury.

Although this police detective had the right to be protected by what’s known as qualified immunity, the New York municipality where the officer was employed, Nassau County, wasn’t entitled to extend that same protection. This means that the officer’s employer may still have liability where the damages from the wrongful actions of the detective are concerned.

This comes from a ruling made by a federal appeals court in late January 2022. The decision partially overrules the previous decision that had been made in a lower court.

A partially overruled decision

Once it had been determined in court that the arrest made by a police detective from Nassau County was false imprisonment, a lower district court pointed to qualified immunity as the basis for vacating these claims. This applied both to the allegations against the specific officer and the county that the detective was employed to.

In what was initially an unfortunate turn of events for the plaintiff, this left him without a basis for legal action. But after appealing the decision, he gained the partial support of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. After the appeal, the detective’s qualified immunity was upheld, but the court decision removed immunity from the office that the detective worked for.