The US Supreme Court [official website] ruled unanimously [opinion, PDF] Tuesday in Filarsky v. Delia [SCOTUSblog backgrounder] that a private individual temporarily retained by the government to carry out its work is entitled to seek qualified immunity [Cornell LII backgrounder] from suit under 42 USC § 1983. Firefighter Nicholas Delia brought suit against the city of Rialto, the Rialto Fire Department, several city officials and a private attorney, Steve Filarsky, for violating his constitutional rights during an internal affairs investigation. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled [opinion, PDF] that Delia's rights were violated but that the officials were entitled to qualified immunity because the right was not clearly established. The Ninth Circuit also found that the private attorney was not entitled to qualified immunity. Reversing that decision, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote:
New York City has a Department of Investigation staffed by full-time public employees who investigate city personnel, and the resources to pay for it. The City of Rialto has neither, and so must rely on the occasional services of private individuals such as Mr. Filarsky. There is no reason Rialto’s internal affairs investigator should bedenied the qualified immunity enjoyed by the ones who work for New York.Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor filed concurring opinions.
The court heard arguments [JURIST report] in the case in January. JURIST Guest Columnist Jeffrey White argued recently [JURIST op-ed that the Supreme Court should not extend the doctrine of qualified immunity in § 1983 cases beyond those available at common law when the section was enacted