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Archive for the ‘Government Law’ Category

California Attempts to Change Standard of Liability for Use of Force Claims

Posted on: August 29th, 2019

By: Sara Brochstein

Earlier this month, California enacted a new measure that goes into effect in 2020 altering the use of deadly force standard for law enforcement officers. The law was originally introduced in response to the March 2018 shooting of Stephon Clark in Sacramento.

The new standard dictates that the use of deadly force is acceptable only when it is “necessary in defense of human life” and no other alternatives are available.  And in determining whether deadly force is necessary, officers are required to evaluate each situation in light of the particular circumstances of each case and use other available resources and techniques if reasonably safe and feasible to an objectively reasonable officer.

This is a departure from the federal standard of whether the officer’s use of deadly force was “objectively reasonable” as addressed by the Supreme Court in Tennessee v. Garner (1985) and Graham v. Connor (1989).  However, the new law fails to set forth a specific definition of “necessary,” which would leave interpretation to the courts on a case-by-case basis. Thus, while many view the new standard as “heightened,” it remains to be seen whether it will yield different results.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Sara Brochstein at [email protected].

Can Silence Be Bought as Part of a Settlement of a Use of Force Claim?

Posted on: July 30th, 2019

By: Jake Loken

Can silence be bought, especially of those who claim excessive use of force? The City of Baltimore thought so, until the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals said otherwise.

In Overbey v. Mayor of Balt., No. 17-2444 (4th Cir.), decided July 11, 2019, the Fourth Circuit found that public policy and First Amendment rights outweighed the interests of the City of Baltimore in enforcing non-disparagement clauses found in the City’s settlement agreements, which settled use of force claims.

The Fourth Circuit explained that when an individual brought claims of excessive force, the City of Baltimore would only settle the claims if the individual agreed to a non-disparagement clause, which constitutes a waiver of the individuals First Amendment rights, as it prevents that individual from speaking about their claims, the facts of their claims, or the settlement process itself. If the individual did speak out, the non-disparagement clause would be breached, and the individual would be required to return half of the settlement amount back to the City.

Usually, individuals may waive their constitutional rights as part of a settlement, but only if “the interest in enforcing the waiver is not outweighed by a relevant public policy that would be harmed by enforcement.” But in the case of non-disparagement clauses, where individuals’ First Amendment rights are waived regarding speaking out about alleged excessive, the Fourth Circuit said such clauses were unenforceable. The Fourth Circuit explained that “unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials can play a valuable role in civil life and therefore enjoy the protection of the First Amendment. Enforcing a waiver of First Amendment rights for the very purpose of insulating public officials from unpleasant attacks would plainly undermine that core First Amendment principle.”

The ruling is a reminder that public policy must be taken into consideration when deciding to contractual wave constitutional rights, and acts as a reminder that silence can be hard to buy.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Jake Loken at [email protected].

Sovereign Immunity Finally Bars $10.6 Million Judgment Against City of Albany

Posted on: April 30th, 2019

By: Wes Jackson

Following up on our recent blog post highlighting the Georgia Court of Appeals’ decision to reverse a $10.6 million trial verdict against the City of Albany on sovereign immunity grounds, we are pleased to announce that the Georgia Supreme Court has declined to review the Court of Appeals’ decision. The Supreme Court’s decision marks an important win for local governments in Georgia. Freeman Mathis & Gary attorneys Sun Choy, Jake Daly, and Wes Jackson represented the City as appellate counsel.

The wrongful death case concerned the murder of a young man at an illegal night club in Albany, Georgia. The administrators of the man’s estate argued at a trial that the illegal club was essentially a “nuisance” the City of Albany had created or maintained by declining to shutter the club when it had prior opportunities to do so. After trial, a jury awarded the plaintiffs $15,200,000 in damages, apportioning 70% of the liability to the City. The jury only apportioned 10% of the liability to the owners and operators of Brick City, 13% to the actual murderer, and 1% each to seven participants in the brawl.

In reversing, the Court of Appeals concluded that plaintiffs cannot circumvent sovereign immunity by simply alleging that the City’s discretionary conduct amounted to the maintenance of a “nuisance.” The Court of Appeals’ decision is available at City of Albany v. Stanford, 347 Ga. App. 95, 815 S.E.2d 322 (2018). The Georgia Supreme Court’s decision to deny plaintiffs’ petition for certiorari makes the Court of Appeals’ decision final.

The case marks an important win for municipalities in Georgia by reinforcing the scope of their defense of sovereign immunity.

For additional questions about this matter or sovereign immunity under Georgia law, please contact Sun Choy ([email protected]), Jake Daly ([email protected]), or Wes Jackson ([email protected]).

Georgia General Assembly Passes Waiving Sovereign Immunity for Certain Claims

Posted on: April 11th, 2019

By: William J. Linkous, III

For the second time in recent years the Georgia General Assembly has passed legislation waiving sovereign immunity for certain claims against the State, and against local governments. In 2016, then-Governor Deal vetoed a bill that waived sovereign immunity in specific circumstances on the grounds the waiver was too broad. This year, the General Assembly enacted HB 311, sponsored by Rep. Andy Welch (R-McDonough). The bill must be signed by Governor Kemp within 40 days for it to become law.

HB 311 contains an initial section waiving sovereign immunity for claims seeking declaratory or injunctive relief to remedy an injury in fact caused to an aggrieved person by the state, a state governmental entity, or an officer or employee in his or her official capacity in violation of a state statute, the Georgia Constitution, or the United States Constitution. The bill provides a list of exceptions to the waiver, including claims for monetary relief, attorneys’ fees, or expenses of litigation except as provided in O.C.G.A. § 9-15-14, claims brought in federal court, and claims brought by inmates in penal institutions.

The more interesting provisions of the bill for local government attorneys and officials are the provisions that apply to counties, municipalities, and consolidated governments. The bill would add new provisions found in O.C.G.A. §§ 36-80-50 to 36-80-56 which would waive sovereign immunity as to any claim brought by an aggrieved person in the superior courts of Georgia against counties, municipalities, and consolidated governments or entities relating thereto, or against an officer or employee thereof in his or her official capacity seeking declaratory or injunctive relief in certain circumstances. Those circumstances include (1) challenges to local ordinances, rules, and policies under the U.S. or Georgia constitutions, state statutes, or rules or regulations; (2) remedies to injuries in fact, or imminent threats thereof, of an aggrieved person of a local government, officer, or employee acting without lawful authority, beyond the scope of official power, or in violation of the U.S. or Georgia constitutions, state statutes, rules or regulations, or local ordinances other than zoning ordinances; and (3) remedies to injuries when the injury is related to the award of a proposed agreement with a local government or an officer of employee thereof.  Under category (3), suit must be filed within 10 days from the date that the award is made public.

The provisions relating to local governments also provide a similar list of exceptions to the waiver list for the state. The bill provides that it shall be narrowly construed and shall not alter or amend any other immunities nor any other requirements for filing suit. The bill contains provisions limiting liability for officers and employees in their individual capacities and discouraging suit against employees individually, and it will be interesting to see how those provisions interact with official immunity if the bill is signed into law. The bill also contains a provision prohibiting such suits until 30 days after notice is mailed to the local government providing notice of the claim. If the bill becomes law, this 30-day provision may be a stumbling block to litigants who wish to proceed immediately to a temporary restraining order upon an injunctive relief or declaratory judgment claim. Moreover, such suits cannot be filed later than 90 days after providing the notice. The bill also provides for waiver of sovereign immunity for claims of breach of contract by local governments.

The bill also provides for waiver in quiet title actions and also provides for immediate appeals for judgments, orders, or rulings denying or refusing to grant immunity to one or more parties based upon sovereign, official, qualified, or any other immunity.  However, only one immediate appeal is allowed.

It will be interesting to see whether the bill is signed into law, and if so the implications it will have on local government litigation.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact William Linkous at [email protected].

McKinney Due Process Analysis Alive and Well in the Eleventh Circuit

Posted on: April 9th, 2019

By: Dana Maine

This will be a short blog: “The question before us is whether a litigant in this Circuit has a substantive-due-process claim under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment when the alleged conduct is the unlawful application of a land-use ordinance. The answer to that question is a resounding ‘no’ – an answer that this Court delivered in McKinney v. Pate, 20 F.3d 1550 (11th Cir. 1994), 24 years ago and has affirmed ever since.”  Hillcrest Property, LLP v. Pasco County, 915 F.3d 1292 (11th Cir. 2019).  The opinion is a good read for land use practitioners in all circuits.

As for people interested in Georgia law, note that the Georgia Supreme Court has followed the legislative vs. administrative/adjudicative distinction from the federal law in the 2017 trilogy of land use cases – City of Cumming v. Flowers, 300 Ga. 820 (2017), Schumacher v. City of Roswell, 301 Ga. 635 (2017), Diversified Holdings, LLP v. City of Suwanee, 302 Ga. 597 (2017).

For assistance with this or any other local government matter, please contact Dana Maine, [email protected], or any other member of our National Government Practice Group, a list of which can be found on our website – www.fmglaw.com.