Legal Memorandum: Doctrine of Official Immunity in MN

Issue: Whether a public official is immune from personal liability if there are actions are willful or malicious in Minnesota.

Area of Law: Government Claims, Litigation & Procedure
Keywords: Official immunity; Willful or malicious; Personal liability
Jurisdiction: Minnesota
Cited Cases: 486 U.S. 531; 478 N.W.2d 498; 164 Minn. 457; 518 N.W.2d 567; 472 N.W.2d 100; 559 N.W.2d 117; 205 N.W. 630; 423 N.W.2d 671; 503 N.W.2d 153
Cited Statutes: Minn. Stat. § 3.736, subd. 3(b); Federal Tort Claims Act § 181.64
Date: 11/01/2012

The doctrine of official immunity protects from personal liability a public official charged by law with duties that call for the exercise of judgment or discretion, unless the official is guilty of a willful or malicious wrongRico v. State, 472 N.W.2d 100, 106-07 (Minn. 1991) (citing Elwood v. County of Rice, 423 N.W.2d 671, 677 (Minn. 1988)). That is, “[o]fficial immunity  . . . differs from governmental immunity in that the official immunity doctrine does not protect” a state official whose wrongful actions are willful or malicious.  Id. at 107 (comparing Elwood, 423 N.W.2d at 679, with Minn. Stat. § 3.736, subd. 3(b)).  In this context, “malice” means simply the intentional doing of a wrongful act without legal justification or excuse, or the willful violation of a known right—such as, specifically, malicious interference with employment.  Id. (citing Carnes v. St. Paul Union Stockyards Co., 164 Minn. 457, 462, 205 N.W. 630, 631 (1925)).  In the official immunity context, “willful” and “malicious” are synonymous.  Id.

The question of malice involves an “objective inquiry into the legal reasonableness of an official’s actions.”  State ex rel. Beaulieu v. City of Mounds View, 518 N.W.2d 567, 571 (Minn. 1994). Such an inquiry is inappropriate on a motion to dismiss.  E.g., Soucek v. Banham, 503 N.W.2d 153, 160 (Minn. Ct. App. 1993) (stating that whether an officer acted willfully or maliciously is usually a question of fact to be resolved by […]