Legal Memorandum: Immunity from Punitive Damages

Issue: Whether Louisiana municipal government employees can be subjected to punitive damages.

Area of Law: Litigation & Procedure, Municipal, County and Local Law
Keywords: Punitive damages; Immunity; Municipal government employees
Jurisdiction: Louisiana
Cited Cases: 685 So. 2d 1086; 894 F.2d 142; 960 So. 2d 953; 352 F.3d 994; 461 U.S. 30; 870 F.2d 975; 637 So. 2d 91
Cited Statutes: 42 U.S.C. § 1983; La. Rev. Stat. § 13:5101(B), §§13:5101—5112; La. Rev. Stat. § 13:5102(B)(2); La. Rev. Stat. § 13:5101(B)
Date: 07/01/2010

Although the state and its agencies are not subject to punitive damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, La. Farms v. La. Dep’t of Wildlife & Fisheries, 685 So. 2d 1086 (La. Ct. App. 3d Cir. 1996), punitive damages are generally available against non-state defendants in certain actions.  See, e.g., Smith v. Wade, 461 U.S. 30, 57 (1983) (stating that punitive damages are recoverable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 “when a defendant’s conduct is shown to be prompted by evil motive or intent, or when said conduct involves reckless or callous indifference to plaintiff’s federally protected rights”); accord Booze v. City of Alexandria, 637 So. 2d 91 (La. 1994).  Political subdivisions such as cities and their officials are not states or state agencies, as they are differentiated in the LGCA and under the Eleventh Amendment.  The Louisiana Governmental Claims Act (LGCA), La. Rev. Stat. §§13:5101—5112, was enacted to limit the liability of public entities.  Id. (citing La. Rev. Stat. § 13:5101(B)).  The Act applies to any suit for personal injuries against a political subdivision*FN1 of the state, or against an officer or employee of a political subdivision arising out of the discharge of his official duties or within the course and scope of his employment.  Id.

Generally speaking, punitive damages are available when the defendant’s conduct manifests a callous disregard for the rights of the plaintiff.  E.g., Spangler v. North Star Drilling Co., 552 So. 2d 673 (La. 1989) (citing, […]

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