Legal Memorandum: Qualified Immunity Defense in TN

Issue: In Tennessee, what constitutes a qualified immunity defense?

Area of Law: Litigation & Procedure
Keywords: Qualified immunity defense; A discretionary function
Jurisdiction: Tennessee
Cited Cases: 950 F. Supp. 1365
Cited Statutes: None
Date: 12/01/2000

As a general rule, individuals sued in their individual capacity for performing a discretionary function are entitled to qualified immunity.  Orange v. County of Grundy, 950 F. Supp. 1365, 1371 (E.D. Tenn. 1996).  However, when the plaintiff shows that the individual=s actions violated a Aclearly established@ constitutional right at the time of the action, he or she cannot hide behind a qualified immunity defense.  Id. at 1371.  The question whether a clearly established right was violated is measured by an objective standard, that is, whether a reasonable person in the defendant’s position would have known at the time of the action that what he or she did was wrong.  Id.

Importantly, the question whether the individual defendant is entitled to qualified immunity is a question of fact that cannot be resolved summarily.  Id. at 1373.  In Orange, for example, the federal district court denied the defendants’ motion for summary judgment because there were disputed material facts as to the defendants’ actions.  The court based its decision on the reasoning that a reasonable person in the defendants’ position would have known that the actions were unconstitutional.  Id.


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