Liability under the TCA depends on whether the conduct of individuals acting on behalf of the public entity was ministerial or discretionary. When a public entity’s or employee’s actions are discretionary, liability is imposed only for palpably unreasonable conduct. Meaning, a public entity is shielded from liability only if the behavior of the employee is patently unacceptable under any given circumstances. Liability for ministerial actions, in contrast, is evaluated based on an ordinary negligence standard, which requires only a breach of reasonable care in order to assert liability and a much easier standard for plaintiffs to overcome. Ministerial acts are those which a person performs in a given state of facts in a prescribed manner in obedience to the mandate of legal authority, without involving personal judgment or conscience.
In the Gonzales matter, the trial court had granted summary judgment to the municipality and its police officers, concluding that the TCA’s immunity from liability applies as a matter of law. The Appellate Division reversed and remanded the case for trial, holding that the acts alleged against the police officers were ministerial and non-immune under the TCA. The Supreme Court ruled that it was a jury question as to whether the officers’ conduct was ministerial, for which the ordinary negligence standard applies, or discretionary, and if discretionary, whether the officers’ conduct was palpably unreasonable.
The League would like to thank Robert Renaud Esq., of Renaud DeAppolonio, who represented the League as amicus in this matter. You should review this ruling with your municipal attorney and chief of police for additional information.
Contact: Frank Marshall, Esq., Associate General Counsel, email@example.com, 609-695-3481, x137.