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Saturday, May 12, 2018

Eighth Circuit on municipal liability

In Webb v. City of Maplewood, a class challenged various practices relating to unpaid traffic fines (H/T: Volokh Conspiracy's weekly round-up). The Eighth Circuit affirmed denial of the City's defense of sovereign immunity, which was correct. The city tried to obtain immunity by emphasizing the role of the municipal court, a separate, immune entity, in enacting and carrying out the challenged practices. But the court said that the municipal court's separate liability or immunity, if any, did not shield the city from its liability. "If the municipal court rather than the City is responsible for the practices, the City will have a defense on the merits but not immunity from suit."

On that last point, many courts would treat the last point as a matter of Article III standing--the plaintiffs would be said to lack standing to sue the City, because the injury was not traceable to the City nor redressable by an injunction against the City.*

[*] This happened in many marriage-equality cases. Plaintiffs would sue the governor or attorney general, who would argue that he is not the responsible executive officer for things such as marriage licenses or vital records such as death certificates. The dismissal always was framed as 12(b)(1) lack of standing.

I have long believed that position was wrong, that suing a non-responsible defendant should be treated as grounds for the defendant to prevail on a 12(b)(6) or summary judgment. I am glad the court got this right, although with little analysis or explanation for why this should be a matter of merits (and likely because the City failed to frame it as standing).

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 12, 2018 at 12:29 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink


Interesting indeed . There is almost no doubt here , that a very clearly established constitutional right , is violated here ( federal ) . The fourth amendment , prohibits , unreasonable ( distinguished from unlawful ) arrests . So , how can it be , that a person , would be arrested , just for not paying the first shot or issuance of a fine , without further verification , what are the precise circumstances , surrounding it . Maybe he has changed residence . Maybe got sick . It is absolutely unreasonable . arresting and detaining , is the last resort , not the first one.

However , the issue of immunity is pretty complicated here it seems . But , what the circuit finally has held here , is that , what counts , is the remedy, for the constitutional violation , here I quote :

although a municipality's legislators are all absolutely immune from suit for their legislative activities, the victims of their "legislative abuse" are not without recourse since under Monell the municipality itself can still "be held liable for constitutional violations." See id. at 53. So it is now clear that the absolute immunity of its policymakers does not shield a city from liability for its policies.

End of quotation :

Anyway , one can't put the court and judges at the same basket , all along with the municipality and its employees . But , the lawmaker , is liable here , for clearly failing it seems , to imply correctly and constitutionally, the principles of the fourth amendment ,while legislating . The tort is clear , the jurisdiction , the venue , bit problematic.


Posted by: El roam | May 12, 2018 2:01:41 PM

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