You Can't Fight City Hall: Goalpost Moving Edition

So this idea keeps coming up in this discussion.

It’s true, in the sense that you can’t sue the police for failing to protect you (in general).

But this is basically true of all public officials. You can’t sue the city for not maintaining your road adequately. You can’t sue the DMV for making you wait in line. You can’t sue a school (generally) for providing poor quality education. Etc. The reason for this is that these entities have “infinitely” deep pockets so if they had normal liability, in the end, the taxpayers would be making enormous payouts all the time. The recourse you have is not the court, but rather, the ballot box. If your schools aren’t good, you don’t get to sue, but you do get to vote for a new school board. If your police are not good, you can vote for a change through the city council. Etc.

So you can’t really say, “I can’t sue X for not doing his job, therefore it’s not X’s job” in this context. You do get to vote for change. You may feel that vote is powerless or useless, but that is your recourse, and police, and other public officials, do have a duty to do their jobs.

This does lead to some unsatisfying outcomes. In one horrendous case, a chimp in Connecticut caused horrific injuries to a woman, and she sued the state for allowing this dangerous chimp to be kept as a pet. The suit was dropped, even though it was obvious that the state had failed to do what it should have done in that case. They are immune. So yeah, it’s sometimes unsatisfying that the state has has immunity, but your recourse is through voting. And if the state did have liability, they would be sued for a billion dollars every day and they would collapse. So that’s how we have the system we have.

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In Canada you absolutely can sue the appropriate level of government for non-repair of roads. I know someone that did it when his car got totaled by sliding off a badly maintained county road.

Why don’t municipalities and other levels of government simply put a clause requiring the officer to have a duty to protect citizens as part of their jobs in individual police contracts? I would expect that would neatly sidestep the existing legal rulings on the constitution.

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You can sue the City of Philadelphia- but it’s not as easy because of sovereign immunity. State roads & interstates are right out. And you have to show the defect was serious enough that they should have known about the pothole or it was reported.

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Wait, what? Of course you can. People sue government agencies all the time for not doing what they are supposed to be doing. There’s a huge database of these lawsuits if you’d like to see. Police are apparently the only group that can’t be sued.

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Uh, the huge searchable database of lawsuits you link to are states suing the federal government. That’s a whole different situation, where you have two sovereign entities, one suing the other. I have no idea how that works. I’m sure there are specialists within the AG offices who focus on these issues.

This is totally different from a private individual suing his city for incompetent police work, incompetent building inspection, whatever. To take another recent example, the Surfside Towers condominium building in Miami collapsed and the city was obviously negligent in failing to inspect and red-tag that building years ago. They knew it was totally unsafe and didn’t take reasonable action. But the city wasn’t sued. They are immune and can’t be sued.

There are some narrow cases where statutes have created specific causes of action against a city. I found a link about that. But these are special exceptions to the rule. It’s not just the police who have broad protection from lawsuits, it’s all public entities.

Have you even googled this? Again, people sue governments all the time.

Need more examples? Los Angeles County has a procedure for you to sue them and explains it politely on their website:

I’m not doing any more homework for you. If you want to continue to die on this hill, go ahead.

Nobody said it’s easy to win, but you can sue.

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Cities get sued all the time and sometimes lose their lawsuits. My husband was on a jury that found for the plaintiff when he was taking a short nap on the beach and was run over by two distracted city workers.

Also, my brother is a lawyer who specializes in municipal law. I remember one case that he handled a year out of law school. He advised the city not to cite a business owner who had painted their business purple, which was against the city’s approved downtown paint colors. They did, owner sued and won. The city appealed to the CA Supreme Court and they lost their appeal.

Not sure why you think that people are not allowed to governments in the U.S.?

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People sue police departments, officers, and the cities/counties they are paid by all the time; especially wrongful death lawsuits. They often win, but usually not against the individual officers. That’s where qualified immunity comes into play. In order to win against individual officers, they have to have stepped out of the line of duty. Sometimes they are held accountable for that. But, for example, New York City has to budget tens of millions of dollars a year just to pay off lawsuits against NYPD officers. It’s a line item in the (bloated, $6B) police budget.

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Well yeah, you file a claim to address whatever it is. If the claim is denied, you are free to file a lawsuit. At that point, the public entity will ask for the suit to be dismissed due to immunity. There you go. You’ve sued them and the suit got flushed down the toilet. So I guess yes, you are right, you can sue them and people do it all the time, but these suits go almost nowhere. Here’s a site which lists some of the areas of immunity in a few states. Of course it varies but state but they all have some form of sovereign immunity and generally if the police don’t help, if a building collapses, if the school doesn’t provide an education, etc, well, you can sue, and the suit will be dismissed due to sovereign immunity.

There are some areas where sovereign immunity doesn’t apply. It doesn’t apply in civil rights areas, so while you can’t sue the school for failing to provide education, you can sue if that failure is also a violation of civil rights.

IANAL and this is a complicated area but generally… it’s not just the police who are immune, it’s the whole city or other public entity.

Multiple people have given you multiple resources that refute your position, but you are not paying attention, or when you do, you move the goalposts. You have done this multiple times in this same thread on multiple issues. I’m putting you on ignore now and am done. Life is too short to debate people who won’t do so in good faith.

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It’s like you’re not bothering to read the other comments.

Dean Winchester Facepalm GIF

You can sue city, county, state and some federal government agencies. Whether or not you prevail in court depends upon the facts of the case. Providing a link to a private practice attorney doesn’t help your argument.

If you’re specifically alluding to qualified police immunity, that is completely different. While individual police officers may be shielded from lawsuits, cities and counties are not. Afterall, why would cities choose to settle lawsuits, which they do all the time?

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Clearly.

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Uh yes I do.

Yes you can, and you’re right, it happens all the time.

The way it works is, they give themselves very broad immunity, and then they define certain narrow areas where they take on liability. Of course, anyone can sue anyone or anything any time and tons of frivolous lawsuits are filed constantly, but let’s leave that out for a moment. There’s a whole Wikipedia page on lawsuits against Satan. Yes, you can in fact file a lawsuit against Satan, but I’ll just cut to essence and say, you can’t sue Satan.

Anyway, back to lawsuits against public entities… I’m sorry for citing a reference to a private attorney. Let me make a reference directly to California law, which all other states probably have similar provisions:


TITLE 1. GENERAL [100 - 7931.000]

( Title 1 enacted by Stats. 1943, Ch. 134. )

DIVISION 3.6. CLAIMS AND ACTIONS AGAINST PUBLIC ENTITIES AND PUBLIC EMPLOYEES [810 - 998.3]

( Division 3.6 added by Stats. 1963, Ch. 1681. )

PART 2. LIABILITY OF PUBLIC ENTITIES AND PUBLIC EMPLOYEES [814 - 895.8]

( Part 2 added by Stats. 1963, Ch. 1681. )

CHAPTER 1. General Provisions Relating to Liability [814 - 827]

( Chapter 1 added by Stats. 1963, Ch. 1681. )

ARTICLE 2. Liability of Public Entities [815 - 818.9]

( Article 2 added by Stats. 1963, Ch. 1681. )

815.

Except as otherwise provided by statute:

(a) A public entity is not liable for an injury, whether such injury arises out of an act or omission of the public entity or a public employee or any other person.

(b) The liability of a public entity established by this part (commencing with Section 814) is subject to any immunity of the public entity provided by statute, including this part, and is subject to any defenses that would be available to the public entity if it were a private person.


So yes, you can file a lawsuit against the city or state. This happens all the time. The city or state attorney will quote this section of the law and the suit gets dropped, unless there’s some statute somewhere that says the entity has liability in that specific area.

They do, in cases where there is a statutory exception to their immunity. But in general cases, like what’s relevant to this post, where the police failed to act, they are immune. In other cases, like the Surfside tower collapse in Miami, where the city grossly failed to act, the city wasn’t even sued, even though they bungled tragically, because the suit would be frivolous and would be tossed out. In some other cases, a public entity might decide to waive their immunity. One of the big areas where they don’t have immunity is for civil rights violations.

I believe that you are conflating “absolute immunity” with “qualified immunity.” When you assume that lawsuits brought against a municipality would be immediately dismissed, you are assuming “absolute immunity.” In the case of “qualified immunity,” a lawsuit would be allowed to proceed in order to determine whether and to what extent immunity applies. Also, you should be looking at case law rather than the original statutes, as court decisions can and often do overrule statutory law, which is not then revised to reflect the impact of court decisions.

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Those are good points. I’m definitely not a lawyer and I’ll read those. I just basically understand that sovereign entities have very strong protection even when they do something wrong, like in this case. Suing a public entity is work for a specialist attorney.

But it is possible… the Parkland school shooting victims, unbelievably, sued the FBI for failing to protect and won a huge settlement. Someone who is an attorney might want to comment on this, but to me it seems like maybe there was a political decision within the DoJ to allow a settlement like this. My impression is that outcomes like that are very very rare.

You’re still missing it. Again, major cities like New York, Chicago, LA pay out tens, maybe hundreds of millions of dollars in settlement and in lawsuits. The primary driver is misbehavior of the police department. NYC paid out almost $6M for the wrongful death of Eric Garner.

In 2020, NYC overall paid out over $1B in lawsuits and settlements. Over $200M of that was for the police department. You’re going to find the same for other major cities.

https://comptroller.nyc.gov/reports/annual-claims-report/

New York City Police Department Claims

  • The number of tort claims filed against the New York City Police Department (NYPD) dropped to 5,728 in FY 2020 from 5,851 in FY 2019, a two percent decline.
  • NYPD tort claim settlement and judgment payouts declined from $225.2 million in FY 2019 to $205.0 million in FY 2020, a nine percent decrease.
  • NYPD tort claims accounted for 38 percent of the total overall cost of resolved tort claims in FY 2020.

In other words, your assertions are groundless.

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I am a lawyer
@subextraordinaire @Jesse13927 @DukeTrout @KathyPartdeux @VeronicaConnor and @Brainspore are all correct. A person can sue the government in the US- federal, state, municipal.
These entities do have some immunity. It varies by state. California is not the same as Texas and looking at California laws will tell you nothing about how such a suit might go down in Texas.
generally speaking a government has immunity when it is doing it’s job. But when there is negligence or a criminal act, that immunity is not absolute.
Nothing stops anyone from suing. A person can almost always file a suit, immunity cannot prevent that. The suit just might not get very far.
Will the officers who failed to do their job and let those children and teachers die get sued? My opinion is, yes. Will the plaintiffs prevail? Possible. The facts of their actions here are quite different from Castle Rock v. Gonzales. I’m sure you can find many opinion pieces on why they are different. But while I am a lawyer, I don’t specialize in that area.
Tl;dr governmental immunity is a very complicated area of law. There are literally entire law firms that specialize in it. But no governmental body in the US is totally immune from legal liability. Nothing prevents a person from filing a lawsuit. People do this all the time and do prevail quite a bit

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To add to the chime of “location matters”, councils get sued all the time for damages resulting from potholes. “Council” is a mess of a concept, but probably translates to “city government” in USA-ian.

The catch is that the council need to have been aware of the hole in the road long enough to have fixed it to be on the hook for damages resulting from the hole. Tools like https://www.fixmystreet.com/ are awesome for giving a public record of when someone told the council.

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