Cause of Action for Damages Against Governmental Entities
The New York Court of Claims Act (the “Act”) broadly waives the State’s sovereign immunity for tort claims, provided the claims are brought in the Court of Claims. 1
This waiver of immunity for torts is subject to procedural prerequisites and substantive defenses. Significant procedural restrictions and conditions are imposed through statutory language, and significant substantive defenses have been provided by judicial construction. Municipalities do not enjoy sovereign immunity, but courts apply traditional common-law immunity doctrines, such as discretionary-function immunity and the public-duty doctrine, to claims against municipalities. 2
New York courts have recognized a cause of action for damages, directly under the constitution, for violations of the search-and-seizure and equal-protection provisions. The courts have held that the waiver of government immunity in the Act allows plaintiffs to bring these constitutional lawsuits for damages against governmental entities. 3
The courts have left open the possibility that other sections of the New York Constitution that are “self-executing” could likewise support causes of action for damages. 4
In deciding whether to allow a plaintiff to pursue a constitutional tort, New York courts consider whether other remedies are available, as cases have emphasized that the right to pursue a constitutional tort “is a narrow one which may not be invoked where the claimant has an alternative avenue of redress.” 5
Actions Against Government Officials
The government’s waiver of immunity for torts of its employees does not relieve the employee of his or her own liability. 6
Individual government employees are, however, entitled to assert any common-law immunity defense of the government. 7
There are several indemnification statutes that generally make the government responsible for employees’ torts committed within the scope of employment. 8
Personal-capacity lawsuits against state employees are not brought in the Court of Claims but may be subject to some of the procedural requirements of the Act when a right to indemnification exists. 9
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