Under Wyoming law, liability against government entities is governed by the Wyoming Governmental Claims Act (“WGCA”). 1
The WGCA provides that “[a] governmental entity and its public employees while acting within the scope of duties are granted immunity from liability for any tort” subject only to a list of exceptions in which immunity is waived. 2
Only the Peace Officer Exception, discussed below, offers victims of government misconduct a potential remedy.
Peace Officer Exception: A False Hope
One seemingly applicable exception to the WGCA’s broad grant of immunity is the Peace Officer Exception. It provides that “[a] governmental entity is liable for damages resulting from tortious conduct of peace officers while acting within the scope of their duties.” 3
This would seemingly open the door for relief, whether brought under traditional theories of tort liability or as a constitutional tort.
Unfortunately, Wyoming courts have not given this provision broad effect. Pointing to other language in the WGCA that expressly retained “any common law defenses which a defendant may have by virtue of decisions from this or other jurisdictions,” Wyoming courts have consistently held that “a common law qualified immunity survived the passage of the [WGCA].” 4
If this common-law qualified immunity applies, it effectively renders the officer’s conduct non-tortious, meaning that neither the officer nor the government entity may be held liable. 6
Determining whether qualified immunity applies under Wyoming law involves a four-factor test: (1) whether the officer was acting within the scope of his duties; (2) whether the officer was acting in good faith; (3) whether the officer’s acts were reasonable under the circumstances; and (4) whether the officer’s acts were discretionary duties and not merely operational or ministerial duties. 7
Sign up to receive IJ's biweekly digital magazine, Liberty & Law, along with breaking updates about our fight to protect the rights of all Americans.