Are there exceptions to the state tort claims act?
Wyoming courts have held that a common-law qualified immunity survived the passage of the Wyoming Governmental Claims Act. When this immunity applies, it essentially immunizes both the individual government worker and the government entity that employs him.
Wyoming Governmental Claims Act
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 , 5 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