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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Claim of qualified immunity not available to a public official when the law giving rise to the violation was clearly established at the time of the violation


Claim of qualified immunity not available to a public official when the law giving rise to the violation was clearly established at the time of the violation
Morse v Fusto, US Circuit Court of Appeals, Second Circuit, Docket 13-4074


Qualified immunity protects public officials from liability for civil damages as long as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights that a reasonable person would have known.

A grand jury indicted a dentist [Dentist], charging Dentist  with one count of Grand Larceny in the First Degree in violation of Penal Law §155.42 and eleven counts of Offering a False Instrument for Filing in violation of Penal Law §175.35.

These charges led to Dentist’s suspension from the New York Medicaid Program upon which his practice had depended; the liquidation of his dental practice as a consequence of such suspension; the loss of his teaching position at a New York hospital;* the public dissemination of the story of his indictment, including at least one press release issued by the Office of the Attorney General; and newspaper articles in various newspapers.

Upon his acquittal of all charges, Dentist brought an action against a Special Assistant Attorney General and an Audit-investigator [Defendants] in federal district court alleging that Defendants had deprived him of his constitutional right to a fair trial by intentionally manipulating certain information on spreadsheet summary charts before they were presented to the grand jury in order to create the false impression that Dentist billed Medicaid for dental services that he did not provide.

Essentially, Dentist contended that Defendants, acting as government officials in an investigative capacity, knowingly created false or misleading evidence.

Defendants, in rebuttal, claimed “qualified immunity,” and asked the federal district to grant them summary judgment dismissing Dentist’s complaint.

The district court denied Defendants’ motion and the jury returned a verdict in favor of Dentist based on its finding that Defendants “knowingly created false or fraudulently altered documents” to the grand jury.

Defendants appealed the district court’s denial of their motion for summary judgment, contending that “their conduct was not clearly prohibited by the Constitution and that they were therefore entitled to qualified immunity as a matter of law.”

The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s ruling, denying Defendant's motion for summary judgment stating that it had concluded that the Defendants were not entitled to qualified immunity. The court said that Dentist’s Constitutional rights had been violated and “the law giving rise to the violation was clearly established at the time of the violation.”

Further, the Circuit Court also concluded that “the district court did not err by declining to order a new trial despite its conclusion that one of the factual assertions upon which the verdict was based was insufficiently supported by the evidence.”

* Dentist regained his teaching position following his acquittal.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

Handbooks focusing on State and Municipal Public Personnel Law continue to be available for purchase via the links provided below:

The Discipline Book at http://thedisciplinebook.blogspot.com/

A Reasonable Penalty Under The Circumstances at http://nypplarchives.blogspot.com

The Disability Benefits E-book: at http://section207.blogspot.com/

Layoff, Preferred Lists at http://nylayoff.blogspot.com/

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