Golden Gate University Law Review


Thomas Langtry


Ideally, sovereign immunity provisions should (1) protect public officials from undue interference with discharge of their duties and (2) hold accountable public officials who act unlawfully. Analytical frameworks and statutes at both the federal and state levels often fail to fulfill these objectives. Federal courts are guided by statutes and objectives that are indirectly relevant to state courts. As a result, states are left to address independently how to address clams of sovereign immunity when plaintiffs file suits alleging torts by public entities and employees. In California, when plaintiffs sue public employees or entities in civil court, the California Government Claims Act (GCA) determines whether defenses of sovereign immunity may preclude liability. However, the statutory language of the GCA mirrors the common law language in force at the time the GCA was enacted. This language has led to inconsistent interpretations of California’s sovereign immunity statutes. This Comment argues (1) that the GCA's use of common law language can frustrate the ability of courts to establish a consistent understanding of which tortious actions may be protected by immunity from charges of either intentional or negligent misconduct; and (2) that a lack of legislative guidance frustrates the ability of courts to determine whether certain state actions are either discretionary acts protected by absolute immunity or mandatory duties protected by qualified immunity. Further, modernizing language throughout the GCA would ensure more consistent enforcement of statutory sovereign immunity. Part I of this Comment outlines the history of the doctrine of sovereign immunity and summarizes the public policy arguments for and against its continuation. Part II provides an overview of the GCA's architecture and how judicial interpretations have shaped its implementation. Part III analyzes statutory language and recommends amendments.

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