The Supreme Court today agreed to take up a California case that could determine whether private lawyers hired as outside counsel by local governments are immune from civil rights lawsuits challenging their actions.
The case of Filarsky v. Delia is one of eight new cases the Court added to the docket for the fall term that begins Oct. 3. On Monday, the Court held its "long conference" at which it reviewed hundreds of petitions filed over the summer. The order list granting Filarsky and the other cases is the result of that conference.
The lawyer immunity case was brought by Steve Filarsky of Filarsky & Watts of Ojai, California, who was hired by the city of Rialto in connection with a dispute between the city and firefighter Nicholas Delia. Delia sued several city employees and Filarsky under 42 U.S.C. 1983, asserting that the city's investigation of claims that he misused a sick day violated his civil rights.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled last year that the city employees had qualified immunity because they had not violated a "clearly established right." But the panel singled out Filarsky and ruled that under 9th Circuit precedent, Filarsky did not enjoy the same immunity as city employees.
Jon Tisdale of Gilbert, Kelly, Crowley & Jennett in Los Angeles appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court on behalf of Filarsky, claiming that different levels of immunity for outside counsel "impose heavy costs upon municipalities." The 9th Circuit ruling, Tisdale wrote, "overtly dictates to municipalities how they can and cannot go about their legal business."
The League of California Cities also urged the high court to review the case, telling the justices that the 9th Circuit ruling is "not just legally wrong but will harm cities and other government units by making utilization of private attorneys less effective and more expensive." The amicus brief was filed by Kent Bullard of Greines, Martin, Stein & Richland in Los Angeles.
We wrote about the Filarsky case in our newsletter Supreme Court Insider in June. The case will be argued early next year.