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Civil Resource Manual

33. Immunity of Government Officers Sued as Individuals for Official Acts

The general rule at common law was that in order for a government official to be protected by absolute immunity for common law torts, not only did the official have to be acting within the outer perimeter of his/her official duties, but the conduct at issue also had to be discretionary in nature. Westfall v. Irwin, 484 U.S. 292, 297-298 (1988). In enacting the Federal Employees Liability Reform and Tort Compensation Act of 1988 (FELRTCA), Congress abrogated this common law rule and extended absolute immunity for common law torts to all federal employees regardless of whether the conduct at issue was discretionary. See United States v. Smith, 499 U.S. 160 (1991). FELRTCA confers such immunity by making the Federal Tort Claims Act the exclusive remedy for all common law torts committed by federal employees while acting within the scope of their office or employment. 28 U.S.C. § 2679(b)(1). However, the immunity conferred by FELRTCA does not extend or apply to suits against federal employees for violation of the Constitution or federal statutes. Thus, government officials sued for constitutional torts continue to be protected only by qualified immunity. 28 U.S.C. § 2679(b)(2). See Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 807 (1982); Butz v. Economou, 438 U.S. 478 (1978). Where applicable, qualified immunity protects an official from trial and the burdens of litigation. See Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 526 (1985).

[cited in USAM 4-2.100]