Immunity Defense Unsuccessful as Plaintiff’s Damage Award Upheld

The plaintiff was stopped by a Woodworth police officer while driving to work in the morning. The officer preformed the traffic stop solely because he wanted to know where the plaintiff was going. She was ticketed for driving under a suspended license, no registration, driving a vehicle with no insurance, and unlawful use of a driver’s license. Despite paying two fines, one citation being dismissed and providing proof that the final citation was bogus, the plaintiff was charged with all four acts. She was arrested at her home in front of her children and spent 25 days in jail. The plaintiff filed suit in Louisiana’s Ninth Judicial District Court against the town and police officer for false arrest and claimed damages in connection with an illegal investigatory stop, which resulted in her incarceration. At trial, the town unsuccessfully argued the defense of immunity.

Louisiana law does not protect public entities against legal fault or negligent conduct at the operational level, but confers an immunity exception for policy decisions. Determining whether the exception applies requires a two-step inquiry. First, a court must determine whether the action by the officer is a matter of choice. If the officer must select actions amongst alternatives, the court must determine whether the choice was policy based.

On remand, Judge George Metoyer ruled that the officer made an improper investigatory stop and immunity did not apply. The town was found vicariously liable for the officer’s actions. The Court awarded the plaintiff $30,000.00 in general damages and reimbursement in the amount of $193.61 for the towing of her car and $215.00 in fines. The Louisiana Third Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the district court’s rulings.

Parker v. Town of Woodworth