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Eleventh Circuit rules that probation officer was entitled to qualified immunity but not quasi-judicial immunity as defendant in 42 U.S.C. § 1983 civil rights lawsuit

On September 25, 2019, in Washington v. Rivera, No. 17-13811, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a state probation officer was entitled to qualified immunity in a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 civil rights lawsuit filed by a plaintiff who claimed that the probation officer falsely arrested him for a violation of probation. A few months prior to being placed on probation, the plaintiff had appeared in court for a speeding ticket for which he was fined and was told he would be placed on probation if he did not pay within 15 days. The plaintiff allegedly did pay the fine on a timely basis and the court clerk notified the probation office. However, the probation officer (who had been in court for the hearing) did not receive the message, never checked to see if the fine was paid, and subsequently had an arrest warrant executed by the Judge (who apparently did not recall or was simply unaware of the payment of the fine). The Eleventh Circuit aligned itself with several other Circuits in ruling that the actions of a probation officer executing an arrest warrant are not quasi-judicial in nature and do not qualify for quasi-judicial immunity. However, the Eleventh Circuit concluded that the probation officer was entitled to qualified immunity as a government employee. The Court acknowledged that the probation officer “may well have been negligent,” but had not been willfully blind to exculpatory evidence and did not “elect not to obtain easily discoverable facts,” premising this determination in part on the fact that the probation officer was acting under the assumption that she would be personally notified if the fine was paid.

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