Ministerial Act

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A ministerial act is an act performed in a prescribed manner and in obedience to a legal authority, without regard to one’s own judgment or discretion. The distinction between ministerial acts and acts that are discretionary is often important to determine whether a public official is shielded by qualified immunity. Generally, ministerial acts are unshielded by qualified immunity, which protects only actions taken pursuant to discretionary functions. In other words, noncompliance with a ministerial duty bars qualified immunity.

The Second Restatement of Torts lists the following as examples of ministerial acts:

  • the preparation of ballots
  • the registration of voters
  • the recording of documents and filing of papers
  • the care of prisoners
  • the driving of vehicles
  • the repair of highways
  • the collection of taxes

The Second Restatement of Torts notes that the distinction between a ministerial act and a discretionary act is “always one of degree.” Each of the examples above, under particular circumstances, may be held to involve the exercise of discretionary decision.

[Last updated in July of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team]