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]