Niese v. City of Alexandria

The plaintiff alleged that she was raped several times by a police officer who had been assigned to help her deal with her son’s behavioral issues.  The plaintiff reported the rapes to municipal mental health and domestic abuse entities, and she alleged that these entities violated their statutory duty to report these incidents or take further action.  Consequently, the plaintiff sued the Alexandria Police Department for intentional tort and negligent hiring.  The issue before the Court was whether the sovereign immunity doctrine barred the plaintiff from suing municipal entities for both intentional torts and negligence in failing to act upon plaintiff’s reports and in hiring and retaining the offending officer. The Virginia Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s dismissal of the action as barred by sovereign immunity, explaining that a municipality is immune from liability for negligence associated with the performance of “governmental” functions, which include maintaining a police force and the decision to retain a specific police officer.  It declined to adopt an exception to sovereign immunity for the tort of negligent retention, as it had done in the context of charitable immunity.  The Court observed that whether a municipality is liable for an employee’s intentional torts was an issue of first impression in Virginia, but the Court relied on Fourth Circuit precedent to conclude that sovereign immunity applies in this context.  Finally, the Court held that the then-applicable statute requiring officials to make a report whenever they have “reason to suspect that an adult” has been “abused, neglected, or exploited” imposed a discretionary duty and not a ministerial duty upon the individuals subject to the reporting requirements and thus dismissed the claim. (i.e., ministerial duties make actions necessary when conditions for their performance arise while discretionary duties make actions optional, subject to the official’s judgment.)

Geographical location 

Year 

2002

Jurisdiction 

Avon Center work product