Who cannot be sued under the rules of sovereign immunity?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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Under the rules of sovereign immunity, judges and certain other government employees cannot be sued for their official acts. Sovereign immunity exists to protect these individuals and to allow them to do their jobs without fear of litigation. Without sovereign immunity, a judge, police officer or other officer of the government or court might be afraid to act out of fear of legal repercussions. 

The term sovereign immunity originated in the beginning of the English common law system, and means that the ruler or sovereign government of the country under its rule cannot be persecuted or sued under civil or judicial law. The term was created to describe the English law or “crown immunity” and reinforce the adage that “The king can do no wrong”. This form of immunity doesn’t exist to quite the same extent in today’s governments as it did under English law, though there are still remnants of sovereign immunity stating that different governmental entities are immune from certain legal actions.  

Sovereign immunity exists at both the federal and state level in the U.S. The 11th Amendment protects sovereign immunity, for example, and indicates that states may not be sued in a federal court unless they have consented to being sued. The federal government and government representatives also generally may not be sued under sovereign immunity, unless they too consent. Surprisingly, various forms of consent do exist. Laws such as the Federal Tort Claims Act allow for the suit of a federal employee that has caused harm, and the federal government or government officials may also be sued for breaching a contract under the Tucker Act. 

If you have been involved in a dispute with a government official and you would like to sue, you should consult with an attorney as soon as possible to determine if your claim falls within an exception to sovereign immunity. 

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