In a unanimous decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on April 17, 2012 that a private employee working for a governmental body is entitled to the same qualified immunity as full-time public employees. Filarsky v. Delia.
Steve Filarsky is an attorney who was retained by the city of Rialto, California, to conduct internal investigations of city employees. He investigated Firefighter Nicholas Delia, who the city suspected of abusing sick leave. Delia was observed buying building supplies while on leave, but then he claimed he had not used them. In his role as an investigator for the city, Filarsky ordered Delia to produce the unused materials to prove his claim. After first objecting, the firefighter placed the material on his lawn for inspection.
Delia then sued Filarsky for alleged violations of the Fourth and Fourteenth amendments. Those amendments respectively guard against unreasonable searches and seizures and prohibit governments from depriving people of property (without certain steps being taken to ensure fairness). Filarsky claimed qualified immunity. The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled against Filarsky. But the Supreme Court overturned the 9th Circuit's ruling, saying Filarsky was entitled to the same immunity as any other Rialto employees.
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