SW Legal studies in Business

Government Official Had Absolute Immunity Against Libel Suit
Description Alaska supreme court held that state officials have absolute immunity from libel actions for discretionary acts committed within the scope of their authority.
Topic Torts
Key Words Libel; Immunity
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Feyk, an employee of the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) wrote a bulletin based on her research for DHSS, warning Alaskans not to use ozone generators in closed spaces, such as homes. She stated that they can cause lung irritation and are "unsafe for human health." She noted that one ozone generator producer, Alpine Air Products, had been sued by the state of Minnesota for consumer fraud for making false statements about the safety of the devices. Alpine sued Feyk for libel. The trial court entered summary judgment in her favor; Alpine appealed.
Decision

Affirmed. Public officials "have either absolute or qualified immunity from tort suits for discretionary acts committed within the scope of their authority." A three step test is applied. "First, does the doctrine of official immunity apply to the state official's conduct?" The answer is yes, since she wrote the health bulletin as part of her job. "Second, if it does apply, is the immunity absolute or qualified?" Feyk had absolute immunity since she was performing an important governmental function according to the best of her judgment. This does not mean that everything she stated in the bulletin is correct, as some matters are still under scientific study, but she exercised her best judgment, and must do so without fear of such lawsuits. Because she has absolute immunity, the third step-if it is qualified immunity, then did the official act corruptly, maliciously, or in bad faith-need not be addressed.

Citation Alpine Industries, Inc. v. Feyk, 22 P.3d 445 (Sup. Ct., Alaska, 2001)

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