An analysis of the evolving theory of personal liability of educational trustees for their official acts

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1977

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The primary purpose of the study was to determine to what extent trustees are personally liable for their acts which injure others or infringe their rights protected under state and federal law. The information necessary for this determination was drawn from legal texts, court cases, law review articles, and legal digests. Chapter II of the study consists of a review of the history of personal immunity and liability of governmental officers, both in English and American legal history. The trends and usages in regard to personal liability of trustees for their official acts up to 1960 were reported. The remainder of the study consists of an analysis of cases categorized according to the following format: chapter III deals with the personal liability of trustees for their ultra vires acts--malicious, intentional but not malicious, and negligent. Chapter IV analyzes the liability of trustees for their authorized discretionary acts--malicious, intentional but not malicious, and negligent. Chapter V analyzes the liability of trustees for their performance or non-performance of their authorized ministerial acts--malicious, intentional but not malicious, and negligent. Chapter VI consists of a summary of the findings and a list of criteria by which trustees may judge their proposed acts. Most significant changes in the theory of personal liability of educational trustees for their official acts are found in the liability based on 42 U.S.C. 1983 in federal courts, which have begun to require that trustees do more than make a pro forma statement that they acted in good faith. Federal courts have begun to require that an objective standard be applied before official immunity will be granted. Although trustees are still given protection in state courts for a majority of their acts, federal courts have begun to exact a much higher standard of accountability, especially when the acts of the trustees infringe on the constitutionally protected rights to due process and equal protection of the laws. Since personal liability of trustees has frequently been caused by their failure to observe the constitutionally protected rights of students and teachers, the final chapter contains a list of guidelines drawn from federal court decisions detailing what standards of protection must be given to individuals who are to have a liberty or property interest infringed by the acts of trustees.

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