Local governments may be forced to pay monetary damages to people whose rights are violated by inadequately trained public employees, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously Tuesday.
Ruling in a case from Canton, Ohio, the justices said cities and towns may be held legally accountable if the inadequate training stemmed from governmental "deliberate indifference."In an opinion by Justice Byron R. White, the court said the inadequate training also must be closely related to the ultimate injury suffered before local governments can be forced to pay damages.
The ruling, although a potential threat to municipal treasuries nationwide, might not result in numerous successful lawsuits.
White said the court was imposing a stringent standard for those filing such suits because any lesser standard would open local governments to "unprecedented liability" and saddle federal courts with "an endless exercise of second-guessing municipal employee-training programs."
Past Supreme Court decisions had made clear that a much-used federal civil rights law could not be used to sue a local government every time one of its employees violated someone's rights.
But in its ruling, the court for the first time ruled that a local government's valid official policy can be challenged successfully in court - if the policy is subverted by inadequate training.
In other action, the court:
- Said railroads and airlines may penalize strikers by giving their jobs to employees with less seniority who stay on the job or return to work before the strike ends.
- Made it easier for the U.S. government to turn over tax information to a foreign government. The 9-0 ruling allows Canadian officials to see financial records of two Canadian citizens with bank accounts in Washington state.
- Reinstated a convicted Florida murderer's death sentence, saying he should have been barred from mounting a successful constitutional attack in federal courts.