Thursday, September 13, 2018
The Indiana Supreme Court has allowed suit against cities of sexual assault by its police officers
Two on-duty police officers—one in Fort Wayne and one in Evansville—sexually assaulted women, who then brought civil actions against the officers’ city employers. We address two theories of employer liability: (1) the scope-of-employment rule, traditionally called respondeat superior, and (2) the rule’s common-carrier exception, which imposes a more stringent standard of care on certain enterprises. We hold that the cities may be liable under the scope-of-employment rule and that the exception does not apply.
Resounding in our decision today is the maxim that great power comes with great responsibility. Cities are endowed with the coercive power of the state, and they confer that power on their police officers. Those officers, in turn, wield it to carry out employment duties—duties that may include physically controlling and forcibly touching others without consent. For this reason, when an officer carrying out employment duties physically controls someone and then abuses employer-conferred power to sexually assault that person, the city does not, under respondeat superior, escape liability as a matter of law for the sexual assault.
We thus affirm the denial of summary judgment to the City of Fort Wayne on the respondeat superior issue. In doing so, we clarify when an officer’s tortious acts will fall within the scope of employment, making the city liable.