GPNA Tip of The Week: Property Damage

Attorney Catherine A. Seeley writes our latest GPNA Tip of the Week in Hamen v. Hamlin County South Dakota. If you have property damage resulting from law enforcement chasing a fleeing felon, you may have an action against law enforcement officers, but not an action for inverse condemnation under the South Dakota Constitution.  In Hamen v. Hamlin County, the South Dakota Supreme Court considered two issues: the first is whether damage which was caused by law enforcement officers during their arrest of a fleeing felon was a compensable taking under the South Dakota Constitution and the second was whether the sheriff was entitled to qualified immunity.

If you have property damage resulting from law enforcement chasing a fleeing felon, you may have an action against law enforcement officers, but not an action for inverse condemnation under the South Dakota Constitution.  In Hamen v. Hamlin County, the South Dakota Supreme Court considered two issues: the first is whether damage which was caused by law enforcement officers during their arrest of a fleeing felon was a compensable taking under the South Dakota Constitution and the second was whether the sheriff was entitled to qualified immunity.  The South Dakota Supreme Court reviewed the South Dakota Constitution as it relates to eminent domain, and it found that, based on the language of the South Dakota Constitution, which provides, “Private property shall not be taken or damaged for public use, or damaged, without just compensation which will be determined according to the legal procedure established by the legislature,” the taking or damage be done for public use in order to be compensable.  Because the property damage at issue was not for public use, but rather was in pursuit of a fleeing felon, the court determined that the damages caused by law enforcement were not for the “public use” and therefore were not compensable takings under the South Dakota Constitution. 

Although the damages caused by law enforcement were not compensable under eminent domain, the property owners in this case also brought action against the sheriff who allegedly authorized the damage to be done.  The sheriff argued that because he was acting within the scope of his authority as a law enforcement officer, he was entitled to qualified immunity from suit.  In determining whether the sheriff was entitled to qualified immunity, the Court had to look at all of the circumstances present in the case to determine whether that sheriff was acting under a reasonable belief that he was entitled to take certain actions under applicable law.  The Court determined that there were questions relating to what the sheriff knew when he took such actions, and the answers to those questions would determine whether or not he could reasonably believe that his actions were authorized.  The Court determined that additional information was necessary and sent the case back to the circuit court to determine whether or not the sheriff was acting with a reasonable belief that his actions were authorized in the circumstances.  The Court determined that only after more information was gleaned could they determine whether or not he sheriff was entitled to qualified immunity from suit. 

This Tip of the Week comes from Hamen v. Hamlin County South Dakota, 2021 S.D. 7, in which the Supreme Court of South Dakota decided issues relative to inverse condemnation and qualified immunity.  The opinion was filed on February 10, 2021.
 

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