Pinal County v. Cooper, 719 Ariz. Adv. Rep. 7 (App. Div. I, October 20, 2015) (J. Swann)
QUALIFIED IMMUNITY IS COMPLETE DEFENSE AND IS NOT DEFEATED BY SPITE OR ILL WILL—MUST SHOW OBJECTIVE MALICE
Plaintiff Timothy Gaffney, Director of Communications with the Pinal County Sheriff's Office sued the Pinal County Manager for defamation, negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress and abuse of process. Gaffney claimed the manager applied an inappropriate tax rate for Gaffney's government vehicle, initiated a groundless investigation into Gaffney's e-mails and travel reimbursement requests, and disseminated false information about Gaffney based upon this investigation. The trial court denied Pinal County's and the manager's motion for summary judgment grounded upon the defense of qualified immunity and the Arizona Court of Appeals accepted jurisdiction of defendants' special action and granted relief.
The court of appeals held that while there may have been evidence of ill-will and even subjective malice by the manager, in order to defeat the immunity defense there must be evidence to support a finding of objective malice. “If the undisputed facts require the conclusion that [the manager] could reasonably have believed that his actions were premised on actual facts and colorable legal positions, ten qualified immunity prevents the action from proceeding.”