Defamation Immunity Empowers Oregon Officers to Lie with Impunity

Blast Zone No. 48863 - 0 Comments
Set Up On:
Category: Judges - Supreme
Current Courthouse Address:
1163 State St.
County's Immunity Argument:

Oregonians cannot sue law enforcement officials that intentionally make false claims in official reports because courts believe that government officials cannot do their jobs otherwise. I found this out a couple years ago when Multnomah County moved to dismiss defamation claims I filed against several corrections deputies. The deputies intentionally made false accusations in their incident reports to cover up how one of their own intentionally broke my arm. Those statements were also used to overcharge me with a bodily injury enhancement, but the enhancement was later dropped due to lack of evidence.


The county's arguments against my defamation claims were two fold. First, they were time barred because I filed the claims too late. Second, the defendants were immune solely because state law grants absolute immunity to government officials which protects them from defamation claims. My defamation claims were dismissed for being time barred, so the judge never reviewed the county's immunity argument. If that argument has any merit, that merit is disturbing.


"Oregon recognizes an absolute privilege for statements made in furtherance of public duties. Christianson v. State, 239 Or App 451, 459, 244 P3d 904, 908 (2010), Chamberlain v. City of Portland, 184 Or App. 487, 56 P 3d 497 (2002). This privilege is rooted in the maxim that the public's interest in the unhampered operation of the government, when exercising such functions, outweighs an individual's interest in the preservation of reputation. Johnson v. Brown, 193 Or. App. 375, 381, 91 P.3d 741, 744, decision clarified on reconsideration, 194 Or. App. 486, 95 P.3d 235 (2004), citing Wallulis v. Dymowski, 323 Or 337, 349, 918 P2d 755 (1996). Absolute privilege bars a defamation claim completely as a matter of law. DeLong v. Yu Enterprises, Inc., 334 Or 166, 170, 47 P3d 8 (2002). Because these reports were generated in the exercise of the MCSO staffs work as the corrections department for the County, the statements are privileged and cannot serve as defamation as a matter of law." - Bruce Andrew Jones, Attorney at Law


County counsel seems to think law enforcement incapable of functioning if faced with the threat of a civil suit every time they lie. The Oregon Supreme Court shares this view. In the seminal case of Shearer v. Lambert, 274 Or. 449, 547 P.2d 98 (1976) (https://cite.case.law/or/274/449/), the court held that "the privilege is designed to free public officers from intimidation in the discharge of their duties." That also classified the threat of a legitimate lawsuit in response to a false statement made by a government official as a form of intimidation. If being afraid of a legitimate misconduct lawsuit is a form of intimidation then no government official should ever be free from intimidation.


If people want to create new laws cracking down on false or wrongfully disclosed information, they need to start with the people charged with enforcing the law in the first place.

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