Fact That Officer Has Resigned Does Not Relieve Employer Of Obligation To Defend Against Claims

Christie Richardson was a police officer with the Louisville Metro Narcotics Unit. In March 2002, an indictment was brought against Richardson and Detective Mark Watson that included a whopping 450 counts accusing Watson and Richardson of falsifying search warrants, affidavits, forging signatures on search warrants, and tampering with drug evidence, among other allegations.

Richardson resigned shortly after being indicted. She was ultimately convicted of first-degree official misconduct, second-degree possession of a forged instrument, and 18 counts of tampering with public records.

After Richardson’s resignation, five civil lawsuits were filed against her arising out of her conduct with Watson. When the Louisville/Jefferson County Metro Government (Metro) denied Richardson a defense in the civil lawsuits, she filed a request for a declaratory judgment in state court seeking a ruling that Metro was obligated under Kentucky’s “Claims Against Local Governments Act” to provide her with a defense. Metro contended that since Richardson was no longer an employee, it had no obligation to defend her.

The Kentucky Supreme Court sided with Richardson. The Court found that “the key to this case is the timing of the acts or omissions which form the basis for the civil claims, not the filing of the lawsuits. Thus, the analysis should focus on whether Richardson was a police officer at the time of the acts. This interpretation is consistent with the plain meaning of the Act which mandates that ‘a local government shall provide for the defense of any employee in any action in tort arising out of an act or omission occurring within the scope of employment.’

“The Legislature set forth certain limitations on the duty to defend, and on the liability of local governments, when it enacted the Act. Independent contractors and employees or agents of independent contractors are not considered public employees. A local government may refuse to pay a judgment or settlement and may recover legal defense costs in certain instances, such as if the employee acted outside the scope of his employment, or acted or failed to act due to fraud, malice, or corruption. There is, however, no express exception for former employees sued in tort for acts or omissions during their public employment, nor is there language requiring that such claims be filed prior to the end of employment.”

Richardson v. Louisville/Jefferson County Metro Government, 2008 WL 2484218 (Ky. 2008).

This article appears in the October 2008 issue