Court officer who seized third-party's boat was not guilty of "gross negligence" in failing to check Secretary of State records
Jordan Jones and Lawrence Hunt sued Gregory Saffady, an officer of the Oakland County Circuit Court, after Saffady seized the Plaintiffs' boat to satisfy a judgment against third-party Janis Jones. The boat owners argued that Saffady should not enjoy immunity for his wrongful seizure because it was so clearly negligent of him to fail to check Secretary of State ownership records.
The case was summarily dismissed by the trial judge and the dismissal was upheld by the appellate court. The judges noted that all government actors are immune from ordinary negligence and expressed their conclusion that failing to confirm ownership through the Secretary of State was "ordinary" and not "gross" negligence. The Republican majority on Michigan's Supreme Court has interpreted statutory "gross negligence" to require more than simply "aggravated" or "extreme" negligence: to lose the cloak of immunity, a government actor's conduct must be different in nature than a simple "mistake" and must "demonstrate a substantial lack of concern for whether an injury results."