Supreme Court majority holds that governmental employees are immune from contempt sanctions after negligently-caused injury
Nancy Mick became concerned about her brother, Stephen Bradley, who was acting unstable and talked about suicide. She was so concerned that she asked the Kent County Probate Court to involvuntarily admit Stephen for psychiatric evaluation and his own safety. After hearing her evidence, the Probate Court agreed with Mick and entered an order requiring the Kent County Sheriff''s Department to take Bradley into custody that day.
Unfortunately, through what it admitted to be "an obvious case of simple neglect" the Department delayed executing the order for nine days, despite increasingly desparte inquiries by Mick. On the ninth day, Bradley committed suicide. Afther the Sheriff's Department's investigation concluded that it had been negligent, Mitt filed a law suit for negligence. The suit was dismissed because Mick "did not prove gross negligence."
Mick then asked the Probate Court to impose contempt penalties on the Department for violating the Court's order. The Court agreed it had the jurisdiction to do so and the Department appealed. The Court of Appeals agreed with the Probate Court and the Department sought leave to appeal to the Supreme Court. The latter judges concluded that the Department is immune from all damages in the nature of "tort" or "personal injury" damages, even if they are awarded by a court after a finding of contempt. The two Democratic Justices on the Court disagreed with the conclusion of the Court's five Republicans.