With the number of lawsuits funneled through the justice system, it would seem as though simply filing a lawsuit against an individual or an entity would not face obstacles. However, oftentimes, people do not understand that if the government has not agreed to allow an individual to sue them, then that individual does not have a right to sue them. If this is the case, a lawsuit can be dismissed automatically.
All levels of government – federal, state, and local – have immunity from lawsuits that citizens do not have. A government entity has to allow citizens to sue them – by statute or by federal law. Another issue that exists is whether the government has consented to or has voted to spend funds to pay for any judgment that could be awarded against them.
Both of these – whether they allow a lawsuit against them and whether they have voted to spend the funds on a potential judgment against them – are two major defenses against any lawsuits a local government entity have. As a result, there is a lot of case law and a lot of rulemakings that have occurred regarding when they have consented to suit and when they have not. Due to this, cases and lawsuits can become complex. Take a look at the different levels of government and some of the legal protections it may have from lawsuits:
City vs. County
Cities have powers – such as the City of Austin, which is a home rule city – has powers to do basically anything it is not prohibited from doing, however, the county is the exact opposite. The county only has the power it is expressly given, therefore; counties cannot assume power, they have to be given the power by the legislature.
An open government means an individual is entitled to know what information the government has, what documents it used to make a decision, and how it made its decision. In most cases, if a lawyer is representing a government entity in a lawsuit, the discussions between the two parties are privileged and people are not entitled to hear them. This is somewhat the same when representing government, but the government is open government. When cities, counties, and municipalities have meetings, those are open meetings and the decision process remains open. Why does this matter? They cannot authorize their counsel to do things without it becoming public knowledge. They cannot hide their actions from their constituents.
Individuals vs. Government
When representing an individual during a lawsuit, the focus remains solely on that lawsuit and how that lawsuit can be resolved, tried, defended or prosecuted. When representing a government that has constituents (citizens), the considerations are much broader. You have to consider the impact not only on the government entity itself but to all the citizens the government represents. These broader impacts make these cases much more complicated, which is why you want an experienced attorney representing your government entity’s case and to keep all additional considerations in mind.