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Sovereign Immunity — Missouri & Federal

Under common law, sovereigns/governments were immune from civil lawsuits. At the federal level, the 11th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution codifies sovereign immunity. It provides that “[t] he Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.” Subject to many exceptions, you generally cannot sue the federal government for money damages or equitable relief. One of the more prominent exceptions to sovereign immunity is when the federal government waives sovereign immunity and permits suits to proceed. Note that the federal government can also waive a State’s sovereign immunity if it is acting under the 14th Amendment.

Missouri also recognizes sovereign immunity at the state level. It first adopted the doctrine in the 19th century and its current form exists in Sections 537.600-537.650, RSMO. In summary, full common law sovereign immunity applies to State entities, but Missouri has waived sovereign immunity for injuries (1)  directly resulting from the negligent acts or omissions by public employees arising out of the operation of motor vehicles or motorized vehicles within the course of their employment and (2) resulting from the dangerous condition of public property. Southers v. City of Farmington, 263 S.W.3d 603 (Mo. 2008).

 

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