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Federal courts scholar to examine qualified immunity doctrine during UF Dunwody Lecture

Published: February 8th, 2010

Category: Events, News

Should qualified immunity, the controversial doctrine shielding police officers and others from damages, be changed?

Prominent federal courts scholar, John C. Jeffries Jr., the David and Mary Harrison Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of Virginia, will discuss this and more when he delivers the 29th annual Dunwody Distinguished Lecture at the University of Florida Levin College of Law.

The lecture, “Rationalizing Qualified Immunity,” is organized by the Florida Law Review and is free and open to the public. It will be held Tuesday, Feb. 16 at 11 a.m. in UF Law’s Chesterfield Smith Ceremonial Classroom (room 180). To view the lecture via webcast, visit www.floridalawreview.com.

“It is a great honor to be invited to UF to give the nationally-known Dunwody Lecture,” said Jeffries, who served as dean of UVA School of Law 2001-2008. “My lecture will examine why qualified immunity, the doctrine that shields police officers and others from paying damages for violating constitutional rights, is notoriously unstable and difficult to administer. I plan to outline the problems with qualified immunity in an effort to make first steps toward reformulating this controversial doctrine.”

The qualified immunity doctrine protects government officials from liability for civil damages “insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” To determine whether an official is entitled to qualified immunity, the court must (1) identify the specific right allegedly violated; (2) determine whether the right was “clearly established;” and (3) determine whether a reasonable officer could have believed that his or her conduct was lawful.

Jeffries is a graduate of the UVA School of Law, where he was editor in chief of the Virginia Law Review and the recipient of the Z Award for the highest academic averages and the Woods Prize for Outstanding Graduate. Upon graduation, Jeffries clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. and later served as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army.

In 1975, Jeffries joined the UVA School of Law faculty, where his primary research and teaching interest included civil rights, federal courts, criminal law and constitutional law. In 1986, he was appointed the inaugural Emerson Spies Professor of Law and later served as academic associate dean, acting dean and dean until 2008.

“The Florida Law Review is honored to host Dean Jeffries as this year’s Dunwody Lecturer,” said Jon M. Philipson, editor in chief of the Florida Law Review. “As state actions develop in new and unexpected ways, the issue of sovereign immunity becomes even more important to future litigation. There is no one better than Dean Jeffries to bring clarity to this area of the law.”

The Dunwody Distinguished Lecture Series was established by the U.S. Sugar Corporation and law firms of Dunwody, White & Landon, and Mershon, Sawyer, Johnson, Dunwody & Cole in honor of UF Law graduates Elliot (JD 33) and Atwood (JD 33) Dunwody, two brothers who dedicated their lives to the legal profession and labored to better social and economic conditions in Florida.

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