403 – Lawsuits and the Harris County Sheriff’s Office

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Purpose

This policy provides guidelines for all Harris County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) employees to follow in regards to lawsuits either brought against HCSO personnel or those personnel that file lawsuits due to a job-related event.

Applicability

This policy applies to lawsuits against or by HCSO employees for duty-related actions wherein the employee:

  1. Has been named as a defendant in a civil lawsuit arising out of the discharge by the employee of his or her official duties as an employee of the HCSO,
  2. Has received notice pursuant to state law that he or she is the subject of a claim brought against him or her arising out of the discharge of his or her official duties as an employee of the HCSO. As used in this directive, a claim is a notice that legal action is being contemplated; it should not be considered as a lawsuit.
  3. Has received notice or has been advised that he or she is the subject of a criminal investigation being conducted by a law enforcement agency other than the HCSO,
  4. Has been named as a defendant in any criminal action, or has been notified by citation that he or she will be named as a defendant in any criminal action, whether a felony or a misdemeanor, or
  5. Has filed a civil lawsuit due to a HCSO-related event.

Policy

Civil Actions Brought Against an Employee

Each and every civil lawsuit in which an employee is named as a defendant and in which it is alleged that, as a consequence of his or her official actions as an employee of the HCSO, the employee has caused damage, harm, or injury to another or has violated some right of another, shall be referred to the Harris County Attorney’s Office with a request that the office provide representation for the employee in the defense of such lawsuit.

Civil Actions Generated by an Employee for Job-Related Events

Each and every civil lawsuit that an employee files as a direct result of any HCSO event.

Criminal Investigations and Actions

Any employee who is named as a defendant in a criminal action, or who is the subject of a criminal investigation being conducted by a law enforcement agency other than the HCSO, or who receives a criminal citation, shall notify the Sheriff or his or her designee, in writing, through the chain of command, within 24 hours.

Procedure

Civil Lawsuits or Notices of Claim

If an employee is served with pleadings or receives service naming him or her as a defendant in a civil lawsuit, or if he or she receives a written notice of a claim against him or her either by personal service or by certified or registered mail, the following procedures shall be followed:

  1. Only the person to whom the service of process or notice of claim is directed shall receive and acknowledge receipt of the service.
  2. In the event that personal service is attempted, the server shall be referred directly to the employee who is the subject of the service.
  3. If the service or notice of claim is delivered by certified or registered letter, and the employee to whom it is addressed is not readily available to sign for it, every attempt shall be made by the HCSO to ensure that the addressee receives the letter as promptly as possible. If possible, the employee to whom service of the process or notice of claim is addressed should sign for receipt of such service or notice and not someone else.

Upon receipt of a civil lawsuit or a notice of claim, the employee shall immediately:

  1. On the face of the document, write his or her initials, the date the lawsuit was received, and how it was received (by personal service or by mail), and
  2. Transmit the lawsuit (and accompanying papers, if any) or notice of claim directly to the attention of the Sheriff or his or her designee.
  3. Upon receipt by the Sheriff or his or her designee, a lawsuit will be forthwith referred to the Harris County Attorney’s Office with a request that the County Attorney represent the employee in the defense of such lawsuit. The defendant employee may subsequently be required to submit written responses to the allegations, provide relevant documentation, and respond to discovery requests (in the form of interrogatories or depositions) made in the course of the litigation. Continued representation by the County Attorney is dependent on the defendant employee’s full cooperation.
  4. Upon receipt by the Sheriff or his or her designee, a notice of claim will be forthwith referred to the Harris County Office of Risk Management with a request that the claim be evaluated and assessed for liability. The employee named in the notice of claim shall cooperate fully with the Office of Risk Management in its investigation of the basis for the claim. In appropriate situations, the notice of claim may be referred directly to the Harris County Attorney’s Office.

Criminal Actions or Investigations

An employee shall directly notify the Sheriff or his or her designee, in writing, within 24 hours of the occurrence of any of the following:

  1. Upon learning or receiving notice that he or she has been named as a defendant in a criminal action,
  2. Upon learning or receiving notice that he or she is the subject of a criminal investigation being conducted by a law enforcement agency other than the HCSO, or
  3. Upon receipt of any criminal citation, including, but not limited to, a citation or warrant issued for any misdemeanor offense.
  4. Sworn or civilian employees may not wear their HCSO uniform when participating or attending criminal or civil proceedings not specifically related to authorized HCSO business without the permission of their bureau commander. [CALEA Standard 26.1.1]

Caveat (As to Civil Lawsuits)

  1. The Harris County Attorney may refuse to represent an employee named as a defendant in a civil lawsuit. This may occur in situations where, for example, it is determined that such representation would create a conflict of interest or if the County Attorney determines that the employee’s actions were intentional or outside the course and scope of his or her employment with the HCSO.
  2. In the event of such refusal, the employee will be notified promptly and advised to obtain his or her own attorney. In appropriate cases, legal representation may be provided to the employee at Harris County expense by legal counsel other than the County Attorney. In all cases where there exists uncertainty that representation will be provided by the County Attorney’s Office, employees are cautioned to consult with their own attorney(s) as soon as possible.

HCSO Personnel Filing Civil Lawsuits

An employee shall directly notify the Sheriff or his or her designee, in writing, within 24 hours of the filing of any civil lawsuit resulting from a HCSO-related event.

NOTE: The purpose of this reporting requirement is not to interfere, discourage, or otherwise limit an employee’s ability to file a lawsuit. It is to ensure that the HCSO is aware of any litigation that may involve Harris County, the HCSO, or other HCSO personnel.

Revision

This policy has been revised on the below listed dates:

April 21, 2009

October 9, 2017

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