403 – Lawsuits and the Harris County Sheriff’s Office
This policy provides directives for Harris County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) employees to follow regarding lawsuits either filed against them or by them relating to a workplace event, and regarding notices of claims received by them relating to a workplace event.
Each and every civil lawsuit or notice of claim 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, must immediately be referred to the Sheriff or his designee and must immediately be referred to the Harris County Attorney’s Office (CAO) with a request that the CAO provide representation for the employee in the defense of such lawsuit or notice of claim.
Additionally, employees must follow the notification procedures in this policy if they are filing a civil lawsuit in relation to an HCSO event.
This policy applies to HCSO employees’ duty-related actions wherein the employee:
- 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;
- 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; or
- Is filing a lawsuit resulting from an HCSO-related event.
NOTE: As used in this policy, a claim is a notice that legal action is being contemplated; it should not be considered a lawsuit.
Being Served with a Civil Lawsuit or Notice of Claim
If an employee is served with a summons, pleading(s) and/or other document(s) 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 must be followed:
- Only the person to whom the service of process or notice of claim is directed will receive and acknowledge receipt of the service.
- In the event that personal service is attempted, the server must be referred directly to the employee who is the subject of the service.
- 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 will 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 Notice of Claim
Upon receipt of a civil lawsuit or a notice of claim, the employee must immediately:
- On the face of the document, write his or her initials, the date the lawsuit or notice of claim was received, and how it was received (by personal service or by mail), and
- Transmit the lawsuit or notice of claim (and all accompanying papers and envelopes, if any) directly to the attention of the Sheriff, or his or her designee.
Once a Lawsuit is Forwarded to the Sheriff
Upon receipt by the Sheriff or his or her designee, a lawsuit will immediately be referred to the CAO with a request that the CAO represent the employee in the defense of such lawsuit.
The 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 CAO is dependent on the employee’s full cooperation.
Once a Notice of Claim is Forwarded to the Sheriff
Upon receipt by the Sheriff or his or her designee, a notice of claim will immediately be referred to the Harris County Office of Risk Management and CAO with a request that the claim be evaluated and assessed for liability.
The employee named in the notice of claim must cooperate with the Office of Risk Management in its investigation of the basis for the claim.
The CAO 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 CAO determines that the employee violated another person’s rights, intentionally caused damage, harm, or injury to another, or acted outside the course and scope of his or her employment with the HCSO.
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 CAO. In cases where there exists uncertainty that representation will be provided by the CAO, employees are cautioned to consult with their own attorney as soon as possible.
Lawsuits Filed by HCSO Employees
An employee must directly notify the Sheriff, or his or her designee, in writing within 24 hours of filing a civil lawsuit resulting from an HCSO-related event.
NOTE: 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 employees.
This policy has been revised on the below listed dates:
April 21, 2009
October 9, 2017
June 15, 2021