Case Details


Immunity., Not Absolute, Public Statements By Attorney General Protected By Qualified

Filing State



Arizona Court of Appeals




Goddard v. Hon. Kenneth L. Fields , 214 Ariz. 175; 150 P.3d 262 (Ariz. Ct. Apps. 2007)


Attorney General has qualified, rather than absolute immunity for statements in a press release about pending case. Qualified immunity protects statements made in good faith.

Case Description

The Attorney General of Arizona filed suit against a developer alleging a number of environmental and other claims. The developer counterclaimed, alleging that he had been defamed by the Attorney General’s press release announcing the lawsuit. Although the Attorney General stood behind the truth of his statements, he sought dismissal of the defamation counterclaim by asserting that his position as an executive officer entitled him to absolute immunity, which would protect him from liability for all acts, whether or not done maliciously. The trial court found that the Attorney General did not have absolute immunity but only qualified immunity, which protected him only if the statements were made in good faith. Arizona caselaw establishes a preference for qualified immunity, which can be overcome by a showing that “absolute immunity is essential to conducting public business.” The trial court stated that the defamation and underlying trials would be held separately, and that there would be no need for separate trials if the defamation claims did not survive summary judgment motions. The court of appeals held that this was sufficient to protect the Attorney General, as well as the requirement that the plaintiff show that the statements were mad with “objective malice.” The court did not agree that the Attorney General’s official duties included a duty to inform the public through press releases. Issuance of press releases is a “highly discretionary function,” according to the court. The court held that this opinion specifically did not address situations in which the Attorney General is the policy-maker, rather than simply representing other state officials, as is the case here.