NORTHERN INSURANCE COMPANY OF NEW YORK v. CHATHAM COUNTY, GA

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Case Basics
Docket No. 
04-1618
Petitioner 
Northern Insurance Company of New York
Respondent 
Chatham County, Georgia
Advocates
(argued the cause for Petitioner)
(argued the cause for Respondent)
(argued the cause for Petitioner)
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Facts of the Case 

James Ludwig's yacht was damaged when it collided with a drawbridge. Ludwig's insurance company, Northern, sued Chatham County to recover its costs. The county claimed that it was immune from civil suits due to its sovereign immunity under common law. The District Court agreed and ruled for the county. The court held that the county had sovereign immunity as a local government exercising power delegated by the state. Under Supreme Court precedent, sovereign immunity does not apply to local governments, but only to states and "arms of the state." Although the county did not qualify as an arm of the state under those precedents, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court's decision. The Circuit Court held that common law nevertheless guaranteed the county a "residual immunity."

Question 

May a county claim sovereign immunity under common law, even if the county is not acting as an "arm of the state"?

Conclusion 
Decision: 9 votes for Northern Insurance Company of New York, 0 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Amendment 11: Eleventh Amendment

No. In a unanimous decision, the Court ruled that Chatham County was not entitled to immunity from suit. The opinion by Justice Clarence Thomas held that since the county was not acting as an "arm of the state," it could not claim 11th Amendment immunity. The Court also refused to recognize a less expansive form of "residual" immunity for counties under common law.

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NORTHERN INSURANCE COMPANY OF NEW YORK v. CHATHAM COUNTY, GA. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 20 June 2014. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2005/2005_04_1618>.
NORTHERN INSURANCE COMPANY OF NEW YORK v. CHATHAM COUNTY, GA, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2005/2005_04_1618 (last visited June 20, 2014).
"NORTHERN INSURANCE COMPANY OF NEW YORK v. CHATHAM COUNTY, GA," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed June 20, 2014, http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2005/2005_04_1618.