I wrote a post about Target the dog a couple of weeks ago. You will recall that Target the dog was living the good life as a national hero until she was mistakenly euthanized by a county animal control officer.
A commenter suggested that the attorney who filed suit on behalf of Target's owners would run into tort immunity problems. Governmental tort immunity would certainly be raised as a defense in that case, but I think the plaintiff would ultimately prevail. Keep in mind that complete text books have been written on this subject and I am certainly no expert, so I would welcome any feedback in the comments section. Even though Target was killed in Arizona, I will analyze the situation by applying Illinois law.
At issue would be the Local Government and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act. 745 ILCS 10/1 et seq. The Act provides different immunities for public entities and public employees. If I had more time, I could probably come up with a theory why the public entity should not enjoy immunity, but the easier case is the one against the employee who killed the wrong dog. Once liability is proven against the employee, I believe that the employer/entity would be obligated to indemnify the employee. Section 2-303 of the Act specifically says that nothing in the Act shall relieve a local public entity of its duty to indemnify its employees.
With respect to employees, immunity is granted to those who serve in a position involving the determination of policy or the exercise of discretion. See Section 2-201. Immunity is not granted to employees for ministerial acts. A governmental employee acts judicially or exercises discretion when he selects and adopts a plan in his official capacity, but as soon as he begins to carry out that plan, he acts ministerially and is bound to see that the work is done in a reasonably safe manner. See Greene v. City of Chicago, 73 Ill.2d 100 (1978).
Without a doubt, the Animal Control office had a policy in place dictating which dogs would be put down, how it would be done, how long they would be kept before it happened, etc. They don't automatically kill every dog that comes through the door. The original article even referenced a procedure whereby the County tried to reach the dogs' owners by posting pictures of stray dogs on their website and giving owners time to claim their dogs.
It is my position that the employee, and possibly the County, owed a duty to follow the procedures in place. If protocol would have been followed, Target would not have been killed. Because the employee was acting ministerially and was not exercising discretion, I believe he or she is liable for negligence.
Again, there are probably exceptions to the exceptions with regard to the Tort Immunity Act, so please let me know if my analysis is faulty.