Brief Fact Summary. A Danish vessel, The Flying Fish, with neutral Danish property on board was seized by the United States frigate Boston, commanded by Captain Little (Little), and brought into the port of Boston and libeled as an American vessel that had violated the non-intercourse law.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. The government itself cannot be sued, but the offending government officials are liable as ordinary tortfeasors in the absence of valid authorization.
I acquiesce in that of my brethren, which is, that the instructions cannot change the nature of the transaction, nor legalize an act which, without those instructions, would have been a plain trespass.View Full Point of Law
Issue. Is an officer who obeys orders liable for damages sustained by a misconstruction of an act, or will his orders excuse him?
Held. Affirmed the circuit court, with costs. The fact that Captain Little was following orders did not change the nature of the transaction, or legalize his action which without those orders would have been a plain trespass. Little was must liable to the owner of the Flying Fish for damages. Dissent. None. Concurrence. None.
Discussion. This case softened the impact of sovereign immunity to allow government officials to be sued as ordinary tortfeasors in the absence of valid legal authorization. There may be sovereign immunity, but there is no official immunity.