Attempts to sue the government are as old as government itself. The English common law, developed by appointees of the Crown, created a doctrine which made it illegal to sue the King, the doctrine known to this day as sovereign immunity. That doctrine was continued in the common law of this country and the common law of Georgia. With the development and subsequent widespread availability of liability insurance, recent years saw Georgia courts and the General Assembly modify the blanket application of the doctrine to allow claims where insurance existed, at least to the limits of the insurance available. However, in the 1990 general election, the people of the State of Georgia amended the state constitution to make sovereign immunity available to the state and local governmental entities without regard to insurance unless the General Assembly passed a specific law waiving the sovereign immunity. Other immunity doctrines have developed, primarily to protect governmental officials and employees in the performance of their duties. Over the last 50 years, litigation against school districts, board members and administrators has often taken place in federal court where constitutional claims, allegations of civil rights violations and complaints of violation of federal statutes can be brought, avoiding the state-created protection of sovereign immunity.
This chapter will summarize when and how school districts can be sued in both the state and federal courts. The various immunity doctrines will be described and specific attention will be paid to claims under some of the federal statutes which are most often utilized to get school districts and their employees into court.