Gomez v. Toledo

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In Gomez v. Toledo, 446 U.S. 635 (1980), the U.S. Supreme Court established that the government bears the legal burden of asserting qualified immunity as a defense, rather than requiring a plaintiff in a Section 1983 action to assert that the government acted in bad faith.

The Court held that:

Our conclusion as to the allocation of the burden of pleading is supported by the nature of the qualified immunity defense. As our decisions make clear, whether such immunity has been established depends on facts peculiarly within the knowledge and control of the defendant. Thus we have stated that "[it] is the existence of reasonable grounds for the belief formed at the time and in light of all the circumstances, coupled with good-faith belief, that affords a basis for qualified immunity of executive officers for acts performed in the course of official conduct." Scheuer v. Rhodes, supra, at 247-248. The applicable test focuses not only on whether the official has an objectively reasonable basis for that belief, but also on whether "[the] official himself [is] acting sincerely and with a belief that he is doing right," Wood v. Strickland, supra, at 321. There may be no way for a plaintiff to know in advance whether the official has such a belief or, indeed, whether he will even claim that he does. The existence of a subjective belief will frequently turn on factors which a plaintiff cannot reasonably be expected to know. For example, the official's belief may be based on state or local law, advice of counsel, administrative practice, or some other factor of which the official alone is aware. To impose the pleading burden on the plaintiff would ignore this elementary fact and be contrary to the established practice in analogous areas of the law.

Gomez v. Toledo, 446 U.S. 635, 640-41 (1980).