As I stated in an earlier post, I enjoy learning new words. And, like any blogger, I also enjoy sharing my new information with others. I have found another interesting word to share with you today:

The word is “Malfeasance“.

Malfeasance is a comprehensive term used in both civil and Criminal Law to describe any act that is wrongful. It is not a distinct crime or tort, but may be used generally to describe any act that is criminal or that is wrongful and gives rise to, or somehow contributes to, the injury of another person.

Malfeasance is an affirmative act that is illegal or wrongful. In tort law it is distinct from misfeasance, which is an act that is not illegal but is improperly performed. It is also distinct from Nonfeasance, which is a failure to act that results in injury.

The distinctions between malfeasance, misfeasance, and nonfeasance have little effect on tort law. Whether a claim of injury is for one or the other, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant owed a duty of care, that the duty was breached in some way, and that the breach caused injury to the plaintiff.

One exception is that under the law of Strict Liability, the plaintiff need not show the absence of due care. The law of strict liability usually is applied to Product Liability cases, where a manufacturer can be held liable for harm done by a product that was harmful when it was placed on the market. In such cases the plaintiff need not show any actual malfeasance on the part of the manufacturer. A mistake is enough to create liability because the law implies that for the sake of public safety, a manufacturer warrants a product’s safety when it offers the product for sale.

West’s Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


If all those lawyerly terms are confusing, here’s another definition

malfeasance n. intentionally doing something either legally or morally wrong which one had no right to do. It always involves dishonesty, illegality, or knowingly exceeding authority for improper reasons. Malfeasance is distinguished from “misfeasance,” which is committing a wrong or error by mistake, negligence or inadvertence, but not by intentional wrongdoing. Example: a city manager putting his indigent cousin on the city payrollat a wage the manager knows is above that allowed and/or letting him file false time cards is malfeasance; putting his able cousin on the payroll which, unknown to him, is a violation of an anti-nepotism statute is misfeasance. This distinction can apply to corporate officers, public officials, trustees, and others cloaked with responsibility. (See: misfeasance)

Malfeasant: 1. Misconduct Conduct by a public official that cannot be legally justified or that conflicts with the law. 2. Unlawful Act An act carried out by a public official that cannot be legally justified or that conflicts with the law.

The commission of an act that is unequivocally illegal or completely wrongful.

I know what you’re thinking “Of all the words in the dictionary, why did you pick this one for our Increase Your Vocabulary lesson?” Well, I pick words that I stumble upon while researching the topic I am interested in at the time. If I’m not entirely certain of the definition I will look it up in one of the many dictionaries available on the web.

What led me to this word is that I was talking to one of the other Code Violators who was at court on Tuesday. We were discussing one of the defendants we witnessed being berated at length by the City – oh, excuse me – Assistant City Attorney and the Code Enforcement Officer.

My friend says that she got the impression that the defendant could not fully understand what was being said. I couldn’t hear the defendant, but I could hear the ACA and CEO and they were speaking perfect English in my opinion. Well, not perfect English by any stretch of the imagination, but  English nonetheless. (My English Prof at SMU would not agree, but hey – what does she know?) And, as we all know – English is the Official Language of Farmers Branch.

I don’t know what language the defendant understands, and I am certainly not going to be so presumptuous as to assign a language based on appearance. And I will tell you right now that I am neither an anthropologist nor a lawyer. So, now that we got that out of the way I will continue.

When I learn a new word I like to try to use it in a sentence to see if I’ve understood it correctly. But this word confuses me. For instance, even though The City of Farmers Branch has declared that English is the official language, isn’t there some state or even federal law that says that a defendant, even in a civil case, has to understand the charges against him or her? If so, would I be using this word correctly if I created a sentence like “They were malfeasant in their handling of Case Number XXXX?”

Just wondering.