Notaries Public Official Status

Notaries have the power to impart an official imprimatur to a document or transaction. There are a plethora of judicial opinions that declare Notaries are “public officers.” (See, e.g., Britton v. Nicolls, 104 U.S. 757, 765 (1881); Werner v. Werner, 526 P.2d 370, 376 (Wash. 1974); and Commercial Union Ins. Co. v. Burt Thomas-Aitken Const. Co., 230 A.2d 498, 499 (N.J. 1967).) But public official status is different for a Notary than for many other public officials. Unlike some public officials, e.g., elected officers, appointed administrators or policemen, a Notary is not a government employee, per se. This distinction can have far-reaching ramifications, especially in the area of personal liability. Usually Notaries are not afforded the sovereign immunity protection routinely available to public officials acting within the scope of their authority. Indeed, in some jurisdictions the enabling statute identifies the Notary as a quasi-public official (see, e.g., Kan. Stat. Ann. § 53-101; and Mo. Rev. Stat. § 486.220.3) and in others the same result has been reached by court decision (see, e.g., Transamerica Ins. Co. v. Valley Nat’l Bank, 462 P.2d 814, 817 (Ariz. Ct. App. 1969); and Ely Walker Dry Goods Co. v. Smith, 160 P. 898, 900 (Okla. 1916)). These classifications, however, are primarily for liability purposes, and do not detract from the central thesis that a Notary is a public official empowered by the states to perform specified duties.

Notary should be identify as a public servant because notarial services are rendered to the public at large under the authority of state statutory rules. Notaries are important functionaries who are obligated to serve individual members of the public. Although notarial acts benefit the public at large by fostering reliance on various types of documents and acts, Notaries nevertheless are distinguishable from other public servants whose primary obligations are to the public as a whole, instead of individual members. 

(based on "The Notary Public Code of Professional Responsibility" National Notary Association)