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How Judicial Immunity Works

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6 Factor Analysis

Available for:
  ✓ Administrative Law Judges
  ✓ Federal Hearing Examiners
  ✓ Federal Officials
  ✓ Federal Prosecutors
  ✓ Government Officials
  ✓ Grand Jurors
  ✓ Immigration Judges
  ✓ Law Clerk
  ✓ Parole Board
  ✓ Police Officers
  ✓ Postmaster General
  ✓ President's Cabinet
  ✓ School Board Members
  ✓ State Court Judges
  ✓ State Governor (+ aides)
  ✓ State Officials
  ✓ State Prison Officials
  ✓ State Prosecutors
  ✓ Testifying Witnesses
  ✓ US President

2-Part Test

Available for:
  ✓ Administrative Law Judges
  ✓ Federal Hearing Examiners
  ✓ Federal Prosecutors
  ✓ Immigration Judges
  ✓ Law Clerk
  ✓ Parole Board
  ✓ State Court Judges
  ✓ State Prosecutors

I. Definitions

"right of exemption from a duty or penalty; benefit granted in exception to the general rule. Immunity from prosecution may be granted a witness to compel answers he or she might otherwise withhold because of the constitutional privilege to avoid self-incrimination." Judicial Immunity
"the immunity of a judge from civil liability for any acts performed in the judge's official capacity. The immunity is absolute provided only that the judge is acting within his or her jurisdiction. The scope of the judge's jurisdiction must be construed broadly to protect the court's independence; therefore, the judge will not be deprived of immunity because the action taken was in error, was done maliciously, or was in excess of the judge's authority; rather, the judge will be subject to liabilty only when the action taken was in clear absence of all jurisdiction. Where the relief sought is injunctive or declaratory and not money damages, immunity is not provided under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and state courts may be sued for such relief."

II. Legal Citations

42 USC §1983 | Civil Action for Deprivation of Rights
"Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress, except that in any action brought against a judicial officer for an act or omission taken in such officer’s judicial capacity, injunctive relief shall not be granted unless a declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief was unavailable. For the purposes of this section, any Act of Congress applicable exclusively to the District of Columbia shall be considered to be a statute of the District of Columbia." 42 USC §2000d-7 | Civil Rights Remedies Equalization
(a) General provision
(1) A State shall not be immune under the Eleventh Amendment of the Constitution of the United States from suit in Federal court for a violation of section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 [29 U.S.C. 794], title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 [20 U.S.C. 1681 et seq.], the Age Discrimination Act of 1975 [42 U.S.C. 6101 et seq.], title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 [42 U.S.C. 2000d et seq.], or the provisions of any other Federal statute prohibiting discrimination by recipients of Federal financial assistance.
Art I §6 US Constitution | Compensation
"[Congressmen] shall in all Cases, except Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peace, be privileged from Arrest during their Attendance at the Session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place." 11th Amendment US Constitution | Judicial Limits
"The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State." 14th Amendment US Constitution (Section 5 ) | Citizenship Rights
"5. The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article."

III. Case Law

# Case Comments
01Bolin v StoryCA11 | 2000 | Federal Judges; Drug Conspiracy; Courts incorporate §1983 into Bivens;
02Bradley v FisherUSSC | 1871 | Attorney vs Judge; Excess Authority vs Lack of Authority
03Brown v Crawford CountyCA11 | 1992 | Commissioners, Moratorium, Legislative Immunity, Local Rule Abolished
04Butz v EconomouUSSC | 1978 | Federal Officials get treated like State Officials | Quasi
05Dennis v SparksUSSC | 1980 | Judicial Immunity is not for giving testimony (or co-conspirators)
06Dykes v HosemannCA11 | 1985 | Child Custody; Dissenting opinions decry how judges are above the law
07Ex Parte VirginiaUSSC | 1880 | Judge put in jail. Habeas Corpus. Look at the nature of the act
08Jackson v BellsouthCA11 | 2004 | RICO, Attorney Malpractice; Litigation Privilege
09Kapordelis v CarnesCA11 | 2012 | Prisoner vs Federal Judges; Child Porn Case
10King v SimpsonCA02 | 1998 | Parole Officer, Nunc Pro Tunc Release date; premature dismissal
11Long v SatzCA11 | 1999 | Murder case gone bad; Exculpatory evidence; Prosecutorial Immunity
12Mireles v WacoUSSC | 1991 | Judicial Immunity is a type of qualified immunity
13Mitchell v ForsythUSSC | 1985 | Wiretaps; Quasi-Judicial Functions get immunity; Pro-Litigant
14Montero v TravisCA02 | 1999 | Parole board; Quasi-Judicial
15Oliva v HellerUSNYSD | 1988 | Law Clerk, Bank Robber; Judicial Immunity for Law Clerks
16Parrish v NikolitsCA11 | 1996 | Property Appraiser; Fired Employees (Politics); Individual vs Official
17Pierson v RayUSSC | 1967 | Bus boycott in MS; Judges; Police Officers
18Scotto v AlmenasCA02 | 1998 | Parolee; Official's fabrication; private party (conspired)
19Siegert v GilleyUSSC | 1991 | Bivens suit | Employer's Negative References | Liberty Interest
20Simmons v CongerCA11 | 1996 | Injunctive Relief
21Simmons v EdmonsonCA11 | 2007 | Federal Judges are Immune from Declaratory and/or Injunctive Relief
22Smith v ShookCA11 | 2001 | ALJ, State Bar, Corrections Officer; Absolute Immunity Test
23Stevens v OsunaCA11 | 2017 Individual Capacity; Injunctive; Declaratory
24Stump v SparkmanUSSC | 1978 | Mother Sterilized Daughter; Judge Charged
25Turner v RaynesCA05 | 1980 | Non-existent Crime; Peace Officer; Vertical vs Horizontal
26Young v SelskyCA02 | 1994 | Inmate; Hearing Officer; Methodical Application of Immunity

IV. Quick Commentary

  • Purpose: To protect the integrity of the court
    "The Court stressed that such immunity was essential to protect the integrity of the judicial process... ...we bear in mind that immunity status is for the benefit of the public as well as for the individual concerned."

    - see Stevens v Osuna, 877 F.3d 1293, 1301 (11th Cir. 2017)

    "[it] is not for the protection or benefit of a malicious or corrupt judge, but for the benefit of the public, whose interest it is that the judges should be at liberty to exercise their functions with independence and without fear of consequences."

    - see Bradley v Fisher, 80 US 335

  • Principle: To immunize the functions (not the persons) that the public rely
    "Here, as in other contexts, immunity is justified and defined by the functions it protects and serves, not by the person to whom it attaches.

    This Court has never undertaken to articulate a precise and general definition of the class of acts entitled to immunity. The decided cases, however, suggest an intelligible distinction between judicial acts and the administrative, legislative, or executive functions that judges may on occasion be assigned by law to perform."

    - see Forrester v White, 484 US 219 (1988)

    "Whether the act done by him was judicial or not is to be determined by its character, and not by the character of the agent. Whether he was a county judge or not is of no importance. The duty of selecting jurors might as well have been committed to a private person as to one holding the office of a judge. . . . That the jurors are selected for a court makes no difference. So are court-criers, tipstaves, sheriffs, &c. Is their election or their appointment a judicial act?"

    - see Ex parte Virginia, 100 U.S. 339 (1880)

  • Inapplicability: Absolute Immunity does not apply when the officer acts in a clear absence of jurisdiction.
    "where the prosecutor acts without clear jurisdiction and without any colorable claim of authority the prosecutor loses the absolute immunity he would otherwise enjoy. Rodrigue[s] v. City of New York, 193 A.D.2d 79, 86, 602 N.Y.S.2d 337 (1st Dept. 1993)."

    - see Shmueli v NYC, 424 F.3d 231 (2d Cir. 2005)

  • Distinction: Excess of Jurisdiction vs Lack of Jurisdiction (ie, "complete absence of all jurisdiction")
    "A distinction must be here observed between excess of jurisdiction and the clear absence of all jurisdiction over the subject matter. Where there is clearly no jurisdiction over the subject matter any authority exercised is a usurped authority, and for the exercise of such authority, when the want of jurisdiction is known to the judge, no excuse is permissible. But where jurisdiction over the subject matter is invested by law in the judge, or in the court which he holds, the manner and extent in which the jurisdiction shall be exercised are generally as much questions for his determination as any other questions involved in the case, although upon the correctness of his determination in these particulars the validity of his judgments may depend."

    - see Bradley v Fisher, 80 US 335 10L. Ed 646 (1872)

  • Test for Judicial Immunity: "There are only two circumstances in which judicial immunity can be overcome: (1) a judge is not immune from liability for actions taken outside his or her judicial capacity; and (2) a judge is not immune from actions that, although judicial in nature, are taken in the complete absence of jurisdiction. Mireles, 502 U.S. at 11-12 (citations omitted)."

    - see Tota v Ward, 1:07-cv-00026 (USNYWD) (PDF, Page 5)

    1. official's act is within his jurisdiction; and
    2. official was acting in a judicial capacity (see below)
  • Factors for Analyzing 'Judicial Capacity'(ie, determining whether an official was acting in his/her judicial capacity):
    1. the act complained of constituted a normal judicial function;
    2. the events occurred in the judge’s chambers or in open court;
    3. the controversy involved a case pending before the judge; and
    4. the confrontation arose immediately out of a visit to the judge in his judicial capacity.
    "Whether a judge's actions were made while acting in his judicial capacity depends on whether: (1) the act complained of constituted a normal judicial function; (2) the events occurred in the judge's chambers or in open court; (3) the controversy involved a case pending before the judge; and (4) the confrontation arose immediately out of a visit to the judge in his judicial capacity. Scott v. Hayes, 719 F.2d 1562, 1565 (11th Cir. 1983)."

    - see Sibley v. Lando, 437 F.3d 1067 (11th Cir. 2005)

  • Considerations for Applying Absolute Immunity:
    1. the need to assure that the individual can perform his functions without harassment or intimidation;
    2. the presence of safeguards that reduce the need for private damages actions as a means of controlling unconstitutional conduct;
    3. insulation from political influence;
    4. the importance of precedent
    5. the adversary nature of the process
    6. the correctability of the error on appeal
    "At the outset we note that we agree with Magistrate Judge Blewitt’s assessment of the six-factor test as it relates to Bast and the subsequent recommendation of the Magistrate Judge. However, we shall undertake a brief analysis of the factors for the sake of completeness."

    - see Lonzetta v Hazle, 3:02-cv-00018-TMB (USPAMD) (PDF, Page 8)
  • TBD's First Recommendation: Read the Mireles v Waco opinion
    • Reason #1: It deals with a judge
    • Reason #2: It's succinct
    • Reason #3: It incorporates/summarizes many other fundamental decisions
    • Reason #4: It's short
  • TBD's Second Recommendation: Read the Young v Selsky opinion
    • Reason #1: It deals with a judge
    • Reason #2: It's succinct
    • Reason #3: It incorporates/summarizes many other fundamental decisions
    • Reason #4: It's short

IV. Additional Notes

V. Additional Resources

VI. Bibliography

Congratulations! You're now booked up on how Judicial Immunity works!

Please get the justice you deserve.


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