principle of English and American jurisprudence that such an action could not be maintained. Yaselli v. Goff, 2 Cir., 12 F.2d 396, 399, 56 A.L.R. 239.
Prior to the Civil Rights Statutes, in our system of jurisprudence it, therefore, appeared a time-honored immunity of judges existed from civil liability for their official or judicial acts, no matter how erroneous, malicious or corrupt they may have been. Bradley v. Fisher, 13 Wall. 335, 349, 80 U.S. 335, 349, 20 L. Ed. 646; Papagianakis v. The Samos, 4 Cir., 186 F.2d 257; Tinkoff v. Holly, 7 Cir., 209 F.2d 527.
Civil Rights Statutes and Their Effect Upon the Judiciary
The question now posed before this court is whether or not such immunity continues in effect after the enactment of the Civil Rights Statutes.
As an aftermath of Civil War and national convulsion, the Civil Rights Statutes were forged by the great statesmen and lawyers of both Houses of Congress.
It must be considered whether these stalwart defenders of constitutional government intended to employ the Civil Rights Statutes as a bludgeon to strike asunder the fundamental and basic concept of judicial independence -- which by and large feeds life blood to the arteries of the organism of free government.
The apparently sweeping and unqualified language of the old Civil Rights Act, 8 U.S.C.A. § 43 and more recently changed to 42 U.S.C.A. §§ 1983, 1985, 1986, as amended, seems to say that every person in official position, whether executive, legislative, or judicial, who under color of state law subjects or causes to be subjected any person to the deprivation of any rights secured by the Constitution of the United States, shall be liable in damages to the person injured. The enactment in terms contains no recognition of possible defenses or exemptions, by way of privilege, even where the defendants may have acted in good faith, in compliance with what they believed to be their official duty. Reading the language of the Act in its broadest sweep, it would seem to make no difference that the conduct of the defendants might not have been tortious at common law; for the Act, if read literally, creates a new federal tort, where all that has to be proved is that the offender as a result of his conduct under color of state law has in fact caused harm to the plaintiff by depriving him of rights secured by the Constitution of the United States and the Civil Rights Statutes.
Fortunately Tenney v. Brandhove, 341 U.S. 367, 71 S. Ct. 783, 95 L. Ed. 1019, has relieved us of the necessity of giving the Civil Rights Act such an awesome and unqualified interpretation. That case held that the broadly expressed terms of the Civil Rights Act could not have been intended to deprive state legislators of their preexisting and well-established complete immunity from civil liability for official acts done within the sphere of legislative activity. Francis v. Crafts, 1 Cir., 203 F.2d 809, 811; Cobb v. City of Malden, 1 Cir., 202 F.2d 701.
I have given most thorough consideration to the conclusions enunciated in Picking v. Pennsylvania R. Co., 3 Cir., 151 F.2d 240, relative to the application of Civil Rights provisions as they apply to the civil liability of judges of general jurisdiction. I must concur with plaintiff to the extent of admitting that its language appears to bestow sweeping and unqualified effect to the Civil Rights Acts.
Nevertheless, I am cognizant that the judicial officer involved in this circuit's decision was a justice of the peace, not a judge of a court of general jurisdiction, as in the case at bar. More important, the Picking case was decided in 1945, without benefit of the illumination and compelling analogy to be found in the Supreme Court in Tenney v. Brandhove, supra. See Francis v. Crafts, supra.
In construing the language of the old Civil Rights Act, 8 U.S.C.A. § 43, which more recently has been re-enacted into the sections under which the instant proceeding was brought, the Supreme Court held that the Civil Rights Statutes were not intended to make legislators personally liable for damages to a witness injured by a committee exercising legislative power.
Crucial to the issue raised is this most compelling language of the Supreme Court:
'Did Congress by the general language of its 1871 statute mean to overturn the tradition of legislative freedom achieved in England by Civil War and carefully preserved in the formation of State and National Governments here? Did it mean to subject legislators to civil liability for acts done within the sphere of legislative activity? Let us assume, merely for the moment, that Congress has constitutional power to limit the freedom of State legislators acting within their traditional sphere. That would be a big assumption. * * * We cannot believe that Congress -- itself a staunch advocate of legislative freedom -- would impinge on a tradition so well grounded in history and reason by covert inclusion in the general language before us.' Tenney v. Brandhove, supra [341 U.S. 367, 71 S. Ct. 788].
It would appear incongruous and contradictory to the doctrine of judicial independence, to hold that judicial officers of a state stand in a less favorable position than do state legislators, in respect to immunity from civil liability for acts done in their official capacity.
I have no doubt that the Third Circuit would no longer feel obliged, as it did in the Picking case, to read the Civil Rights Act in such literal and unqualified manner as to impose a liability for damages upon a state judicial officer for acts done in the exercise of his judicial function.
It is axiomatic that the same immunity which applies to state legislators in the performance of their legislative duties would have application to the official acts of judges. Francis v. Crafts, supra; Cobb v. City of Malden, supra.
If plaintiff's thesis requiring the imposition of civil liability upon judges in the performance of their civil duties were to be given effect, utter chaos would pervade the judicial system. Judges would render decisions under the constant fear of civil suits, and the administration of justice would cause judges to temper their decisions with the sole view of avoiding disgruntled litigants. Judges would require the constant service of members of the bar in defending their actions, and would always face the peril of showing favoritism toward those attorneys whose services they have been required to invoke. This necessity would again tend to convince an unsuccessful litigant that rights under the Civil Rights Statutes have been denied. In such cases where judges should disqualify themselves as when counsel had previously served in their behalf, circumstances would prove untenable in those numerous judicial districts where the complement of the court consists of a single judge. Indeed, judges not only would be confronted with the stark realism of having their savings and holdings frittered away in defending themselves against a multiplicity of frivolous and unfounded civil suits, but would also suffer the embarrassment and degradation of defending themselves against the sniping and collateral attacks of dissatisfied litigants. It would create an endless chain and vicious circle to which no solution or correction could ever be attained.
The independence of the judiciary would be of little value if judges could be subjected to the cost and inconvenience and distractions of a trial upon the conclusion of a case, or to the hazard of a judgment against them based upon a jury's speculation as to motives.
In times of political passion, vindictive motives are readily attributed to judicial conduct and is readily believed. Courts are not the place for such controversies. Self-discipline and the voters must be the ultimate reliance for discouraging or correcting such abuses.
I do not believe any basis exists under the Civil Rights Statutes or any other law in which this court would have jurisdiction to sustain the cause of action against Roy I. Carson, President Judge of the Court of Common Pleas of Washington County, Pennsylvania, and President Judge of the Court of Oyer and Terminer and Court of Quarter Sessions of Washington County, Pennsylvania.
In connection with the motion as it relates to John M. Good, Clerk of the Court of Quarter Sessions and Court of Oyer and Terminer of Washington County, Pennsylvania, counsel for defendant stated during argument that the plaintiff's petition, if it were sent, had been apparently received by the Clerk, instead of the Prothonotary, and that the same had been apparently mislaid. We shall assume that it had been sent to the Clerk and that it had not been filed or heard.
This Court will take judicial notice of the statutes of Pennsylvania which recognize that the Office of the Clerk of Courts does not relate to the business of the Court of Common Pleas, which is the Court that has jurisdiction in habeas corpus proceedings. The Clerk of Courts is a Clerk of the Criminal Courts in Washington County, Pennsylvania. 17 Pa.P.S. § 1451. Habeas corpus is a civil remedy rather than a criminal proceeding and jurisdiction for the consideration of a petition for a writ of habeas corpus is in the Court of Common Pleas and the filing of such a pleading would be with the Prothonotary of that court. No jurisdiction exists in either the Court of Quarter Sessions or Court of Oyer and Terminer, 12 Pa.P.S. § 1871; 12 Pa.P.S. Section 1901; Com. ex rel. Paylor v. Claudy, 366 Pa. 282, 77 A.2d 350.
Since the complaint alleges that a petition for writ of habeas corpus was filed with the defendant John M. Good, Clerk of Courts, there could be no legal basis for the cause of action against him for his failure to file the same in his office when his office has no jurisdiction over such a pleading. Said Clerk could not be charged with breach of any duty he did not have and could not be held accountable in a trespass action for failure to perform a duty which he never had. Thus, the complaint utterly fails to state a cause of action against the defendant John M. Good, and should be likewise dismissed as to him.
For the reasons stated, I must, therefore, conclude that the instant complaint fails to state a cause of action upon which relief can be granted, and that the same should be dismissed.
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