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FOX v. CASTLE

March 7, 1977

JOHN H. FOX
v.
A. W. CASTLE, III, Individually and as Chief of the Carroll-Franklin Township Police Department, SAMUEL A. HILL, Individually and as Justice of the Peace for Magisterial District No. 3-10 of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, CARROLL TOWNSHIP and FRANKLIN TOWNSHIP



The opinion of the court was delivered by: NEALON

 In this action plaintiff seeks damages in excess of $10,000 from defendants A. W. Castle, III, Chief of the Carroll-Franklin Township Police Department, Samuel A. Hill, Justice of the Peace for Magisterial District No. 3-10, and Carroll Township and Franklin Township, two Pennsylvania municipal corporations. Before the Court at this time are the motions of defendants Hill, Carroll Township and Franklin Township *fn1" for judgment on the pleadings. *fn2"

 Plaintiff alleges the following facts: In August of 1974 plaintiff filed assault charges against one William Holder. On August 8, he was called to the Carroll-Franklin Township Police Department to sign some papers relating to these charges. When he arrived at the station he was informed by an Officer Yost and defendant A. W. Castle that he was under arrest for solicitation to commit murder. He was then fingerprinted, photographed, and committed to York County Prison in lieu of $100,000 bail set by defendant Magistrate Samuel A. Hill.

 Plaintiff also alleges that, at a subsequent preliminary hearing before defendant Hill, William Holder, Carolyn Holder, and Larry Shaulitis testified that plaintiff had either offered them money to kill defendant Castle or that they had overheard such an offer to another person; that this testimony was untrue; and that it was coerced by defendants Castle and Hill. He further alleges that defendant Hill then bound the case over to the Grand Jury which, after hearing perjured testimony by defendant Castle, indicted him on December 9.

 Finally, plaintiff alleges that Mr. and Mrs. Holder and Mr. Shaulitis recanted the testimony they presented at the preliminary hearing and because of this, the District Attorney dismissed the charges against him. Plaintiff alleges that he spent a total of 12 days in jail as a result of this incident.

 I.

 Defendant Magistrate Samuel Hill has moved to dismiss on the grounds that he is a judicial officer and therefore immune from suit.

 It is a settled rule that a judge is not liable for acts performed in a judicial capacity even though his acts are in excess of his jurisdiction and done maliciously, corruptly or arbitrarily. Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547, 553-54, 18 L. Ed. 2d 288, 87 S. Ct. 1213 (1967). Justices of the Peace, it is also well established, fall within the ambit of this doctrine. See Pritt v. Johnson, 264 F. Supp. 167, 170 (M.D. Pa. 1967); Hohensee v. Hart, Civil No. 76-464 (M.D. Pa., June 22, 1976).

 The purpose of the judicial immunity doctrine is to insure that judges be free "to exercise their functions with independence and without fear of consequences." Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. at 554. Thus, in determining whether judicial immunity applies to a particular activity, the proper approach is to consider the precise function involved and to determine whether the threat of tort liability in the performance of that function would be likely to inhibit principled and fearless decisionmaking by the judiciary. See Gregory v. Thompson, 500 F.2d 59 (9th Cir. 1974); McCray v. Maryland, 456 F.2d 1 (4th Cir. 1972).

 In the present case the functions involved are a judicial officer's power to set bail and make a probable cause determination at a preliminary hearing. Since it is manifest that the threat of tort liability in the performance of these duties would seriously cripple the effective administration of the judicial process, the Court concludes that judicial immunity attaches to the alleged acts of defendant Hill.

 II.

 Defendants Carroll and Franklin Townships have moved to dismiss on the ground that, as municipalities, they are not subject to suit under 42 U.S.C.A. § 1983 (1974). Plaintiff does not dispute this position but argues that the Court has jurisdiction over the matter through 28 U.S.C.A. 1331 (1966), which provides in part:

 
"(a) The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions wherein the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $10,000, exclusive of interest and costs, and arises under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States."

 In Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388, 29 L. Ed. 2d 619, 91 S. Ct. 1999 (1971), the Supreme Court held that an action for damages lay against federal officers alleged to have violated petitioners' Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizures, and that federal jurisdiction existed under § 1331 where there was more than $10,000 in controversy. ...


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