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McArdle v. Tronetti

argued: January 22, 1992.

PAUL J. MCARDLE, APPELLANT
v.
MICHAEL J. TRONETTI AND STEVEN REILLY, APPELLEES



ON APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA. (D.C. Civil No. 91-00074E)

Before: Stapleton, Scirica, and Alito, Circuit Judges

Author: Alito

Opinion OF THE COURT

ALITO, Circuit Judge :

I.

Paul J. McArdle appeals the dismissal of his complaint, which alleges federal constitutional and state torts. While serving a brief term of imprisonment for disorderly conduct, McArdle was involuntarily committed to a psychiatric institution. After his release, he sued a prison doctor and counsellor for giving false testimony, making false diagnoses, and filing a false petition in order to have him committed. The district court held that the defendants enjoyed absolute immunity because they were functioning as integral parts of the judicial process. We will affirm, although we hold that the defendants were not absolutely immune with respect to some of McArdle's claims.

II.

These are the relevant facts that were alleged in McArdle's complaint. On November 8, 1990, McArdle, an attorney, was sentenced by Judge Shad Connelly of the Court of Common Pleas of Erie County to serve 90 days in Erie County prison for disorderly conduct. Judge Connelly also ordered that McArdle be given a psychiatric examination by defendant Michael Tronetti, a prison physician. Tronetti, after a brief examination at the county jail, diagnosed McArdle as a paranoid schizophrenic. On November 27, defendant Steven Reilly, a prison counsellor, filed a petition to have McArdle involuntarily committed to a mental health treatment facility. On December 5, a hearing on the petition was held. Tronetti falsely testified that McArdle was suffering from paranoia and schizophrenia and should be committed for treatment to the Warren State Hospital. On December 10, Judge Connelly ordered that McArdle be moved to Warren State Hospital. On December 13, McArdle was taken to Warren State Hospital by the sheriff.

McArdle filed his complaint in the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, alleging that Tronetti and Reilly had violated his Fourteenth Amendment due process and equal protection rights by intentionally submitting false diagnoses, giving false testimony, and causing a false commitment petition to be filed in order to bring about his transfer to Warren State Hospital. McArdle also alleged state common law tort claims based on the same facts, including a malicious use of process claim against Reilly for the "institution of commitment proceedings" against him. Upon motion by the defendants, the district court dismissed McArdle's complaint under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim. The district court held that under Briscoe v. LaHue, 460 U.S. 325, 75 L. Ed. 2d 96, 103 S. Ct. 1108 (1983), Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 47 L. Ed. 2d 128, 96 S. Ct. 984 (1976), and related cases, both defendants had absolute witness and prosecutorial immunity from Section 1983 claims arising out of the facts alleged in the complaint. The court therefore dismissed the complaint under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6).*fn1 McArdle appealed, and we have jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291.

III.

Under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, "'every person' who acts under color of state law to deprive another of a constitutional right shall be answerable to that person in a suit for damages." Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 417, 47 L. Ed. 2d 128, 96 S. Ct. 984 (1976). Despite these broad terms, however, the Supreme Court has held consistently that the Section 1983 did not abolish long-standing common law immunities from and defenses to civil suits. Burns v. Reed, 114 L. Ed. 2d 547, 111 S. Ct. 1934, 1938 (1991). At common law, persons functioning as integral parts of the judicial process enjoyed absolute immunity from civil liability. Briscoe v. LaHue, 460 U.S. 325, 335, 75 L. Ed. 2d 96, 103 S. Ct. 1108 (1983). This immunity was and still is considered necessary "to assure that Judges, advocates, and witnesses can perform their respective functions without harassment or intimidation." Butz v. Economou, 438 U.S. 478, 512, 57 L. Ed. 2d 895, 98 S. Ct. 2894 (1978). Similarly, the Supreme Court has held that persons functioning as integral parts of the judicial process are immune from suits under Section 1983. Burns v. Reed, 114 L. Ed. 2d 547, 111 S. Ct. 1934, 1938 (1991). For example, Judges are absolutely immune from liability for performing judicial acts, Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547, 18 L. Ed. 2d 288, 87 S. Ct. 1213 (1967); prosecutors have absolute immunity from liability for initiating prosecutions, Imbler v. Pachtman, supra ; and witnesses have absolute immunity from liability for giving testimony at trial, Briscoe v. LaHue, supra.

IV.

The determinative issue in this case is whether Tronetti and Reilly were functioning as integral parts of the judicial system (and are therefore absolutely immune from liability under Section 1983) when they performed the acts on which McArdle's claims were based. We address each of McArdle's allegations in turn.

First, McArdle alleged that Tronetti violated his due process and equal protection rights by intentionally making a false diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia. App. at 3-6. Tronetti made his psychiatric examination of McArdle at the request of and furnished a written report of that evaluation to Judge Connelly. App. at 109-111. Tronetti was, therefore, functioning as an arm of the court. As such, he was an integral part of the judicial process and is protected by the same absolute judicial immunity that protects Judge Connelly. Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547, 18 L. Ed. 2d 288, 87 S. Ct. 1213 (1967); Moses v. Parwatikar, 813 F.2d 891 (8th Cir.), cert. denied, 484 U.S. 832, 98 L. Ed. 2d 67, 108 S. Ct. 108 (1987); Bartlett v. Weimer, 268 F.2d 860 (2nd Cir.), cert. denied, 361 U.S. 938, 4 L. Ed. 2d 358, 80 S. Ct. 380 (1960). Moreover, Tronetti's report and recommendation to the court, made at the court's direction, ...


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