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Cavanagh v. Payette County

February 27, 2006

MICHAEL J. CAVANAGH AND MARIA L. CAVANAGH, HIS WIFE, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
FAYETTE COUNTY, PROBATION OFFICER RAYMOND MILLER, PROBATION OFFICER JAMES WILLIAMS, JR., PROBATION SUPERVISOR LOU LOZAR AND THE HONORABLE RALPH WARMAN, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ambrose, Chief District Judge.

OPINION and ORDER OF COURT SYNOPSIS

AND NOW, this 27th day of February, 2006, after careful consideration of the parties' submissions and for the reasons set forth above, it is ORDERED that Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (Docket No. 5) is GRANTED, and this matter is dismissed as to Defendant Warner.

In this civil rights action, Plaintiffs claim that the Defendants violated their civil rights, inter alia, by seizing husband-Plaintiff in West Virginia and transporting him to Pennsylvania. Defendant Warman, a state court judge, is alleged to have ordered or directed the illegal acts. Plaintiff seeks damages pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and various state law claims.

Presently, Defendant Warman has moved to dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), on grounds of on judicial immunity. For the following reasons, I will grant his Motion.

I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

In deciding a motion to dismiss, all factual allegations, and all reasonable inferences therefrom, must be accepted as true and viewed in a light most favorable to the plaintiff. Colburn v. Upper Darby Twp., 838 F. 2d 66, 666 (3d Cir. 1988). The court need not, however, accept bare conclusions of law, unsupported conclusions, and unwarranted inferences. See Morse v. Lower Merion School Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). I will dismiss a complaint only if it appears beyond a reasonable doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of her claim which would entitle her to relief. Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45, 78 S.Ct. 99, 2 L.Ed. 2d 80 (1957). In this context, he moving party bears the burden of persuasion. Kehr Packages, Inc. v. Fidelcor, Inc., 926 F.2d 1406, 1409 (3d Cir. 1991).

II. PLAINTIFFS' COMPLAINT

The following factual allegations are taken from Plaintiffs' Complaint, except where indicated. Husband-Plaintiff was convicted of various criminal charges. Defendant Warman, a judge on the Court of Common Pleas of Fayette County, Pennsylvania, sentenced him in connection with those charges. He was then freed on bond pending appeal. Husband-Plaintiff, who was not immediately notified when his final appeal was denied, traveled to West Virginia two days after the denial. Probation officers then forcibly seized husband-Plaintiff in West Virginia, and transported him to Pennsylvania. The probation officers were allegedly acting under the direction of Defendant Judge Warman, who was motivated by a desire to damage husband-Plaintiff's campaign for the office of county commissioner. Plaintiffs, in their opposition papers, assert that husband-Plaintiff would have voluntarily surrendered if such a procedure had been arranged. In their Brief, they aver that the appropriate action would have been to notify husband-Plaintiff to report to serve his jail term.

III. DEFENDANT'S MOTION

Defendant has moved to dismiss based on the doctrine of judicial immunity. Plaintiffs counter that Defendant is stripped of immunity because their claim is based on his verbal administrative orders, and because he acted outside of his geographical territory.*fn1

Judges are, generally, absolutely immune from suits for money damages. Mireles v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9, 112 S.Ct. 286, 116 L.Ed. 2d 9 (1991). The doctrine of judicial immunity is grounded in "a long-settled understanding that the independent and impartial exercise of judgment vital to the judiciary might be impaired by exposure to potential damages liability." Antoine v. Byers & Anderson, Inc., 508 U.S. 429, 435, 124 L.Ed. 2d 391, 113 S.Ct. 2167 (1993). Judicial immunity is inapplicable, however, under two sets of circumstances: a judge is not "not immune from liability for non-judicial actions, i.e., actions not taken in the judge's judicial capacity"; or for actions taken in the "complete absence of all jurisdiction." Mireles, 502 U.S. at 11.

A. Judicial Act

In Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, 98 S.Ct. 1099, 55 L.Ed. 2d 331 (1978), the Supreme Court established a two-prong test to determine whether an act is "judicial," and therefore subject to immunity. First, the court must consider whether the act in question is a function that is "normally performed by a judge." Id. at 362. Under this "functionality" inquiry, a court is required to examine the nature and function of the act, rather than the act itself. Mireles, 502 U.S. at 13. Even if a particular act is not a function normally performed by a judge, the court must look to the particular act's relation to a general function normally performed by a judge. Id. Second, in determining whether an act is "judicial," the court must assess the parties' expectations, and whether they dealt with the judge in his or her judicial capacity. Stump, 435 U.S. at 362. "[P]aradigmatic judicial acts" are those that involve "resolving disputes between parties who have invoked the jurisdiction of a court." Forrester v. White, 484 U.S. 219, 227, 98 L.Ed. 2d 555, 108 S.Ct. 538 (1988).

Here, Plaintiff does not dispute that ordering an arrest or seizure is a general function normally performed by a judge. Cf. Mireles, 502 U.S. at 12. This is in stark contrast to an administrative function such as hiring or firing employees, which are actions "unrelated to [the] judicial role that simply happened to be taken by a judge." Barnes v. Winchell, 105 F.3d 1111, 1112 (6th Cir. 1997); see also Forrester, 484 U.S. at 227. The fact that ...


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