Chapter 5.5 Judicial Immunity

Judicial Immunity

Judicial immunity protects judges, court employees, and others “intimately” involved with the judicial process against liability arising from their decisions and actions. Judicial immunity is absolute immunity and acts as a complete bar to suit. Virtually any decision of a judge that results from the judicial process, that is, the adjudicatory process, is protected by judicial immunity.  With some limitations, this immunity extends to court employees and others, such as jurors, parole and probation officers, and prosecutors who are fulfilling the court’s orders or participating in some official capacity in the judicial process.  Quasi-judicial immunity may also extend to other agents of state government including probation and parole authorities.  See, Holmes v. Crosby, 418 F.3d 1256 (11th Cir. 2005); see also Fuller v. Ga. State Bd. of Pardons & Paroles, 851 F.2d 1307, 1310 (11th Cir. 1988); Clark v. Ga. Pardons & Paroles Bd., 915 F.2d 636, 641 n.2 (11th Cir. 1990).  However, quasi-judicial immunity does not extend to probation or parole officers investigating suspected parole violations, ordering the parolee’s arrest pursuant to a parole hold, and recommending that parole revocation proceedings be initiated against him.  Such actions are more akin to law enforcement actions and are not entitled to immunity.  See Swift v. California, 384 F.3d 1184 (9th Cir. 2004). 

Not everything a judge or court employee does is protected by judicial immunity.  The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly held that judicial immunity only protects those acting in a judicial capacity and does not extend to administrative or rulemaking matters. See Forrester v. White, 484 U.S. 219, 229 (1988). Acts of judges or court employees that are purely administrative or supervisory in nature are not protected by judicial immunity and such non-judicial acts may give rise to liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and any state counterparts.  Generally, probation and parole officers have absolute judicial immunity where their actions are integral to the judicial process.  In determining whether an officer’s actions fall within the scope of absolute judicial immunity, courts “have adopted a ‘functional approach,’ one that turns on the nature of the responsibilities of the officer and the integrity and independence of his office. As a result, judicial immunity has been extended to federal hearing officers and administrative law judges, federal and state prosecutors, witnesses, grand jurors, and state parole officers.”  Demoran v. Witt, 781 F.2d 155, 156, 157 (9th Cir. 1985).  While judicial immunity may protect judges and court officials from monetary damages, it does not protect them against injunctive relief.  Pulliam v. Allen, 466 U.S. 522 (1984); Dorman v. Higgins, 821 F.2d 133 (2nd Cir. 1987).

Several courts have held that actions such as supervision, as distinguished from investigation, are administrative in nature and not a per se judicial function entitled to judicial immunity. Acevado v. Pima City Adult Prob., 690 P.2d 38 (Ariz. 1984).  The relocation of juveniles by a probation counselor is an administrative function and the court’s mere knowledge of a relocation is in and of itself insufficient to convert an administrative act into a judicial act.  Faile v. S.C. Dept. of Juvenile Justice, 566 S.E.2d 536 (S.C. 2002).  In some states, quasi-judicial immunity is available only if the probation officer “acted pursuant to a judge’s directive or otherwise in aid of the court. . . . Any claim to immunity which the Commonwealth might have asserted ceased when [the probation officer] failed to aid in the enforcement of the conditions of . . . probation.” A.L. v. Commonwealth, 521 N.E.2d 1017 (Mass. 1988).  One court has held that parole officers do not enjoy absolute immunity for conduct unassociated with the decision to grant, deny, or revoke parole.  See Swift v. California, 384 F.3d 1184 (9th Cir. 2004) (parole officer does not have immunity for violations of Fourth Amendment rights as the activities are investigative in nature and do not involve the granting, denial or revocation of parole); cf. Heartland Acad. Cmty. Church v. Waddle, 427 F.3d 525 (8th Cir. 2005) (juvenile officer does not enjoy judicial immunity to the extent that he acted beyond the scope of the court’s orders, acted without proper court authority, and relied on bad information to obtain orders from a court).