Commercial Litigation and Arbitration

Judicial Immunity Extends Even to Malicious or Ultra Vires Acts Taken in a Judicial Capacity — Extends to Court Clerks, Too

From Ceparano v. Southampton Justice Court, 2011 U.S. App. LEXIS 233 (2d Cir. Jan. 5, 2011):

"A judge defending against a section 1983 suit is entitled to absolute immunity from damages for actions performed in his judicial capacity." Fields v. Soloff, 920 F.2d 1114, 1119 (2d Cir. 1990). Whether a judge acted in a "judicial capacity" depends on the "nature of the act [complained of] itself, i.e., whether it is a function normally performed by a judge, and [on] the expectations of the parties, i.e., whether they dealt with the judge in his judicial capacity." Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, 362, 98 S. Ct. 1099, 55 L. Ed. 2d 331 (1978). Further, if the judge is performing in his judicial capacity, the "judge will not be deprived of immunity because the action he took was in error, was done maliciously, or was in excess of his authority; rather, he will be subject to liability only when he has acted in the 'clear absence of all jurisdiction.'" Stump, 435 U.S. at 356-57; see also Fields, 920 F.2d at 1119 ("Liability will not attach where a judge violated state law by an incorrect decision."). In this analysis, "the scope of the judge's jurisdiction [is] to be construed broadly," Maestri v. Jutkofsky, 860 F.2d 50, 53 (2d Cir. 1988) (alteration omitted) (quoting Stump, 435 U.S. at 356) (internal quotation marks omitted), and the asserted immunity will only be overcome when the "judge clearly lacks jurisdiction over the subject matter," id. at 52.

Moreover, court clerks have been granted similar immunity from damages "for performance of tasks which are judicial in nature and an integral part of the judicial process." Rodriguez v. Weprin, 116 F.3d 62, 66 (2d Cir. 1997). Therefore, "[e]ven 'when functions that are more administrative in character have been undertaken pursuant to the explicit direction of a judicial officer, . . . that officer's immunity is also available to the subordinate.'" Id. at 67 (omission in original) (quoting Kincaid v. Vail, 969 F.2d 594, 601 (7th Cir. 1992)).

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