249 F.Supp. 51 (W.D.Okl. 1964), Civ. 63-339, O'Bryan v. Chandler

Docket Nº:Civ. 63-339
Citation:249 F.Supp. 51
Party Name:O'Bryan v. Chandler
Case Date:July 01, 1964
Court:United States District Courts, 10th Circuit, Western District of Oklahoma

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249 F.Supp. 51 (W.D.Okl. 1964)

W. H. Pat O'BRYAN, Plaintiff,


Stephen S. CHANDLER, Defendant.

Civ. No. 63-339.

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma.

July 1, 1964

Sam Sullivan, Durant, Okl., Joseph Rarick, Norman, Okl., for plaintiff.

John H. Cantrell, Lynn J. Bullis, Oklahoma City, Okl., Granville Tomerlin, Floyd Rheam, Claude Rosenstein, Tulsa, Okl., for defendant.

HARPER, District Judge.

W. H. Pat O'Bryan, hereinafter referred to as plaintiff, filed suit on September 25, 1963, against the defendant, a United States District Judge for the Western District of Oklahoma, in the District Court of Oklahoma County, State of Oklahoma. The plaintiff's cause of action is in two counts. The first count seeks damages for malicious prosecution, libel and slander in the amount of $5,000,000.00 and the second count seeks an additional $5,000,000.00 as punitive damages. The suit was filed by the plaintiff after a criminal indictment which had been returned against the plaintiff by the grand jury in the Western District of Oklahoma had been dismissed.

The case was duly removed to the Federal Court and the plaintiff's motion to remand overruled. The case is now

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before the court on defendant's motions to strike, to state separately, and to dismiss, all having been presented to the court by very exhaustive briefs and lengthy oral argument. The court in this memorandum opinion and order will concern itself only with the defendant's motion to dismiss for failure to state a cause of action.

Cases are legion wherein the appellate courts have dealt with the problem of attempts to terminate litigation believed to be without merit by dismissing a complaint for failure to state a cause of action, and the appellate courts generally agree that in order to justify such a dismissal by the trial court it must appear as a matter of law that under no state of facts which the plaintiff could prove in support of the claims pleaded would he be entitled to any relief. The Supreme Court in Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S.Ct. 99, 102, 2 L.Ed.2d 80, said:

'In appraising the sufficiency of the complaint we follow, of course, the accepted rule that a complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief.'

And so, with respect to the motion to dismiss we must examine the plaintiff's petition and consider it in the light of this accepted rule, but before doing so we must turn to the law with respect to the civil liability of judges in order to evaluate the petition under the accepted rule of law. The law has long been well settled that judges are exempt from civil liability for acts done by them in the exercise of their judicial function. Many, many decisions to this effect pertaining to judges and other public officials are reported. One of the early decisions of the Supreme Court, Bradley v. Fisher, 13 Wall 335, 357, 20 L.Ed. 646; discusses the matter in great detail. This case has repeatedly been cited by the courts and we, therefore, turn to it for guidance. At page 651 of 20 L.Ed. the court had this to say:

'Judges of courts of superior or general jurisdiction are not liable to civil actions for their judicial acts, even when such acts are in excess of their jurisdiction, and are alleged to have been done maliciously or corruptly. A distinction must be here observed between excess of jurisdiction and the clear absence of all jurisdiction over the subject-matter. Where there is clearly no jurisdiction over the subject-matter, any authority exercised is a usurped authority, and for the exercise of such authority, when the want of jurisdiction is known to the judge, no excuse is permissible. But where jurisdiction over the subject-matter is invested by law in the judge, or in the court which he holds, the manner and extent in which the jurisdiction shall be exercised are generally as much questions for his determination as any other questions involved in the case, although upon the correctness of his determination in these particulars the validity of his judgments may depend. * * * But if, on the other hand, a judge of a criminal court, invested with general criminal jurisdiction over offenses committed within a certain district, should hold a particular act to be a public offense, which is not by the law made an offense, and proceed to the arrest and trial of a party charged with such act, or should sentence a party convicted to a greater punishment than that authorized by the law upon its proper construction no personal liability to civil action for such acts would attach to the judge, although those acts would be in excess of his jurisdiction, or of the jurisdiction of the court held by him. * * *'

And then, further:

'The exemption of judges of the superior courts of record from liability to civil suit for their judicial acts, existing when there is jurisdiction

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of the subject-matter, though irregularity and error attend the exercise of the jurisdiction, the exemption cannot be affected by any consideration of the motives with which the acts are done. The allegation of malicious or corrupt motives could always be made, and if the motives could be inquired into, judges would be subjected to the same vexatious litigations upon such allegations, whether the motives had or had not any real existence. Against the consequences of their erroneous or irregular action, from whatever motives proceeding, the law has provided for private parties numerous remedies, and to those remedies they must in such cases resort. But for malice or...

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