352 F.2d 987 (10th Cir. 1965), 7907, O'Bryan v. Chandler

Docket Nº:7907.
Citation:352 F.2d 987
Party Name:W. H. Pat O'BRYAN, Appellant, v. Stephen S. CHANDLER, Appellee.
Case Date:November 30, 1965
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

Page 987

352 F.2d 987 (10th Cir. 1965)

W. H. Pat O'BRYAN, Appellant,


Stephen S. CHANDLER, Appellee.

No. 7907.

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit.

November 30, 1965

Page 988

Reagan M. Martin, Dallas, Tex., for appellant.

Granville Tomerlin, Oklahoma City, Okl., for appellee.

John W. Douglas, Asst. Atty. Gen., Morton Hollander and David L. Rose, Attys., Dept. of Justice, Washington, D.C., for United States as amicus curiae.

Roy C. Lytle and William D. Curlee, Oklahoma City, Okl., for Oklahoma Bar Association as amicus curiae.


PICKETT, Circuit Judge.

W. H. Pat O'Bryan, an Oklahoma attorney and Certified Public Accountant, instituted this action against Stephen S. Chandler, Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma, to recover damages, actual and punitive, for alleged malicious prosecution, libel and slander, 1 arising out of certain activities of Judge Chandler before a grand jury, which resulted in a criminal indictment against O'Bryan. This is an appeal from an order dismissing the complaint on the grounds that the alleged misconduct of Judge Chandler was not clearly in the absence of his jurisdiction as a Judge, and that he therefore was judicially immune from civil liability.

It is settled doctrine that a Judge is not liable in damages for acts performed in a judicial capacity unless there is a 'clear absence of all jurisdiction' over the subject matter. This is true, even though the Judge's acts are in excess of his jurisdiction and done maliciously, corruptly, or arbitrarily. Bradley v. Fisher, 13 Wall. 335, 20 L.Ed. 646. This court, in Ryan v. Scoggin, 10 Cir., 245 F.2d 54, 58, announced the rules in these words:

'It is a principle of universal acceptation in its relation to judges at all levels that a judge is not liable in damages resulting from an order entered or a judgment rendered in an action or proceeding over which the court has jurisdiction of the subject matter and of the parties, even though such order or judgment is in excess of the vested jurisdiction, or is otherwise erroneous and is set aside or reversed on appeal or other review. That deep-seated fundamental rule of ancient origin and frequent repetition rests upon considerations of public policy that such immunity is a concomitant of an independent judiciary which is indispensable to the well-being of a free people. * * * (Citing cases). It is only in instances in which a judge acts or proceeds in the clear absence of any color of jurisdiction or proceeds officially in respect to a cause or matter over which the court is clearly without any color of jurisdiction that he may be subjected to personal liability as a trespasser for damages arising out of his unauthorized act. * * *'

See, also, Barr v. Matteo, 360 U.S. 564, 79 S.Ct. 1335, 3 L.Ed.2d 1434; Gregoire v. Biddle, 2 Cir., 177 F.2d 579, cert. denied 339 U.S. 949, 70 S.Ct. 803, 94 L.Ed. 1363; Brictson v. Woodrough, 8 Cir., 164 F.2d 107, 2 cert. denied 334 U.S. 849, 68 S.Ct. 1500, 92 L.Ed. 1772.

It is, of course, the general rule that in considering a motion to dismiss for failure of the complaint to state a

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cause of action, that all facts well pleaded are admitted. Ryan v. Scoggin, supra. The material allegations of the complaint, and exhibits attached thereto, show that O'Bryan had filed a claim for more than one million dollars in a bankruptcy proceeding known as the 'Selected Investments case', 3 then pending in Judge Chandler's court. At a hearing in the bankruptcy proceedings, O'Bryan first supported the claim with oral testimony; he later produced a letter contract in support of his claim. The court found the claim to be fraudulent, disallowed it, and required O'Bryan to return $5, 000 to the Trustee in Bankruptcy. O'Bryan was thereupon disbarred from the practice of law in the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma. The Judge was convinced that the letter contract had been fabricated, that the claim was fraudulent, and that O'Bryan had committed perjury in his attempt to sustain it.

On November 7, 1961 a grand jury was convened in the Western District of Oklahoma where it was qualified by Judge Chandler and given the usual general instructions as to its duties.

It is alleged that when the grand jury had completed consideration of the cases to be presented by the United States District Attorney, Judge Chandler, after having consulted privately with the foreman of the grand jury concerning the O'Bryan matter, appeared personally in the grand jury room at the request of the foreman. Judge Chandler first announced that the room was 'a United States Court Room now instead of a Grand Jury Room, to keep you all from having to come upstairs.' He advised the grand jury that he was there at the request of the foreman to explain the original instructions...

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