773 F.2d 1169 (11th Cir. 1985), 84-3744, Wahl v. McIver

Docket Nº:84-3744
Citation:773 F.2d 1169
Party Name:Peter Gerard WAHL, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. William McIVER, et al., Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:October 15, 1985
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

Page 1169

773 F.2d 1169 (11th Cir. 1985)

Peter Gerard WAHL, Plaintiff-Appellant,


William McIVER, et al., Defendants-Appellees.

No. 84-3744

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

October 15, 1985

Page 1170

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 1171

Carl J. Zahner, Asst. Atty. Gen., Tallahassee, Fla., Gerald W. Pierce, Ft. Myers, Fla., for defendants-appellees.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida.

Before GODBOLD, Chief Judge, and HILL and ANDERSON, Circuit Judges.



Plaintiff-appellant Peter Gerard Wahl filed this action under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 against the Honorable R. Wallace Pack ("Judge Pack") and the Honorable William McIver ("Judge McIver"), who are Florida circuit court judges; Douglas M. Midgley ("Midgley"), the Lee County Public Defender; Joseph P. D'Alessandro ("D'Alessandro"), the State Attorney; Frank Wanicka ("Wanicka"), the Lee County Sheriff; Major Roy Yahl ("Yahl"), Administrative Head of the Lee County Jail; and the County Commissioners of Lee County. Appellant charged defendants/appellees with various improprieties in the handling of his criminal case and various unconstitutional jail conditions; 1 seeking injunctive relief for those actions. 2 Before

Page 1172

appellees had filed any responsive pleadings, Wahl filed an "additional complaint" containing several new allegations against the defendants. He also sent a letter to the district court judge claiming that D'Alessandro and several assistant state attorneys were improperly admitted into office, and that his conviction was therefore void. He sought punitive damages for this alleged injury.

Appellees Wanicka, Yahl, and the Lee County Commissioners moved to dismiss the original complaint, the "additional complaint" and the amendment concerning punitive damages. They argued that Wahl failed to allege any facts showing that they had control over the jail or knowledge of the alleged violations, and that none of the allegations concerning jail practices stated a constitutional claim. In response, appellant supplemented his claims with detailed factual allegations. Judges Pack and McIver moved to dismiss on the basis of judicial immunity, and D'Alessandro moved to dismiss on the basis of prosecutorial immunity. Midgley did not respond to appellant's suit in district court and did not file a brief on appeal.

The district court dismissed appellant's complaint. It reasoned that suit against Judges Pack and McIver was barred by judicial immunity and that suit against D'Alessandro was barred by prosecutorial immunity. The court also held that appellant's other allegations failed to state causes of action. Appellant filed a timely notice of appeal and the district court granted appellant leave to proceed in forma pauperis.


On appeal, appellant appears to argue (1) that judicial immunity does not shield Judges Pack and McIver from the imposition of attorneys' fees and costs; (2) the State Attorney, D'Alessandro, is not immune as he was not properly inducted into office; (3) that he does state a claim against all of the defendants; and (4) that his motions for court-appointed counsel and default judgment should have been granted. In response, Judge McIver, Judge Pack and D'Alessandro argue that they are shielded from liability by judicial and prosecutorial immunity. Wanicka, Yahl, and the Lee County Commissioners argue that Wahl's claims are moot, that the Lee County Commissioners are improper parties and that none of his allegations state a claim.

All of appellant's allegations concerning Judges McIver and Pack concern matters within their judicial role as the presiding judges in the criminal proceedings against appellant. It is firmly settled that judges are absolutely immune from civil liability "for their judicial acts, even when such acts are in excess of their jurisdiction, and are alleged to have been done maliciously or corruptly." Bradley v. Fisher, 80 U.S. (13 Wall.) 335, 351, 20 L.Ed. 646 (1871). This immunity applies to proceedings under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983. Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547, 554, 87 S.Ct. 1213, 1217, 18 L.Ed.2d 288 (1967). The immunity, however, concerns only monetary liability and does not bar injunctive relief against judicial officers acting in their judicial capacity. Pulliam v. Allen, 466 U.S. 522, 104 S.Ct. 1970, 1981, 80 L.Ed.2d 565 (1984). Furthermore, judicial immunity does not bar an award of attorneys' fees under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1988. Id., 104 S.Ct. at 1982. Thus, the district court's finding of judicial immunity is in error as appellant requested injunctive, not monetary, relief. The only prayer for monetary damages was in regard to D'Alessandro. 3 However, the district court's error was harmless because none of the relief requested in appellant's complaint or amendments thereto applies to the two judges. Thus, he does not state a claim against them. Furthermore, attorneys'

Page 1173

fees are inappropriate as appellant is not a prevailing party. Leggett v. Badger, 759 F.2d 1556, 1557 (11th Cir.1985).

The allegations against D'Alessandro concern matters within his role as the state attorney in charge of the prosecution against appellant. Prosecutors have absolute immunity from civil damages suits under section 1983 for actions intimately associated with the judicial phase of the criminal process. Fullman v. Graddick, 739 F.2d 553, 558 (11th Cir.1984). For example, they are absolutely immune from section 1983 claims that they offered false testimony or suppressed material at trial, filed charges without investigation or jurisdiction, filed groundless detainers, suppressed exculpatory evidence, refused to investigate prison complaints or threatened defendants with vindictive criminal prosecutions. Id. at 558-59. Thus, appellant's prayer for punitive damages is barred. His request for injunctive relief concerns issues applicable only to those responsible for the Lee...

To continue reading