Cooke v. Bangs

Decision Date01 January 1887
Citation31 F. 640
PartiesCOOKE v. BANGS, Jr.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Minnesota

Where a justice of the peace having power to commit for contempt, as in Minnesota, commits a person for contempt, and, on such person being liberated on habeas corpus, recommits him on a fresh warrant for the same offense, such justice is not amenable to a civil action for false and malicious imprisonment, though his action in making the second commitment was erroneous, and although it is alleged that he acted maliciously.

This was an action for false and malicious imprisonment brought by plaintiff against the defendant, who is a justice of the peace, residing at Glyndon, Minnesota. The complaint states that on April 8, 1885, the defendant, being a justice of the peace, did of his own motion, no complaint having been made by any person, falsely, maliciously, and without reasonable or probable cause, issue the following false and pretended warrant for the arrest and apprehension of the plaintiff:

STATE OF MINNESOTA, COUNTY OF CLAY-- SS.:

'The State of Minnesota to the Sheriff or any Constable of said County:
'Whereas . . . has this day complained in writing to me on oath that . . ., on the twenty-eighth day of October, A.D 1884, at Glyndon, in said county, H. Dell Cooke, on being required to sign a recognizance to appear at the next term of the district court for the county of Clay, did beg to be excused from the same, and did agree to consult with the county attorney of said county as to the necessity of his being present at said term of said court, and did agree to report to me, by a note from the said county attorney, the result of said consultation, the intention of this court being to excuse him from signing the recognizance only in case of direct permission of said county attorney; and whereas, said Cooke did fail to report the result of any such visit to me, but, instead, did leave the state privately, and without signing the said recognizance: now, therefore, the said Cooke is charged by me with criminal contempt against the form of the statute in such case made and provided, and against the peace and dignity of the state of Minnesota. Now, therefore, you are commanded forthwith to apprehend the said H. Dell Cooke, and bring him

before me, to be dealt with according to law, and you are also commanded to summon material witnesses in said complaint to appear and testify concerning the same.

'Given under my hand this eighth day of April, 1885.

'WILLIAM H. BANGS, Jr., Justice of the Peace.'

-- That by virtue of said warrant the plaintiff was arrested, brought before this defendant, and, without hearing any evidence, the defendant imposed a fine against plaintiff of $24.30, including costs; and in default of payment adjudged that he be confined in the county jail for two days; and that, on his refusal to pay said fine, plaintiff was taken to Moorhead, in charge of an officer, and imprisoned in the county jail of Clay county for 24 hours. That at the expiration of that time he was taken before a court commissioner on a writ of habeas corpus, who, after due hearing, adjudged and determined that the charge against this plaintiff was false, sham, illegal, and void, and that plaintiff be then and there discharged from custody, fully acquitted, and that said prosecution is wholly ended and determined. For a second cause of action, plaintiff alleges that on the fifth day of June, 1885, the defendant issued another commitment, for the same charge and judgment as before, authorizing this plaintiff to be imprisoned in the county jail for the space of two days, and by virtue thereof he was imprisoned in the county jail for the space of 12 hours; and on the sixth day of June, 1885, on another writ of habeas corpus, was examined before said court commissioner, who, after hearing the case, adjudged and determined that said arrest and imprisonment were malicious, illegal, and void, and then and there ordered the plaintiff to be discharged out of custody, fully acquitted, and that the said last prosecution is wholly ended and determined. The defendant answered, denying malice, and justifying his actions in the premises. The case came on for trial, and with a jury, and the defendant objected to any evidence being introduced tending to show malice on the part of the defendant, on the ground that no action would lie against a justice of the peace who was acting within his jurisdiction, even if malice were shown to exist.

O. Mosness and C. K. Davis, for Cooke, plaintiff and appellant.

F. D. Larrabee and Gordon E. Cole, for appellee.

BREWER J.

The question which was argued and submitted is one of great public importance, and that question is this: Under what circumstances can a justice of the peace be held liable to a civil action for damages for an act done by him in his capacity as justice of the peace? Nothing is more important in any country than an independent judiciary; and nowhere is it so important, so absolutely essential, as under a popular government. No man can be a good judge who does not feel perfectly free to follow the dictates of his own judgment wheresoever they may lead him. And in a country where the people rule, and where popular clamor is apt to sway the multitude, nothing is more important than that the judges should be kept as independent as possible. And it is universal experience, and the single voice of the law-books, that one thing essential to their independence is that they should not be exposed to a private action for damages for anything that they may do as judges. It goes without saying that no man would feel free if he knew that, the moment that his decision was rendered, the party aggrieved, (for one party is always defeated,) construing his judgment to be based upon malice, or to be founded upon corruption, could bring him into the next court, and make him answer to an action for damages. And the same reasons for according that protection to a judge of a superior court exists in respect to a justice of the peace. It is true that their jurisdiction is limited, but they stand nearer to the people than the judges of the superior courts, and are more liable to be influenced by popular feeling; and it is therefore even more important that the rule should be enforced so that they may be accorded that immunity from suit which will lead to independence of action. Nor is there any danger that this immunity from suits for damages will leave the judges superior to the law, or as feeling that they are above the law, and not amenable to it. There is ample protection and guaranty against misconduct on the part of a judicial officer, be he high or low.

In the first place, there is no officer with respect to whose integrity and character the people in this country are more particular than they are in respect to that of a judge. The people insist upon purity of life and integrity of character in the incumbent of that office, and they are as jealous of that as of any other right. A man may vote for a person for some office about whose integrity of life he may have doubt but he is very loth to place a man in any judicial position as to whose integrity of character he has even a suspicion. Not only that, but the moment that one holding a judicial office is suspected of corruption, or of being actuated by malice, he becomes very rapidly socially ostracized. Whenever the suspicion attaches, it is as ruinous to him as when a suspicion of want of chastity attaches to a woman. Again, he is just as amenable to the criminal law as any private citizen. There is no judge, from the judge of the supreme court of the United States at Washington, to a justice of the peace in the smallest township of the state, who, acting on any judicial matter from corruption or from malice, but becomes amenable to the criminal law the same as any other man, and may also be removed from office by proper proceedings. So there is not danger of judges as a class feeling that they are above the law, or becoming independent of the law, or indifferent to the rights of others. This rule, which is founded on experience, is upheld with uniformity by the authorities so far as superior courts are concerned. There is scarcely a dissenting voice in all the long story that has been told in the history of the common law. With respect to all judicial officers,--justices of the peace, as well as judges of the higher courts,-- the settled law of the supreme court of the United States, and I think the plain intimation of the supreme court of this state, is that, where they act within their...

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  • Morgan v. Sylvester
    • United States
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    ...Phelps v. Sill, 1 Day, Conn., 315, 329; Floyd and Barker, 12 Coke 23. 17 Justice Brewer was sitting as a Circuit Judge in Cooke v. Bangs, C.C.D. Minn., 31 F. 640, 642. 18 Compare Gregoire v. Biddle, 2 Cir., 177 F.2d 579; Viles v. Symes, 10 Cir., 129 F.2d 828; Yaselli v. Goff, 2 Cir., 12 F. ......
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