Forrester v. White, No. 84-1823

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtBefore ESCHBACH and POSNER, Circuit Judges, and TIMBERS; ESCHBACH; POSNER
Citation792 F.2d 647
Parties40 Fair Empl.Prac.Cas. 1633, 40 Empl. Prac. Dec. P 36,209, 54 USLW 2649 Cynthia A. FORRESTER, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Judge Howard Lee WHITE, Defendant-Appellee.
Decision Date05 June 1986
Docket NumberNo. 84-1823

Page 647

792 F.2d 647
40 Fair Empl.Prac.Cas. 1633,
40 Empl. Prac. Dec. P 36,209, 54 USLW 2649
Cynthia A. FORRESTER, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
Judge Howard Lee WHITE, Defendant-Appellee.
No. 84-1823.
United States Court of Appeals,
Seventh Circuit.
Argued April 24, 1985.
Decided June 5, 1986.

Page 648

Mary Anne Sedey, St. Louis, Mo., for plaintiff-appellant.

Imelda Terrazino, Asst. Atty. Gen., Chicago, Ill., for defendant-appellee.

Before ESCHBACH and POSNER, Circuit Judges, and TIMBERS, Senior Circuit Judge. *

ESCHBACH, Circuit Judge.

The primary question presented in this appeal is whether the doctrine of judicial immunity shields a state-court judge from liability for damages in a Sec. 1983 action for alleged sex-based discrimination arising from the dismissal of a probation officer. The district court found that the defendant judge was immune. For the reasons stated below, we will affirm.

I

For the purposes of deciding this appeal, the facts may be summarized as follows:

Defendant Howard Lee White was at all times material to this dispute a Circuit Judge of the Seventh Judicial Circuit of the State of Illinois and served as Presiding Judge of the Circuit Court in Jersey County, Illinois, which is the state trial court of general jurisdiction for that county. The Chief Judge of the Seventh Judicial Circuit, or his designee, has the authority under Illinois law to hire and dismiss, at his, or his designee's, pleasure, juvenile-court probation officers. Ill.Rev.Stat, ch. 37, paragraphs 706-1, 706-5(1) (1983). Judge White was acting as the designee of the Chief Judge for the purposes of hiring and firing juvenile-court probation officers.

In April of 1977, Judge White hired plaintiff Cynthia Forrester to serve as a juvenile and adult probation officer and a director of court services for the Circuit Court. She worked under Judge White's direct supervision until her termination. As an adult-probation officer, 1 she prepared pre-

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-sentencing reports in all felony cases for the judge to consider, monitored the actions of adults placed on probation, and filed recommendations for revocations as necessary. As a juvenile-probation officer, 2 Forrester received and investigated complaints regarding status offenders, possible abuse and neglect cases, and juveniles charged with criminal conduct. After an investigation, she referred such cases to social agencies for treatment, provided counseling herself, or worked with the State's Attorney in filing cases in juvenile court. When juvenile-court cases were filed, she assisted in preparing them for hearings; in addition, she made recommendations for disposition and prepared pre-sentencing reports for the judge to consider in deciding what should be done with the juvenile. When a juvenile was placed under court supervision or on probation, she monitored the juvenile to assure that he was complying with the

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terms of court orders. When necessary, she recommended revocations.

Forrester performed these duties until July 1979. At that time, Jersey County received a grant from the State of Illinois to operate the Jersey County Juvenile Court Intake and Referral Services Project. The project was designed to divert juveniles from the court system by providing alternative methods of remedying their problems. When the project started, Judge White appointed Forrester the Project Supervisor and her duties increased commensurably. In this capacity, she was responsible for directing and supervising project staff members, establishing an office and new procedures, maintaining records, making reports, and ensuring that the program met federal and state requirements. She was also required to recruit advocate volunteer counselors to work with juveniles, contract with other social-services agencies, develop a community organization that would provide foster homes, and manage public relations. In addition, Forrester did a large portion of the work with juveniles under the grant project and continued to do juvenile probation work.

White discharged Forrester on October 1, 1980. Forrester also claims that she was improperly demoted prior to her dismissal. We note that the parties presented evidence at trial relating to conflicts between Forrester and a male co-worker and to disputes between Forrester and Judge White regarding Forrester's schedule. These facts, however, are not pertinent to the disposition of this appeal, because Forrester has alleged that she was discriminated against on the basis of her sex. Thus, in considering the propriety of the district court's decision on judicial immunity, we must assume that Judge White demoted and dismissed Forrester on the basis of her sex. The disputes Forrester may have had with co-workers and Judge White are reasons for her demotion and termination that are not related to her sex, and will not be considered.

In July 1982, Forrester filed an action in federal district court and sought recovery under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 and the Fourteenth Amendment. The procedural history of this litigation is rather involved; much of what transpired below is not relevant to the judicial-immunity question and will not be discussed. Suffice it to say that Forrester pursues on appeal only her Sec. 1983 claim, in which she alleged that she was demoted and terminated by Judge White on the basis of her sex in violation of the equal-protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Although she initially sought both equitable and monetary relief, only her claim for damages remains on appeal.

The Sec. 1983 claim was tried to a jury, which returned a verdict for Forrester and awarded approximately $82,000 in compensatory damages. The district court denied Judge White's motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, but granted his motion for a new trial. Judge White then filed a motion for summary judgment in which he argued that he was entitled to absolute immunity from a civil-damage award. The district court agreed and entered judgment in favor of the defendant. Forrester now appeals. 3

II

In deciding whether the district court correctly ruled in Judge White's favor, we must first consider the general principles behind the immunity defense. Courts in this country and in England have embraced the doctrine of judicial immunity for centuries. 4 The Supreme Court first articulated the current doctrine in Bradley

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v. Fisher, 80 U.S. (13 Wall.) 335, 20 L.Ed. 646 (1872), in which it ruled that, in order to safeguard principled and independent decision-making, a judge may not be held to answer in civil damages for those "judicial acts" committed in the exercise of his "jurisdiction." 5 See also Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, 98 S.Ct. 1099, 55 L.Ed.2d 331 (1978); Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547, 87 S.Ct. 1213, 18 L.Ed.2d 288 (1967). The defense does not simply shield judges from civil liability, but also from the related trial proceedings. Mitchell v. Forsyth, --- U.S. ----, 105 S.Ct. 2806, 2816, 86 L.Ed.2d 411 (1985). 6 It will not, however, protect a judge from injunctive relief, see Pulliam v. Allen, 466 U.S. 522, 541-42, 104 S.Ct. 1970, 1981, 80 L.Ed.2d 565 (1984), or from criminal prosecution, see O'Shea v. Littleton, 414 U.S. 488, 503, 94 S.Ct. 669, 680, 38 L.Ed.2d 674 (1974); Ex parte Virginia, 100 U.S. (10 Otto) 339, 25 L.Ed. 676 (1879). In addition, judicial immunity is a creature solely of the common law. 7 However, although it had the constitutional authority to do so, Congress did not abrogate the defense in enacting Sec. 1 of the Civil Rights Act of 1871, now codified at 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983. See Pierson, 386 U.S. at 554-55, 87 S.Ct. at 1217-18. 8

The scope of the defense will be construed broadly to effectuate its purposes, Dykes v. Hosemann, 776 F.2d 942, 947 (11th Cir.1985) (en banc) (per curiam), and when it applies, it is absolute and does not depend on the motives of the judge; thus, it is available even if the judge is accused of acting maliciously or corruptly. Bradley, 80 U.S. (13 Wall.) at 351; see also Pierson, 386 U.S. at 554, 87 S.Ct. at 1218. It must be remembered, however, that it is for the benefit of the public, not corrupt judges. Pulliam, 466 U.S. at 532, 104 S.Ct. at 1976; Bradley, 80 U.S. (13 Wall.) at 350. As Judge Learned Hand explained in Gregoire v. Biddle, 177 F.2d 579 (2d Cir.1949), cert. denied, 339 U.S. 949, 70 S.Ct. 803, 94 L.Ed. 1363 (1950):

It does indeed go without saying that an official, who is in fact guilty of using his powers to vent his spleen upon others, or for any other personal motive not connected with the public good, should not escape liability for the injuries he may so cause; and, if it were possible in practice to confine such complaints to the guilty, it would be monstrous to deny recovery. The justification for doing so is that it is impossible to know whether the claim is well founded until the case has been tried, and that to submit all officials, the innocent as well as the guilty, to the burden of a trial and to the inevitable danger of its outcome, would dampen the ardor of all but the most resolute, or the most irresponsible, in the unflinching discharge of their duties. Again and again the public interest calls for action which may turn out to be founded on a mistake, in the face of

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which an official may later find himself hard put to it to satisfy a jury of his good faith. There must indeed be means of punishing public officers who have been truant to their duties; but that is quite another matter from exposing such as have been honestly mistaken to suit by anyone who has suffered from their errors. As is so often the case, the answer must be found in a balance between the evils inevitable in either alternative. In this instance it has been thought in the end better to leave unredressed the wrongs done by dishonest officers than to subject those who try to do their duty to the constant dread of...

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47 practice notes
  • DeLaurentis v. City of New Haven, No. 14267
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • 20 Agosto 1991
    ...immunity, however, is 'strong medicine....' " Forrester v. White, supra, 484 U.S. at 230, 108 S.Ct. at 545, quoting Forrester v. White, 792 F.2d 647, 660 (7th Cir.1986) (Posner, J., dissenting). Executive officers, and municipal officers generally, do not share the common law absolute immun......
  • Amato v. Wilentz, No. 90-1951.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. District of New Jersey
    • 18 Diciembre 1990
    ...a judge from performance of his duties "is very great." Forrester, 484 U.S. at 230, 108 S.Ct. at 546 (citing, Forrester v. White, 792 F.2d 647, 660 (7th Cir.1986) (Posner, J., dissenting)). Here such danger is not present. The conduct at issue was not a judicial act performed pursuant to th......
  • Kaufmann v. US, No. 93-C-482.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 7th Circuit. United States District Court of Eastern District of Wisconsin
    • 22 Diciembre 1993
    ...and preparation of pre-sentence reports. See Spaulding v. Nielsen, 599 F.2d 728, 729 (5th Cir.1979). See also Forrester v. White, 792 F.2d 647, 657 (7th Cir.1986) (citing Spaulding and noting that "probation officers have derivative absolute immunity"), rev'd on other grounds, 484 U.S. 219,......
  • Naked City, Inc. v. Aregood, No. L 87-56.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 7th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Indiana
    • 21 Agosto 1987
    ...McMillan v. Svetanoff, 793 F.2d 149 (7th Cir.1986), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 107 S.Ct. 574, 93 L.Ed.2d 577 (1987); Forrester v. White, 792 F.2d 647 (7th Cir.1986), cert. granted, ___ U.S. ___, 107 S.Ct. 1282, 94 L.Ed.2d 140 (1987); McDonald v. Krajewski, 649 F.Supp. 370 (N.D.Ind.1986); F......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
47 cases
  • DeLaurentis v. City of New Haven, No. 14267
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • 20 Agosto 1991
    ...immunity, however, is 'strong medicine....' " Forrester v. White, supra, 484 U.S. at 230, 108 S.Ct. at 545, quoting Forrester v. White, 792 F.2d 647, 660 (7th Cir.1986) (Posner, J., dissenting). Executive officers, and municipal officers generally, do not share the common law absolute immun......
  • Bright v. Gallia Cnty., Nos. 13–3451
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • 22 Agosto 2014
    ...likely to provoke such suits.” Forrester v. White, 484 U.S. 219, 226–27, 108 S.Ct. 538, 98 L.Ed.2d 555 (1988) (citing Forrester v. White, 792 F.2d 647, 660–61 (7th Cir.1986) (Posner, J., dissenting)). “The resulting timidity would be hard to detect or control, and it would manifestly detrac......
  • Brookings v. Clunk, No. 03-3511.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • 18 Noviembre 2004
    ...judicial immunity should "be confined to situations where such immunity is not merely convenient but essential." Forrester v. White, 792 F.2d 647, 659-60 (7th Cir.1986) (Posner, J., dissenting), rev'd, 484 U.S. 219, 230, 108 S.Ct. 538, 98 L.Ed.2d 555 (1988). The purpose of absolute judicial......
  • Amato v. Wilentz, No. 90-1951.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. District of New Jersey
    • 18 Diciembre 1990
    ...a judge from performance of his duties "is very great." Forrester, 484 U.S. at 230, 108 S.Ct. at 546 (citing, Forrester v. White, 792 F.2d 647, 660 (7th Cir.1986) (Posner, J., dissenting)). Here such danger is not present. The conduct at issue was not a judicial act performed pursuant to th......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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