Linder v. Foster, No. 32375.

CourtMinnesota Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtGALLAGHER
Citation209 Minn. 43,295 N.W. 299
PartiesLINDER v. FOSTER et al.
Decision Date13 December 1940
Docket NumberNo. 32375.

209 Minn. 43
295 N.W. 299

FOSTER et al.

No. 32375.

Supreme Court of Minnesota.

Dec. 13, 1940.

Appeal from District Court, Hennepin County; E. A. Montgomery, Judge.

Action by Eugenia Linder against Hazel Foster and others for alleged malicious prosecution arising out of plaintiff's commitment to a state insane asylum. From an order sustaining demurrers to the complaint by defendants other than defendant Hazel Foster, upon whom summons and complaint were not served, plaintiff appeals.


Syllabus by the Court.

1. A court commissioner is a judicial officer and as such is not liable in a civil action to anyone for his judicial acts.

2. A doctor appointed by the court to act as examiner in an insanity proceeding and to report his findings to the court is a quasi judicial officer and as such immune from civil suit for acts performed by him in connection with such proceeding.

3. The immunity rule cannot be avoided by pleading that the acts complained of were the result of a conspiracy previously entered into. Stewart v. Cooley, 23 Minn. 347, 23 Am.Rep. 690, overruled insofar as it held to the contrary.

4. Before an action for malicious prosecution can be maintained the complaint must allege a termination in plaintiff's favor of the original proceeding. In the present case the complaint not only fails to make such an allegation but alleges a termination adverse to plaintiff. Hence, this action cannot be maintained.

Paul N. Casserly, of Minneapolis, for appellant.

Edward J. Shannon and Karl W. Windhorst, Sp. Asst. Co. Attys., both of Minneapolis, for respondent Donald C. Bennyhoff.

Faegre, Benson, & Krause and Raymond A. Scallen, all of Minneapolis, for respondents Alex G. Dumas and Royal C. Gray.

GALLAGHER, Chief Justice.

Plaintiff instituted an action against Hazel Foster, a supervisor of public relief in the city of Minneapolis, Donald C. Bennyhoff, court commissioner of Hennepin County, and Alex G. Dumas and Royal C. Gray, Minneapolis physicians, for malicious prosecution arising out of her commitment to a state insane asylum. The summons and complaint were not served on defendant Foster. Each of the other defendants demurred to the complaint on the ground that it did not state facts sufficient to constitute a cause of action. This appeal is from an order sustaining the separate demurrers.

[295 N.W. 300]

The complaint alleges in substance that defendants Foster and Bennyhoff, having developed hatred and malice for plaintiff, conspired in a plot to wrong, harm, and injure her; that as a part of said plot they persuaded plaintiff's brother to sign a complaint which instituted an insanity proceeding against plaintiff; that the contents of said complaint were misrepresented to plaintiff's brother and that he later repudiated the same; that regardless of said repudiation defendants Foster and Bennyhoff proceeded with said insanity hearing; that defendant Bennyhoff appointed defendants Dr. Dumas and Dr. Gray to examine plaintiff and make findings as to her mentality; that said defendants Dumas and Gray, after such examination, made findings to the effect that plaintiff was insane; that based upon said findings defendant Bennyhoff made an order committing plaintiff to the state insane hospital at Rochester, Minnesota, where she remained from April 5, 1937, to December 22, 1937. It further alleges that, ‘designing, contriving and maliciously intending to wrong, harm and injure the plaintiff, the defendants, and all of them, willfully and maliciously conspired together to find her insane and cause her to be committed to a state hospital for the insane; that such conspiracy was entered into previous to any proceeding or action against the plaintiff, having for its purpose the wrongful committing her to an insane asylum; that such plot or conspiracy was not done, or planned, in the course of any judicial proceeding, but prior thereto and separate and distinct therefrom; that all proceedings taken against her were without probable cause.’ Plaintiff demands judgment against defendants for the expenses incurred by her in being restored to capacity and for the humiliation she suffered because of defendants' alleged wrongful acts.

1. In attempting to plead a cause of action against defendant Bennyhoff plaintiff is confronted with the rule that a judge is not liable in a civil action to anyone for his judicial acts, however erroneous, or by whatever motives prompted. 3 Dunnell, Minn.Dig., 2 Ed. & Supps., § 4959; 30 Am.Jur., Judges, § 43; 2 Cooley, Torts, 4th Ed., p. 420. This rule was first recognized by this court in Stewart v. Cooley, 23 Minn. 347, 23 Am.Rep. 690, wherein Stewart, an attorney, brought suit against several defendants, including Cooley, a municipal judge, for the malicious prosecution of a criminal action in which Stewart was charged with perjury. The trial court sustained a demurrer to the complaint, but for reasons which will hereinafter be referred to the decision was over-ruled by this court. However, the immunity rule was recognized and referred to by this court speaking through Mr. Justice Cornell. We quote therefrom (23 Minn. 350): ‘Hence, the doctrine has become settled that, for acts done in the exercise of judicial authority, clearly conferred, an officer or judge shall not be held liable to any one in a civil action, so that he may feel free to act upon his own convictions, uninfluenced by any fear or apprehension of consequences personal to himself. Yates v. Lansing, 5 Johns. [N.Y.] 282; [Id.] 9 Johns. [N.Y.] 395 [6 Am.Dec. 290];Rochester White Lead Co. v. City of Rochester, 3 N.Y. 463 [53 Am.Dec. 316];Stewart v. Hawley, 21 Wend. [N.Y.] 552;Weaver v. Devendorf, 3 Denio [N.Y.] 117;Harman v. Brotherson, 1 Denio 537;Wilson v. Mayor, etc., of New York, 1 Denio [N.Y.] 595 [43 Am.Dec. 719]; Randall v. Brigham, 7 Wall. 523 [19 L.Ed. 285];Bradley v. Fisher, 13 Wall. 335 [20 L.Ed. 646].’

The rule was next applied in Stewart v. Case, 53 Minn. 62, 66, 54 N.W. 938,39...

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