Parker v. State, 99

CourtCourt of Appeals of Maryland
Writing for the CourtArgued before MURPHY; ELDRIDGE; Roger W. Brown; The differences between absolute judicial immunity and the qualified immunity of most other public officials are justified by the same concerns that precipitated the development of judicial immunity. Li
Citation337 Md. 271,653 A.2d 436
PartiesDoris PARKER v. STATE of Maryland. ,
Docket NumberNo. 99,99
Decision Date01 September 1992

Roger N. Powell and John Paul Rufe, Baltimore, (both on brief), for petitioner.

Julia M. Freit, Asst. Atty. Gen. (J. Joseph Curran, Jr., Atty. Gen., Baltimore) all on brief, for respondent.



This case concerns the nature and scope of judicial immunity from tort actions, both under Maryland law and under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.


The facts are not in dispute. On April 14, 1988, Doris E. Parker was convicted in the District Court of Maryland of driving in excess of the speed limit, was fined $150, and was assessed $5 in court costs. Parker appealed her conviction to the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, and a de novo appeal in that court was scheduled for July 26, 1988. Upon Parker's failure to appear on that date, the circuit court determined that she had waived her right to a de novo appeal and entered as its judgment the judgment of the District Court. 1 By August 5, 1988, Parker had not paid the fine, and on that date Judge Roger W. Brown of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City issued a warrant for her arrest. The Baltimore County Police Department made various attempts to serve Parker with this warrant but was unable to do so.

On May 31, 1989, ten months after the date scheduled for the de novo appeal, Parker filed a motion in the circuit court to strike the dismissal and to reinstate proceedings. Judge Brown granted the motion and quashed the earlier warrant for Parker's arrest. An appeal de novo was held before another circuit court judge on September 22, 1989, at which Parker was acquitted of the speeding offense.

On December 7, 1989, however, the Sheriff of Baltimore City appeared before Judge Brown and requested a second arrest warrant on the basis of Parker's "continued" failure to pay the $150 fine levied on July 26, 1988. Judge Brown issued the warrant without calling for the case file from the clerk's office or reviewing the docket entries which reflected Parker's September 22, 1989, acquittal. At 9:30 in the morning on January 17, 1990, Parker was arrested at her home in Baltimore County, taken to the Woodlawn police precinct in Baltimore County and detained there throughout the day until she paid the $150 fine. Judge Brown ultimately quashed the arrest warrant on January 19, 1990.

Parker filed the present action for damages in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County against the State of Maryland under the Maryland Tort Claims Act, Code (1984, 1993 Repl.Vol., 1994 Cum.Supp.), §§ 12-101 through 12-110 of the State Government Article, alleging false imprisonment, false arrest and negligence on the part of Judge Brown and the Clerk, Deputy Clerk and Assistant Clerk of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City. 2 Parker also sued the individual defendants under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, for the erroneous issuance of the warrant.

The defendants moved to dismiss on the grounds, inter alia, 1) that the complaint failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted against the clerks because the clerks played no part in the issuance of the warrant, 2) that Judge Brown was entitled to absolute immunity for his judicial acts, and 3) that, if Judge Brown was immune from suit, the State could not be held liable under the Maryland Tort Claims Act for his actions. Parker then filed an amended complaint, adding the sheriff and a deputy sheriff of Baltimore City as defendants based on information contained in an affidavit submitted by Judge Brown regarding the incident. On the same day that the amended complaint was filed, the circuit court signed an order granting the defendants' motion and dismissing the action with prejudice. Parker then filed a motion to alter the circuit court's decision pursuant to Maryland Rule 2-534, requesting that the court reconsider its dismissal in light of the allegations in the amended complaint. After a hearing, the circuit court issued a second order denying Parker's motion to alter the original order of dismissal, but stating that the dismissal was without prejudice to the plaintiff's bringing a new action against the sheriff and deputy sheriff.

Parker appealed to the Court of Special Appeals, complaining about the dismissal of her action against Judge Brown and the State of Maryland. 3 Parker argued that Judge Brown was not entitled to judicial immunity because he had lacked both subject matter jurisdiction over Parker's case and personal jurisdiction over Parker when he issued the arrest warrant. While the Court of Special Appeals rejected this argument and held Judge Brown absolutely immune from suit, it did so on the basis that, under the constitutional and statutory provisions granting jurisdiction to the circuit court, Judge Brown was authorized in the circumstances to issue the warrant. Parker v. State, 92 Md.App. 540, 547, 609 A.2d 347, 351 (1992). In addition, the Court of Special Appeals held that judicial immunity attached if "the judge had general subject matter jurisdiction, whether or not he or she also possessed personal jurisdiction over the plaintiff." 92 Md.App. at 551, 609 A.2d at 352.

Parker petitioned this Court for a writ of certiorari, arguing, as she had in the Court of Special Appeals, that Judge Brown could not be held judicially immune from suit because he had lacked jurisdiction to issue a warrant for Parker's arrest. Concerned by the approach of both the petitioner and the Court of Special Appeals to the issue of judicial immunity in this case, we granted Parker's petition for a writ of certiorari.


Parker sued the State of Maryland for damages, under the Maryland Tort Claims Act, Code (1984, 1993 Repl.Vol 1994 Cum.Supp.), §§ 12-101 through 12-110 of the State Government Article, based on Judge Brown's allegedly tortious conduct. The parties to the present case have agreed that if Judge Brown is immune from suit, then the State of Maryland will not be liable under the Tort Claims Act. Accordingly, Parker's state law claims were properly dismissed if Judge Brown is entitled to the common law defense of absolute judicial immunity.

The principle that judicial officers should be immune from all civil liability for their judicial acts has been part of the common law since very early days. In 1607, an English court refused to entertain a civil action for damages against a judge of the Assizes, Richard Barker, for his role as judge in the trial and conviction of a criminal defendant. Floyd v. Barker, 12 Coke 23, 77 E.R. 1305 (1607). The court concluded that "the Judge, be he Judge of Assise, or a justice of peace, or any other Judge, being Judge by commission and of record, and sworn to do justice, cannot be [sued] ... for that which he did openly in Court as Judge or justice of peace...." 12 Coke at 24, 77 E.R. at 1306. The court based its holding on the established principle of law that "one shall never assign for error, against that which the Court doth as Judges...." 12 Coke at 24, 77 E.R. at 1307. To the same effect, the court cited one of its own earlier cases, in which "it was resolved, that that thing, that a Judge doth as Judge of Record, ought not to be drawn in question in this Court." 12 Coke at 25, 77 E.R. at 1307. In light of the clear legal principles involved, "it was ordered and decreed by all the Court, that the ... bill [against the judge] ... shall be taken off the file and cancelled, and utterly defaced...." Ibid.

Later, in 1674, Chief Justice Hale held that a tort action for false imprisonment would not lie against a magistrate for a "matter ... done in a course of justice...." Bushell's Case, 1 Mod. 119, 86 E.R. 777, 778 (1674).

In Hamond v. Howell, 2 Mod. 218, 86 E.R. 1035 (1677), a jury had acquitted two Quaker preachers, Penn and Mead, who had been indicted for attending a conventicle. 4 The acquittal went "against the direction of the Court in matter of law and against plain evidence...." 2 Mod. at 218, 86 E.R. at 1035. Outraged by the acquittal, the judges "fined the jury forty marks a-piece" and sent them to Newgate gaol for their failure to pay the fine. Later, a juror sued one of the judges, Judge Howell, for false imprisonment. The defendant's attorney conceded that he "would not offer to speak to that point, whether a Judge can fine a jury for giving a verdict contrary to evidence, since the case was so lately and solemnly resolved by all the Judges of England ... that he could not fine a jury for so doing." 2 Mod. at 218, 86 E.R. at 1036. Instead, the defendant argued that "no action will lie against him ... because it is done as a Judge." Ibid. In response, the plaintiff contended that the judge was not entitled to judicial immunity because he had no jurisdiction to perform the wrongful acts, stating (2 Mod. at 219, 86 E.R. at 1036):

"The trial of Penn and Mead, and all incidents thereunto, as swearing the jury, examining of the witnesses, taking of the verdict, and acquitting the prisoner, were all within the [judicial] commission; but the fining of the jury, and the imprisoning of them for non-payment thereof, was not justifiable by their commission; and therefore what was done therein was not as commissioners or Judges."

The court in Hamond v. Howell rejected the plaintiff's argument, relying on a broad concept of jurisdiction to support the availability of immunity (2 Mod. at 220, 86 E.R. at 1037):

"The [trial court] had jurisdiction of the cause, and might try it, and had power to punish a misdemeanor in the jury: they thought it to be a misdemeanor in the jury to acquit the prisoners, which in truth was not so, and therefore it was an error in their judgments, for which no action will lie: how often are judgments given in this Court reversed in the King's Bench!"

The court held the defendant judge immune from civil liability for the misuse...

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