Penaranda v. Cato, Civ. A. No. CV189-200.

Citation740 F. Supp. 1578
Decision Date29 June 1990
Docket NumberCiv. A. No. CV189-200.
PartiesLuis A. PENARANDA, Plaintiff, v. Jo C. CATO, Individually and in Her Official Capacity as Director of the Child Care Licensing Section of the Department of Human Resources; Department of Human Resources; State of Georgia; John Doe Employees, Whose True Names Are Unknown, Individually and in Their Official Capacity as Employees of the Department of Human Resources; and John T. Palmer, Individually and in His Official Capacity as Magistrate of Burke County, Defendants.
CourtUnited States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court (Southern District of Georgia)

Chris G. Nicholson, Augusta, Ga., for plaintiff.

Mary Foil Russell, Asst. Atty. Gen., Atlanta, Ga., Jiles M. Barfield, Vidalia, Ga., for defendants.


BOWEN, District Judge.

Plaintiff, Luis A. Penaranda, brings this case pursuant to the Court's civil rights jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1343. Plaintiff was formally the licensed operator of a day care center in Waynesboro, Georgia. Within months of the opening of plaintiff's day care center, a parent reported to local authorities that plaintiff had sexually molested her child who was enrolled at plaintiff's day care center. Plaintiff was questioned by an employee of defendant, the Department of Human Resources (DHR), concerning these allegations. Plaintiff denied each and every allegation. When no apparent action was taken by the local authorities, the parent related the alleged incident to defendant John T. Palmer, Magistrate for Burke County, Georgia. A warrant for plaintiff's arrest was executed by Magistrate Palmer on August 24, 1989. Plaintiff was allowed to post a property bond in the amount of $25,000.00. At the time plaintiff's complaint was filed, both administrative and criminal state proceedings were pending.

In his complaint, plaintiff alleges that the arrest warrant was executed with the aid and advice of defendants, employees of DHR whose names were unknown to plaintiff at the time he filed his complaint. In addition, plaintiff alleges that the DHR employees did not act in good faith in aiding the issuance of the arrest warrant and did not follow proper investigative methods prescribed by DHR policy. Plaintiff also alleges that correspondence from defendants Jo C. Cato, Director of the Child Care Licensing Section of the Department of Human Resources, and the Department of Human Resources has caused the "purposeful destruction of the business of plaintiff without due process of law." (Complaint, paragraph 22). Moreover, plaintiff maintains that defendant Palmer was not a neutral and detached magistrate and that the arrest warrant he issued "caused the violation of plaintiff's rights." (Complaint, paragraph 7). Plaintiff prays that the Court enjoin the defendants from acts which are allegedly prohibited by the Constitution and that the Court award damages under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985, and 1988.

Currently pending before the Court are three motions filed by defendants: motion to dismiss filed by John T. Palmer, motion for summary judgment filed by John T. Palmer, and motion to dismiss or in the alternative, motion for stay of proceedings, filed by Jo C. Cato and the State of Georgia, Department of Human Resources. Plaintiff has failed to file a response to either of the two motions to dismiss.

Since I will rely upon matters outside the pleadings in addressing defendant Palmer's motions, I will resolve the issues presented by these motions through defendant Palmer's motion for summary judgment. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b).

Summary judgment should be granted only if "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The party moving for summary judgment bears the burden of showing that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact in the case. Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157, 90 S.Ct. 1598, 1608, 26 L.Ed.2d 142 (1970); Clemons v. Dougherty County, Ga., 684 F.2d 1365, 1368 (11th Cir.1982). The party moving for summary judgment may meet this burden by showing that the non-movant has failed to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to the non-movant's case, and on which the non-movant will bear the burden of proof at trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). If there is any factual issue in the record that is unresolved by the motion for summary judgment, then the Court may not decide that matter. See Environmental Defense Fund v. Marsh, 651 F.2d 983, 991 (5th Cir.1981). All reasonable doubts must be resolved in favor of the party opposing summary judgment. Casey Enterprises v. American Hardware Mutual Insurance Co., 655 F.2d 598, 602 (5th Cir.1981). When, however, the moving party's motion for summary judgment has pierced the pleadings of the opposing party, the burden then shifts to the opposing party to show that a genuine issue of material fact exists. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1985). This burden cannot be carried by reliance on the pleadings, or by repetition of the conclusory allegations contained in the complaint. Morris v. Ross, 663 F.2d 1032, 1033 (11th Cir.1981). Rather, the opposing party must respond by affidavits or as otherwise provided in Fed. R.Civ.P. 56.

The file indicates that the clerk notified the plaintiff of the consequences for failure to respond to the motion for summary judgment. Griffith v. Wainwright, 772 F.2d 822 (11th Cir.1985). The plaintiff having had a reasonable opportunity to respond to the motion, I will now rule on defendant Palmer's motion for summary judgment.

Plaintiff brought this action against defendant Palmer in his official capacity as Magistrate for Burke County, Georgia. Plaintiff contends that his due process rights to a neutral and detached magistrate were purposefully violated because Mr. Palmer issued the arrest warrant against plaintiff for improper reasons. Plaintiff alleges that the arrest warrant was issued against him as punishment or as a method to force collection of a debt which plaintiff owed to a hardware store owned by defendant Palmer's son. In support of his allegations, plaintiff cites to deposition testimony of defendant Palmer which reveals that defendant Palmer issued the arrest warrant without any prior investigation into the truth of the allegations made against plaintiff.

Defendant Palmer, on the other hand, maintains that he issued the arrest warrant against plaintiff under circumstances which he believed constituted probable cause. He denies any ulterior motives in the issuance of the warrant. In support of his motion for summary judgment, defendant Palmer argues that he is entitled to absolute judicial immunity from liability for the acts complained of by plaintiff.

"In enacting 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Congress did not abrogate the doctrine of judicial immunity." Harris v. Deveaux, 780 F.2d 911, 914 (11th Cir.1986). Defendant Palmer correctly notes the two-part test established by the United States Supreme Court in Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, 98 S.Ct. 1099, 55 L.Ed.2d 331 (1978), for determining whether a judge enjoys immunity from liability under § 1983 for actions he or she takes. First, whether the challenged actions were performed within the judge's "judicial capacity." Id. at 360, 98 S.Ct. at 1106. Second, whether the judge acted in the "clear absence of all jurisdiction." Id. at 357, 98 S.Ct. at 1105.

To support their holdings that a judge acted in a judicial capacity, the Fifth and Eleventh Circuits have focused upon the following four factors:

(1) the precise act complained of ... is a normal judicial function; (2) the events involved occurred in the judge's chambers; (3) the controversy centered around a case then pending before the judge; and (4) the confrontation arose directly and immediately out of a visit to the judge in his official capacity.

Harper v. Merckle, 638 F.2d 848, 858 (5th Cir. Unit B 1981); and Harris v. Deveaux, 780 F.2d 911, 914 (11th Cir.1986). The facts of the instant case satisfy each of the four factors enumerated above. As argued by defendant Palmer, it is a normal judicial function for magistrates to issue arrest warrants. Defendant Palmer has presented affidavit testimony of the parent, who made the allegations against plaintiff, which states that she "presented herself to the magistrate ... and related the sexual activities which my son had described." (Wright Affidavit, p. 2). Consequently, I conclude that the confrontation in this case arose directly out of a visit to the judge in his official capacity. As the Fifth Circuit stated in Harper v. Merckle, 638 F.2d at 856 n. 9, "we can envision no situation where a judge acts after he is approached qua judge by parties to a case-that could possibly spawn a successful § 1983 suit."

Moreover, in the instant case, it cannot be said that defendant Palmer acted in the clear absence of all jurisdiction. O.C.G.A. § 15-10-2(1) provides the following:

Each magistrate court and each magistrate thereof shall have jurisdiction and power over the following matters:
(1) The hearing of applications for and the issuance of arrest and search warrants.

To defeat absolute judicial immunity, it is not enough that the judge's acts exceeded his or her jurisdiction; rather, the question is whether there was a clear absence of all subject matter jurisdiction with respect to the judge's actions. Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. at 356 n. 6, 98 S.Ct. at 1104 n. 6 (citations omitted).

A judge will not be deprived of immunity because the action he took was in error, was done maliciously, or was in excess of his authority; rather, he will be subject to liability only when he acted in the "clear absence of all jurisdiction."

Id. at 356-357, 98 S.Ct. at 1105 (citations omitted). Therefore, I conclude that defendant Palmer was acting within his jurisdiction as Magistrate of Burke County,...

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  • Denson v. Parker, 7:12-CV-0075-HL-TQL
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Middle District of Georgia
    • 20 June 2012
    ...and is thus an exercise of discretion for which a local magistrate is granted absolute judicial immunity. See Penaranda v. Cato, 740 F. Supp. 1578, 1581 (S.D. Ga. June 29, 1990) (local magistrate who issued arrest warrant based uponPage 4citizen's complaint was acting within his jurisdictio......

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