Peterson v. Knutson, No. 45333

CourtSupreme Court of Minnesota (US)
Writing for the CourtHeard before SHERAN; SHERAN; There are times when the refusal of a judge to participate in decision, that is, a refusal to exercise those powers unique to the office, would leave critical issues without answers. Such an abdication of responsibility a
Citation233 N.W.2d 716,305 Minn. 53
PartiesGordon C. PETERSON, Appellant, v. Oscar KNUTSON, et al., Respondents.
Docket NumberNo. 45333
Decision Date08 August 1975

Page 716

233 N.W.2d 716
305 Minn. 53
Gordon C. PETERSON, Appellant,
v.
Oscar KNUTSON, et al., Respondents.
No. 45333.
Supreme Court of Minnesota.
Aug. 8, 1975.

Page 717

Syllabus by the Court

In an action for damages allegedly caused by a decision of theMinnesota Supreme Court, In re Candidacy of Daly, 294 Minn. 351, 200 N.W.2d 913, certiorari denied sub nom. Daly v. McCarthy, 409 U.S. 1041, 93 S.Ct. 528, 34 L.Ed.2d 491 (1972), a judgment in favor of defendants is affirmed because:

1. The defendants who decided the case did so in proper exercise of their judicial duties and are therefore immune to this suit.

2. Prior decisions of the Federal courts, one dismissing plaintiff's claim and the other affirming that dismissal, are res judicata.

[305 MINN 54] Gordon C. Peterson, pro se.

Warren Spannaus, Atty. Gen., Peter W. Sipkins, Sol. Gen., Thomas H. Jensen, Special Asst. Atty. Gen., St. Paul, for respondents.

Heard before SHERAN, C.J., and YETKA, SCOTT, AMDAHL, FOSSEEN, HACHEY, MULALLY, NICHOLSON, and SCHULTZ, JJ. *

SHERAN, Chief Justice.

Appeal by plaintiff from a judgment of the Ramsey County District Court. Affirmed.

Plaintiff brought this suit for damages of $750,000, claiming to have been injured by the participation of those defendants who, as sitting justices of the Minnesota Supreme Court, heard and decided In re Candidacy of Daly, 294 Minn. 351, 200 N.W.2d 913, certiorari denied sub nom. Daly v. McCarthy, 409 U.S. 1041, 93 S.Ct. 528, 34 L.Ed.2d 491 (1972), which mandated that plaintiff's name be stricken from the November 1972 general [305 MINN 55] election ballot for supreme court justice. Plaintiff also alleged that defendants C. Donald Peterson and Fallon Kelly, members of the court who did not sit in that case, wrongfully influenced the decision.

The trial court dismissed the action as to defendants Kelly and Peterson on the ground they were not proper parties and ordered summary judgment for all defendants principally because:

(1) Judges are not subject to a civil action for damages by persons who disagree with decisions made in the exercise of judicial duty; and

(2) Plaintiff, having previously sued these defendants and others in the United

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States District Court on a damages-based theory virtually indistinguishable from that employed here, is barred from now relitigating claims decided against him in that court.

On July 14, 1972, plaintiff filed for election to the office of associate justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court, seeking the position then held by defendant Kelly. Proceedings were instituted pursuant to Minn.St.1971, § 203.38, subd. 1, 1 to determine [305 MINN 56] whether plaintiff and others were eligible to have their names appear on the ballots. The single issue for decision was whether plaintiff possessed the qualifications required for the office sought. These qualifications were specified by Minn.Const. art. 6, § 7, which then provided in pertinent part: 'Judges of the supreme court * * * shall be learned in the law.'

Plaintiff was once admitted to practice law but had been disbarred June 23, 1961. In concluding that plaintiff therefore did not possess these qualifications, the defendants other than defendants Peterson and Kelly, sitting as the Minnesota Supreme Court, reasoned that (1) to be 'learned in the law' within the meaning of the constitution, one must be eligible to practice law; (2) a disbarred attorney is one whose privilege to practice law has been revoked. Since Gordon C. Peterson was not entitled to practice law in the courts of this state, he was not 'learned in the law' and was not eligible to file for or hold the office he desired. In re Candidacy of Daly, supra.

Plaintiff's claims have been presented to the Federal courts. In Peterson v. Knutson, 367 F.Supp. 515 (D.Minn.1973), affirmed without published opinion, 505 F.2d 736 (8 Cir., 1974), plaintiff brought an action against the defendants now named and others in the United States District Court for damages in the amount of $990,000, contending that the actions of the Minnesota court in deciding In re Candidacy of Daly, supra, denied him Federally protected rights. The United States District Court dismissed the complaint on the grounds that there was no Federal jurisdiction and that the defendants were protected by judicial and quasi-judicial immunity. An appeal was taken to the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, which affirmed the dismissal in the unpublished opinion cited above. That opinion stated:

'A brief survey of the underlying facts of the case reveals that [305 MINN 57] appellant is a disbarred attorney who sought placement on the ballot for the November 1972 general election as a candidate for the Minnesota Supreme Court. The Secretary of State initiated proceedings pursuant to Minn.Stat. § 203.38, subd. 1 (1971), to resolve the question of whether Peterson's disbarment precluded him from candidacy under the provisions of Minn.Const. Art. VI, § 7, which requires that Justices of the Supreme Court be 'learned in the law.' In the case of In re Daly, 200 N.W.2d 913 (Minn.1972), Peterson and several other potential candidates for judicial office were held ineligible and their

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names were ordered struck from the ballot. A petition for a writ of certiorari was denied by the United States Supreme Court, Sub nom. Daly v. McCarthy, 409 U.S. 1041, (93 S.Ct. 528, 34 L.Ed.2d 491) (1972), and eventually this suit was instituted. Chief Judge Edward J. Devitt of the District of Minnesota examined appellant's contentions and dismissed the action.

'It is clear from the record that the appellees were acting well within the scope of the official and judicial authority vested in them by Minnesota statutes and laws. Their conduct, therefore, is protected by well-settled principles of immunity. See, Scheuer v. Rhodes, (416 U.S. 232,) 94 S.Ct. 1683, (40 L.Ed.2d 90) (1974); Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547, (87 S.Ct. 1213, 18 L.Ed.2d 288) (1967); Barr v. Matteo, 360 U.S. 564, (79 S.Ct. 1335, 3 L.Ed.2d 1434) (1959); Wilhelm v. Turner, 431 F.2d 177 (8th Cir. 1970), Cert. denied, 401 U.S. 947, (91 S.Ct. 919, 28 L.Ed.2d 230) (1971); Rhodes v. Houston, 202 F.Supp. 624 (D.Neb.), Aff'd, 309 F.2d 959 (8th Cir. 1962). It avails appellant nothing to assert in this proceeding the alleged unconstitutionality of the statutes under which appellees acted, for that issue is collateral to the question of the scope of appellees' jurisdiction.'

Notwithstanding the fact that plaintiff's application for certiorari to review the Daly decision was denied by the United States Supreme Court, 3 and notwithstanding the determination [305 MINN 58] made by the United States District Court and affirmed by the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, plaintiff contends that the decision below should be reversed for these reasons:

(1) Fallon Kelly and C. Donald Peterson, the members of the Minnesota Supreme Court whose offices were contested by plaintiff and Jerome Daly, were so closely associated with other members of the court who decided the Daly case that the decision was of necessity tainted with bias, amounted to an abuse of power, was unfair, and therefore a nullity, all to plaintiff's injury.

(2) Most of the judges who sat as members of the supreme court and rendered the decision in Daly were persons who could themselves be candidates for reelection to the supreme court and were, consequently, personally interested in the outcome, so much so as to make the decision biased, abusive, unfair, and injurious to plaintiff.

(3) The denial to plaintiff of a fair and impartial tribunal in the proceedings which culminated in the Daly decision constituted a violation of plaintiff's rights, including rights specifically guaranteed by the Federal and State Constitutions, making defendants responsible to him for damages allegedly suffered.

1. The charge that one called upon to exercise judicial responsibility is biased, abusive, or unfair is one which must always be considered carefully. This is so because the major responsibilities which have been entrusted to our judiciary cannot be adequately discharged without public support based upon a widespread confidence and popularly shared belief that judges treat all those coming before them fairly, courteously, respectfully, and without prejudice. As a matter of duty, judges must [305 MINN 59] so treat all parties before them regardless of the identity of the parties, the nature of the problems they are called upon to deal with, or any other consideration.

Where parties before a court include persons well known to the judges responsible for decision, performance of the duty referred to is, of course, more difficult on occasion than it would be were the parties strangers to the court. Where the result to

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be reached may affect the situation of a judge called upon to decide a matter, adherence to this fundamental duty becomes even more necessary and judicial action taken will be subject to even closer public scrutiny.

In some instances, a judge upon whom the responsibility for decision is placed can properly recuse and should do so. 4 There are, however, circumstances where this is not a reasonable response to the perceived difficulties. When a case or controversy arises demanding solution, the matter cannot be ignored. Those persons vested by the people with the power of the state to resolve these differences, that is, legitimately to exercise judicial authority, are limited in number by the people through our constitution and statutes.

There are times when the refusal of a judge to participate in decision, that is, a refusal to exercise those powers unique to the office, would leave critical issues without answers. Such an abdication of responsibility and jurisdiction is unthinkable. In this situation, judges have a duty to, and must, participate and decide,[305 MINN 60] although personal preference might have it otherwise. that the...

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14 practice notes
  • In re Gillard, No. 47309.
    • United States
    • Minnesota Supreme Court
    • September 6, 1978
    ...possibility of continued judicial office notwithstanding disbarment, it has been expressly disapproved by this court. Peterson v. Knutson, 305 Minn. 53, 64, 233 N.W.2d 716, 721 10 Rule A(5), Rules of Board on Judicial Standards, provides: "A quorum for the transaction of business by th......
  • Del Rio, Matter of, No. 58716
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Michigan
    • July 29, 1977
    ...officers, with respect to handling litigants, counsel and all who may appear before them was also addressed in Peterson v. Knutson, 305 Minn. 53, 233 N.W.2d 716, 719 "The charge that one called upon to exercise judicial responsibility is biased, abusive or unfair, is one which must alw......
  • Peterson v. Sheran, No. 79-1685
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
    • December 5, 1980
    ...528, 34 L.Ed.2d 491 (1972). He unsuccessfully challenged this determination of his ineligibility in state court, Peterson v. Knutson, 305 Minn. 53, 233 N.W.2d 716 (1975), and in federal court, Peterson v. Knutson, 367 F.Supp. 515 (D.Minn.1973), aff'd, 505 F.2d 736 (8th Cir. The Minnesota Su......
  • Boelter v. City of Coon Rapids, No. 99 Civ. 697 DDA/FLN.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States District Court of Minnesota
    • September 15, 1999
    ...is to conform to all acts and regulations of the United States affecting the same subjects.... Minn.Stat. § 190.03; see also Byrne, 305 Minn. at 53, 232 N.W.2d at 435 ("Minn.St. 190.03 provides that the intent of the Military Code (Chapters 190 through 193) is to conform to Federal law......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
14 cases
  • In re Gillard, No. 47309.
    • United States
    • Minnesota Supreme Court
    • September 6, 1978
    ...possibility of continued judicial office notwithstanding disbarment, it has been expressly disapproved by this court. Peterson v. Knutson, 305 Minn. 53, 64, 233 N.W.2d 716, 721 10 Rule A(5), Rules of Board on Judicial Standards, provides: "A quorum for the transaction of business by th......
  • Del Rio, Matter of, No. 58716
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Michigan
    • July 29, 1977
    ...officers, with respect to handling litigants, counsel and all who may appear before them was also addressed in Peterson v. Knutson, 305 Minn. 53, 233 N.W.2d 716, 719 "The charge that one called upon to exercise judicial responsibility is biased, abusive or unfair, is one which must alw......
  • Peterson v. Sheran, No. 79-1685
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
    • December 5, 1980
    ...528, 34 L.Ed.2d 491 (1972). He unsuccessfully challenged this determination of his ineligibility in state court, Peterson v. Knutson, 305 Minn. 53, 233 N.W.2d 716 (1975), and in federal court, Peterson v. Knutson, 367 F.Supp. 515 (D.Minn.1973), aff'd, 505 F.2d 736 (8th Cir. The Minnesota Su......
  • Boelter v. City of Coon Rapids, No. 99 Civ. 697 DDA/FLN.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States District Court of Minnesota
    • September 15, 1999
    ...is to conform to all acts and regulations of the United States affecting the same subjects.... Minn.Stat. § 190.03; see also Byrne, 305 Minn. at 53, 232 N.W.2d at 435 ("Minn.St. 190.03 provides that the intent of the Military Code (Chapters 190 through 193) is to conform to Federal law......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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