Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Judge, Clerk Immune From Damages for Ordering Jail Time to Pay Off Court Fines

Schwinn-steven
Steven D. Schwinn, John Marshall Law School

The Sixth Circuit ruled today that a state-court judge and clerk were immune from a suit for monetary damages for jailing plaintiffs for failure to pay their fines and court costs for low-level misdemeanors.

The case, Ward v. City of Norwalk, arose when Norwalk Municipal Court Judge John Ridge issued bench warrants for the plaintiffs' arrests for failing to pay their fines and court costs. (Ohio law authorizes this and sets a $50 per day rate.) Judge Ridge directed Clerk Pamela Boss to issue the warrants; Boss complied; and the plaintiffs were arrested and served time.

The plaintiffs sued for monetary damages, injunctive relief, and declaratory relief on a couple theories under 1983. (They also sued under state law claims, not at issue on appeal.) The court dismissed all but one--the plaintiffs' request for declaratory relief, and that probably will go away on remand.

The court held that the Eleventh Amendment barred the plaintiffs' suit for monetary damages against Judge Ridge and Clerk Boss, because they're employees of the Municipal Court, a state agency. (The court rejected the plaintiffs' argument that municipal corporations within the Municipal Court's jurisdiction are responsible for monetary damages, and so the court is identical to a municipality and not an arm of the state.) The court held that Judge Ridge and Clerk Boss enjoyed judicial immunity against claims against them in their official capacity.

As to injunctive and declaratory relief: the court pointed to the plain language of 1983, which requires the plaintiffs to show that a judicial officer violated a declaratory decree, or that declaratory relief was unavailable, before getting an injunction. The court thus dismissed the plaintiffs' request for an injunction. But it recognized that the plaintiffs' claim for declaratory relief could go on under Ex Parte Young, so it remanded to the district court to determine whether abstention, Rooker-Feldman, or the mootness doctrine barred the case from proceeding.

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/conlaw/2016/02/judge-clerk-immune-from-damages-for-ordering-jail-time-to-pay-off-court-fines.html

Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Eleventh Amendment, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink

Comments

Post a comment