Monday, June 10, 2024

Not an Arm of the Court: Pa. Justices Deny Guardians Ad Litem Immunity Claims


The Pennsylvania Supreme Court determined that guardians ad litem are not protected from suit by quasi-judicial immunity in juvenile dependency cases, denying judicial immunity to the Defender Association of Philadelphia and one of its guardians ad litem.

In a May 31 opinion, authored by Justice David Wecht, the high court delivered a unanimous decision, concluding guardians ad litem (GALs) aren’t entitled to immunity because their role consists of legal advocacy, not adjudication. Justice P. Kevin Brobson concurred, writing separately to note ”the difficulties that a plaintiff may encounter in establishing the breach of duty of care and proximate cause elements of a legal malpractice claim against a guardian ad litem (GAL).”

In writing for the court, Wecht noted the separation between the roles GALs and courts play.

“GALs in juvenile dependency cases serve to protect the child by advocating for the child’s best interests and non-conflicting legal interests. Although dependency GALs serve a unique role that differs from that of other attorneys, they do not operate as an arm of the court,” Wecht said. “GALs do not differ in kind from attorneys providing other court-appointed legal services to fulfill a public need. All appointed attorneys have ethical obligations to their clients.”

Read more here. For a contrasting opinion regarding quasi-judicial immunity of GALs in another context, the Supreme Court of Illinois addressed this issue in Nichols v. Fahrenkamp in 2019.

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