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stebbinsd

Sec. 1983 injunctions against judges

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42 USC Sec. 1983 states ...

 

Quote

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress, except that in any action brought against a judicial officer for an act or omission taken in such officer’s judicial capacity, injunctive relief shall not be granted unless a declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief was unavailable. For the purposes of this section, any Act of Congress applicable exclusively to the District of Columbia shall be considered to be a statute of the District of Columbia.

 

The section in bold is the section I wish to inquire about today.

 

It is fairly well-documented that this section was put in by Congress in direct response to - and with the express intention of severely limiting the scope of - the U.S. Supreme Court case Pulliam v. Allen, 466 US 522 (1984). However, the language on its face purports to allow for some limited federal judicial intervention of state judges. The language on its face purports to allow for declaratory relief against state judges, and injunctions if declaratory relief is either unavailable or has been issued but was blatantly ignored by the defendant state judge.

 

But here's the part I don't get: I can't seem to find even one single solitary case law from any federal court - let alone a binding precedent from a federal appellate court - that actually does this, issuing an injunction against a state judicial officer when declaratory relief was either unavailable or proved fruitless.

 

But then again ... perhaps I just don't know what to look for. My searches through case law are keyword searches, so I need to know the correct words to use if I'm to find case law on a particular subject. The only keywords I can think to use are simply taking the bolded section of that statute, verbatim, in quotation marks. While I do get search results doing that, the only search results I get are simply reciting the statute verbatim as a matter of course. I can't find any cases where the bolded section is actually focus of the case.

 

Are there any published federal cases which actually deal with this bolded section? Any cases that provide case law (and therefore, guidance and elaboration) regarding the bredth and implications of this section? Are there any case laws which answer any of the following questions in whole or in part:

 

  • When is it applicable?
  • When is it not applicable?
  • What exactly is meant by declaratory relief being "unavailable?"
  • What counts as a declaratory decree being "violated?"
  • From where must this declaratory decree come from?
  • Is injunctive relief limited exclusively to what is necessary to enforce the declaratory decree? Or can a federal court issue whatever injunctions it deems appropriate?

 

And many, many more.

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15 hours ago, stebbinsd said:

Are there any published federal cases which actually deal with this bolded section? Any cases that provide case law (and therefore, guidance and elaboration) regarding the bredth and implications of this section? Are there any case laws which answer any of the following questions in whole or in part

 

I haven't the slightest idea, and no one here is going to do case research for you.  If I were researching this, I would probably start with the annotated United States Code at a law library.

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On 9/19/2017 at 6:38 AM, RetiredinVA said:

Seriously?  Maybe you can't find cases because there aren't any.  

 

So why aren't there any? In 30 years, you're honestly telling me that not one person has lept at the opportunity to try and hold their judge accountable using this Congresionally-given opportunity?

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5 minutes ago, stebbinsd said:

So why aren't there any? In 30 years, you're honestly telling me that not one person has lept at the opportunity to try and hold their judge accountable using this Congresionally-given opportunity?

 

Given how "RetiredinVA's" response was phrased, it seems pretty obvious that he was just spitballing.  It's certainly possible that there are no published cases.  Ascertaining whether there actually are or aren't any published cases would require case research, and I already told you no one here is going to do that.  If you want to figure out the answer, go do the research or hire a lawyer to do it.

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5 hours ago, stebbinsd said:

 

So why aren't there any? In 30 years, you're honestly telling me that not one person has lept at the opportunity to try and hold their judge accountable using this Congresionally-given opportunity?

 

The problem is that you are misunderstanding the changes that Congress made to the law in 1996 (and thus the provision you cited is only 21 years old, not 30). The changes did not weaken judicial immunity, but rather strengthened it by effectively reversing the Supreme Court’s decision in Pulliam v. Allen, 466 U.S. 522 (1984). The Senate Report on Section 311 of the Federal Courts Improvement Act explains the legislation as follows:

 

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This section restores the doctrine of judicial immunity to the status it occupied prior to the Supreme Court's decision in Pulliam v. Allen, 466 U.S. 522 (1984) , and has the support of the American Judges Association, the Conference of Chief Judges of the National Center for State Courts, and the American Bar Association. Legislation identical to section 311 was introduced as S. 1115 by Senator Thurmond in this Congress on August 3, 1995. Nearly identical bills were also introduced, and the subject of hearings in previous years, including the 100th, the 101st and the 102d Congresses. While the Committee favorably reported these bills in each of three Congresses, the full Senate never considered them. See S. Rept. 556, 100th Cong., 2d sess. (1988); S. Rept. 465, 101st Cong., 2d sess. (1990); S. Rept. 224, 102d Cong., 1st sess. (1991).

 

In Pulliam, the Supreme Court broke with 400 years of common-law tradition and weakened judicial immunity protections. The case concerned a State magistrate who jailed an individual for failing to post bond for an offense which could be punished only by a fine and not incarceration. The defendant filed an action under 42 U.S.C. 1983, obtaining both an injunction against the magistrate's practice of requiring bonds for nonincarcerable offenses, and an *37 **4217 award of costs, including attorney's fees. The Supreme Court affirmed, expressly holding that judicial immunity is not a bar to injunctive relief in section 1983 actions against a State judge acting in a judicial capacity, or to the award of attorney's fees under the Civil Rights Attorney Fees Award Act, 42 U.S.C. 1988. Those statutes are now amended to preclude awards of costs and attorney's fees against judges for acts taken in their judicial capacity, and to bar injunctive relief unless declaratory relief is inadequate.

 

In the 12 years since Pulliam, thousands of Federal cases have been filed against judges and magistrates. The overwhelming majority of these cases lack merit and are ultimately dismissed. The record from the Committee's previous hearings on this issue is replete with examples of judges having to defend themselves against frivolous cases. Even when cases are routinely dismissed, the very process of defending against those actions is vexatious and subjects judges to undue expense. More importantly, the risk to judges of burdensome litigation creates a chilling effect that threatens judicial independence and may impair the day-to-day decisions of the judiciary in close or controversial cases.

 

Subsection 311(a) codifies the general prohibition against holding judicial officers (justices, judges and magistrates) liable for costs, including attorney's fees, for acts or omissions taken in their judicial capacity. Subsection 311(b) amends 42 U.S.C. 1988 to prohibit holding judicial officers liable for costs or fees. Subsection 311(c) amends 42 U.S.C. 1983 to bar a Federal judge from granting injunctive relief against a State judge, unless declaratory relief is unavailable or the State judge violated a declaratory decree. In short, subsection (a) states the general rule, while subsections (b) and (c) specifically address the statutes at issue in Pulliam. The legislation extends protection to Federal as well as State judicial officers out of concern that Federal judges otherwise might be subject to cost and fee awards in cases alleging Federal constitutional torts. See, e.g., Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1977); Butz v. Economu, 438 U.S. 478 (1978).

 

This section does not provide absolute immunity for judicial officers. Immunity is not granted for any conduct “clearly in excess” of a judge's jurisdiction, even if the act is taken in a judicial capacity. Moreover, litigants may still seek declaratory relief, and may obtain injunctive relief if a declaratory decree is violated or is otherwise unavailable. Section 311 restores the full scope of judicial immunity lost in Pulliam and will go far in eliminating frivolous and harassing lawsuits which threaten the independence and objective decision-making essential to the judicial process.


S. REP. 104-366, 36-37, 1996 U.S.C.C.A.N. 4202, 4216-17 (bolding added). The Act amended several sections in order to achieve the goals stated above, and the total effect of them, including the one you are focusing on, is summarized by the Senate in the last sentence that I put in bold. Thus, the purpose of the Act was shut the door on most suits for injunctive relief against a judge; they are only permitted where declaratory relief is inadequate. That's not going to be of much help in most cases since the courts have drawn a key distinction that such relief is only available when the judge is acting in a role other than as a neutral arbiter of a dispute:


 

Quote

 

Congress amended 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in 1996 as part of the Federal Courts Improvement Act (“96 Amendments”) for that year. As amended, § 1983 now provides:

 

“Every person who, under color of any statute ... of any State, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States ... to the deprivation of any rights, privileges or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in ... [a] suit in equity ... except that in any action brought against a judicial officer for an act or omission taken in such officer's judicial capacity, injunctive relief shall not be granted unless a declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief was unavailable.”

 

42 U.S.C. § 1983 (emphasis added). The italicized portion reflects the language Congress added to the statute by the '96 Amendments.

 

The foregoing amendatory language to § 1983 does not expressly authorize suits for declaratory relief against judges. Instead, it implicitly recognizes that declaratory relief is available in some circumstances, and then limits the availability *198 of injunctive relief to circumstances in which declaratory relief is unavailable or inadequate. The language is not an express authorization of declaratory relief, but simply a recognition of its availability or unavailability, depending on the circumstances, which the statute does not delineate. A review of the legislative history confirms this reading of the amendment. The Senate Report accompanying the amendment suggests that the amendment's purpose was to overrule the Supreme Court's decision in Pulliam v. Allen, 466 U.S. 522, 541–43, 104 S.Ct. 1970, 80 L.Ed.2d 565 (1984) (holding that judicial immunity was not a bar to awards of attorney's fees and costs or to demands for injunctive relief), not to alter the landscape of declaratory relief. See S.Rep. No. 104–366, reprinted in 1996 U.S.C.C.A.N. 4202, 4217.

 

Because the '96 amendments to § 1983 were not intended to alter the availability of declaratory relief against judicial officers, determining whether the declaratory relief is available in the instant case turns on whether the judges in this case properly may be named as defendants to this § 1983 action. The seminal case on the subject is In re Justices of The Supreme Court of Puerto Rico, 695 F.2d 17 (1st Cir.1982)....

 

Nevertheless, rather than deciding the case on a constitutional basis, the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit simply held that the justices were not proper parties under § 1983. See id. at 22. The First Circuit explained that because judges who are not acting in an enforcement or administrative capacity have “no stake in upholding the statute against constitutional challenge ... § 1983 does not provide relief against ... [them] ... any more than, say, a typical state's libel law imposes liability on a postal carrier or telephone company for simply conveying a libelous message.” Id. Therefore, the court held that naming as defendants judges who act only as neutral arbiters in a dispute fails to state a claim for which relief can be granted.

 

 

Brandon E. ex rel. Listenbee v. Reynolds, 201 F.3d 194, 197–98 (3d Cir. 2000)(Italics in original, second paragraph enclosed in quotes rather than indented due to limitations on formatting in this forum). As most of what judges do is act as the neutral arbiter/referee of cases before him/her the judge is not a proper party for such section 1983 claims. Rather, only in instances where the judge would act in an enforcement or administrative capacity might the judge be a proper party for such a claim. That significantly narrows the range of circumstances in which you might use the language from section 1983 that you raised. Note too that the court expressly rejects your argument that the statute authorized declaratory relief actions. It did not. It simply states that injunction may be available as a remedy if declaratory relief is not available. And even then, as the case goes on to say, that only works if the judge is a proper party in the first the place.

 

This gets us back to appeals being the main method to correct a wrong judicial opinion or order in a case. And that is why you do not see many suits for injunction/declaratory relief against judges.

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12 hours ago, Tax_Counsel said:

 

Rather, only in instances where the judge would act in an enforcement or administrative capacity might the judge be a proper party for such a claim. 

I have a vague idea of what constitutes administrative capacity.

But what exactly do they mean by "enforcement capacity?"

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19 hours ago, pg1067 said:

 

would require case research, and I already told you no one here is going to do that. 

 

I could have sworn this particular board on this forum was literally called "Legal Research - How To."

 

In other words, this particular board of this forum is specifically designed to assist people in doing legal research.

 

That's like having a restaurant called Taco Bell who doesn't serve tacos as part of their menu.

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1 hour ago, stebbinsd said:

I could have sworn this particular board on this forum was literally called "Legal Research - How To."

 

Correct.

 

 

1 hour ago, stebbinsd said:

In other words, this particular board of this forum is specifically designed to assist people in doing legal research.

 

That's my interpretation as well (although it sometimes serves as a catch-all when folks can't figure out a better category).

 

 

1 hour ago, stebbinsd said:

That's like having a restaurant called Taco Bell who doesn't serve tacos as part of their menu.

 

It's not clear what "that" refers to, so I don't know if I agree with you.


As you noted, this board's purpose is "to assist people in doing legal research."  In fulfillment of that purpose, in my first response in this thread, I told you that, "if I were researching this, I would probably start with the annotated United States Code at a law library."  The purpose of this board is not so that folks can post legal research requests for someone else to do the research.
 
If you want your original question answered (and to the extent "Tax_Counsel" didn't answer it), then you have two choices:  (1) do the research yourself (using the assistance I provided or otherwise); or (2) hire an attorney to do the research.

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