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Court of Appeals Upholds Judicial Immunity in Civil Rights Claim

The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed in August 2012 the judgment of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, that the civil rights claims against state court Judge Patrick Young be dismissed. Missouri attorney James Schottel, Jr., contracted in July 2009 to represent an Illinois family in a wrongful death complaint before filing a motion before Judge Young in September 2009 to withdraw counsel on grounds of physical disability and administrative problems with his practice. Schottel had taken $1600 in retainers. Judge Young conditioned grant of that motion on Schottel returning the retainer.

Schottel subsequently filed a motion for reconsideration, which Judge Young denied, before filing a motion for leave to file a writ of mandamus with the Illinois Supreme Court. That motion was denied without comment.

After three months the money had not been repaid and Judge Young issued a show-cause order requiring Schottel’s presence with a good explanation as to why he should not be put in contempt and jailed. The money was paid that day.

In September 2010, Schottel brought his §1983 claims against Judge Young alleging Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment violations. Judge Young moved to dismiss, arguing lack of jurisdiction under Rooker-Feldman, judicial immunity, and improper venue. District court granted the motion to dismiss as lacking jurisdiction pursuant to Rooker-Feldman. Schottel appealed to the cause at bar.

On appeal, Schottel argued Rooker-Feldman did not prevent the court from exercising jurisdiction and that judicial immunity did not shield Judge Young in Schottel’s §1983 action. The court of appeals addressed first the issue of judicial immunity.

The court noted the two instances wherein judicial immunity did not apply, regardless of type of suit: first, in the case of a judge acting in a non-judicial capacity, and second, judicial actions taken in the complete absence of all jurisdiction. By definition, “an act is a judicial act if it is one normally performed by a judge and if the complaining party is dealing with a judge in his judicial capacity.” Judge Young was clearly operating in a judicial capacity. And by law, Illinois circuit court judges have “original jurisdiction of all justiciable matters.” (Ill. Const. Art. VI §9). Judge Young was clearly operating within jurisdictional ambit.

That issue being decided, the court of appeals saw the matter of jurisdiction and the resulting immunity as obviating the need to address other issues raised by Schottel, and affirmed the district court. See: Schottel v. Young, 687 F.3d 370 (8th Cir. 2012), cert. denied.

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Related legal case

Schottel v. Young