Law School Case Brief
Forrester v. White - 484 U.S. 219, 108 S. Ct. 538 (1988)
Courts examine the nature of the functions with which a particular official or class of officials has been lawfully entrusted and seek to evaluate the effect that exposure to particular forms of liability would likely have on the appropriate exercise of those functions. Officials who seek exemption from personal liability have the burden of showing that such an exemption is justified by overriding considerations of public policy, and courts have recognized a category of "qualified" immunity that avoids unnecessarily extending the scope of the traditional concept of absolute immunity.
Under Illinois law, the position of a particular state-court judge gave him the authority to hire adult and juvenile probation officers, and to remove such officers at his discretion or pleasure. After the judge first demoted and then, discharged a female probation officer whom he had hired, the female officer alleged violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C.S. § 2000e et seq., and § 1 of the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983 or, more specifically, that her demotion and discharge constituted discrimination on account of her sex, in violation of the equal protection clause of the Federal Constitution's Fourteenth Amendment. Although a jury awarded the officer about $82,000 in compensatory damages on her § 1983 claim, the District Court then granted the judge's motion for summary judgment, on the ground that the judge was entitled to judicial immunity from a civil damages suit. On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed, expressing the view that the judge was entitled to the defense of judicial immunity for the demotion and discharge of the probation officer, where, under the circumstances, the functions performed by the officer were inextricably tied to discretionary decisions that had consistently been considered as judicial acts. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari review.
Was the judge entitled to the defense of judicial immunity for the demotion and discharge of the probation officer?
The Court held that, because the Illinois judge was acting in an administrative capacity when he demoted and discharged the officer, the judge did not have absolute immunity from the officer’s 1983 damages suit. In so holding, however, the Court did not decide whether the judge was entitled to a new trial, or whether he may be able to claim a qualified immunity for the acts complained of in the probation officer’s suit.
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