A Rare Denial of Judicial Immunity

Starting at Rockett v. EighmyThe verdict was made by Judge Douglas Harpool (W.D. Mo.Mo.America’s Got TalentA few years back:

The case is very unusual in that it contains a unique combination of facts. Plaintiff was represented by Judge Eighmy in a Taney County custody case. {Plaintiff also alleges, while not the basis for his cause of action, that Judge Eighmy had a conflict presiding over the custody dispute based on his prior representation of one of Plaintiff’s family members in a divorce proceeding before he became a judge.}

Plaintiff alleges that Judge Eighmy wrongfully jailed two of his children, a minor child, for one hour at a Taney County prison. Then, he issued pick up instructions for the children which led to the children being held for two nights in Louisiana. Plaintiff claims that Judge Eighmy’s orders and the detention of the minor children were made without finding any contempt, delinquency or probable cause. Plaintiff’s complaint alleges that Defendant’s misconduct amounts to misconduct, which was neither judicially functioned nor lacked authority.

Plaintiff asserts that Judge Eighmy seized the children and placed them in jail, despite not being parties or in contempt. The allegations state that Judge Eighmy then later issued an order for the minor children to be picked up and jailed in Louisiana, in the absence of any personal or UCCJEA jurisdiction, and in violation of the children’s due process rights….

Here, the Court reviews Plaintiff’s allegations, for purposes of analyzing the motion to dismiss, in a light most favorable to Plaintiff…. [W]Defendant’s motion argues that Judge Eighmy has the right to abolute immunity from his judicial acts. However, Plaintiff’s complaint contains claims against Judge Eighmy beyond judicial immunity concerning the actions against the children. This Court will not decide whether Plaintiff is able to prevail. Instead, it is up to the Court to determine whether Plaintiff’s claim survives a motion of dismissal.

Plaintiff claims that Judge Eighmy took the minor children into custody and placed them in jail. They were not present before him in court as parties or in contempt. This was after an incident in Taney County regarding the parents’ custody dispute. The hearing was a result of the children stating that they wouldn’t go along with their mother. According to the Plaintiff, Judge Eighmy wanted to “teach them a lesson” and physically escorted them to jail.

Additionally, it is claimed that Judge Eighmy later ordered that the children be taken to Louisiana. The result was for their imprisonment in Louisiana jails for at least 2 nights. Plaintiff asserts Judge Eighmy ordered the children to be picked up in Louisiana. This was despite there not being a case against them or any issue.

The Court doesn’t decide whether these allegations are true. Rather, the Court finds that these allegations plead enough to survive a motion to dismiss for immunity…. “[A]Judges are not protected (1) by immunity for acts taken in his capacity as a judge, and (2) by actions which are judicial, but that occur when all other jurisdiction is absent.  …

Here, the Court finds the allegations, as pled, … are that the judge acted without jurisdiction and outside his judicial role when personally taking the children to jail, then subsequently ordering them picked up in Louisana, when there were no judicial proceedings pending that would allow for this judicial sanction. Whether Plaintiff will be able to ultimately prevail is a question for another day….