A Rare Denial of Judicial Immunity

From Rockett v. Eighmy, decided last week by Judge Douglas Harpool (W.D. Mo.); this hit the news because the children in the case are apparently magicians, who were on America’s Got Talent a few years ago:

This case presents a very unique set of allegations. Judge Eighmy presided over a custody proceeding involving Plaintiff and his two children in Taney County. {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’s current lawsuit alleges Judge Eighmy unlawfully jailed his two minor children for one hour in a Taney County jail and then subsequently issued pick up orders for the children resulting in the children being jailed for two nights in Louisiana. Plaintiff alleges Judge Eighmy’s orders, and detention of the children, were done without any findings of contempt, delinquency, probable cause or jurisdiction. As a result, Plaintiff’s Complaint alleges that Defendant’s actions amount to misconduct that was not judicial in function and lacked jurisdiction.

Specifically, Plaintiff alleges Judge Eighmy personally seized and jailed the two minor children who were neither before him as parties, in contempt, or delinquent. 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]hile Defendant’s motion argues Judge Eighmy is entitled to abolute immunity for his judicial acts, Plaintiff’s Complaint contains allegations against Judge Eighmy that reach beyond judicial immunity regarding the actions taken against the children. Whether or not Plaintiff can actually prevail is not before this Court. Rather, the Court has to review whether Plaintiff has stated a claim to survive a motion to dismiss.

Here, Plaintiff first alleges that Judge Eighmy personally seized and jailed the two minor children, who were not before him as parties, nor in contempt of court, because he wanted to “teach them a lesson” after a proceeding that had taken place in the Taney County courtroom regarding the parents’ custody battle. Specifically, after the hearing the children stated their intentions that they would not go with their mother and the Judge, as alleged, wanted to scare the children into compliance and in doing so physically had them escorted to jail and told them to stay there until they had changed their minds.

Further, the allegations state that Judge Eighmy subsequently ordered the children to be picked up in Louisiana, resulting in their detention in a Louisiana jail for at least two nights, when the Judge did not have jurisdiction to enter any such order. Plaintiff argues Judge Eighmy decided to initiate, prosecute and adjudicate alleged juvenile delinquency that was never a case or an issue pending before him.

Here, the Court does not determine whether any of these allegations are true. Rather, the Court finds that these allegations plead enough to survive a motion to dismiss for immunity…. “[A] judge has no immunity (1) for actions taken outside of his judicial capacity, or (2) for actions that are judicial in nature, but occur in the complete absence of all jurisdiction.”  …

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….


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