Antoine v. Byers & Anderson, Inc.

PETITIONER: Antoine
RESPONDENT: Byers & Anderson, Inc., et al.
LOCATION: Office of Walter Nixon, Souther District Court of MS

DOCKET NO.: 91-7604
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1991-1993)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 508 US 429 (1993)
ARGUED: Mar 30, 1993
DECIDED: Jun 07, 1993

ADVOCATES:
M. Margaret McKeown - on behalf of the Petitioner
William P. Fite - on behalf of the Respondents

Facts of the case

Question

Media for Antoine v. Byers & Anderson, Inc.

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 30, 1993 in Antoine v. Byers & Anderson, Inc.

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument now in No. 91-7604, Jeffery Antoine v. Byers & Anderson.

Ms. McKeown.

M. Margaret McKeown:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

The issue before you is whether a court reporter who fails to produce a transcript is entitled to absolute judicial immunity, thus overcoming the presumption of qualified immunity which has been found to be sufficient protection for the vast majority of public and Government officials, ranging from presidential aides to the attorney general, other cabinet officers, governors, police officers, and school board members.

We submit that the Ninth Circuit ruling, that the doctrine of judicial immunity bars Mr. Antoine's suit simply because the court reporter is part and parcel of the judicial process, expands the immunity doctrine beyond the Court's decisions and certainly far beyond its historical scope.

The case comes here in a situation where over 3-year period the court reporter ignored numerous court orders, failed to file the transcript, and, in fact, violated show cause orders from the Ninth Circuit.

Finally, after 3 years, she was unable to produce a complete transcript and a substitute reporter was able to file a reconstructed transcript which was admittedly deficient.

We ask the Court to rule that a court reporter's function is not adjudicatory, it is not a judicial function, and she is not entitled to absolute immunity from suit for damages.

The circuits are split on this issue, but the answer can be found in the Court's cases on judicial immunity.

The starting point in the immunity analysis is that the presumption is that there is qualified immunity.

So here it's not a question of absolute immunity or nothing, but rather starting with a presumption of qualified immunity.

And because absolute immunity must be granted so sparingly and has generally been regarded as such an extreme measure, there is a very heavy burden on the respondents to justify elevation from qualified to absolute immunity.

No justification exists here.

Certainly, the court reporter doesn't serve a function so special or so sensitive as to require a total shield from liability.

Nor is the real purpose of judicial immunity, that is preservation of independent decision making, preventing the chilling of making hard and difficult decisions, served in this particular case because, of course, the court reporter makes no such decisions and has no such discretion to chill.

I would like to turn, then, to a discussion of a judicial act and adjudication.

The threshold question--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Well, may I interrupt you?

Do you suppose that a judge would have absolute immunity in certifying a case record for appellate review, for example?

M. Margaret McKeown:

--Yes.

I believe that a judge certifying a record for appellate review is acting in his judicial capacity.

That is a function normally performed by the judge, and that really is an extension... we're assuming a trial judge... of the decision-making process in which the judge has engaged on the trial level.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Although you could certainly say that's a ministerial sort of act, couldn't you?

What if the trial judge kept notes during that proceedings that became relevant on appeal and they had to be sent up, do you suppose that's part of the judicial act?

M. Margaret McKeown:

Let me answer your first question, and that is whether this judge's certification might be deemed to be ministerial.

And it might; there is not an absolute line that can always be drawn.

But certainly in the case of a judge, one needs to look to the scope of judge's authority, and it's a fairly broad decision-making authority, in contrast to the very limited authority of the court reporter.

Taking your second situation, and that is assume that the judge makes notes during the process and those are used in some fashion on appeal, it would appear that those notes would be made as part of the decision-making process, not as a part of recording simply a verbatim transcript of what went on in the courtroom.

So there's a far bigger distinction there between the note taking by the judge, which might be akin to historical note taking by the judge in which he had absolute immunity and was taking notes so that he could comment on the evidence and summarize matters for the jury.

But surely a court reporter is not taking notes as a part of the decision-making process, but rather simply pursuant to statute and court order.