Finley v. Murray

LOCATION: Residence of Fitzgerald

DOCKET NO.: 80-2205
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

CITATION: 456 US 604 (1982)
ARGUED: Apr 21, 1982
DECIDED: May 17, 1982

John S. Elson - on behalf of the Respondent
Scott A. Mayer - on behalf of the Petitioner

Facts of the case


Media for Finley v. Murray

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 21, 1982 in Finley v. Murray

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments next in Finley against Murray.

You may proceed whenever you're ready.

Scott A. Mayer:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court:

This case is before you on a writ of certiorari to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

Petitioner should enjoy absolute judicial immunity from Section 1983 damages liability for acts taken in discharge of his duties as an aide to the court, in order that the court's judicial duties may be properly accomplished.

The intimate relationship between the court clerk and the court is clearly reflected in the record in this case.

Petitioner, the clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County, created court procedures in order to implement a general order issued by the presiding judge of the Municipal District in the Criminal Court of Cook County.

The clerk created these court procedures in conjunction with the general order in order to notify the Chicago Police Department of warrant recall orders, as well as to notify victims and witnesses of court dates when a criminal defendant, such as Respondent, fails to appear in court on the designated court date.

Mr. Mayer, is it your position basically that the clerk should enjoy absolute immunity here, even if, for example, he refused to forward any recall orders involving blacks?

Scott A. Mayer:

The clerk would enjoy absolute judicial immunity only if he was acting in his capacity as clerk in order that judicial duties may be properly accomplished.

As a clerk, he declines to forward any recall orders involving blacks.

Absolutely immune in your view?

Scott A. Mayer:

He would not be absolutely immune in that situation.

He would be immune only if he was acting pursuant to court order or directive, within the scope of his duties as the clerk of the court.

Well, how is that different?

Scott A. Mayer:

In this case, there is no allegation of a clerk intentionally failing to communicate to the police department an arrest recall warrant.

In this case the only allegations are against the Petitioner as the clerk of the court in his official capacity in creating procedures.

These procedures, there are no allegations that they are unconstitutional, but merely that those procedures were not followed by one clerk who, by mistake or inadvertence, inadvertently failed to communicate the warrant recall to the Chicago Police Department.

Well, does the mandatory nature of the duty, then, affect whether in your view there is absolute immunity?

Scott A. Mayer:

No, it is not relevant whether or not the duty is labeled discretionary or ministerial.

The relevant inquiry is not into that nature, but into whether or not that is a function intimately associated to the court process.

Therefore, the question devolves not on whether or not the clerk must or must not... whether it's a ministerial or discretionary duty, but on the function.

The test is whether the clerk is acting as an official aide and whether he is functioning in that capacity as clerk, as the Petitioner in this case was in fact doing.

In his close association with the presiding judge, he created procedures.

There are no allegations against any other clerk in this case.

But Mr. Mayer, is it not true that the complaint alleges that those procedures were knowingly adopted even though they were unconstitutional procedures?

Page 9 of the Joint Appendix has that kind of allegation.

Scott A. Mayer:

The complaint on its face alleges that the Petitioner knowingly implemented court procedures, but there are no allegations on the face of the complaint other than--

Well, here's the paragraph I have reference to:

"The conduct, procedures and customs herein alleged occurred and continued to occur during the course of and as a result of Defendant's knowing and unconstitutional adoption, promulgation, revocation, and implementation of policies, statements, regulations, and known custom. "