Pulliam v. Allen

PETITIONER: Gladys Pulliam, Magistrate for the County of Culpeper, Virginia
RESPONDENT: Richmond Allen and Jesse Nicholson
LOCATION: Culpeper County Courthouse

DOCKET NO.: 82-1432
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

CITATION: 466 US 522 (1984)
ARGUED: Nov 02, 1983
DECIDED: May 14, 1984
GRANTED: Apr 25, 1983

Deborah C. Wyatt - on behalf of Respondents
Gerald L. Baliles - on behalf of Petitioner

Facts of the case

In January 1980, Richmond Allen was arrested for allegedly using abusive and insulting language, which is a Class 3 misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of $500. Gladys Pulliam, the state magistrate for Culpeper County, Virginia set bail at $250 and, when Allen was unable to make bail, Pulliam committed him to the Culpeper County Jail for 14 days. Allen was tried, found guilty, fined, and released. The trial judge reopened his case and reversed the judgment. Allen sued Pulliam in district court and sought declaratory and injunctive relief for incarcerating him while waiting for trial on non-jailable offenses.

Jesse Nicholson was arrested four times in a two-month period for public intoxication, a Class 4 misdemeanor for which the maximum penalty is a $100 fine. Like Allen, Nicholson was incarcerated for failure to make bail, and he intervened in Allen’s suit as a party plaintiff.

This district court held that Pulliam’s practice of incarcerating persons for not making bail on non-jailable offenses violated their rights to due process and equal protection. The district court enjoined the practice and found Allen and Nicholson entitled to costs, including attorneys’ fees. Pulliam appealed the finding regarding costs and argued that, as a judicial officer, she was granted judicial immunity. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit rejected the judicial immunity argument and affirmed the district court’s decision.


Does judicial immunity protect a member of the judiciary acting in her official capacity from paying attorneys’ fees in a civil suit?

Media for Pulliam v. Allen

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 02, 1983 in Pulliam v. Allen

Warren E. Burger:

Mr. Baliles, I think you may proceed whenever you are ready.

Gerald L. Baliles:

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

The issue in this case is whether the doctrine of judicial immunity bars the award of attorneys' fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. Section 1988 against a member of the judiciary acting in his judicial capacity.

The facts of this case arose in 1980 in Culpeper County, Virginia.

The Petitioner is a magistrate for that jurisdiction.

The Respondents were arrested in Culpeper on misdemeanor charges for which no incarceration was authorized by statute upon conviction.

When the Respondents were unable to post bond after arrest, they were ordered by a petitioner to be held in jail pending trial.

Respondents thereafter challenged their pretrial detention by filing in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, a Section 1983 action against the Petitioner seeking declaratory and injunctive relief.

The District Court declared the Virginia statues to be unconstitutional as applied, granted injunctive relief, and ordered the petitioner to pay attorneys' fees to the Respondents.

The Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed that decision and held that members of the judiciary are not immune from suit, are not immune from payment of attorneys' fees in cases involving equitable or prospective relief.

In this case, we are seeking and asking this Court to hold that awards of attorneys' fees against judges are not authorized because, one, judicial immunity bars such an award, and two--

Byron R. White:

Even if it doesn't bar the injunction?

Gerald L. Baliles:

--That is correct.

The Court does not have to reach that point, as I will elaborate in the argument.

The second point, Justice White, is that Congress has not abrogated the doctrine of judicial immunity in enacting Section 1988.

Byron R. White:

Well, is it your submission or do you take a position as to whether the injunction is permissible?

Gerald L. Baliles:

We would argue that the injunctive relief provisions are not permitted by the doctrine of judicial relief, but as we have pointed out in our--

Byron R. White:

The judge is immune from suit for an injunction as well as damages?

Gerald L. Baliles:

--That is correct.

Byron R. White:


Gerald L. Baliles:

That is the position we maintain although, as we pointed out in our brief, this Court does not have to reach that question in order to dispose of the question of whether attorneys' fees may be authorized and ordered to be paid by the judge.

Byron R. White:

I understand that, but you have to reach one or the other of them.

Gerald L. Baliles:

Justice White, this Court--

Byron R. White:

It might be easier to reach the other, I mean--

Gerald L. Baliles:

--This Court does not have to reach--

Byron R. White:

--If you are right on it.

Gerald L. Baliles:

--This Court does not have to reach that question.

The injunctive relief provision was not appealed in this case because of certain changes that were made in the statutes by the General Assembly of Virginia in 1980 and 1981, so that question of injunctive relief is not before the Court.

The remaining question is one of the validity of the award of attorneys' fees which was raised, which was preserved on appeal to the Fourth Circuit and made a part of our petition for certiorari.

So the attorneys' fees question is really the only issue brought to this Court.