Pulliam v. Allen
466 U.S. 522 (1984)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Pulliam v. Allen, 466 U.S. 522 (1984)

Pulliam v. Allen

No. 82-1432

Argued November 2, 1983

Decided May 14, 1984

466 U.S. 522

Syllabus

After respondents were arrested for nonjailable misdemeanors, petitioner, a Magistrate in a Virginia county, imposed bail, and when respondents were unable to meet the bail, petitioner committed them to jail. Subsequently, respondents brought an action against petitioner in Federal District Court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming that petitioner's practice of imposing bail on persons arrested for nonjailable offenses under Virginia law and of incarcerating those persons if they could not meet the bail was unconstitutional. The court agreed and enjoined the practice, and also awarded respondents costs and attorney's fees under the Civil Rights Attorney's Fees Awards Act of 1976. Determining that judicial immunity did not extend to injunctive relief under § 1983 and that prospective injunctive relief properly had been awarded against petitioner, the Court of Appeals affirmed the award of attorney's fees.

Held:

1. Judicial immunity is not a bar to prospective injunctive relief against a judicial officer, such as petitioner, acting in her judicial capacity. Pp. 466 U. S. 528-543.

(a) Common law principles of judicial immunity were incorporated into the United States judicial system, and should not be abrogated absent clear legislative intent to do so. Although there were no injunctions against common law judges, there is a common law parallel to the § 1983 injunction at issue here in the collateral prospective relief available against judges through the use of the King's prerogative writs in England. The history of these writs discloses that the common law rule of judicial immunity did not include immunity from prospective collateral relief. Pp. 466 U. S. 528-536.

(b) The history of judicial immunity in the United States is fully consistent with the common law experience. There never has been a rule of absolute judicial immunity from prospective relief, and there is no evidence that the absence of that immunity has had a chilling effect on judicial independence. Limitations on obtaining equitable relief serve to curtail or prevent harassment of judges through suits against them by disgruntled litigants. Collateral injunctive relief against a judge, particularly when that relief is available through § 1983, also raises a concern relating to the proper functioning of federal-state relations, but that

Page 466 U. S. 523

concern has been addressed directly as a matter of comity and federalism, independent of principles of judicial immunity. While there is a need for restraint by federal courts called upon to enjoin actions of state judicial officers, there is no support for a conclusion that Congress intended to limit the injunctive relief available under § 1983 in a way that would prevent federal injunctive relief against a state judge. Rather, Congress intended § 1983 to be an independent protection for federal rights, and there is nothing to suggest that Congress intended to expand the common law doctrine of judicial immunity to insulate state judges completely from federal collateral review. Pp. 466 U. S. 536-543.

2. Judicial immunity is no bar to the award of attorney's fees under the Civil Rights Attorney's Fees Awards Act. Congress has made clear in the Act its intent that attorney's fees be available in any action to enforce § 1983. And the legislative history confirms Congress' intent that an attorney's fee award be made available even when damages would be barred or limited by immunity doctrines. Pp. 466 U. S. 543-544.

690 F.2d 376, affirmed.

BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, WHITE, MARSHALL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. POWELL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BURGER, C.J., and REHNQUIST and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined, post, p. 466 U. S. 544.

Page 466 U. S. 524

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