Truth Foundation's trademark and issued an injunction restraining Hale's
organization's use of the term "World Church of the Creator." The order
and injunction contained a litany of measures that Hale and his
organization were to follow, including the transferring of certain web
addresses and the removal or obliteration of any infringing mark.
On December 24, 2002, Hale filed suit in the Central District of
Illinois, United States District Court. Hale's present suit alleges
violations of his and his followers First, Fourth, and Fifth
Constitutional rights "to the free exercise of their religious beliefs,
freedom of speech, freedom from unreasonable search and seizures, and due
process of law. Reverend Hale and class members are thus entitled to
declaratory and injunctive relief and compensatory and punitive damages.
. . ." Pl. Compl. P. 4 ¶ 13.
This case raises an important constitutional and prudential question
regarding the immunity of a judicial official from a suit brought by a
disgruntled party who had previously proceeded before that judge in a
civil judicial proceeding.
Judicial immunity is a common law doctrine that shields judges from
civil liability for their judicial actions. See Tucker v. Outwater,
118 F.3d 930, 932 (2d Cir. 1997). It is a well-settled axiom that
questions of immunity should be decided at the earliest stage of
litigation. See Clinton v. Jones, 520 U.S. 681, 686, 117 S.Ct. 1636,
137 L.Ed.2d 945 (1997). The reasoning for this is that judges, as public
servants, "represent the interest of society as a whole. The conduct of
their official duties may adversely affect a wide variety of different
individuals, each of whom may be a potential source of future
controversy." Ferri v. Ackerman, 444 U.S. 193, 203, 100 S.Ct. 402,
62 L.Ed.2d 355 (1979). Judicial immunity allows judges to act impartially
and provides an atmosphere free of "intimidation that would conflict with
their resolve to perform their designated functions in a principled
fashion." Id. at 204. Expeditiously answering questions of judicial
immunity, therefore, prevents unnecessary and illegitimate suits from
festering in the judicial system.
In a civil action, judges are only liable for their judicial acts if
they have previously acted in a clear absence of jurisdiction. See Stump
v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 439, 356-57, 98 S.Ct. 1099, 55 L.Ed.2d 331 (1978);
Dellenbach v. Letsinger, 889 F.2d 755, 758 (7th Cir. 1989). "This
immunity applies even when the judge's act are in error, malicious, or
were in excess of his or her jurisdiction." Bolkin v. Story, 225 F.3d 1234,
1239 (7th Cir. 2000) (citing Stump, 435 U.S. at 356). A judge will be
afforded absolute immunity if his or her actions meet a two-part test:
first, the acts complained of were in the judge's jurisdiction; and
second, these acts must be performed in the judge's judicial capacity.
See John v. Barron, 897 F.3d 1387, 1391 (7th Cir. 1990) (citing Stump,
435 U.S. at 356).
In his Complaint, Hale attempts to circumvent judicial immunity by
alleging that "[t]he actions of Judge Lefkow were no mistake or accident.
They were instead deliberately and maliciously calculated to destroy the
freedoms of Plaintiff and Church adherents through the use of an
unconstitutional exercise of judicial power." Pl. Compl. P. 2 ¶ 2.
Hale's claim is unpersuasive to the Court. First, the Supreme Court has
held that even if a judge's actions were taken maliciously, he or she is
afforded absolute immunity for judicial acts not taken in clear absence
of jurisdiction. See Stump,
435 U.S. at 356-57. Second, Hale's argument
fails to address the relevant issue: Did Judge Lefkow issue an order and
injunction in a clear absence of jurisdiction? Clearly, the answer is
"no." Since the originating matter was based in trademark law, the Lanham
Act clearly provided Judge Lefkow with subject matter jurisdiction over
the originating suit. Indeed, Judge Lefkow issued the complained of order
and injunction only after having a prior decision, which found in favor
of Hale, being reversed by the Seventh Circuit. It would be truly
problematic and abhorrent if a federal district and a federal appellate
court ruled on such a matter while lacking jurisdiction.
Next, the Court must turn to whether Judge Lefkow performed the
complained of acts while within her judicial capacity. "The factors
which determine whether an act by a judge is a judicial one relate to
whether the act is normally performed by a judge and whether the parties
dealt with the judge in his [or her] judicial capacity." Barron, 897 F.2d
at 1392 (citing Stump, 435 U.S. at 362). In Barron, the Seventh Circuit
found that a judge who "renders a decision acts well within his or her
judicial capacity." 897 F.2d at 1392. This is clearly such a case.
Accordingly, since Judge Lefkow has satisfied the two prongs of the
judicial immunity test, the Court finds Judge Lefkow is entitled to
absolute judicial immunity.
With respect to Hale's request for injunctive relief, the Seventh
Circuit has not yet determined if the doctrine of absolute judicial
immunity protects federal judges from injunctive relief as well as money
damages. Several courts, however, have found federal judges absolutely
immune from equitable relief under Bivens. See Bolkin v. Story,
225 F.3d 1234, 1240 (11th Cir. 2000); Mullis v. United States Bankr.
Court for the Dist. Of Nev., 828 F.2d 1385 (9th Cir. 1987); see also,
Dorman v. Higgins, 821 F.2d 133, 139 (2d Cir. 1987). The reason for this
is that a plaintiff seeking injunctive relief has an adequate remedy at
law through ordinary appeal; the decisions made by Judge Lefkow with
respect to Hale's original case are subject to appellate review (as is
this decision) and he therefore has a remedy at law, which precludes the
equitable relief he now seeks. See Bolin, 225 F.3d at 1240. The Court
surmises that Hale did not follow standard appellate procedure since
Judge Lefkow issued her order and injunction in accordance with a Seventh
Circuit decision, which would be the court Hale would have to appeal to.
Additionally, as the Eleventh Circuit noted in Bolin, "to allow
injunctive relief against federal judges would be to permit a `horizontal
appeal' from one district court to another or even a `reverse review' of a
ruling of the court of appeals by a district court." Id. (citing
Mullins, 828 F.2d at 1392-93). Such actions would violate the most basic
tenants of the judicial system.
For the aforementioned reasons, the Court is dismissing Hale's
Complaint with prejudice.*fn1 "[W]hen the existence of
defense is so plain from the face of the complaint that the suit can be
regarded as frivolous, the district judge need not wait for an answer
before dismissing suit." Walker v. Thompson, 288 F.3d 1005, 1009 (7th
IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that this matter is dismissed with prejudice,
each party to bear its own costs.