Argued: April 1, 2016
Court for Baltimore City Case No. 24-C-13-008502
Barbera, C.J., [*] Battaglia, Greene, Adkins,
McDonald, Watts, Rodowsky, Lawrence F. (Retired, Specially
case poses the question of whether absolute judicial immunity
bars suit against the State of Maryland for the alleged
negligent act of an unspecified clerk of the court when the
only injury alleged in the complaint is the direct and
proximate result of the judge's issuance of a body
attachment. For the reasons that follow, we answer that
question in the affirmative.
April 16, 2010, Petitioner, Cynthia Keller-Bee, appeared in
the District Court of Maryland sitting in Harford County
pursuant to an order requiring her to show cause why she had
not answered post-judgment interrogatories in an action in
which judgment had been entered against her. For an unknown
reason, the judgment creditor did not appear at that hearing,
causing the court to dismiss the show cause order.
nine months later, the judgment creditor filed a motion
requesting that Petitioner be found in contempt for her
alleged failure to appear at the hearing on April 16, 2010,
and seeking a body attachment against her. The
Administrative Judge for the District Court signed the body
attachment. On the morning of January 27, 2011, it was
executed upon Petitioner and she was taken into custody. That
same afternoon, Petitioner was brought before a Court
Commissioner who released her on her own recognizance with
the advisement that she would receive notice of a court date
to address her alleged failure to appear.
February 4, 2011, Petitioner went to the District Court
Clerk's Office to ask why she had been arrested and
detained. Following that office's investigation,
Petitioner was advised that she should not have been arrested
because she had appeared at the hearing as ordered and, for
that reason, she would not need to appear again in court.
December 27, 2013, Petitioner filed in the Circuit Court for
Baltimore City a two-count complaint against the State of
Maryland. The complaint alleged "negligence and
malfeasance of one or more of the State's employees in
the District Court System for Harford County in presenting
body attachment papers to [the Administrative Judge] for
signage and issuance." Count I alleged that
"drafting and or presenting body attachment papers to
[the judge] for issuance of the same" constituted
negligence on the part of some unnamed "employee/agent
or employees/agents" of the District Court of Maryland.
Count II alleged that those same acts violated
Petitioner's rights under Article 24 of the Maryland
Declaration of Rights. Petitioner further alleged that
"she was harmed and lost her liberty" and
"experienced severe mental anguish, pain and suffering,
loss of freedom, liberty, and/or other recoverable losses and
damages associated with the violation of her rights."
State moved to dismiss the complaint on the ground of
absolute judicial immunity. Following a hearing, the Circuit
Court denied the motion. While noting that a clerk would be
entitled to the defense of absolute judicial immunity if
acting at the direction or under the supervision of a judge,
the Circuit Court questioned whether the clerk was acting
with such authority based upon the time that had elapsed
between Petitioner's appearance in court and the
clerk's generating the body attachment.
State appealed the denial of the motion to dismiss. The Court
of Special Appeals, in a reported opinion, reversed the
judgment of the Circuit Court. State v. Keller-Bee, 224
Md.App. 1, 3 (2015). Observing that "absolute judicial
immunity attaches to the function and not the person, "
id. at 11, the intermediate appellate court agreed
with the State that the action complained of was the
judge's judicial act of signing the body attachment,
rather than any action by court personnel in presenting the
body attachment to the judge for signature or thereafter
transmitting the signed body attachment to the sheriff for
execution. Id. at 6 ("The harm [Petitioner]
alleges emanated from the judge's issuance of the
warrant. It is this judicial function that is really the
subject of [her] tort claim."). The Court of Special
Appeals added that "presentment of warrants to judges
for approval and signature is a task that regularly occurs
during the performance of a clerk's employment, "
and therefore "the issuance of arrest warrants is a
judicial act." Id. at 13.
filed a petition for writ of certiorari, which asked us to
Whether the Court of Special Appeals properly found that
District Court clericals who are neither supervised by a
Judge or State's Attorney nor directed to take certain
actions by a Judge or State's Attorney are entitled to
absolute judicial ...