Stapley v. Pestalozzi

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Civil Rights § 1983
  • Date Filed: 08-16-2013
  • Case #: 12-16145; 12-16146
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge W. Fletcher for the Court; Circuit Judges Christen and Gould
  • Full Text Opinion

Prosecutors filing a federal civil racketeering suit are not entitled to absolute immunity when their actions were not “sufficiently analogous to those of a prosecutor” and when the suit is not “analogous to a criminal prosecution.”

Former prosecutors Andrew Thomas and Lisa Aubuchon and their spouses (“Defendants”) appealed the district court’s partial denial of their motions to dismiss. Defendants had a “political war” with the Board of Supervisors of Maricopa County, mainly Donald Stapley and Sheriff Joe Arpaio. This “political war” included harassment campaigns against the Board of Supervisors. In the district court, Stapley alleged twelve causes of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and that Defendants’ filing of a federal civil racketeering (“RICO”) suit caused him injuries. The district court held that Defendants were not entitled to absolute immunity because the civil RICO suit was not “sufficiently analogous to criminal proceedings” in order for absolute immunity to apply. The district court denied Defendants’ motion to dismiss claims arising from the filing of the RICO suit. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit determined whether under the circumstances of filing the civil RICO suit Defendants were entitled to absolutely immunity under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. After looking at both Supreme Court and Ninth Circuit precedent, the panel concluded that for two reasons Defendants were not entitled to absolute immunity for claims arising out of the civil RICO suit. First, the federal RICO statute does not give “special authorization to county attorneys to file civil RICO suits.” In effect, Defendants were in the same position as private lawyers and their actions were not “analogous to those of a prosecutor.” Second, the civil RICO suit was not “analogous to a criminal prosecution.” The RICO suit was filed as part of a “political war” and was meant to harass the parties to the suit. The panel held that under these circumstances, since Defendants’ actions were not “sufficiently analogous to those of a prosecutor,” they were not entitled to absolute immunity. AFFIRMED.

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