Burk v. State of Arizona – 3/6/2007

March 9, 2007

Arizona Court of Appeals Division One Upholds Grant of Judicial Immunity to Employee of Court's Conciliation Services.

Plaintiff-Appellant Angela Burk appealed from the superior court’s dismissal of her 42 USC 1983 claim. In 2004, Burk had petitioned the superior court to modify the parenting schedule for her daughter. The court ordered a report prepared by Cathy Culek, an employee of its conciliation services. Burk’s complaint alleged that Culek’s report violated her Free Exercise rights because the report was, according to Burk, “intentionally designed to ensure that [the daughter] attended the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.” The superior court granted the State’s motion to dismiss on the ground that Culek had judicial immunity from Burk’s claims.

Division One affirmed. In an opinion by Judge Timmer, the Court first reiterated that judicial immunity is not limited to judges and that officers serving the judiciary are immune from suit where such immunity is required to ensure “principled and fearless decision-making by that officer.” SeeĀ Acevedo v. Pima County Adult Prob. Dep’t., 142 Ariz. 319, 321, 322, 690 P.3d 38, 40, 41 (1984). Rejecting Burk’s contention that Culek’s actions here were not entitled to immunity because discriminatory acts are outside the court’s jurisdiction, the Court relied chiefly onĀ Mireles v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9 (1991) and held that the superior court clearly had subject matter jurisdiction over the request to modify parenting schedules and that even if true, the allegations of illegal discrimination did not overcome the application of judicial immunity.

The Court also relied on Mireles in rejecting Burk’s claim that Culek was not immune because her actions exceeded the scope of the authority she was granted by the court when she delved into Burk’s religious beliefs. The Court held that the superior court’s order was a “judicial act” which cloaked Culek in immunity and that a similar argument was rejected in Mireles. See Mireles, 502 U.S. at 12-13.

Finally, the Court rejected as without foundation and against public policy the argument that because the superior court ultimately did not rely on Culek’s report, Culek forfeited judicial immunity.

Judges Norris and Johnsen joined in Judge Timmer’s opinion.