Mark Stancil on Booker/Fanfan
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Parole Officers' immunity in the Ninth Circuit

Are parole officers entitled to absolute (quasi-judicial immunity) for all acts taken in their official capacities?

No - Quasi-judicial immunity only covers a parole officer's acts that are intimately related to the decision to grant, deny, or revoke parole.

Michael Swift was sentenced to 16 months in a California prison for passing a forged check. After his prison term was over, he went to Iowa to serve his parole, pursuant to the Interstate Parole Compact. This means that Swift was potentially under the supervision of 3 bodies: California parole officials; Iowa parole officials; and the Interstate Parole Supervision Unit.

Soon enough, Swift was arrested for committing domestic violence. Since committing domestic violence is grounds for termination of parole, the IPSU suspended his parole; issued a warrant for his arrest; and reported him to NCIC. [Ed's note: The National Crime Information Center is a national database that allows law enforcement officials anywhere in the country to determine if there is a warrant out for your arrest.]

After Swift was acquitted, Iowa parole officials conducted a Morrisey hearing. [Ed's note: A parolee can be put back into jail for violating his parole even if he is acquitted of the criminal charges that gave rise to his parole violation. In other words, violating the terms of your parole is separate and distinct from violating a criminal law.] The magistrate at Swift's Morrisey hearing found only trivial parole violations that did not warrant revocation of his parole. In 1998, Swift satisfactorily finished his term of supervised release.

Iowa parole officials told the IPSU that Swift was off parole and that he was not found in violation of his parole. However, the IPSU did not tell California officials, nor recall the arrest warrant.

Fast forward to April 11, 2001: Swift has been off parole for about 3 years. He calls California's parole department (CDC) and to tell them about the invalid warrant. He speaks with an agent who releases Swift pending verification of his story.

A couple of days later, Martiza Rodriguez and Steve Christian - who both worked for CDC - decided to arrest Swift for violating his parole. [Ed's note: I know, I know. How could Swift violate the terms of parole when he was off parole? The answer is, he could not, and that's why he's suing them.]

Swift is called back into the office, arrested, sent to the San Diego County jail, and then transferred to prison - where he sat until June 7, 2001. Swift alleges that while he was in prison, Christian suppressed exculpatory material relating to Swift's satisfactory completion of parole.

At the parole revocation hearing, the hearing officer cleared Swift, saying that he had been off parole since November 16, 1997.

Swift rightfully filed a section 1983 action. Rodriguez and Christian asserted absolute immunity. In an opinion joined by Judges Nelson and Fisher, Judge Tashima wrote:

The Supreme Court has reserved deciding whether members of state parole boards have absolute quasi-judicial immunity for their official actions. We have held, however, that parole board members are entitled to absolute immunity when they perform quasi-judicial functions. Thus, parole board officials of the BPT are entitled to absolute quasi-judicial immunity for decisions to grant, deny, or revoke parole because these tasks are functionally comparable to tasks performed by judges. Absolute immunity has also been extended to parole officials for the imposition of parole conditions and the execution of parole revocation procedures, tasks integrally related to an official’s decision to grant or revoke parole.

We have also explained, however, that parole officials are not entitled to absolute immunity for conduct not requiring the exercise of quasi-judicial discretion. There is no reason to clothe actions taken outside an official’s adjudicatory role with the absolute immunity tailored to the demands of that role. Thus, while parole officials may claim absolute immunity for those actions relating to their responsibility to determine whether to revoke parole, their immunity for conduct arising from their duty to supervise parolees is qualified. [U]nder a functional analysis, parole officials may be accorded one degree of immunity for one type of activity and a different degree for a discrete function.

Slip opinion at 7-8 (citations and quotation marks omitted).

The panel found that Rodriguez and Christian were acting more like police officers than judges, and thus, were not entitled to absolute immunity.

Christian and Rodriguez’s actions requesting that the BPT initiate revocation proceedings, were more akin to a police officer seeking an arrest warrant, than to a prosecutor exercising quasi-judicial discretion to initiate criminal proceedings.
Id. at 15.