The Mike’s Hard Lemonade Case — Absolute Immunity Fails To Protect Judge Hartsfield
I have been waiting for some time to blog this case.
A Dad buys his seven year old a Mike’s Hard Lemonade at a Detroit Tigers baseball game. allegedly (and probably) not realizing that Mike’s Hard Lemonade has alcohol. Kid downs part of the bottle and security guard at the stadium sees kid drinking the alcoholic drink and freaks out, getting Child Protective Services and law enforcement involved. The freakout continues as the kid is taken to the hospital (over the father’s objections) and has his blood tested (no alcohol in the blood). Still, the kid is not allowed to return home and is placed in custody. After a night or two, a signed judge’s order, signed by Judge Judy A. Hartsfield, mandates that the kid can return home if the Dad moves out. After a couple more days there is a hearing and the Dad is allowed to move back home with the kid.
It turns out that the signed order was pre-signed, in blank, by the Judge Hartsfield, even before the kid was caught drinking Mike’s Hard Lemonade at the Tigers’ game. The pre-signed form was then filled out by a probation officer according to administrative policies that Judge Hartsfield had set up.
The family sued for, among other things, the judge’s pre-signing of the order that required the Dad to be kicked out of his home. The Judge Hartsfield wanted absolute immunity because she pre-signed orders as part of her work as a judge. She did not get absolute immunity. In the words of the judge in the civil action against her:
Hartsfield’s actions here are analogous to Shakoor’s actions determined to be administrative in Morrison. Hartsfield’s pre-signed “order” was not “connected to any particular litigation.” Instead, a pre-signed paper when filled out by a probation officer and submitted to the family court after hours was used to deprive Leo and his parents from any meaningful judicial consideration in his removal proceedings. Hartsfield’s act of signing the paper preceded any adjudication as there were no parties, proceedings, or live case or controversy at the time she signed the “order.” No judicial act occurred until the probation officer filled in the pre-signed paper with case specific information. The pre-signed paper, therefore, was signed by Hartsfield in an administrative capacity and she is not protected by absolute judicial immunity.