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Brittner v. Lanzilotta - 3/12/2019

Arizona Court of Appeals Division One holds that a court-appointed therapist who provides advice and recommendations to the court is protected by judicial immunity.

A husband and wife initiated dissolution proceedings in family court.  The family court appointed a therapist to assist in establishing rules for exchanging custody of the kids, making referrals to therapy as necessary, and aiding in conflict resolution.  The family court relied on the therapist’s recommendations when it issued its final decree. 

The father thereafter filed a civil suit against the therapist, alleging various tort and contract claims related to the therapist’s involvement in the family court matter.  The superior court granted the therapist’s motion to dismiss the complaint on the basis of judicial immunity. 

The father appealed.  Division One of the Court of Appeals affirmed. 

The Court explained that judicial immunity extends to non-judicial officers who are “performing a function pursuant to a court directive related to the judicial process.”  (Citation omitted).  Because the family court had appointed the therapist not only for therapeutic services, but also to give the court recommendations regarding rules for custody exchanges and therapy referrals, the Court concluded that judicial immunity applied.  It also refused to limit immunity only to services related to the judicial process.  Although a non-judicial officer performing activities exclusively for one party or ministerial tasks cannot invoke judicial immunity, the Court reasoned that parceling out immune and non-immune activities would be impractical, if not impossible.

Judge Campbell wrote for the Court; Presiding Judge McMurdie and Judge Howe joined.

Posted by: Hayleigh S. Crawford

Posted On: 4/1/2019