Stump v. Sparkman
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''Stump v. Sparkman'', 435 U.S. 349 (1978), is the leading
United States Supreme Court The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) is the highest court in the federal judiciary of the United States. It has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all U.S. federal court cases, and over state court cases that involve a point ...
decision on
judicial immunity Judicial immunity is a form of sovereign immunity, which protects judges and others employed by the judiciary from liability resulting from their judicial actions. Though judges have immunity from lawsuit, in constitutional democracies judicial m ...
. It involved an
Indiana Indiana () is a U.S. state in the Midwestern United States, Midwestern United States. It is the List of U.S. states and territories by area, 38th-largest by area and the List of U.S. states and territories by population, 17th-most populous o ...
judge who was sued by a young woman who had been sterilized without her knowledge as a minor in accordance with the judge's order. The Supreme Court held that the judge was immune from being sued for issuing the order because it was issued as a judicial function. The case has been called one of the most controversial in recent Supreme Court history.


Facts

In 1971, Judge Harold D. Stump granted a mother's petition to have a
tubal ligation Tubal ligation (commonly known as having one's "tubes tied") is a surgical procedure for female sterilization in which the fallopian tubes are permanently blocked, clipped or removed. This prevents the fertilization of eggs by sperm and thus the ...
performed on her 15-year-old daughter, who the mother alleged was "somewhat retarded". The petition was granted the same day that it was filed. The judge did not hold a
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to receive
evidence Evidence for a proposition is what supports this proposition. It is usually understood as an indication that the supported proposition is true. What role evidence plays and how it is conceived varies from field to field. In epistemology, evid ...
or appoint a
lawyer A lawyer is a person who practices law. The role of a lawyer varies greatly across different legal jurisdictions. A lawyer can be classified as an advocate, attorney, barrister A barrister is a type of lawyer in common law jurisdiction ( ...
to protect the daughter's interests. The daughter underwent the
surgery Surgery ''cheirourgikē'' (composed of χείρ, "hand", and ἔργον, "work"), via la, chirurgiae, meaning "hand work". is a medical specialty that uses operative manual and instrumental techniques on a person to investigate or treat a pat ...
a week later, having been told that she was to have her appendix removed. The daughter married two years later. Failing to become
pregnant Pregnancy is the time during which one or more offspring develops (gestation, gestates) inside a woman, woman's uterus (womb). A multiple birth, multiple pregnancy involves more than one offspring, such as with twins. Pregnancy usually occur ...
, she learned that she had been sterilized during the 1971 operation. The daughter and her husband sued the judge and others associated with the sterilization in
federal district court The United States district courts are the trial courts of the United States federal judiciary, U.S. federal judiciary. There is one district court for each United States federal judicial district, federal judicial district, which each cover o ...
. The district court found that the judge was immune from suit. The Seventh Circuit
Court of Appeals A court of appeals, also called a court of appeal, appellate court, appeal court, court of second instance or second instance court, is any court of law that is empowered to hear an appeal of a trial court or other lower tribunal. In much of t ...
reversed the decision, holding that the judge had lost his immunity because he failed to observe "elementary principles of
due process Due process of law is application by State (polity), state of all legal rules and principles pertaining to the case so all legal rights that are owed to the person are respected. Due process balances the power of law of the land and protects the ...
" when he ordered the sterilization. Finally, in 1978, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-3 decision, reversed the Court of Appeals, announcing a test for deciding when
judicial immunity Judicial immunity is a form of sovereign immunity, which protects judges and others employed by the judiciary from liability resulting from their judicial actions. Though judges have immunity from lawsuit, in constitutional democracies judicial m ...
should apply and holding that the judge could not be sued.


Background

On July 9, 1971, Ora Spitler McFarlin of
Auburn, Indiana Auburn is a city in DeKalb County, Indiana, United States. The population was 13,820 at the 2020 census. Founded in 1836 by Wesley Park (1811–1868), the city is the county seat A county seat is an administrative center, seat of government, ...
, through her attorney Warren G. Sunday, presented a petition to Judge Harold D. Stump of the DeKalb County Circuit Court asking to have her 15-year-old daughter, Linda Spitler, surgically sterilized. The petition alleged that the daughter was "somewhat retarded", was associating with "older youth and young men" and that it would be in the daughter's best interest to undergo a tubal ligation "to prevent unfortunate circumstances." Judge Stump signed the requested order ''
ex parte In law Law is a set of rules that are created and are law enforcement, enforceable by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior,Robertson, ''Crimes against humanity'', 90. with its precise definition a matter of longstandi ...
'' the same day that he received the petition. The daughter had no notice of it. No
guardian ad litem A legal guardian is a person who has been appointed by a court or otherwise has the legal authority (and the corresponding duty) to make decisions relevant to the personal and property interests of another person who is deemed incompetent, calle ...
was appointed to represent her interest, and no hearing was held. Neither the petition nor the order was filed with the clerk of the circuit court, nor did the order cite any
statutory A statute is a formal written enactment of a legislative A legislature is an deliberative assembly, assembly with the authority to make laws for a Polity, political entity such as a Sovereign state, country or city. They are often contraste ...
authority for the action being taken. On July 15, Linda Spitler entered DeKalb Memorial Hospital, just four blocks from her home. She was told that she was to have her appendix removed. The next day a tubal ligation was performed on her by Dr. John H. Hines, M.D., assisted by Dr. Harry M. Covell, M.D., and
anesthesiologist Anesthesiology, anaesthesiology, or anaesthesia is the medical specialty A medical specialty is a branch of medical practice that is focused on a defined group of patients, diseases, skills, or philosophy. Examples include those branches of m ...
Dr. John C. Harvey, M.D. In 1973, Linda Spitler married Leo Sparkman. Failing to become pregnant, she learned from Dr. Hines in 1975 that she had been sterilized. The Sparkmans then brought an action for damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3) for alleged deprivation of Linda Sparkman's civil rights against Ora McFarlin, her attorney, Judge Stump, the doctors who performed the operation and the hospital where it was performed. Leo Sparkman asserted a pendent claim under state law for loss of potential fatherhood. Linda Sparkman also asserted pendent state claims for assault and battery and medical malpractice. The case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana. Linda Sparkman later changed her name to Jamie Renae Coleman and coauthored a 2003 book, ''The Blanket She Carried'', with her friend Paula Headley.


The case below

The district court judge, Jesse E. Eschbach, dismissed the case, holding that the only state action, which was necessary to the federal claims, was Judge Stump's approval of the petition and that he was "clothed with absolute judicial immunity", thereby cutting off the claims against the other defendants as well. The Sparkmans appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the
Seventh Circuit The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit (in case citations, 7th Cir.) is the U.S. United States federal court, federal court with appellate jurisdiction over the United States district court, courts in the following United Stat ...
, which reversed the dismissal. Judicial immunity is the principle in which “a judge ascomplete protection from personal liability for exercising judicial functions”. Applying the doctrine of judicial immunity adopted by the U. S. Supreme Court in '' Bradley v. Fisher'' in 1871 and held applicable to § 1983 actions in '' Pierson v. Ray'' in 1967, Judge Luther M. Swygert, writing for himself and Judges Harlington Wood, Jr., and William G. East, found that immunity is available only when a judge has
jurisdiction Jurisdiction (from Latin 'law' + 'declaration') is the legal term for the legal authority granted to a legal entity to enact justice. In federations like the United States, areas of jurisdiction apply to local, state, and federal levels. Jur ...
over the subject-matter of a case and that it is not available when he acts in "clear absence of all jurisdiction." Although Indiana statute law permitted the sterilization of institutionalized persons under certain circumstances, it provided for the right to notice, the opportunity to defend and the right to appeal. The Court of Appeals found no basis in statutory or common law for a court to order the sterilization of a minor child simply upon a parent's petition. It also held that Judge Stump's action could not be justified as a valid exercise of the power of courts to fashion new common law. Concluding, Judge Swygert wrote:
Even if defendant Stump had not been foreclosed under the Indiana statutory scheme from fashioning a new common law remedy in this case, we would still find his action to be an illegitimate exercise of his common law power because of his failure to comply with elementary principles of procedural due process. Here a juvenile was ordered sterilized without the taking of the slightest steps to ensure that her rights were protected. Not only was the plaintiff not given representation, she was not even told what was happening to her. She was afforded no opportunity to contest the validity of her mother's allegations or to have a higher court examine whether the substance of those allegations, even if true, warranted her sterilization. Finally, the petition and order were never filed in court. This kind of purported justice does not fall within the categories of cases at law or in equity.
Judge Stump and his co-defendants appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which granted
certiorari In law, ''certiorari'' is a Legal process, court process to seek judicial review of a decision of a lower court or government agency. ''Certiorari'' comes from the name of an English prerogative writ, issued by a superior court to direct that t ...
and reversed the Court of Appeals.


The holding

Associate Justice
Byron White Byron "Whizzer" Raymond White (June 8, 1917 April 15, 2002) was an American professional American football, football player and jurist who served as an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court fr ...
, writing for the five-member majority, disagreed with the determination by the Court of Appeals that there was a "clear absence of all jurisdiction" for Judge Stump to consider Ora McFarlin's petition, noting that Indiana law gave circuit courts "original exclusive jurisdiction in all cases at law and in equity" and jurisdiction over "all other causes, matters and proceedings where exclusive jurisdiction thereof is not conferred by law upon some other court, board or officer." Justice White acknowledged an intervening decision of the Indiana Court of Appeals in 1975 that held that a parent has no common-law right to have a minor child sterilized; but he reasoned that when presented with a petition like Ora McFarlin's, an Indiana circuit judge "should deny it on its merits rather than dismiss it for lack of jurisdiction." Noting that Judge Swygert found no Indiana law that authorized Judge Stump's action, Justice White observed:
... is more significant that there was no Indiana statute and no case law in 1971 prohibiting a circuit court, a court of
general jurisdiction {{Globalize, article, USA, 2name=the United States, date=December 2010 A court of general jurisdiction is a court with authority to hear cases of all kinds – criminal law, criminal, civil law (common law), civil, family law, family, probate, an ...
, from considering a petition of the type presented to Judge Stump.''Stump'', 435 U.S. at 359.
Addressing Judge Swygert's assertion that even if Judge Stump had jurisdiction he was deprived of immunity because of his failure to observe elementary principles of procedural due process, Justice White countered:
A judge is absolutely immune from liability for his judicial acts even if his exercise of authority is flawed by the commission of grave procedural errors. The Court made this point clear in ''Bradley'', 13 Wall., at 357, where it stated " is erroneous matter in which
he court's He or HE may refer to: Language * He (pronoun) In Modern English, ''he'' is a Grammatical number, singular, Grammatical gender, masculine, Grammatical person, third-person personal pronoun, pronoun. Morphology In Standard English, Standar ...
jurisdiction was exercised, however it may have affected the validity of the act, did not make it any less a judicial act; nor did it render the defendant liable to answer in damages for it at the suit of the plaintiff, as though the court had proceeded without having any jurisdiction whatever....


Test of a "judicial act"

The majority opinion went on to decide that the factors determining whether an act by a judge is a judicial act "relate to the nature of the act itself": #whether it is a function normally performed by a judge; and #whether the parties dealt with the judge in his judicial capacity. In the view of the majority, Judge Stump's action passed this test. Even if his decision was erroneous, it was within his jurisdiction to consider Ora McFarlin's petition. Moreover, the parties dealt with Judge Stump in his capacity as a judge, not as a private individual. Accordingly, he could not be held liable for the consequences of his actions, even if they were arguably tragic.


The dissent


Justice Stewart's dissent

Associate Justice
Potter Stewart Potter Stewart (January 23, 1915 – December 7, 1985) was an American lawyer and judge who served as an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court from 1958 to 1981. During his tenure, he made major contributions to, among other areas ...
entered a vigorous dissent. Agreeing that judges of general jurisdiction enjoy absolute immunity for their judicial acts, he wrote, "...what Judge Stump did...was beyond the pale of anything that could sensibly be called a judicial act."''Stump'', 435 U.S. at 366 (Stewart, J., dissenting). Stating that it was "factually untrue" that what Judge Stump did was an act "normally performed by a judge", he wrote "...there is no reason to believe that such an act has ever been performed by any other Indiana judge, either before or since."''Stump'', 435 U.S. at 368 (Stewart, J., dissenting). Justice Stewart also denounced it as "legally unsound" to rule that Judge Stump had acted in a "judicial capacity". "A judge is not free, like a loose cannon", he wrote, "to inflict indiscriminate damage whenever he announces that he is acting in his judicial capacity." Concluding, Justice Stewart argued that the majority misapplied the law of the Pierson case:
Not one of the considerations...summarized in the Pierson opinion was present here. There was no "case," controversial or otherwise. There were no litigants. There was and could be no appeal. And there was not even the pretext of principled decision making. The total absence of any of these normal attributes of a judicial proceeding convinces me that the conduct complained of in this case was not a judicial act.


Justice Powell's dissent

Joining in Justice Stewart's opinion, Justice Lewis Powell filed a separate dissent that emphasized what he called "...the central feature of this case - Judge Stump's preclusion of any possibility for the vindication of respondents' rights elsewhere in the judicial system." Continuing, he wrote:
Underlying the Bradley immunity...is the notion that private rights can be sacrificed in some degree to the achievement of the greater public good deriving from a completely independent judiciary, because there exist alternative forums and methods for vindicating those rights. But where a judicial officer acts in a manner that precludes all resort to appellate or other judicial remedies that otherwise would be available, the underlying assumption of the Bradley doctrine is inoperative.


Legacy

The decision has been called one of the most controversial decisions in Supreme Court history. 2007 marked the centennial of the 1907 Indiana sterilization law, the first of its kind in the world. Although Linda Sparkman was not sterilized under any of the
eugenics Eugenics ( ; ) is a Fringe science, fringe set of beliefs and practices that aim to improve the genetics, genetic quality of a human population. Historically, eugenicists have attempted to alter human gene pools by excluding people and groups ...
laws still on the books in Indiana in 1971, she was invited to unveil a state historic marker describing the original law on April 12, 2007, in Indianapolis. Indiana repealed all laws concerning sterilization of the mentally ill in 1974.Public Law No. 60, Indiana Acts, 1974, p. 262.


See also

*'' Buck v. Bell'' *'' Skinner v. Oklahoma'' *
Absolute immunity In United States law The law of the United States The United States of America (U.S.A. or USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US) or America, is a country Continental United States, primarily located in North America. It ...
*
Compulsory sterilization Compulsory sterilization, also known as forced or coerced sterilization, is a government-mandated program to involuntarily sterilize a specific group of people. Sterilization removes a person's capacity to reproduce, and is usually done throug ...
*
Judicial discretion Judicial discretion is the power of the judiciary The judiciary (also known as the judicial system, judicature, judicial branch, judiciative branch, and court or judiciary system) is the system of courts that adjudication, adjudicates legal dispu ...
*
Judicial immunity Judicial immunity is a form of sovereign immunity, which protects judges and others employed by the judiciary from liability resulting from their judicial actions. Though judges have immunity from lawsuit, in constitutional democracies judicial m ...
*
Judicial misconduct Judicial misconduct occurs when a judge A judge is a person who wiktionary:preside, presides over court proceedings, either alone or as a part of a Judicial panel, panel of judges. A judge hears all the witnesses and any other Evidence (law), ...
* List of United States Supreme Court cases, volume 435 *
Miscarriage of justice A miscarriage of justice occurs when a grossly unfair outcome occurs in a criminal procedure, criminal or civil procedure, civil proceeding, such as the conviction and punishment of a person for a crime they actual innocence, did not commit. Mis ...


References


Further reading


Law review articles


J. Randolph Block, ''Stump v. Sparkman and the History of Judicial Immunity,'' Duke L.J. 879, No. 5 (1980)
*Irene Merker Rosenberg, ''Stump v. Sparkman: The Doctrine of Judicial Impunity,'' 64 Virginia L.Rev. 833 (1978) * Kessler, Laura T.
“A Sordid Case”: Stump v. Sparkman, Judicial Immunity, and the Other Side of Reproductive Rights

Archive
. '' Maryland Law Review''. Volume 74, Issue 4, Article 5. p. 833-920.


Books

*Jamie Renae Coleman and Paula Bateman Headley, ''The Blanket She Carried'', Bloomington, Indiana: AuthorHouse, 2003 contains Linda Sparkman's recollections of her childhood, although it does not directly address this case. *Joel D. Joseph, ''Black Mondays: Worst Decisions of the Supreme Court'', Bethesda, MD: National Press, 1987, pp. 247–257.


External links

*{{caselaw source , case=''Stump v. Sparkman'', {{ussc, 435, 349, 1978, el=no , courtlistener =https://www.courtlistener.com/opinion/109820/stump-v-sparkman/ , findlaw=http://laws.findlaw.com/us/435/349.html , justia=http://supreme.justia.com/us/435/349/case.html , oyez =https://www.oyez.org/cases/1977/76-1750 , openjurist =https://openjurist.org/435/us/349 , googlescholar =https://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=2488815873448369375 , loc =http://cdn.loc.gov/service/ll/usrep/usrep435/usrep435349/usrep435349.pdf
Indiana Eugenics: History and Legacy, 1907-2007Eugenics in IndianaIndiana Eugenics Law historical marker dedication, April 12, 2007
United States Supreme Court cases United States Supreme Court cases of the Burger Court United States children's rights case law United States disability case law DeKalb County, Indiana Auburn, Indiana United States reproductive rights case law 1978 in United States case law Eugenics in the United States United States judiciary case law Legal history of Indiana