Gordon & Rees Phoenix Team Prevails on Motion to Dismiss in $16 Million Section 1983 Case

March 2023

Gordon Rees Scully Mansukhani Partner Kira N. Barrett, Senior Counsel Mary M. Curtin and Associate Steven D. Crocchi prevailed on a motion to dismiss on behalf of a court-appointed guardian ad litem in a $16 million § 1983 case.

The plaintiffs, a father and his minor children, were involved in a dependency action where the minor children were removed from their father’s care. A guardian ad litem (“GAL”) was appointed on behalf of the minor children. The children were found dependent, but this finding was later vacated by the Arizona Court of Appeals. The juvenile court then permitted the GAL to file a new dependency petition. The plaintiffs alleged that the new dependency petition filed by the GAL was improper. While the dependency was pending, the father obtained an out-of-state court order awarding him sole custody of the children. The Arizona Court of Appeals eventually found that the out-of-state court had sole jurisdiction and dismissed the dependency action again. Thereafter, the plaintiffs sued more than a dozen defendants who were involved in the dependency action, including the GAL.

The plaintiffs asserted eighteen different causes of action against these various defendants in the United States District Court, District of Arizona. As to the GAL, the plaintiffs asserted causes of action for malicious prosecution and violation of the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights under § 1983. The GAL moved to dismiss the complaint arguing that she was absolutely immune from suit as a court-appointed GAL. The plaintiffs argued that the GAL was not entitled to immunity because the Arizona Court of Appeals vacated the initial dependency order and the appointment therefore ended when the dependency was dismissed. The plaintiffs also argued that the GAL was not entitled to absolute immunity because she acted in bad faith.

In her reply, the GAL argued that the juvenile court’s dismissal of the initial dependency action did not terminate the GAL’s appointment and that, even if the GAL appointment was terminated, all conduct occurred before the alleged termination of her appointment. The GAL also argued that there is no “bad faith exception” to absolute immunity.

The District Court agreed with the GAL and found that she was absolutely immune from suit because even when the initial dependency was dismissed, she was acting at the direction of the juvenile court. The District Court also found that there is no “bad faith exception” to absolute immunity. The District Court therefore dismissed all of the plaintiffs’ claims against the GAL with prejudice.