X

Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
The full case caption appears at the end of this opinion. OPINION OF THE COURT BARRY, Circuit Judge: This appeal requires us to decide whether judges ofcourts of limited jurisdiction, such as the New Jerseymunicipal courts, are afforded absolute immunity for theirjudicial acts. We hold that they are, as do all of the circuitcourts which have decided the issue. We further hold thatthe Municipal Court Judge’s actions which prompted thiscase were taken in a judicial capacity in a case over whichshe had jurisdiction. Accordingly, we will affirm. I. The facts underlying this appeal are brief, uncomplicated,and not in dispute. On July 8, 1996, plaintiff Robert DavidFigueroa (“Figueroa”) appeared before the defendant, theHonorable Audrey P. Blackburn, J.M.C., a municipal courtjudge in Trenton Municipal Court, Mercer County, NewJersey, for what was to have been his arraignment on twocounts of harassment, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4a,petty disorderly persons offenses. [FOOTNOTE 1] Figueroa was chargedwith the offenses after having sent a harassing letter anddocuments to two New Jersey Superior Court judges whohad previously handled his divorce and child custodydispute. At the outset, Figueroa told Judge Blackburn that he wasthere not to enter a plea but to challenge the jurisdiction ofthe Municipal Court over the offenses with which he wascharged. Before he could begin his argument, however,Judge Blackburn directed him — and directed him threetimes — to turn off his tape recorder. Figueroa did not doso. As a result, Judge Blackburn ordered that Figueroa bearrested and removed from the courtroom. The entireproceeding began and ended in a matter of minutes. [FOOTNOTE 2] In an order entered following Figueroa’s arrest, JudgeBlackburn held him in contempt of court, and sentencedhim to be imprisoned for thirty days at the Mercer CountyCorrections Center. She reasoned that
Mr. Figueroa refused to come forward to be arraigned on the charges which had been brought against him on April 12, 1996. He refused to be quiet. He was loud and disruptive and refused to comply with the orders of the court.

App. at 37. Although mandated to stay execution ofsentence by New Jersey Court Rule 1:10-1 (“Execution ofsentence shall be stayed for five days following impositionand, if an appeal is taken, during the pendency of theappeal, provided, however, that the judge may require bailif reasonably necessary to assure the contemnor’sappearance.”), Judge Blackburn did not do so. Nor didJudge Blackburn set bail.[FOOTNOTE 3] Figueroa, from jail and with the assistance of counsel,twice attempted to have Judge Blackburn stay the balanceof his sentence. Both times, however, his attempts wererebuffed. The second and last attempt came on July 19,1996, when Figueroa again appeared before JudgeBlackburn for the previously aborted arraignment on theharassment charges. In response to his request, JudgeBlackburn simply noted that the issue would be resolved bythe Superior Court. Figueroa filed an appeal to the Superior Court for a denovo review of his conviction and sentence for contempt. OnJuly 22, 1996, after having served fifteen days of a thirtyday sentence, he was granted a stay pending appeal andreleased on bail. Ultimately, his contempt conviction wasreversed. On August 14, 1996, while his appeal was pending,Figueroa appeared before a different municipal court judge,the Honorable Samuel Sachs, for trial on the harassmentcharges. Before trial began, however, Judge Sachsdiscussed a directive promulgated by the Honorable RobertN. Wilentz, the late-Chief Justice of the New JerseySupreme Court (the “Wilentz directive”), which provided forthe transfer of any case involving a complaint against or onbehalf of a judge or a member of his or her immediatefamily or any case in which a judge was to be a witness tothe assignment judge of the county in which the case wasdocketed. Because the assignment judge of Mercer Countywas an alleged victim of Figueroa’s harassment, JudgeSachs did not commence the trial but, rather, referred thecase to the Superior Court in Mercer County so that itcould be reassigned to an acting assignment judge ortransferred to a different county. The harassment chargeswere subsequently dismissed. Figueroa filed this action on July 29, 1998 in the UnitedStates District Court for the District of New Jersey. In theone-count complaint, in which Judge Blackburn is namedas the sole defendant, Figueroa seeks damages for thedeprivation of his constitutional rights under the First,Fourth, Sixth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to theUnited States Constitution, and Article I, paragraphs Sixth,Seventh, Tenth, and Twelfth of the New Jersey StateConstitution. The complaint alleges that Figueroa’s arrestfor contempt was contrary to the statutes and rules bywhich Judge Blackburn was bound and that at no time didshe have jurisdiction to do what she did. Judge Blackburn moved for summary judgment on theground that she was entitled to judicial immunity. With theconsent of the parties, and pursuant to 28 U.S.C.S 636(c)and Fed.R.Civ.P. 73, the motion was adjudicated byMagistrate Judge Freda L. Wolfson. On March 10, 1999, in a comprehensive opinion, theMagistrate Judge granted the motion for summaryjudgment. See Figueroa v. Blackburn, 39 F.Supp.2d 479,483 (D.N.J. 1999). She found, first, “that JudgeBlackburn’s order for Mr. Figueroa’s immediate arrest andher subsequent contempt order which sentenced [him] tothirty days in prison were indeed judicial acts.” Id. at 486.Next, she determined that although Judge Blackburn wasa judge of a court of limited jurisdiction, overwhelmingauthority supported a finding that she was entitled tojudicial immunity. She determined, as well, that JudgeBlackburn did not act in the clear absence of jurisdictionand rejected Figueroa’s argument that the Wilentz directivehad divested her of jurisdiction. Although a copy of thedirective had not been produced, the Magistrate Judgeassumed for purposes of decision that the directive existedand found:

[E]ven if the New Jersey Supreme Court prevented Judge Blackburn from hearing the merits of the two harassment charges, she retained the inherent authority both over her docket and the persons appearing before her to ultimately decide the jurisdiction issue raised by plaintiff.

Id. at 492. Finally, she found that although the contemptcitation was procedurally deficient, “the issue is not beforethis Court because the existence of procedural errors playsabsolutely no part in the judicial immunity analysis.” Id. at493, 495 (noting that “the public policy favoring the judicialimmunity doctrine outweighs any consideration given to thefact that a judge’s errors caused the deprivation of anindividual’s basic due process rights”).[FOOTNOTE 4] Figueroa filed a timely notice of appeal. We havejurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. S 1291. II. We review a grant of summary judgment de novo , viewingall facts and reasonable inferences drawn therefrom in thelight most favorable to the nonmoving party. See Arnold M.Diamond, Inc. v. Gulf Coast Trailing Co., 180 F.3d 518, 521(3d Cir. 1999). A motion for summary judgment shouldonly be granted when “there is no genuine issue as to anymaterial fact and . . . the moving party is entitled to ajudgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). Ourtask is to determine whether the moving party — here,Judge Blackburn — has shown ” ‘that there exists nogenuine issue of material fact that would permit areasonable jury to find for the nonmoving party.’ “ International Union, United Auto., Aerospace & Agric.Implement Workers of America v. Skinner Engine Co. , 188F.3d 130, 137 (3d Cir. 1999) (quoting Miller v. IndianaHosp., 843 F.2d 139, 143 (3d Cir. 1988)). We also review denovo the Magistrate Judge’s determination that JudgeBlackburn, as a judge of a court of limited jurisdiction,could be accorded judicial immunity, a purely legalquestion. See Carver v. Foerster, 102 F.3d 96, 99 (3d Cir.1996). Figueroa asserts, first, that municipal court judges arenot entitled to judicial immunity. Judicial immunity, theargument goes, is exclusive to judges of superior or generaljurisdiction and judges of limited or inferior jurisdiction, ifthey are protected at all, are protected only when actingwithin their jurisdiction. Even if municipal court judges can receive the protectionof judicial immunity, Figueroa continues, Judge Blackburnwas not entitled to immunity because she acted in theabsence of subject matter jurisdiction over the offenses withwhich he was charged. Figueroa invokes, first, the Wilentzdirective and asserts, second, that N.J. Ct. R. 1:10-1, asamended in 1994, eliminated a municipal court’s power toimmediately execute a sentence for contempt of court. [FOOTNOTE 5]Thus, he submits, Judge Blackburn did not havejurisdiction to order his immediate arrest without grantinga five-day stay of sentence and her act in so doing was,therefore, a nonjudicial act. [FOOTNOTE 6] A. It is a well-settled principle of law that judges aregenerally “immune from a suit for money damages.” Mirelesv. Waco, 502 U.S. 9, 9 (1991) (per curiam); see also Randallv. Brigham, 74 U.S. (7 Wall.) 523, 536 (1868) (“This doctrineis as old as the law, and its maintenance is essential to theimpartial administration of justice.”). The doctrine ofjudicial immunity is founded upon the premise that ajudge, in performing his or her judicial duties, should befree to act upon his or her convictions without threat of suitfor damages. See Bradley v. Fisher, 80 U.S. (13 Wall.) 335,347 (1872). The Supreme Court has made it clear that

“judges of courts of superior or general jurisdiction are not liable to civil actions for their judicial acts, even when such acts are in excess of their jurisdiction, and are alleged to have been done maliciously or corruptly.”

Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, 355-56 (1978) (quotingBradley, 80 U.S. (13 Wall.) at 351). As a result, a judge’simmunity from civil liability “is overcome in only two sets ofcircumstances. First, a judge is not immune from liabilityfor nonjudicial acts, i.e., actions not taken in the judge’sjudicial capacity. Second, a judge is not immune foractions, though judicial in nature, taken in the completeabsence of all jurisdiction.” Mireles, 502 U.S. at 11-12(citations omitted). While recognizing these principles, Figueroa contendsthat judges of courts of limited jurisdiction, as municipalcourt judges surely are, are not entitled to judicial immunity.[FOOTNOTE 7] In support of this contention, Figueroa relies on thefollowing excerpt from Bradley, which echoed the Court’searlier pronouncement in Randall, 74 U.S. (7 Wall.) at 535-36:

it was a general principle, applicable to all judicial officers, that they were not liable to a civil action for any judicial act done by them within their jurisdiction; that with reference to judges of limited and inferior authority it had been held that they were protected only when they acted within their jurisdiction; that if this were the case with respect to them, no such limitation existed with respect to judges of superior or general authority; that they were not liable in civil actions for their judicial acts, even when such acts were in excess of their jurisdiction.

80 U.S. (13 Wall.) at 351 (emphasis added). Notwithstanding this language, we decline Figueroa’sinvitation to distinguish between judges of limitedjurisdiction and those of general jurisdiction for purposes ofjudicial immunity based on dicta in cases decided well overone hundred years ago. See King v. Love, 766 F.2d 962,966 (6th Cir.) (“[A]ny statements made by the SupremeCourt about judges of courts having only limited or inferiorjurisdiction were dicta.”), cert. denied, 476 U.S. 971 (1985);see also Turner v. Raynes, 611 F.2d 92, 94 (5th Cir.)(opining that the Supreme Court’s pronouncements onimmunity for judges of courts of inferior or limitedjurisdiction have been “circumspect”), cert. denied, 449 U.S.900 (1980). The concept that judges exercising limitedjurisdiction are protected only when acting within theirjurisdiction has never been adopted by the Supreme Courtand was merely assumed in cases in which the issue wasnot pertinent to the disposition. See, e.g., Randall, 74 U.S.(7 Wall.) at 535-36 (addressing the immunity of a judge ofthe “Superior Court of Massachusetts . . . a court of generaljurisdiction”); see also Van Sickle v. Holloway, 791 F.2d143, 1435 (10th Cir. 1986)(suggesting that judges of courtsof limited jurisdiction are not immune when acting inexcess of jurisdiction); McClain v. Brown, 587 F.2d 389,390 (8th Cir. 1978) (same). Moreover, we do not believe thatfleeting references made long ago are indicative of how theSupreme Court would view the issue today. Cases of more recent vintage support our conclusionthat, for purposes of judicial immunity, there should not bea distinction between judges of courts of limited andgeneral jurisdiction. See Butz v. Economou, 438 U.S. 478,513 (1978) (according judicial immunity to hearing officersperforming adjudicatory functions within a federaladministrative agency); Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547, 553-55 (1967) (according judicial immunity to a local municipalpolice justice, concluding that “this settled principle of law”was not abolished by 42 U.S.C. S 1983). In Butz, forexample, the Court found “that adjudication within afederal administrative agency shares enough of thecharacteristics of the judicial process that those whoparticipate in such adjudication should also be immunefrom suits for damages.” 438 U.S. at 512-13 (noting that”[t]he conflicts which federal hearing examiners seek toresolve are every bit as fractious as those which come tothe court” and “[m]oreover, federal administrative lawrequires that agency adjudication contain many of the samesafeguards as are available in the judicial process.”). TheCourt also premised its conclusion that immunity wasappropriate on the fact that the role of a federal hearingofficer or an administrative law judge is ” ‘functionallycomparable’ to that of a judge.” Id. at 513. It is clear that the role of a judge of a court of limitedjurisdiction is “functionally comparable” to that of a judgeof a court of general jurisdiction. Furthermore, courts oflimited jurisdiction and courts of general jurisdiction aresimilar in many respects. In New Jersey, for example,municipal court proceedings are subject to de novo reviewby the Superior Court and the traditional avenues ofappellate review are thereafter available. See N.J. Ct. RR.3:23, 3:24, and 7:13-1. We simply do not believe that theSupreme Court would find judicial immunity appropriatefor executive branch officers exercising duties”functionallycomparable” to that of a judge, Butz, 438 U.S. at 513, yetfind it inappropriate for state judicial officers, albeit judicialofficers of limited powers. See Turner, 611 F.2d at 96(noting that “[i]f there exist anywhere adjudicativefunctionaries of specialized and limited powers, surely it isthese officers of the executive branch”). Moreover, we find persuasive the fact that all of our sistercircuit courts which have been presented with the issue ofwhether the doctrine of judicial immunity can be applied tojudges of courts of limited jurisdiction have concluded thatit can and, in so concluding, have not distinguishedbetween judges of courts of limited jurisdiction and courtsof general jurisdiction. See King, 766 F.2d at 968 (6th Cir.)(“[W]here a judge of a court of limited jurisdiction engagesin judicial acts in deciding a case over which the court hassubject matter jurisdiction, he is absolutely immune fromsuits for damages even if he exceeds his authority or hisjurisdiction.”); Turner, 611 F.2d at 97 (5th Cir.) (holdingthat justice of the peace “is entitled to the same immunity. . . he would be accorded were he the magistrate of asuperior court”); see also Cok v. Cosentino , 876 F.2d 1, 2(1st Cir. 1989) (per curiam)(holding that a family courtjustice is without question “protected by absolute immunityfrom civil liability for any normal and routine judicial act”);Pressly v. Gregory, 831 F.2d 514, 517 (4th Cir. 1987)(applying judicial immunity to bar plaintiff ‘s claims againststate magistrate judges); Dykes v. Hosemann, 776 F.2d942, 945 (11th Cir. 1985) (en banc) (per curiam) (accordingjudicial immunity to state juvenile court judge), cert.denied, 479 U.S. 983 (1986); O’Neil v. City of Lake Oswego,642 F.2d 367, 369 (9th Cir. 1981) (concluding thatmunicipal court judge was entitled to judicial immunitydespite the fact that he acted in excess of jurisdiction);Lopez v. Vanderwater, 620 F.2d 1229, 1234 (7th Cir.)(according judicial immunity to state associate judge), cert.denied, 449 U.S. 1028 (1980). [FOOTNOTE 8] We, too, have previouslyupheld, albeit without much discussion, the grant ofjudicial immunity to a state justice of the peace and did notquestion the applicability of the doctrine to him. SeePennebaker v. Chamber, 437 F.2d 66, 67 (3d Cir. 1971) (percuriam) (“We think the action against the Justice of thePeace was properly dismissed as legally frivolous becausehe was sued for actions connected with the discharge of hisjudicial duties and was therefore immune from such suit.”). Finally, we are convinced that the policy reasons foraccording judges judicial immunity are equally asconvincing with respect to judges exercising limitedjurisdiction as they are with respect to those exercisinggeneral jurisdiction. As the Supreme Court has noted, “thedoctrine of judicial immunity is thought to be in the bestinterests of ‘the proper administration of justice . . . [,for itallows] a judicial officer, in exercising the authority vestedin him [to] be free to act upon his own convictions, withoutapprehension of personal consequences to himself.’ “Stump, 435 U.S. at 363 (quoting Bradley, 80 U.S. (13 Wall.)at 347). Irrespective of a judge’s status in the hierarchy ofthe judicial system, the need for independence and forfreedom from the threat of a suit for damages is anindispensable ingredient in the proper administration ofjustice. Cf. Butz, 438 U.S. at 511 (“Judges have absoluteimmunity not because of their particular location within theGovernment but because of the special nature of theirresponsibilities.”). B. Having concluded as a matter of law that judges of courtsof limited jurisdiction are entitled to the protection of thedoctrine of judicial immunity, we must now determinewhether the immunity to which Judge Blackburn wasentitled was otherwise overcome. As we have alreadyindicated, a judge’s “immunity is overcome in only two setsof circumstances. First, a judge is not immune from liabilityfor nonjudicial acts, i.e., actions not taken in the judge’sjudicial capacity. Second, a judge is not immune foractions, though judicial in nature, taken in the completeabsence of all jurisdiction.” Mireles, 502 U.S. at 11-12(citations omitted). The facts of this case persuade us thatneither set of circumstances is present here. We address, first, Figueroa’s contention that JudgeBlackburn’s order that the sentence for contempt of courtbe executed on the spot was not a judicial act because shewas not empowered to order any such thing. Figueroacorrectly notes that the power of a New Jersey state judgeto order the immediate service of a sentence for contemptis restricted by N.J. Ct. R. 1:10-1, which states that”[e]xecution of sentence shall be stayed forfive daysfollowing imposition” to allow the defendant to appeal andis further stayed if an appeal is, in fact, taken. Id. ThatJudge Blackburn may have erred in immediately orderingFigueroa to prison, however, does not alter the judicialnature of the act. Factors which determine whether an act is a “judicial act”"relate to the nature of the act itself, i.e. , whether it is afunction normally performed by a judge, and to theexpectation of the parties, i.e., whether they dealt with thejudge in his judicial capacity.” Stump, 435 U.S. at 362.There can be little doubt that holding an individual incontempt is an act normally performed by a judge. See N.J.Ct. R. 1:10-1 (granting “[a] judge conducting a judicialproceeding . . . [the power to] adjudicate contemptsummarily without an order to show cause”); DePiero v. Cityof Macedonia, 180 F.3d 770, 784 (6th Cir. 1999) (“The actof citing and incarcerating a party for contempt of courtwhere the court has subject matter jurisdiction over thecharge is also a judicial act to which absolute immunityattaches.”), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 120 S. Ct. 844 (2000);Homola v. McNamara, 59 F.3d 647 (7th Cir. 1995) (holdingthe same); Crooks v. Maynard, 913 F.2d 699, 700 (9th Cir.1990) (declaring that judge’s act of holding defendant incontempt “was clearly performing a judicial act”).Furthermore, because Figueroa was brought before JudgeBlackburn for the purpose of being arraigned, he wasbefore her and dealing with her in her judicial capacity.Ordering him to prison was a paradigm judicial act, andthat act does not become nonjudicial because it was wrong. Neither, as the Magistrate Judge properly concluded, didJudge Blackburn act in the complete absence ofjurisdiction. See Figueroa, 39 F.Supp.2d at 495. TheSupreme Court has instructed that in determining thescope of a judge’s jurisdiction, that jurisdiction

must be construed broadly where the issue is the immunity of the judge. A judge will not be deprived of immunity because the action he took is in error, was done maliciously, or was in excess of his authority; rather, he will be subject to liability only when he has acted in the ‘clear absence of all jurisdiction.’

Stump, 435 U.S. at 356-57 (quoting Bradley, 80 U.S. (13Wall.) at 351). Generally, therefore, ” ‘where a court hassome subject matter jurisdiction, there is sufficientjurisdiction for immunity purposes.’ ” Barnes v. Winchell,105 F.3d 1111, 1122 (6th Cir. 1997). There is, of course, adifference between an act in excess of jurisdiction and onein the absence of jurisdiction:

[I]f a probate judge, with jurisdiction over only wills and estates, should try a criminal case, he would be acting in the clear absence of jurisdiction and would not be immune from liability for his action; on the other hand, if a judge of a criminal court should convict a defendant of a nonexistent crime, he would merely be acting in excess of his jurisdiction and would be immune.

Stump, 435 U.S. at 357 n.7. Pursuant to a statutory grant of authority, municipalcourts have jurisdiction over “[d]isorderly persons offenses,petty disorderly persons offenses and other non-indictableoffenses except where exclusive jurisdiction is given to theSuperior Court.” N.J.S.A. 2B:12-17. Figueroa was chargedwith two counts of violating N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4a, a pettydisorderly person’s offense. See supra note 1. JudgeBlackburn clearly had jurisdiction over such matters. Figueroa argues, however, that even if ordering him to jailwas a judicial act, Judge Blackburn did not havejurisdiction to do so because of the Wilentz directive. He iswrong. Judge Blackburn was presiding over a case, thesubject matter of which fell within her jurisdiction. As acase properly on her docket and with the proper partyappearing before her, Judge Blackburn had, at a minimum,the power to manage the case and dispose of any issuesrelating to jurisdiction. Cf. In re Orthopedic”Bone Screw”Prods. Liab. Litig., 132 F.3d 152, 156 (3d Cir. 1997). Evenif all she could or should have done was recognize thatthere was a directive requiring the case to be removed fromthe Municipal Court and transferred to the assignmentjudge of the Superior Court of the county, Judge Blackburnhad jurisdiction to make that preliminary determination.Cf. id. (“[D]espite this inability of a court to decide themerits of a case over which it lacks jurisdiction, a courtdoes have inherent authority both over its docket and overthe persons appearing before it.”). It is simply irrelevant forpurposes of jurisdiction whether that determination wasright or wrong. Here, of course, Judge Blackburn did not decide theeffect of the directive, if any, on her jurisdiction and it doesnot appear that the directive was ever presented to her. Itmatters not whether that failure, if failure it be, was forthat reason or because of Figueroa’s conduct before her orher haste in holding him in contempt. [FOOTNOTE 9] What matters is thatJudge Blackburn had jurisdiction to preside at thearraignment of offenses which fell within her jurisdiction.To find otherwise would require a judge to refrain fromexercising jurisdiction prior to determining whetherjurisdiction, in fact, exists. Finally, we reject Figueroa’s argument that JudgeBlackburn’s failure to grant him the five-day stay requiredby N.J. Ct. R. 1:10-1, because it was in error, was an acttaken in the absence of jurisdiction. Taken to its logicalextreme, the argument is that whenever a judge makes anerror of law or procedure in a matter properly before him orher, that judge is not entitled to judicial immunity or,stated somewhat differently, a judge does not havejurisdiction to make a mistake. That, of course, ispreposterous. Judge Blackburn’s failure to adhere to therequirements of N.J. Ct. R. 1:10-1 was, without question,as the Magistrate Judge found, an “inexplicable” proceduralflaw. See Figueroa, 39 F. Supp. 2d at 494. It was, however,at most, an act taken in excess of jurisdiction, just as if ajudge had imposed a sentence beyond the statutory limitor, recalling the Supreme Court’s illustration in Stump, ajudge had convicted a defendant of a nonexistent offense.See Tucker v. Outwater, 118 F.3d 930, 936 (2d Cir.)(declaring that a judge’s failure to follow local proceduralrules in arraigning a defendant is an act in excess ofjurisdiction, but such “mistakes are precisely the kind of’procedural errors,’ albeit ‘grave,’ that do not deprive ajudge of subject matter jurisdiction — or judicialimmunity”) (quoting Stump, 435 U.S. at 359), cert. denied,522 U.S. 997 (1997). Because Judge Blackburn hadjurisdiction over the matter before her, she had jurisdictionto err and is entitled to judicial immunity. III. In sum, we hold that, with respect to the doctrine ofjudicial immunity, there is no distinction between judges ofcourts of limited jurisdiction and judges of courts of generaljurisdiction. Moreover, Judge Blackburn’s actions werejudicial acts taken in a matter over which she hadjurisdiction. We, therefore, will affirm. A True Copy: Teste: Clerk of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit FOOTNOTES FN1 Under N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4a, it is a petty disorderly persons offense if anyperson, “with purpose to harass another, . . . [m]akes, or causes to bemade, a communication or communications anonymously or atextremely inconvenient hours, or in offensively coarse language, or anyother manner likely to cause annoyance or alarm.” Id. FN2 The proceeding was recorded: UNKNOWN-SPEAKER: Robert Figueroa? THE COURT: Robert Figueroa? MR. FIGUEROA: There is a Robert David Figueroa. However — there’s a Robert David Figueroa, however, I’m not here entering a plea. I’m her to challenge jurisdiction – THE COURT: Sir, would you come forward, please? MR. FIGUEROA: Thank you, Your Honor. THE COURT: And turn off the tape recorder. MR. FIGUEROA: Excuse me, Judge – THE COURT: Turn off the tape recorder. MR. FIGUEROA: Excuse me, Judge. I’d like to start it — and basically – THE COURT: Excuse me, sir. Turn off the tape recorder, and — and come forward. MR. FIGUEROA: Excuse me, Judge – THE COURT: Officer, just arrest that man, please. MR. FIGUEROA: — first of all, it’s a county jurisdiction. THE COURT: Officer – MR. FIGUEROA: I have papers here. THE COURT: Officer, would you just arrest him, please? OFFICER: Yes, Your Honor. THE COURT: Thank you. MR. FIGUEROA: Excuse me, Judge? I’m challenging– I’m challenging jurisdiction of the Court — pardon? UNKNOWN-SPEAKER: Follow him. THE COURT: Just follow the officer, please. App. at 34-36. FN3 By failing to follow the requirements of N.J. Ct. R. 1:10-1, JudgeBlackburn hampered Figueroa’s ability to seek the immediate appellatereview intended by the rule. See App. at 178 (Report of theSubcommittee on Summary Contempt) (stating that the automatic stayrequirement was proposed because “ordinarily litigants and others in thecourtroom should not be peremptorily jailed prior to an opportunity forappellate review”). FN4 The Magistrate Judge also noted that “this Court is not the correctforum in which [Figueroa can] obtain relief,” and suggested that “theappropriate avenue is to proceed against defendant before the AdvisoryCommittee on Judicial Conduct.” Figueroa, 39 F. Supp. 2d at 495 n.10. FN5 It should be noted that N.J. Ct. R. 1:10-1 is not limited to municipalcourt judges. Pursuant to the rule, all state judges must stay executionof a contempt sentence. FN6 Figueroa also submits that judicial immunity was not appropriatebecause, as a result of Judge Blackburn’s actions, appellate review couldbe neither meaningful nor effective. In this connection, he argues thatJudge Blackburn’s failure to comply with N.J. Ct. R. 1:10-1 deprived himof his liberty without the ability to appeal — an error that could not besubsequently corrected on appeal. For the same reasons that we rejectFigueroa’s other contentions, we reject this one and will not discuss itfurther. FN7 There is no dispute that Judge Blackburn, as a municipal court judge,is a judge of a court of limited jurisdiction. Municipal courts in NewJersey are statutorily created pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2B:12-1. Their limitedjurisdiction is set forth at N.J.S.A. 2B:12-17:

A municipal court has jurisdiction over the following cases within the territorial jurisdiction of the court: a. Violation of county or municipal ordinances; b. Violation of the motor vehicle and traffic laws; c. Disorderly persons offenses, petty disorderly p ersons offenses and other non-indictable offenses except where exclusive jurisdiction is given to the Superior Court; d. Violations of the fish and game laws; e. Proceedings to collect a penalty where jurisdiction is granted by statute; f. Violations of laws regulating boating; and g. Any other proceedings where jurisdiction is granted by statute.

Id. FN8 Illinois associate judges are permitted to “hear misdemeanor cases butnot felony cases without special designation.” Lopez, 620 F.2d at 1234n.5. FN9 To be sure, Judge Blackburn’s actions in this case ignored the NewJersey Supreme Court’s protocol for exercising summary contemptpowers. See In re Daniels, 118 N.J. 51 (1990) (per curiam). The Court inDaniels declared: “With few exceptions, every contempt calls for anexplanation. Thus, even in summary contempt proceedings [thedefendant] should be informed of the charge and given an opportunityeither to dispel any possible misunderstanding or to present anyexculpatory facts that are not known to the court.” Id. at 62. At the timeof Figueroa’s arrest, Judge Blackburn neither provided him with areason for his arrest nor permitted him the opportunity to explain hisactions. See supra note 2.


Figueroa v. Blackburn Filed March 27, 2000 UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE THIRD CIRCUIT No. 99-5252 ROBERT DAVID FIGUEROA, Appellant v. AUDREY P. BLACKBURN ON APPEAL FROM THEUNITED STATES DISTRICT COURTFOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY D.C. Civ. No.: 98-3041 Magistrate Judge: The Honorable Freda L. Wolfson Argued: January 11, 2000 Before: BECKER, Chief Judge, ALITO andBARRY, Circuit Judges (Opinion Filed: March 27, 2000) Elizabeth Macron, Esquire (Argued) 1807 Grand Central Avenue P.O. Box 146 Lavallette, NJ 08735 Attorney for Appellant Lyle P. Hough, Jr., Esq. (Argued) City of Trenton 319 East State Street City Hall Trenton, NJ 08608 Attorney for Appellee
 
Reprints & Licensing
Mentioned in a Law.com story?

License our industry-leading legal content to extend your thought leadership and build your brand.

More From ALM

Premium Subscription

With this subscription you will receive unlimited access to high quality, online, on-demand premium content from well-respected faculty in the legal industry. This is perfect for attorneys licensed in multiple jurisdictions or for attorneys that have fulfilled their CLE requirement but need to access resourceful information for their practice areas.
View Now

Team Accounts

Our Team Account subscription service is for legal teams of four or more attorneys. Each attorney is granted unlimited access to high quality, on-demand premium content from well-respected faculty in the legal industry along with administrative access to easily manage CLE for the entire team.
View Now

Bundle Subscriptions

Gain access to some of the most knowledgeable and experienced attorneys with our 2 bundle options! Our Compliance bundles are curated by CLE Counselors and include current legal topics and challenges within the industry. Our second option allows you to build your bundle and strategically select the content that pertains to your needs. Both options are priced the same.
View Now

BenefitsPRO Broker Expo 2021

May 18, 2021 - August 18, 2021
Virtual / San Diego, CA

The premier educational and networking event for employee benefits brokers and agents.


Register

African Legal Awards 2021

September 03, 2021
TBD

The African Legal Awards are set out to recognise exceptional achievement from Africa s legal elite.


Register

General Counsel Summit (GCS) 2021

September 07, 2021 - September 08, 2021
Sydney

General Counsel Summit is the premier event for in-house counsel, hosting esteemed legal minds from all sectors of the economy.


Register

Attorney

Newark, Nj Or New York, Ny, New Jersey, United States

Gibbons is seeking an associate with six (6) or more years of experience, practicing in New Jersey and New York, in Products /Liability/Phar...


Apply Now ›

Litigation Attorney

Central New Jersey, New Jersey, United States

Established Central New Jersey law firm seeks an associate with two to five years' experience to join the Plaintiff Personal Injury Departme...


Apply Now ›

Attorney

Newark, New Jersey, United States

Gibbons is seeking an associate with three (3) or more years of experience practicing in employment law with particular emphasis on employme...


Apply Now ›

FLB LAW

08/02/2021
Connecticut Law Tribune


View Announcement ›

VAN DER VEEN, O NEILL, HARTSHORN, AND LEVIN

07/27/2021
TLI Web

VAN DER VEEN, O NEILL, HARTSHORN, AND LEVIN is pleased to welcome Frank Breitman, Esq. a talented and respected litigator to our ranks of trial lawyers.


View Announcement ›

HARWOOD LLOYD, LLC

07/26/2021
NJLJ Web

HARWOOD LLOYD, LLC Welcomes Beth L. Barnhard, Esq. Beth has joined the firm as Counsel in the Wills, Trusts and Estates Department. She is Certified to be an Elder Law Attorney (CELA) by the ABAaccredited National Elder Law Foundation.


View Announcement ›