DANIEL GROSS et al. v. M. JODI RELL et al., SC 18548

United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit


      Quasi-Judicial Immunity; Probate; Whether Absolute Quasi-Judicial Immunity Extends to Conservators Appointed by Probate Courts; Whether Absolute Quasi-Judicial Immunity Extends to Court-Appointed Attorneys for Conservatees.  In 2005, Daniel Gross, a resident of New York, was staying at his daughter's residence in Waterbury when he was admitted to Waterbury Hospital.  Nine days later, a hospital employee filed an application for appointment of conservator.  The probate court appointed Jonathan Newman to represent Gross.  At the hearing on the application, the probate court appointed Kathleen Donovan as conservator to manage Gross' estate and person.  Donovan placed Gross in a nursing home.  Subsequently, Gross filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, claiming that the probate court lacked jurisdiction to appoint a conservator for him because he was neither a domiciliary nor a resident of Connecticut.  The trial court granted the petition and terminated the conservatorship.  Thereafter, Gross filed this action in federal court, asserting federal and state law claims based on allegations that the probate judge signed a facially impossible order that did not comply with the law, that the court-appointed attorney disregarded his wishes to return to New York, that the court-appointed conservator forcibly kept him in a nursing home against medical advice and that the nursing home housed him with a violent roommate who attacked him.  The District Court dismissed the claims against the probate judge on the ground of absolute judicial immunity and the claims against the conservator and the court-appointed attorney on the basis of quasi-judicial immunity, finding that they were serving the judicial process.  As to the nursing home, while dismissing the civil rights conspiracy claims against it on the basis of quasi-judicial immunity, the court declined to dismiss the remaining statutory and tort claims on that ground, finding that those claims were based on discretionary acts that were not taken to comply with a probate court order.  Those claims were later dismissed on other grounds.  The Court of Appeals for  the Second Circuit upheld the dismissals of the federal and state law claims against the probate judge and the statutory and tort claims against the nursing home.  As to the state law claims against Newman and Donovan, the Second Circuit certified, and this court accepted, two questions regarding the availability of absolute quasi-judicial immunity under Connecticut law, namely, (1) whether such immunity extends to conservators appointed by the Connecticut Probate Courts, and (2) whether such immunity extends to attorneys appointed to represent respondents in conservatorship proceedings or to attorneys appointed to represent conservatees.  With respect to the federal law claims against Newman, Donovan and the nursing home, this court also accepted the following certified question: "What is the role of conservators, court-appointed attorneys for conservatees, and nursing homes in the Connecticut probate court system, in light of the six factors for determining quasi-judicial immunity outlined in Cleavinger v. Saxner, 474 U.S. 193, 201-02 (1985)?"