The opinion of the court was delivered by: RICHEY
Before the court is defendant's motion to dismiss the complaint, or in the alternative for summary judgment, and memoranda in support thereof and opposition thereto. The basis of defendant's motion is that, as a duly appointed and authorized probation officer, he enjoys absolute quasi-judicial immunity for the investigation and preparation of a presentence report pursuant to a sentencing judge's request. Upon consideration of the motion, memoranda, and the entire record herein, and there being no material facts in dispute, the court concludes that the defendant is entitled to absolute immunity and therefore grants defendant's motion for summary judgment on plaintiff's legal claims. An additional hearing is required before the court can rule on plaintiff's equitable claims.
The plaintiff was convicted by a jury in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia on August 31, 1976, of second degree burglary while armed, assault with a dangerous weapon, and possession of a pistol without a license. Judgment was entered by the presiding judge, the Honorable Tim Murphy, who scheduled sentencing for September 29, 1976, to allow time for the preparation of a presentence report. The completed report was submitted to Judge Murphy on August 27, 1976. On October 6, 1976, the judge sentenced plaintiff to fifteen to forty-five years incarceration.
Plaintiff now contends
that a critical portion of the presentence report, the "Social History" section, contained false and erroneous information that persuaded Judge Murphy to impose an unduly harsh sentence. He attributes the inclusion of libelous material to defendant's gross negligence and carelessness in preparing the report.
Plaintiff further argues that he should not be denied redress for such a severe constitutional violation -- sentencing based on materially untrue assumptions -- due to defendant's status as a probation officer. See Townsend v. Burke, 334 U.S. 736, 740-41, 92 L. Ed. 1690, 68 S. Ct. 1252 (1948). The court agrees with plaintiff's premise that defendant's status alone is an insufficient basis for a finding of absolute immunity. However, the facts of this case clearly indicate that plaintiff is challenging defendant's performance, by delegation, of a judicial function that is an integral part of the judicial process. See Sup. Ct. Crim. R. 32(b). While acting in such a capacity, defendant is entitled to share a judge's absolute immunity. See Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, 55 L. Ed. 2d 331, 98 S. Ct. 1099 (1978); Barr v. Matteo, 360 U.S. 564, 569, 3 L. Ed. 2d 1434, 79 S. Ct. 1335 (1959). Cf. Pulliam v. Allen, 466 U.S. 522, 52 U.S.L.W. 4525, 80 L. Ed. 2d 565, 104 S. Ct. 1970 (1984) (judicial immunity does not bar prospective injunctive relief or an award of attorneys' fees under § 1983).
ABSOLUTE IMMUNITY EXTENDS TO PROBATION OFFICERS PERFORMING THEIR QUASI-JUDICIAL DUTIES
Absolute immunity has been extended to officials other than judges when their activities are integrally related to the judicial process and when they must exercise discretion comparable to a judge's. See, e.g., Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 47 L. Ed. 2d 128, 96 S. Ct. 984 (1976)(prosecutors initiating and pursuing a criminal prosecution); Simons v. Bellinger, 207 U.S. App. D.C. 24, 643 F.2d 774 (D.C. Cir. 1980)(members of committee appointed by Court of Appeals to monitor unauthorized practice of law); Ashbrook v. Hoffman, 617 F.2d 474 (7th Cir. 1980)(partition commissioners effecting a divorce settlement); Stift v. Lynch, 267 F.2d 237 (1959)(justices of the peace). A number of courts have determined that probation officers are similarly entitled to quasi-judicial immunity. See, e.g., Spaulding v. Nielsen, 599 F.2d 728 (5th Cir. 1979); Thompson v. Burke, 556 F.2d 231, 236 (3rd Cir. 1977)(collecting cases); Burkes v. Callion, 433 F.2d 318 (9th Cir. 1970), cert. denied, 403 U.S. 908, 29 L. Ed. 2d 685, 91 S. Ct. 2217 (1971); Hall v. Schaeffer, 556 F. Supp. 539 (E.D. Pa. 1983).
The Supreme Court has cautioned, however, that absolute immunity for judicial functions should be "extended no further than its justification would warrant." Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 811, 73 L. Ed. 2d 396, 102 S. Ct. 2727 (1982). See also Butz v. Economou, 438 U.S. 478, 57 L. Ed. 2d 895, 98 S. Ct. 2894 (1978). In assessing whether absolute immunity should shield this defendant, the court must consider three public policy factors: 1) the "functional comparability" of his judgments to those of a judge; 2) the nature of the controversy in which he participated, and 3) the adequacy of safeguards to control unconstitutional conduct. Simons, 643 F.2d at 778.
1. The probation officer's investigation and preparation of the presentence report is comparable to a judicial function
The presentence report is an integral part of the judicial function of sentencing. Spaulding, 599 F.2d at 729. Defendant acted at the request of the court and submitted the results of his investigation and evaluation to the sentencing judge for his consideration. A probation officer preparing a presentence report serves as the court's eyes and ears and must exercise discretion in conducting his investigation and making his recommendations, without fear of subsequent civil liability. Cf. Galvan v. Garmon, 710 F.2d 214 (5th Cir. 1983), cert. denied, 466 U.S. 949, 104 S. Ct. 2150, 80 L. Ed. 2d 536, 52 U.S.L.W. 3776 (1984) (probation officer entitled to only qualified immunity for mistakenly causing arrest for probation violation, acting without court direction and at a phase of the criminal process less intimately associated with the judiciary).
Plaintiff tries to segment the probation officer's responsibilities and argue that for the investigation -- as opposed to the analysis or recommendations -- a probation officer should be accorded only qualified immunity, and therefore be required to demonstrate his good faith.
Such a division of tasks is unpersuasive, however. The defendant here acted post-conviction, at the direct request of the sentencing judge, and submitted a report to the court. When a probation officer's actions are set in motion by a judge's request and he is directly accountable to the bench he is acting in a quasi-judicial capacity, and is therefore entitled to share the judge's absolute immunity.
2. Criminal sentencing is an "intense" controversy likely to lead to continuing harassment or intimidation by disappointed litigants
There can be no doubt that criminal defendants, dissatisfied with their sentences, would institute civil suits challenging the thoroughness and/or accuracy of the investigations conducted by probation officers preparing presentence reports. Probation officers would serve as a "lightning rod for harassing litigation' aimed at the court." Ashbrook, 617 F.2d at 476, quoting Kermit Construction Corp. v. Banco Credito Y Ahorro Ponceno, 547 F.2d 1, 3 (1st Cir. 1976). This threat would tend to impair their judgment and subject them to the overwhelming burden of defending themselves and demonstrating their good faith should they be protected by anything less than absolute immunity.
3. Other safeguards reduce the need for private damage actions as a means for controlling ...