FROM THE SEBASTIAN COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT. NO. CV 13-740 (V).
HONORABLE KIRK D. JOHNSON, JUDGE.
Swindle and Robert Tschiemer, for appellant.
Miller, Kieklak, Eichmann & Brown, P.A., by: Thomas
Kieklak, for appellee.
HUDSON GOODSON, Associate Justice. BRILL, C.J., and
DANIELSON, J., concur.
COURTNEY HUDSON GOODSON, Associate Justice
case is an appeal from the Sebastian County Circuit
Court's grant of summary judgment in favor of appellee
David Hudson against appellant Ken Blevins on his complaint
against Hudson for abuse of process and false light. Blevins
raises ten points on appeal: (1) summary judgment was
inappropriate while discovery was ongoing; (2) Hudson did not
make a prima facie case for summary judgment; (3) factual
issues existed as to Hudson's motive, intent, and malice;
(4) Hudson was not entitled to absolute immunity; (5) Hudson
was not entitled to qualified immunity; (6) factual issues
existed regarding whether Hudson's conduct caused injury
or damages; (7) Hudson's actions violated constitutional
and statutory boundaries; (8) Hudson denied Blevins
substantive due process; (9) Hudson's actions were ultra
vires; and (10) the Association of Arkansas Counties also
faces liability. Because Hudson is entitled to immunity on
all of Blevins's claims, we affirm the circuit
court's grant of summary judgment.
record reflects that Blevins was elected as Sebastian County
Circuit Clerk and took office on January 1, 2011. At that
time, Hudson served as the county judge for Sebastian County.
In April 2011, several deputy clerks working for Blevins
filed letters with Hudson alleging that Blevins was sexually
harassing them and requesting grievance hearings, as
authorized by the Sebastian County Employment Handbook.
According to the handbook, Hudson, as the county judge, was
responsible for appointing three members to the grievance
committee to hear the complaint. Accordingly, Hudson
appointed the committee, which held a hearing in May 2011.
The committee ultimately issued a unanimous decision that
Blevins had sexually harassed the employees, and it ordered
Blevins to issue a formal apology.
in November 2011, Blevins sought to terminate two of the
deputy clerks who had participated in the grievance hearing
against him earlier in the year. The two deputy clerks filed
grievance letters with Hudson, requesting a hearing. Hudson
appointed three new members to the grievance committee, and
following the hearing, the committee determined that Blevins
had attempted to unlawfully retaliate against the deputy
clerks for their participation in the previous grievance
hearing. Following the committee's determination, Hudson
entered an order making conclusions of law, incorporating the
factual findings of the grievance committee, and requiring
Blevins to continue the employment of the deputy clerks, but
Blevins indicated that he would not do so. Subsequently, the
six circuit judges of Sebastian County issued an order
adopting Hudson's order and mandating Blevins to comply.
Blevins did not appeal this decision.
July 2013, Blevins filed the instant lawsuit against Hudson,
alleging that Hudson abused the grievance process and that
Hudson had made statements regarding the grievance hearings
that placed Blevins in a false light and contributed to his
ultimate defeat in the next election. Blevins named Hudson in
his official and individual capacities, as well as the
Association of Arkansas Counties, as the liability insurer
for Sebastian County.
filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the
grievance proceedings amounted to an ultra wires assertion of
power by Hudson, as an administrative county judge, over
Blevins, an elected official of a judicial district in
violation of Arkansas Code Annotated § 14-14-101 (Repl.
2013). Hudson and the Association of Arkansas Counties also
filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that Hudson was
entitled to absolute immunity because he was acting in his
official capacity as county judge, as well as qualified
immunity in his individual capacity. The motion also alleged
that the Association of Arkansas Counties had no liability
because Blevins did not allege an illegal county custom or
policy. Finally, Hudson alleged that Blevins was barred from
attacking the findings of the grievance committees because he
did not appeal those findings, and that his claim for false
light was barred by the one-year statute of limitations
because over eighteen months had passed since Hudson made the
alleged statements about the grievance proceedings. The
circuit court granted the defendants' motion for summary
judgment, and Blevins filed this appeal.
circuit court may grant summary judgment only when it is
apparent that no genuine issues of material fact exist
requiring litigation and that the moving party is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law. Hotel Assocs., Inc. v.
Rieves, Rubens & Mayton, 2014 Ark. 254, 435 S.W.3d
488. Once the moving party has established a prima facie
entitlement to summary judgment, the opposing party must meet
proof with proof and demonstrate the existence of a material
issue of fact. Davis v. City of Blytheville, 2015
Ark. 482, 478 S.W.3d 214. This court views the evidence in
the light most favorable to the party against whom the motion
was filed, resolving all doubts and inferences against the
moving party. Lipsey v. Giles, 2014 Ark. 309, 439
S.W.3d 13. The burden is not on the moving party to
demonstrate that every fact is undisputed, but to show that
reasonable minds could not differ as to the conclusion to be
drawn from them. Early v. Crockett, 2014 Ark. 278,
436 S.W.3d 141. Summary judgment is also appropriate when the
circuit court finds that the allegations, taken as true, fail
to state a cause of action. Sullins v. Cent. Ark.
Water, 2015 Ark. 29');">2015 Ark. 29, 454 S.W.3d 727.
circuit court properly granted summary judgment to Hudson
because he was entitled to immunity on all claims raised by
Blevins. Blevins challenges three of Hudson's activities:
First, Hudson's appointment of members to the grievance
committees; second, his entry of the order directing Blevins
to continue the employment of the deputy clerks; and third,
Hudson's statements to the public regarding the findings
of the grievance committees. When a public officer is granted
discretion and empowered to exercise his independent
judgment, like a judge, he becomes a quasi-judicial officer
and may enjoy judicial immunity when he is acting within the
scope of his authority. Chambers v. Stem, 338 Ark.
332, 994 S.W.2d 463 (1999). Judicial immunity is absolute
immunity from suit. Hall v. Jones, 2015 Ark. 2, 453
S.W.3d 674. The rationale behind judicial immunity is to
maintain an independent and impartial judiciary.
Chambers, supra. We have adopted the following
factors for determining whether an action is judicial for
purposes of judicial immunity: (a) the need to assure that
the individual can perform his functions without harassment
or intimidation; (b) the presence of safeguards that reduce
the need for private-damages actions as a means of
controlling unconstitutional conduct; (c) insulation from
political influence; (d) the importance of precedent; (e) the
adversary nature of the process; and (f) the correctability
of error on appeal. Robinson v. Langdon, 333 Ark.
662, 970 S.W.2d 292 (1998) (citing Cleavinger v.
Saxner, 474 U.S. 193, 106 S.Ct. 496, 88 L.Ed.2d 507
held that an administrative law judge was entitled to
judicial immunity where the undisputed facts showed that her
job " required her to administer oaths to witnesses,
rule on evidentiary matters, rule on objections, and issue
findings and conclusions of law in a final order."
Langdon, 333 Ark. at 669, 970 S.W.2d at 295.
Similarly, in this case, Hudson is entitled to judicial
immunity for any claims arising from the entry of the order
against Blevins. Hudson's order makes numerous
conclusions of law regarding the jurisdiction of the county
court over the matter and the power of the quorum court to
control the employees of the circuit clerk. The order also
incorporates the factual findings of the grievance committee,
applies the applicable standards, and issues a directive for
action. Finally, both Hudson's order as well as the order
entered by the circuit court judges of Sebastian County note
that Hudson was acting in his judicial capacity in entering
the order. Utilizing our criteria enumerated above, it is
clear that there is a need for county judges to be free from
harassment and intimidation and insulated from political
influence when they enter orders in a judicial capacity.
Additionally, the hearing before the grievance committee was
an adversarial process, and any error in that process could
have been corrected through an appeal. Although the
concurrence argues that Hudson is not entitled to judicial
immunity because he did not actually preside over the
hearing, this fact is immaterial because Blevins has
challenged Hudson's entry of the order. As noted above,
the entry of the order was a quasi-judicial action because it
required Hudson to make conclusions of law, incorporate
findings of fact, and render a judgment in the matter.
Accordingly, Hudson was performing a quasi-judicial function
when he entered the order requiring Blevins to retain the
employees, and he is entitled to judicial immunity against
claims arising from that action.
the remaining activities, Hudson is entitled to qualified
immunity. Qualified immunity shields government officials
from liability for civil damages when they are performing
discretionary functions " insofar as their conduct does
not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional
rights of which a reasonable person would have known."
Wilson v. Layne, 526 U.S. 603, 609, 119 S.Ct. 1692,
143 L.Ed.2d 818 ...