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Federal court dismisses suit against judge

October 30, 2008

A federal judge has thrown out a lawsuit against an Allen Circuit judge because the judge was entitled to judicial immunity in a suit filed by a pro se plaintiff disgruntled about a small claims ruling. 

U.S District Judge Rudy Lozano in the Northern District of Indiana dismissed with prejudice Tim S. Stefanski's suit against Allen Circuit Judge Thomas J. Felts Tuesday. Stefanski claimed the judge denied his right to a jury trial, right to legal counsel, and that his wages are being garnished in violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practice Act.

Judge Felts, entered a judgment against Stefanski and initiated garnishment proceedings to satisfy the judgment from the Small Claims Division of the Allen Superior Court.

Stefanski claimed in Tim S. Stefanski v. Martha M. McDermott and Thomas J. Felts, No. 1:08-cv-00123, because of the collections practices, he was unable to pay his rent and was evicted. He sought monetary and punitive damages against the judge.

Judge Felts is immune from liability in this case because the alleged illegal acts claimed by Stefanski were actions taken within his judicial discretion, wrote Judge Lozano. On this reason alone, the claims against Judge Felts can be dismissed. But the claims are also barred by the 11th Amendment because the judge was being sued in his official capacity and under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine that states lower federal courts generally don't have the power to exercise appellate review over state court decisions.

Stefanski had also filed a similar suit against Allen Superior Magistrate Judge Brian Cook after the magistrate judge entered judgment against Stefanski and initiated garnishment proceedings against him. That suit was also dismissed because the magistrate judge was entitled to absolute judicial immunity.

Judge Lozano noted that claims against Martha McDermott remain pending.

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