Litigants often want to sue a court-appointed official, whether it be a guardian ad litem, an attorney for the child, an accounting expert or another kind of expert practitioner who is inserted into the case. When those practitioners are attorneys, the question of privity arises; when they are not, the question of whether they are immune from suit needs to be examined. In Saucedo v Pierangelo 2018 NY Slip Op 31750(U) July 24, 2018 Supreme Court, New York County Docket Number: 160330/2016 Judge William Franc Perry explains judicial immunity for a “parenting coordinator.”
“Plaintiff commenced this negligence/malpractice action against defendant, Roger Pierangelo, a Nassau County Parent Coordinator, during the pendency ofa custody action in Nassau County Supreme Court. In the custody action, the Nassau County Supreme Court so ordered a stipulation on January JO, 2012 between the child’s parents directing, among other things, that the parties retain a Parent Coordinator, defendant herein.
Defendant now moves for an order pursuant to CPLR §321 l(a)(7), dismissing the complaint on the grounds that it fails to state a cause of action and on the grounds that the Eleventh Amendment bars plaintiff from seeking damages against defendant, since he was, at all times stated within the complaint, acting in his quasi-official capacity as a Court-approved Nassau County Parent Coordinator, and as such should be afforded judicial immunity from the instant action. Defendant also seeks an order pursuant to CPLR §321 l(a)(J); CPLR §321 J(d); and CPLR §321 l(a)(S), dismissing the action on the grounds that it is time barred by the applicable statute of limitations. ”
“Defendant’s motion to dismiss the complaint must be granted as plaintiffs action is barred by the doctrine of judicial immunity. It is well settled that individuals serving in judicial capacities as well as those who are delegated judicial or “quasi-judicial” functions are_ immune from civil suits based on any actions taken in their official capacities. See Mosher-Simons v. County of Allegany, 99 N.Y.2d 214, 220, 783 N.E.2d 509, 753 N.Y.S.2d 444 (2002). This judicial immunity privilege is regularly applied to expert witnesses when such witnesses are appointed by the court. See Bridget M v. Billick, 36 A.D.3d 489, 490, 826 N.Y.S.2d 568 (!st Dept. 2007) (holding that “a psychiatrist appointed by the court as a neutral forensic evaluator with the consent of the parties’ attorneys and the children’s Law Guardian in an underlying custody proceeding in Family Court has judicial immunity from suit for malpractice regarding the work he performed”); Finkelstein v. Bodek, 131 A.D.2d 337, 516 N.Y.S.2d 464 (!st Dept. 1987) (“Included within those groups of persons who enjoy immunity for statements uttered in a judicial proceeding are court-appointed experts who are ordered to conduct psychiatric examinations.”); Young v. Campbell, 87 A.D.3d 692, 929 N.Y.S.2d 249 (2nd Dept. 2011) (dismissing a negligence/malpractice action against psychologists and social workers who had been appointed to aid courts in divorce and neglect proceedings because “judicial immunity preclude the plaintiff from recovering damages for negligence or malpractice against them”); Colombo v. Schwartz, 15 A.D.3d 522, 789 N.Y.S.2d 744 (2nd Dept. 2005) (finding that
psychiatric expert “has judicial immunity from suit regarding the work he performed as a court appointed psychiatric expert in connection with the plaintiffs spousal support litigation”).
Public policy supports the protection afforded a court-appointed expert based on immunity from suit. In certain matters, a court may rely on the opinions of experts to fully and fairly determine the issues raised in litigation. Judicial immunity protects judges in the performance of their judicial functions so as to allow them to exercise independent judgment without the threat of legal reprisal, which is “critical to our judicial system.” Ashmore v Lewis. 2012 N.Y. LEXJS 337 (Sup Ct. New York County 2012), citing, Mosher-Simons v County of Allegany, 99 NY2d 214, 219, 783 N.E.2d 509, 753 N.Y.S.2d 444 (2002), quoting Tarter v State of New York. 68 NY2d 511, 518, 503 N.E.2d 84, 510 N.Y.S.2d 528 (1986). “A logical extension of this premise is that ‘other neutrally positioned [individuals], regardless of title, who are delegated judicial or quasi-judicial functions should also not be shackled with the fear of civil retribution for their acts.’.” Id. citing, Mosher-Simons, 99 NY2d at 220, quoting Tarter, supra.
Here, because Dr. Pierangelo was a court-approved Parent Coordinator, serving a quasi-judicial
function, and Judge Bennett relied on his testimony and conclusions in rendering her decision, he is entitled to immunity from suit regarding the work he performed as a court approved Parent Coordinator. As such, this action must be dismissed as it is barred by the doctrine of judicial immunity. “