Immunity Protects Testimony in Guardianship Proceedings

By Doug Chalgian on September 25, 2021

This published case arises out of a circuit court action, but relates to the testimony and pleadings of parties to an adult guardianship case.  Click here to read Forton v St. Clair County Public Guardian.

In the underlying guardianship matter, the spouse of the guardian allegedly provided drugs and alcohol to the ward in return for sexual favors.  In response to these concerns, a Community Mental Health caseworker, along with people from the rehab facility where the ward is being treated, successfully petition to remove the guardian and for orders limiting access to the ward by the guardian and the guardian’s spouse.

Guardian’s spouse then sues the public guardian, CMH, the rehab facility, and others involved in these proceedings, claiming that that he was injured by false allegations made against him in during the probate court proceedings.

The civil case is dismissed summarily based on the trial court’s holding that all of the offending statements were protected by quasi-judicial immunity.  In affirming the trial court, the Court of Appeals cites the following:

[W]itnesses who testify during the course of judicial proceedings enjoy quasi-judicial immunity. This immunity is available to those serving in a quasi-judicial adjudicative capacity as well as those persons other than judges without whom the judicial process could not function. Witnesses who are an integral part of the judicial process are wholly immune from liability for the consequences of their testimony or related evaluations. Statements made during the course of judicial proceedings are absolutely privileged, provided they are relevant, material, or pertinent to the issue being tried. Falsity or malice on the part of the witness does not abrogate the privilege. The privilege should be liberally construed so that participants in judicial proceedings are free to express themselves without fear of retaliation.

Good to know.

mm By: Doug Chalgian
Doug Chalgian

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