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Davis v. Burris

Supreme Court of Arizona

January 31, 1938

WILLIAM W. DAVIS, Appellant,
v.
GLENN BURRIS, Appellee

APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of the County of Maricopa. John P. Clark, Judge. Judgment reversed and cause remanded with directions to dismiss the complaint.

Mr. E. S. Clark and Mr. Earl Anderson, for Appellant.

Mr. L. C. McNabb, for Appellee.

OPINION

[51 Ariz. 221] ROSS, J.

The plaintiff, Glenn Burris, having on June 10, 1935, pleaded guilty to a drunk driving charge in the justice court of Scottsdale precinct, Maricopa county, the defendant, William W. Davis, justice of the peace therein, sentenced him to ninety days in the county jail and ordered him committed.

June 13, 1935, plaintiff filed notice of appeal to the superior court of said county and tendered $300 as a [51 Ariz. 222] cash bond on appeal. Defendant refused to approve bond or to release plaintiff from prison or to allow the appeal. Plaintiff remained in jail 30 days, or until after July 8th, on which date this court, in Burris v. Davis, 46 Ariz. 127, 46 P.2d 1084, 1085, handed down its opinion holding plaintiff was entitled to an appeal, notwithstanding he had pleaded guilty to the charge of drunk driving. Thereupon plaintiff appeared before the Honorable HOWARD C. SPEAKMAN, judge of division No. 3 of the superior court of

Page 690

said county, and again pleaded guilty, and was by Judge SPEAKMAN sentenced to 30 days in the county jail, to commence and date from original imprisonment. Under this last sentence plaintiff was immediately discharged, as he had at the time served 30 days.

February 24, 1936, plaintiff commenced this action against Davis for damages for the latter's refusal to allow his appeal. He asked in his complaint for $5,000 actual and $5,000 punitive damages by reason of loss of time (the 30 days he was in jail), "deep humiliation, embarrassment," and for attorney's fees and court costs. The complaint alleges defendant acted willfully, wrongfully, wickedly, and unlawfully in refusing to allow the appeal and to release plaintiff from prison. Defendant's answer consists of a general demurrer and a general denial. The case was tried with a jury, and the jury's verdict was in favor of plaintiff in the sum of $69 actual damages. From a judgment duly entered for this amount and costs, the defendant has appealed.

The questions presented by the demurrer to the complaint and by the evidence are: (1) Whether a judicial officer in the performance of his duties is liable in damages for a mistake in his judgment of the law; (2) whether the defendant justice of the peace in refusing to allow the appeal was acting judicially or ministerially; [51 Ariz. 223] and (3) whether in any event plaintiff is entitled to damages, it appearing that he was imprisoned for 30 days only, the minimum punishment under the law.

In order to claim immunity from civil action for his acts, it is generally necessary that a judge be acting within his jurisdiction as to subject matter and person. There is no question but that the defendant possessed such jurisdiction in this case. The offense was committed in his precinct and is of the grade triable in justice court. The statute defining the crime and fixing the limits of punishment that must be imposed by the court for its violation is as follows:

"Any person under the influence of intoxicating liquor or narcotic drugs, or who is a habitual user of narcotic drugs, who shall drive any vehicle upon any highway within this state, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and punished by imprisonment in the county jail for not less than thirty nor more than ninety days. No judge may suspend imposition of sentence for a violation of this section, and if upon the conviction for three such offenses; the party convicted shall, forfeit his driver's license." Section 1688, Rev. Code 1928, as amended by chapter 33, Laws of 1935.

Justices of the peace have jurisdiction "in criminal cases, other than felonies, where the punishment is a fine not exceeding three hundred dollars, or imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding six months, or both." Section 4178, Rev. Code 1928.

There being a concurrence of jurisdiction of the justice court of Scottsdale precinct over the person and the subject ...


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