Delcourt v. Silverman

In Delcourt v. Silverman, 919 S.W.2d 777, 782 (Tex. App. -- Houston 14th Dist. 1996, writ denied), the Fourteenth Court of Appeals followed the analysis of the federal courts and used the "functional approach" in determining whether a party receives the benefit of derived judicial immunity. This functional approach looks to whether the person seeking immunity is intimately associated with the judicial process and if that person exercises discretionary judgment comparable to that of the judge. Id. ("A party is entitled to absolute immunity when the party is acting as an integral part of the judicial system or an 'arm of the court.'"). Delcourt involved a child-custody dispute. After a mother's efforts to modify custody of her child proved unsuccessful, she sued the court-appointed psychologist and the guardian ad litem alleging that their participation in the trial gave rise to various tort claims. The defendants answered that they were entitled to derived judicial immunity. The trial court agreed and granted their summary-judgment motions. In affirming the summary judgment on appeal, the court of appeals first extended derived judicial immunity to the psychologist who had been appointed under Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 167a(d)(1). The court of appeals reasoned that mental-health professionals appointed by the trial court to examine the child and parents in a custody proceeding are acting as a factfinder for the court. Delcourt, 919 S.W.2d at 782-83. Thus, "the court relies on the professional to provide information essential to the decision-making process. Without the protection of absolute immunity, such professionals would be, at the very least, reluctant to accept these appointments. This would in turn inhibit judges from performing their duties." Id. Because the judge appointed the psychologist to evaluate the physical and emotional state of the parties so as to better inform the custody decision, the psychologist acted as a "functionary" of the court. Id. Further, the court of appeals concluded that the guardian ad litem was entitled to judicial immunity because she was appointed under Texas Family Code 11.10 to represent the best interests of the child and provide the court with impartial recommendations. Id. at 784-86. In this context, the guardian ad litem acted as an extension of the court in that the purpose of her appointment was to conduct an investigation in order to inform the judge's ultimate custody determination. Id. at 786. Thus, the court of appeals concluded that the guardian ad litem's appointment "contemplated that she would function on behalf of the court" and that therefore she was entitled to absolute immunity. Id.