Seventh Circuit Affirms Sanction Against Plaintiff’s Attorney and Re-Asserts Doctrine of Prosecutorial Immunity

January 10, 2017

On December 20th, 2016, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the public censure of a plaintiff’s lawyer who sued a Winnebago County Assistant State’s Attorney, for making frivolous arguments regarding the prosecutor’s absolute immunity from suit. See Foreman v. Wadsworth, et al., No. 15-3096, 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 22598 (7th Cir. Dec. 20, 2016). Anthony Foreman, a former restaurant owner in Rockford, sued four Rockford police officers, and a Winnebago County ASA for allegedly conspiring to bring charges against him for misdemeanor obstructing a peace officer (720 ILCS 5/31-1(a)). The criminal charges against Foreman were later dismissed.

In Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409 (1976), the Supreme Court held that state prosecutors were entitled to absolute immunity from suit for actions taken in an official prosecutorial role, including bringing charges against criminal defendants.  Foreman attempted to amend his complaint to include another Winnebago County ASA, which the District Court denied, stating that his claim would be barred by Imbler and the Eleventh Amendment. The District Court then ordered Foreman’s attorney to show cause as to why he should not be sanctioned for making no arguments challenging this existing precedent. The attorney unsuccessfully argued that he was going to attempt to challenge Imbler’s precedential value on appeal. Foreman’s attorney was publicly censured as a sanction for his frivolous arguments. The District Court also awarded summary judgment in favor of the officers and the prosecutors. The Seventh Circuit affirmed both the censure and the summary judgment findings, re-asserting that Imbler remains controlling precedent, and that the attorney had not advanced any non-frivolous arguments against its holding.

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