Guardians Ad Litem Protected by Quasi-Judicial Immunity

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When she was eleven years old, Alexis Nichols (“Nichols”) received $600,000 as part of a settlement for injuries she sustained in a motor vehicle accident.  The probate court appointed her mother as guardian to administer her estate and David Fahrenkamp (“Fahrenkamp”) as guardian ad litem.  On reaching majority, Nichols sued Fahrenkamp for negligence in failing to adequately scrutinize her mother’s improper expenditures or report such irregularities to the court.  Nichols also asserted that Fahrenkamp never met with her, consulted with her regarding her mother’s actions, or even told her of his appointment.  Fahrenkamp moved for summary judgment, arguing that the order appointing him only required that he provide recommendations regarding Nichols’ best interests.  Having fulfilled that obligation at the Probate Court’s direction, he claimed quasi-judicial immunity from liability.  The Circuit Court granted Fahrenkamp’s motion, but the Appellate Court reversed, holding that “outside the antagonistic context created by litigating parents, guardians ad litem do not need protection from unwarranted harassment and do not require quasi-judicial immunity.”  Id. at ¶9.

Fahrenkamp appealed to the Supreme Court of Illinois, which reversed.  The Court explained that the primary issue was what Fahrenkamp’s function as a guardian ad litem was.  Determining that would establish whether Fahrenkamp’s role was sufficiently connected to the judicial process to warrant immunity.  The Court explained that, “rather than looking at the title ‘guardian ad litem’ to determine whether Fahrenkamp has quasi-judicial immunity, the court must consider what function he performed.”  Id. at ¶16.  To that end, Fahrenkamp defined his role based on the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (750 ILCS 5/101 et seq .).  Nichols disagreed, claiming Fahrenkamp’s role was defined by the Probate Act (755 ILCS 5/art. IX).  The Court agreed with Fahrenkamp, noting that “most Illinois cases in the twenty-first century that involve a guardian ad litem treat that guardian ad litem as a reporter or witness and not as an advocate.”  Id. at ¶35.  By contrast, “cases in which the guardian ad litem represented a ward as an advocate” were from earlier in Illinois’ history.   Id.  Moreover, the Court cited to “other state supreme courts” which have “granted immunity to actors who fulfill a comparable function” even though “no Illinois court has specifically considered whether this position merits quasi-judicial immunity.”  Id. at ¶42.  The Court cited to federal appellate courts as well, which have found that “ guardians ad litem are immune when their function is to report to the court on a child’s best interests.”  Id. at ¶43.  With that, the Court held that “guardians ad litem who submit recommendations to the court on a child’s best interests are protected by quasi-judicial immunity.”  Id. at ¶49.

Nichols v. Fahrenkamp, 2019 IL 123990

(This is for informational purposes and is not legal advice.)

 

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