By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Third District Court of Appeal held yesterday that a real estate broker appointed by the court in a partition action to set the price for a parcel of real property and sell it was cloaked with quasi-judicial immunity.
Summary judgment in favor of broker Charles Brock was affirmed in an opinion by Acting Presiding Justice Harry E. Hull Jr. Key to the holding was that the Nevada Superior Court had vested a meaningful measure of discretion in Brock.
Suing him for breach of fiduciary and other alleged wrongs was Darrell L. Holt. He and his sister, Darice Harlan, each inherited a parcel of real property in Nevada City and could not agree even on what broker to use, resulting in the court appointment of Brock.
“Two policies support the doctrine of judicial immunity,” Hull wrote. “The doctrine protects the finality of judgments and discourages inappropriate collateral attack.”
Those policies are furthered by shielding Brock from liability, the jurist said, rejecting the protest by Holt that no court had extended quasi-judicial immunity to a broker.
“Policy reasons that justify quasi-judicial immunity also support extending immunity to Brock,” Hull opined. “His determination of the property’s listing price and value should not be clouded by the possibility of legal action by one of the property owners contending the price is too low—which is what this action is.”
Classes Enjoying Immunity
One class of persons cloaked with such immunity, he said, is those, such as court commissioners, who perform a judicial role, and a second class is comprised of those, such as lawyers conducting voluntary settlement conferences and party-selected mediators, and party-selected mediators, who conduct neutral dispute resolution.
“A third class of persons entitled to quasi-judicial immunity includes persons connected to the judicial process who are not public officials, arbitrators, or referees but who serve functions integral to the judicial process and act as arms of the court,” Hull set forth. “This class includes…persons appointed by the courts for their expertise, such as mediators, guardians ad litem, therapists, receivers, Probate Code court investigators, custody evaluators, and bankruptcy trustees….”
Noting that Brock was appointed by the court, Hull specified that this factor, alone, does not warrant immunity. He declared:
“In the unique situation before us, the court’s listing orders did more than merely appoint Brock to sell the property. They vested an element of discretionary authority in Brock to assist the court in resolving the dispute between plaintiff and his sister Darice.”
Broker Set Price
The jurist pointed out:
“[T]he court gave Brock limited discretionary authority to resolve a key dispute between the sellers, the very disagreement that likely led to the partition action—the property’s value. Under the court’s original listing order, the actual listing price was to be determined by Brock’s assessment of current market value.
“In a sense, Brock also served as an agent of the court with limited authority. The court, and not the sellers, set Brock’s commission rate. Brock was authorized to adjust the listing terms upon a court order and without the sellers’ stipulation. The court required Brock to report his marketing activities to the court and the sellers on a monthly basis. And final approval of any sale negotiated by Brock rested with the court, not the sellers. In short, Brock was appointed by the court to exercise discretionary judgment in serving a function integral to the partition action and as an arm of the court. As a result, he was entitled to quasi-judicial immunity.”
Hull said Holt, by litigating the issue of immunity on the merits, had forfeited the contention that the affirmative defense had been waived by not listing it in the separate statement of undisputed material facts.
The case is Holt v. Brock, 2022 S.O.S. 5756.
Copyright 2022, Metropolitan News Company