This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).







Jeffrey Andrew Matiatos,





The State of Minnesota, et al.,




Filed October 18, 2005


Lansing, Judge


Washington County District Court

File No. C6-04-5342



Jeffrey Andrew Matiatos, 325 Laurel Avenue, #606, St. Paul, MN 55102 (pro se respondent)


Mike Hatch, Attorney General, John S. Garry, Assistant Attorney General, 1100 Bremer Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101 (for appellants)


            Considered and decided by Dietzen, Presiding Judge; Lansing, Judge; and Klaphake, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N


The State of Minnesota, on behalf of its Washington County Guardian ad Litem Program and two of the program’s employees, appeals from the district court’s denial of its motion to dismiss on the ground that Jeffrey Matiatos’s alleged damages stem from judicial and quasi-judicial actions that are immune from liability.  Because we conclude that the employees’ actions were quasi-judicial and within the scope of the exercise of statutory responsibilities, we reverse.


Jeffrey Matiatos is a respondent in two proceedings for which the district court appointed a guardian ad litem (GAL) to protect the interests of his minor children—a marriage-dissolution action and a child-in-need-of-protective-services (CHIPS) proceeding.  The order appointing the GAL states, “The [c]ourt may order either or both parties to reimburse Washington County for part or all of the costs incurred for the services of the guardian ad litem at the approved hourly rate.”  Both Matiatos and the children’s mother obtained leave to proceed in forma pauperis in the dissolution proceeding.

            Anne Olson, coordinator of the GAL program, sent the district court a statement documenting the twenty hours the GAL worked, the hourly rate of $40, and the total cost of $800.  She also included a proposed order that set forth the $800 fee and included options for the judge’s determination on who should pay the fees.  The district court required Matiatos to pay one-half the total fees but did not require the children’s mother to pay any fees. 

            Matiatos contacted the GAL program about the order because he believed that the program erroneously attributed GAL hours to the dissolution case instead of to the CHIPS proceeding.  Joan Elstran, a clerk in the GAL program, reviewed the hours and revised the program’s statement to accurately reflect the division of hours between the two cases.  Olson then submitted the revised statement for $120 and a proposed order to the district court.  The court ordered Matiatos to pay $60, one-half the total fees, but did not require the children’s mother to pay any fees.

            Matiatos again contacted the GAL program and told them that the district court should not require him to pay any fees because both he and the children’s mother were proceeding in forma pauperis; he did not, however, contact the district court to question his responsibility for the GAL fees.  The Washington County Financial Services Department attempted to enforce the fee orders.  In response, Matiatos filed a motion to vacate both orders.  The district court determined that Matiatos was incapable of paying the GAL fees and granted his motion to vacate the orders.

            In September 2004 Matiatos sued the State of Minnesota, its Washington County GAL program, and two of the program’s employees, Olson and Elstran.  In his complaint, Matiatos alleges that Olson and Elstran engaged in malicious prosecution by submitting the fee statement and proposed orders and by attempting to enforce the orders.

            The state, on behalf of Olson and Elstran, moved to dismiss the action on the ground that they had acted in a quasi-judicial capacity and were immune from liability.  The state also moved for dismissal on behalf of the Washington County GAL Program and on its own behalf, asserting that, as a result of their employees’ immunity, the GAL program and the state were vicariously immune.  The district court denied the motion to dismiss, and the state, the GAL program, Olson, and Elstran appeal.


The applicability of an immunity defense is a question of law subject to de novo review.  Johnson v. State, 553 N.W.2d 40, 45 (Minn. 1996).  Judicial officers are immune from civil liability for acts within the scope of their judicial capacity, regardless of motive.  Linder v. Foster, 209 Minn. 43, 45, 295 N.W. 299, 300 (1940); see also Sloper v. Dodge, 426 N.W.2d 478, 479 (Minn. App. 1988).  This immunity is absolute and relies on the principle that judicial officers, when exercising their authority, must be free to act on their own convictions without fear of personal consequences.  Linder, 209 Minn. at 45, 295 N.W. at 300.

Judicial immunity, which is directed at protecting the judicial process, extends to quasi-judicial officers.  Gammel v. Ernst & Ernst, 245 Minn. 249, 254, 72 N.W.2d 364, 368 (1955).  Officers who function as integral parts of the judicial process, including prosecutors, counsel, and witnesses, have the benefit of judicial immunity.  Sloper, 426 N.W.2d at 479 (citing Briscoe v. LaHue, 460 U.S. 325, 334-35, 103 S. Ct. 1108, 1115-16 (1983)).  A GAL is also a quasi-judicial officer and is, therefore, “absolutely immune from liability for acts within the scope of that guardian’s exercise of statutory responsibilities.”  Tindell v. Rogosheske, 428 N.W.2d 386, 387 (Minn. 1988).  Immunity for GALs is necessary to “avoid harassment from disgruntled parents who may take issue with any or all of the guardian’s actions” and to ensure that a GAL is free to “engage in a vigorous and autonomous representation of the child.”  Id.

Quasi-judicial immunity is “contingent not on the status but on the particular function of the [official].”  Kipp v. Saetre, 454 N.W.2d 639, 643 (Minn. App. 1990), review denied (Minn. June 26, 1990).  If the conduct is within the scope of an official’s appointed duties, judicial immunity applies regardless of the correctness of the actions.  Myers v. Price, 463 N.W.2d 773, 775 (Minn. App. 1990), review denied (Minn. Feb. 4, 1991).  Thus, a quasi-judicial officer is “not liable to persons injured by the honest exercise of his judgment within his jurisdiction, however erroneous his judgment may be.”  Brown v. Dayton Hudson Corp., 314 N.W.2d 210, 214 (Minn. 1981) (quotation omitted).

Quasi-judicial acts are “presumably the product or result of investigation, consideration, and deliberate human judgment based upon evidentiary facts of some sort commanding the exercise of their discretionary power.”  City of Shorewood v. Metro. Waste Control Comm’n, 533 N.W.2d 402, 404 (Minn. 1995) (quotation omitted).  Unlike acts that require the exercise of judgment, purely administrative acts are not generally included in the range of conduct that receives quasi-judicial immunity.  Buckley v. Fitzsimmons, 509 U.S. 259, 272, 113 S. Ct. 2606, 2615-16 (1993).  Administrative acts may, however, qualify as quasi-judicial conduct when the acts require investigation and determination of facts.  City of Shorewood, 533 N.W.2d at 404.  Whether or not an official’s action is administrative or adjudicatory, it is generally entitled to absolute immunity if it is in compliance with a court directive.  Kipp, 454 N.W.2d at 643.  “To deny the protection of immunity under such circumstances might prompt officers of the court to refuse to obey a judge’s directives for fear of personal liability.”  Id.

The district court concluded that the GAL program, Olson, and Elstran were not entitled to absolute immunity because their conduct did not fall within the scope of the duties as defined by statute or court rules.  We disagree.

Under Minnesota law, when the district court appoints a GAL on a fee basis, the court must “enter an order for costs, fees, and disbursements in favor of the child’s guardian ad litem.”  Minn. Stat. § 518.165, subd. 3 (2004).  Although the court rules listing the responsibilities of a guardian ad litem do not specifically list a responsibility to submit fee information to the court, the rules incorporate a reference to Minn. Stat. § 518.165 and state that the guardian ad litem’s responsibilities are intended to be consistent with Minn. Stat. § 518.165.  See Minn. R. Gen. Pract. 905 (listing general responsibilities of guardian ad litem).  The district court would be unable to make a reasoned determination on fees without a reciprocal responsibility of the guardian ad litem to submit information on the number of hours worked, the hourly rate, and the cost computation.

The primary damages alleged in Matiatos’s complaint are for “fear and intimidation, financial oppression, anxiety, anger, emotional distress and anguish” that he asserts were caused by the attempts to enforce the district court’s orders.  Although it is unfortunate that the district court did not obtain the information on Matiatos’s inability to pay before the fees were reduced to judgment, Matiatos acknowledges in his pleading that the GAL employees told him that he should contact the judge.  And any actions by the GAL program that contributed to the Washington County Financial Services Department’s collection efforts were in furtherance of the district court’s orders, and, consequently, the GAL program is immune from liability for those actions.  Kipp, 454 N.W.2d at 643.  The remaining damages are alleged to flow from Olson’s and Elstran’s actions in submitting the fee information that enabled the court to make the cost determination.  Because the submission of the fee information and the proposed order is for the purpose of assisting the court in fulfilling its mandatory obligation under the statute, the GAL officials were performing an action that is an integral part of the judicial process.  The GAL officials are therefore protected by quasi-judicial immunity.

When employees of a state program are immune from liability for the alleged negligent performance of their duties, their immunity extends to the program and to the state as an entity.  Carradine v. State, 511 N.W.2d 733, 737 (Minn. 1994).  The GAL program is a state program, and both Olson and Elstran are state employees.  Matiatos sued Olson and Elstran in their official capacities as state employees.  Therefore, because their actions are immune, the Washington County GAL program and the state are also immune.