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Stump v. Sparkman

United States Supreme Court
435 U.S. 349 (1978)


Ora Spitler McFarlin filed a petition in state court to have her mentally challenged 15-year-old daughter, Linda Spitler (plaintiff), undergo a sterilization procedure via tubal ligation, claiming that Linda had stayed out overnight with older boys and younger men on several occasions. The petition was approved ex parte by Judge Harold Stump (defendant), without a hearing, on the same day the petition was submitted. Judge Stump’s approval was not placed on the trial docket or filed with the court clerk’s office. Linda underwent the operation under the belief that she was having her appendix removed. Two years later, Linda married Leo Sparkman (plaintiff), and Linda’s inability to become pregnant led her to discover that the sterilization procedure had been performed. Linda and her husband filed suit in federal district court against Ora, Judge Stump, the attorney who drafted the petition, the physicians who had performed the procedure, and the hospital where the procedure had taken place. The plaintiffs sought damages and raised pendent state claims for assault and battery, medical malpractice, and loss of potential fatherhood. The district court concluded that each of the plaintiffs’ constitutional claims required a showing of state action and that Judge Stump was the only state actor. Further, Judge Stump was completely immune from damages liability under the doctrine of judicial immunity. The plaintiffs appealed. The court of appeals reversed and held that Judge Stump had not acted within his jurisdiction and was thus not immune from damages liability. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari to review.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (White, J.)

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