OMAR GAY V. AMY PARSONS, ET AL, No. 21-16906 (9th Cir. 2023)Annotate this Case
Plaintiff brought a civil rights suit alleging that he was asked racially and religiously biased questions in a psychological evaluation required for his parole review. He claimed that the psychologists were prejudiced against him as an African-American Muslim man, which influenced their conclusion that Plaintiff presented a “high” risk of future violence. The psychologists contended that they were absolutely immune from suit because they performed a discretionary function integral to the Board of Parole Hearings (“Board”) quasi-judicial decision-making.
The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of absolute immunity to California Board of Parole Hearings psychologists who prepare comprehensive risk assessment reports for the parole board. Applying the functional approach laid out in the watershed case Antoine v. Byers & Anderson, Inc., 508 U.S. 429 (1993), the panel declined to extend absolute immunity in this case. The panel held that the psychologists’ assessments, while informative, were neither binding nor controlling in any way, nor did the psychologists function in a judicial decision-making capacity. Thus, while the psychologists provided a risk level based on their clinical experience, they had no power of decision in the judicial sense; the psychologists were not members of the Board, and the Board made its own determination about an inmate’s current risk of dangerousness if released to the community. The panel did not address whether qualified immunity was available, leaving the question for the district court to consider.