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January 10, 2020

Courthouse Sanctuary for litigants

On December 19, 2019, a New York federal district court judge denied the U.S. government's motion to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement [ICE] attempts to effect arrests in court houses located in New York State.

U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff declined to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of ICE's efforts to effect such arrests. Judge Rakoff rejected the government’s arguments that [1] implied the arrests were “none of this Court’s business" and [2] that even if it were within the jurisdiction of the court, "the common law privilege against courthouse arrests doesn’t apply to ICE." Judge Rakoff's decision is posted on the Internet at:

Below is a portion of New York State Supreme Court Judge Hackeling's ruling that, in pertinent part, addresses the doctrine. Judge Hackeling explained:

"Despite antagonistic dicta to the contrary, most modern era precedent dealing with the issue of "Courthouse Sanctuary" from service of process has held that New York State residents receive no such immunity protections. (Baumgartner v Baumgartner, 273 App Div 411 [1st Dept 1948]; Department of Hous. Preserv. {**3 Misc 3d at 343}& Dev. of City of N.Y. v Koenigsberg, 133 Misc 2d 893 [Civ Ct, NY County 1986]; Ford Motor Credit Co. v Bobo, 1 Misc 3d 901[A], 2003 NY Slip Op 51464[U] [Nassau Dist Ct, Miller, J.].) These cases hold that the courthouse sanctuary is only available to foreign state residents who come into New York's courts to contest jurisdiction. This doctrine has been slightly expanded to include New York residents who enter the jurisdiction of a New York court of limited territorial jurisdiction to contest jurisdiction. (See Palazzo v Conforti, 50 NYS2d 706 [Civ Ct, NY County 1944]; Singer v Reising, 154 Misc 239 [Mun Ct, Queens County 1935].)

"The Baumgartner Appellate Division panel (at 413) also acknowledges a limited "Courthouse Sanctuary" rule for New York residents if such service would "constitute a disturbance directly tending to interrupt the proceedings of the court or to impair the respect due to its authority." This rule by itself would not be applicable to the instant case as service of process was effected in the courtroom but outside the court's presence and in between calendar calls.

"State Residency Immunity Distinction?

"The English common law made no New York state residency distinction. The doctrine of immunity from arrest of a litigant attending a trial of an action to which he is a party found early recognition and dates back to the Year Book of 13 Henry IV, I, B (Sampson v Graves, 208 App Div 522 [1st Dept 1924]). This is for the obvious reason that England had no sovereign states. The privilege is not a creature of statute, but was created and deemed necessary for the due administration of justice. (See Matthews v Tufts, 87 NY 568, 570 [1882], citing Van Lieuw v Johnson, Ct App, Mar. 1871 [unreported].)*

The logical question now arises, exactly when did New York's appellate courts recognize a residency distinction for application of the "Courthouse Sanctuary"? The answer is that the Court of Appeals never established such a rule. In contra point of fact, the Court of Appeals has opined that "[i]t is the policy of the law to protect suitors and witnesses from arrests upon civil process while coming to and attending the court and while returning home. Upon principle as well as upon authority their immunity from the service of process for the commencement of civil actions against them is absolute eundo, morando et redeundo"* (Person v Grier, 66 NY 124 [1876]).

"In this unanimous opinion, the Court of Appeals expressly addressed the New York State resident immunity distinction and established in its dicta (at 126) that "whether any distinction should or does in fact exist, is at least doubtful. This immunity is one of the necessities of the administration of justice, and courts would often be embarrassed if suitors or witnesses, while attending court, could be molested with process." It is noted that Person involved a foreign state resident. In establishing the sanctuary doctrine, the Court stated that (at 125) "this rule is especially applicable in all its force to suitors and witnesses from foreign States . . . ." By direct implication, the Court of Appeals is also applying the protective rule to New York residents.

"The basis of the "Courthouse Sanctuary" rule is that parties should be allowed to contest jurisdiction without submitting to it. "Allowing Re-service . . . makes a mockery of the traverse hearing and essentially allows the plaintiff to use a defective default judgment as a weapon to compel the defendant to submit to service of process." (Ford Motor Credit Co. v Bobo, supra at *2.) The location of an individual's residence does little to legitimize such a mockery. Absent the compulsion of clear controlling precedent, this court will not condone such a situation."

A number of immigration related LawBlogs are posted on the Internet at:

* As memorialized by the Latin phrase eundo, morando, et redeundo  [Latin]  [Going, remaining, and returning], a phrase was used to describe a person (for example, a witness or legislator) who is privileged from arrest while traveling to the place where assigned duties are to be performed, while remaining there, and while returning. 

Judge Hackeling decision is posted on the Internet at:

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