(CN) – Members of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board cannot be sued for rejecting Donald Trump’s application for a casino license through his firm, Keystone Redevelopment Partners, the 3rd Circuit ruled.
Keystone challenged the gaming control board after it denied the company a slot machine license in Philadelphia in late 2006. The decision was made amid concerns that Trump’s three casinos in Atlantic City would profit if Keystone opened a casino in the city.
Keystone had claimed in its lawsuit the board’s decision undermined its constitutional rights under the Commerce Clause, the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
After the gaming board moved to dismiss the claims on the basis of absolute or qualified immunity, a federal judge only dismissed charges against current gaming board members on ripeness grounds.
The board members appealed when the judge upheld Trump’s charges against two former board members, and the Philadelphia-based appeals court reversed on Friday.
“They are entitled to absolute, quasi-judicial immunity,” Judge Leonard Garth wrote for the three-judge appellate panel.
Noting the vast sums of money involved in applying for a license, the court ruled that the board was entitled to make decisions unburdened from potential liability.
“We are satisfied that the board defendants cannot exercise their judgment without fear of intimidation if their immunity from personal liability is not assured,” Garth wrote.
Judge Michael Fisher dissented from his 3rd Circuit colleagues in part, arguing the court overreached by affording the board quasi-judicial immunity though agreeing with the decision to throw out the claims.
“I would instead decide this case on the ground of qualified immunity and hold that the board members did not deprive Keystone of a well-established constitutional right,” Fisher wrote.
The Gaming Control Board’s chief counsel, Douglas Sherman, applauded the court’s ruling.
“This finding was premised on the institutional safeguards and processes which the board has built and implemented to project the impartiality and integrity of the decision-making process,” Sherman said in a statement.
“The board has been resolute in its determination to avoid partisanship and inappropriate influence in its decisions, and believes that the court’s decision today is an affirmation that its processes are accomplishing the goal,” he added.