preventing judges from being subjected to vexatious actions. Powell v. Nigro, 601 F. Supp. 144, 147 (D.C. Cir. 1985). If a civil action could be maintained against a judge by virtue of an allegation of malice, or even negligence, judges would lose "that independence without which no judiciary can either be respectful or useful." Bradley v. Fisher, 80 U.S. (13 Wall.) 335, 347, 20 L. Ed. 646 (1872). Furthermore, there are certain built-in safeguards in the judicial process which tend to reduce the need for civil actions against judges as a means of checking unconstitutional conduct, including the insulation of the judge from political influence, the role of precedent in resolving controversies, the adversarial nature of the legal process and the correctability of error on appeal. Butz, 438 U.S. at 512.
For these same policy reasons, absolute immunity has been extended to protect those nonjudicial officials whose activities are integrally related to the judicial process and involve the exercise of discretion comparable to that of a judge. See Powell v. Nigro, 601 F. Supp. at 147. See also Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 47 L. Ed. 2d 128, 96 S. Ct. 984 (1976) (prosecutor has absolute immunity in initiating and pursuing a criminal prosecution for those activities intimately associated with the judicial phase of the criminal process); Simons v. Bellinger, 207 U.S. App. D.C. 24, 643 F.2d 774 (D.C. Cir. 1980) (D.C. Court of Appeals Committee on Unauthorized Practice of Law has absolute immunity in exercising inherent judicial power delegated to it by the court); Ashbrook v. Hoffman, 617 F.2d 474 (7th Cir. 1980) (commissioners appointed by the court to conduct a partition sale of divorced plaintiff's property sufficiently related to judicial process to entitle them to quasi-judicial immunity); Kermit Construction Corp. v. Banco Credito Y Ahorro Ponceno, 547 F.2d 1 (1st Cir. 1976) (receiver who carries out orders of his appointing judge absolutely immune); Lockhart v. Hoenstine, 411 F.2d 455 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 396 U.S. 941, 24 L. Ed. 2d 244, 90 S. Ct. 378 (1969) (prothonotary, acting pursuant to court directive, entitled to absolute immunity); Stift v. Lynch, 267 F.2d 237 (7th Cir. 1959) (justices of the peace protected by absolute immunity). Therefore, at the heart of the doctrine of quasi-judicial immunity lies the notion that "the acts, alleged to have been wrongful, were committed by the officer in the performance of an integral part of the judicial process." Robichaud v. Ronan, 351 F.2d 533, 536 (9th Cir. 1965).
It is well-settled that federal, not state, law determines the adequacy of defenses asserted in civil rights actions brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. However, a court may consider relevant state law in determining the appropriate federal immunities standard to apply. Qualls v. Parrish, 534 F.2d 690, 694 (6th Cir. 1976). This court finds the powers delegated to municipal agencies, generally, and zoning boards, specifically, by the New Jersey Municipal Land Use Law, N.J.S.A. 40:55D-1 et seq., dispositive of the quasi-judicial character of defendant Zoning Board and its members.
Under N.J.S.A. 40:55D-10, a municipal zoning agency is required to hold a public hearing on each application for development, adoption, revision or amendments of a "master plan." N.J.S.A. 40:55D-10(a). At such hearings, which are required to be recorded either stenographically or electronically, the presiding officer has the authority to administer oaths and issue subpoenas compelling the production of documents and the attendance of witnesses, who must give sworn testimony and be subjected to the rigors of cross-examination. N.J.S.A. 40:55D-10(c), (d), (f). Although technical rules of evidence are not utilized, the agency has the power to "exclude irrelevant, immaterial or unduly repetitious evidence." N.J.S.A. 40:55D-10(e). Furthermore, much like any judicial tribunal, the agency is required to include in its written decision on each zoning application thorough findings of fact and conclusions based thereon. N.J.S.A. 40:55D-10(g). Thus, a decision by any zoning body which is devoid of any justification or explanation for its position can be attacked under the statute as arbitrary and capricious. See, e.g., Exxon Co., U.S.A. v. Board of Adjustment, 196 N.J. Super. 183, 194, 481 A.2d 1172 (Law Div. 1984); Kessler v. Bowker, 174 N.J. Super. 478, 488, 417 A.2d 34 (App. Div. 1979), certif. denied, 85 N.J. 99, 425 A.2d 264 (1980).
That the zoning and planning boards perform quasi-judicial functions is not only evinced in the language of the Municipal Land Use Law, but is also supported by decisions of the New Jersey courts. See Anastasio v. Planning Bd. of Twp. of West Orange, 209 N.J. Super. 499, 507 A.2d 1194 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 107 N.J. 46, 526 A.2d 136 (1986); Centennial Land & Dev. Co. v. Twp. of Medford, 165 N.J. Super. 220, 397 A.2d 1136 (Law Div. 1979); Sander v. Planning Bd. of Twp. of Warren, 140 N.J. Super. 386, 356 A. 2d 411 (App. Div. 1976). The leading New Jersey case addressing this issue, Centennial Land, involved a § 1983 action brought against, inter alia, the municipal planning and zoning boards, and their respective members, for denial of plaintiff's application for a use variance. In granting the board members' motion for summary judgment, the court concluded that since the public hearings involving the zoning and planning boards "share[d] enough of the characteristics of the judicial process to warrant an absolute privilege," their respective members necessarily operated in a quasi-judicial capacity and were therefore properly immune from suit. 165 N.J. Super. at 230. In reaching its decision, the court noted the existence of important safeguards against the unconstitutional conduct of zoning officials which vitiated the need to impose burdensome damage liability on them, including the fact that: (1) zoning board members are subject to the code of judicial conduct, Kremer v. Plainfield, 101 N.J. Super. 346, 352-53, 244 A.2d 335 (Law Div. 1968); (2) zoning officials are insulated from political influences due to a prohibition of their holding elective office, N.J.S.A. 40:55D-69; (3) the meetings are governed by the strict requirements of the Open Public Meetings Act, N.J.S.A. 10:4-6; and (4) erroneous decisions are correctable on appeal. N.J.S.A. 40:55D-17(a). Centennial Land, 165 N.J. Super. at 230-32.
Of paramount importance to the Centennial Court was the deterrent effect that permitting such suits would have on citizens' participation in municipal government:
. . . Many of these local zoning officials serve voluntarily, often at night, without remuneration; yet they expend extensive time and effort in preparing and participating in the land use development of the community. Were this court to hold that these board members are without any immunity, the inevitable consequence, would be to deter intelligent civic-minded persons from serving on municipal land use boards. The fear of incurring great expense in attorney's fees, losing time from employment and suffering the anxiety and distress resulting therefrom, could have no other effect.