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Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Fed. Bureau of Narcotics

Supreme Court of the United States

January 12, 1971, Argued ; June 21, 1971, Decided

No. 301


 [*389]  [***622]  [**2001]    MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

 The Fourth Amendment provides that:

] "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated . . . ."

In Bell v. Hood, 327 U.S. 678 (1946), [****3]  we reserved the question ] whether violation of that command by a federal agent acting under color of his authority gives rise to a cause of action for damages consequent upon his unconstitutional conduct. Today we hold that it does.

This case has its origin in an arrest and search carried out on the morning of November 26, 1965. Petitioner's complaint alleged that on that day respondents, agents of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics acting under claim of federal authority, entered his apartment and arrested him for alleged narcotics violations. The agents manacled petitioner in front of his wife and children, and threatened to arrest the entire family. They searched the apartment from stem to stern. Thereafter, petitioner was taken to the federal courthouse in Brooklyn, where he was interrogated, booked, and subjected to a visual strip search.

 On July 7, 1967, petitioner brought suit in Federal District Court.  In addition to the allegations above, his complaint asserted that the arrest and search were effected without a warrant, and that unreasonable force was employed in making the arrest; fairly [****4]  read, it alleges as well that the arrest was made without probable cause. 1 Petitioner  [***623]  claimed to have suffered great humiliation,  [*390]  embarrassment, and mental suffering as a result of the agents' unlawful conduct, and sought $ 15,000 damages from each of them. The District Court, on respondents' motion, dismissed the complaint on the ground, inter alia, that it failed to state a cause of action. 2 [****5]  276 F.Supp. 12 (EDNY 1967). The Court of Appeals, one judge concurring specially, 3 affirmed on that basis. 409 F.2d 718 (CA2 1969). We granted certiorari. 399 U.S. 905 (1970). We reverse.

Respondents do not argue that petitioner should be entirely without remedy for an unconstitutional invasion of his rights by federal agents. In respondents' view, however, the rights that petitioner asserts -- primarily  [**2002]  rights of privacy -- are creations of state and not of federal law. Accordingly, they argue, petitioner may obtain money damages to redress invasion of these rights only by an action in tort, under state law, in the state courts. In this scheme the Fourth Amendment would serve merely to limit the extent to which the agents [****6]  could defend  [*391]  the state law tort suit by asserting that their actions were a valid exercise of federal power: if the agents were shown to have violated the Fourth Amendment, such a defense would be lost to them and they would stand before the state law merely as private individuals. Candidly admitting that it is the policy of the Department of Justice to remove all such suits from the state to the federal courts for decision, 4 respondents nevertheless urge that we uphold dismissal of petitioner's complaint in federal court, and remit him to filing an action in the state courts in order that the case may properly be removed to the federal court for decision on the basis of state law.

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403 U.S. 388 *; 91 S. Ct. 1999 **; 29 L. Ed. 2d 619 ***; 1971 U.S. LEXIS 23 ****


Subsequent History: On remand at Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 456 F.2d 1339, 1972 U.S. App. LEXIS 10860 (2d Cir. N.Y., 1972)


Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 409 F.2d 718, 1969 U.S. App. LEXIS 12867 (2d Cir. N.Y., 1969)

Disposition:  409 F.2d 718, reversed and remanded.


Fourth Amendment, damages, federal court, rights, cases, exclusionary rule, arrest, state law, remedies, suppression doctrine, federal official, fourth amendment violation, authorization, cause of action, equitable, invasion, suppress, judicial remedy, district court, federal agent, vindication, trespass, reasons, courts, court of appeals, equitable relief, damages remedy, federal law, seizure, seized

Constitutional Law, Fundamental Rights, Search & Seizure, Scope of Protection, Governments, Federal Government, Claims By & Against, General Overview, Employees & Officials, Criminal Law & Procedure, Governmental Action Requirement, Torts, Duty On Premises, Trespassers, Warrantless Searches, Private Searches, Legislation, Statutory Remedies & Rights