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Harlow v. Fitzgerald

Supreme Court of the United States

November 30, 1981, Argued ; June 24, 1982, Decided

No. 80-945

Opinion

 [*802]   [***400]   [**2729]  JUSTICE POWELL delivered the opinion of the Court.

 The issue in this case is the scope of the immunity available to the senior aides and advisers of the President of the United  [**2730]  States in a suit for damages based upon their official acts.

In this suit for civil damages petitioners Bryce Harlow and Alexander Butterfield are alleged to have participated in a conspiracy to violate the constitutional and statutory rights of the respondent A. Ernest Fitzgerald. Respondent avers that petitioners entered the conspiracy in their capacities as senior White House aides to former President Richard M. Nixon. As the alleged conspiracy is the same as that involved in Nixon v. Fitzgerald, ante, p. 731, the facts need not be repeated in detail.

Respondent claims that Harlow joined the conspiracy in his role as the Presidential aide principally responsible [****7]  for congressional relations. 2 At the conclusion of discovery the  [*803]  supporting evidence remained inferential. As evidence of Harlow's conspiratorial activity respondent relies heavily on a series of conversations in which Harlow discussed  [***401]  Fitzgerald's dismissal with Air Force Secretary Robert Seamans. 3 [****8]  The other evidence most supportive of Fitzgerald's claims consists of a recorded conversation in which the President later voiced a tentative recollection that Harlow was "all for canning" Fitzgerald. 4

Disputing Fitzgerald's contentions, Harlow argues that exhaustive discovery has adduced no direct evidence of his involvement  [*804]  in any wrongful activity. 5 He avers that Secretary Seamans advised him that considerations of efficiency required Fitzgerald's removal by [****9]  a reduction in force, despite anticipated adverse congressional reaction. Harlow asserts he had no reason to believe that a conspiracy existed. He contends that he took all his actions in good faith. 6

 [****10]   [**2731]  Petitioner Butterfield also is alleged to have entered the conspiracy not later than May 1969. Employed as Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Chief of Staff to H. R. Haldeman, 7 [****11]  Butterfield circulated a White House memorandum in that month in which he claimed to have learned that Fitzgerald planned to "blow the whistle" on some "shoddy  [***402]  purchasing practices" by exposing these practices to public view. 8 Fitzgerald characterizes this memorandum as evidence  [*805]  that Butterfield had commenced efforts to secure Fitzgerald's retaliatory dismissal. As evidence that Butterfield participated in the conspiracy to conceal his unlawful discharge and prevent his reemployment, Fitzgerald cites communications between Butterfield and Haldeman in December 1969 and January 1970. After the President had promised at a press conference to inquire into Fitzgerald's dismissal, Haldeman solicited Butterfield's recommendations. In a subsequent memorandum emphasizing the importance of "loyalty," Butterfield counseled against offering Fitzgerald another job in the administration at that time. 9

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457 U.S. 800 *; 102 S. Ct. 2727 **; 73 L. Ed. 2d 396 ***; 1982 U.S. LEXIS 139 ****

HARLOW ET AL. v. FITZGERALD

Prior History:  [****1]  CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA CIRCUIT.

Disposition: Vacated and remanded.

CORE TERMS

aides, absolute immunity, immunity, functions, qualified immunity, senior, summary judgment, lawsuits, cases, egos, decisions, discovery, damages, constitutional right, good faith, discretionary, insubstantial, conspiracy, join, derivative, performing, literally, suits, government official, costs, risks

Criminal Law & Procedure, Criminal Offenses, Obstruction of Administration of Justice, General Overview, Governments, Federal Government, Employees & Officials, Elements, Civil Procedure, Defenses, Demurrers & Objections, Affirmative Defenses, Civil Rights Law, Immunity From Liability, Local Officials, Customs & Policies, Executive Offices, Courts, Judges, Judicial Immunity, Protection of Rights, Executive Officials, Constitutional Law, Immunities, Qualified Immunity, Executive Branch Officials, Claims By & Against, Immunity, Summary Judgment, Entitlement as Matter of Law, Discovery, Methods of Discovery, Genuine Disputes, Legal Entitlement, Supporting Materials, Opposing Materials