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Pierson v. Ray

Supreme Court of the United States

January 11, 1967, Argued ; April 11, 1967, Decided 1

No. 79


 [*548]   [***291]   [**1215]  MR. CHIEF JUSTICE WARREN delivered the opinion of Court.

These cases present issues involving the liability of local police officers and judges under § 1 of the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 17 Stat. 13, now 42 U. S. C. § 1983. 3 [****6]  Petitioners  [*549]  in No. 79 were members of a group of 15 white and Negro Episcopal clergymen who attempted to use segregated facilities at an interstate bus terminal in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1961. They were arrested by respondents Ray, Griffith, and Nichols, policemen of the City of Jackson, and charged with violating § 2087.5 of  [***292]  the Mississippi Code, which makes guilty of a misdemeanor anyone who congregates with [****5]  others in a public place under circumstances such that a breach of the peace may be occasioned thereby, and refuses to move on when ordered to do so by a police officer. 4 Petitioners 5 waived a jury trial and were convicted of the offense by respondent Spencer, a municipal police justice. They were each given the maximum sentence of four months in jail and  [*550]  a fine of $ 200. On appeal petitioner Jones was accorded a trial de novo in the County Court, and after the city produced its evidence the court granted his motion for a directed verdict. The cases against the other petitioners were then dropped.

 [****7]  Having been vindicated in the County Court, petitioners brought this action for damages in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, Jackson Division, alleging that respondents had violated § 1983, supra, and that respondents were liable at common law for false arrest and imprisonment. A jury returned verdicts for respondents  [**1216]  on both counts.  On appeal, the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that respondent Spencer was immune from liability under both § 1983 and the common law of Mississippi for acts committed within his judicial jurisdiction. 352 F.2d 213. As to the police officers, the court noted that § 2087.5 of the Mississippi Code was held unconstitutional as applied to similar facts in Thomas v. Mississippi, 380 U.S. 524 (1965). 6 [****9]  Although Thomas was decided years after the arrest involved in this trial, the court held that the policemen would be liable in a suit under § 1983 for an unconstitutional arrest even if they acted in good faith and with probable cause in making an arrest under a state statute not yet held invalid. The court believed that this stern result was [****8]  required by Monroe v. Pape,  [*551]  365 U.S. 167 (1961). Under the count based on the common law of Mississippi, however, it held that the policemen  [***293]  would not be liable if they had probable cause to believe that the statute had been violated, because Mississippi law does not require police officers to predict at their peril which state laws are constitutional and which are not. Apparently dismissing the common-law claim, 7 the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded for a new trial on the § 1983 claim against the police officers because defense counsel had been allowed to cross-examine the ministers on various irrelevant and prejudicial matters, particularly including an alleged convergence of their views on racial justice with those of the Communist Party. At the new trial, however, the court held that the ministers could not recover if it were proved that they went to Mississippi anticipating that they would be illegally arrested because such action would constitute consent to the arrest under the principle of volenti non fit injuria, he who consents to a wrong cannot be injured.

 We granted certiorari in No. 79 to consider whether a local judge is liable for damages under § 1983 for an unconstitutional conviction and whether the ministers should be denied recovery against the police officers if they acted with the anticipation that they would be illegally arrested. We also granted the police officers' petition in No. 94 to determine if the Court of Appeals correctly [****10]  held that they could not assert the defense of  [*552]  good faith and probable cause to an action under § 1983 for unconstitutional arrest. 8 

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386 U.S. 547 *; 87 S. Ct. 1213 **; 18 L. Ed. 2d 288 ***; 1967 U.S. LEXIS 2791 ****



Disposition:  352 F.2d 213, affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.


arrest, police officer, civil rights, immunity, cases, common law, deprivation, court of appeals, common-law, probable cause, good faith, damages, waiting room, judicial immunity, bus terminal, new trial, crowd, circumstances, imprisonment, member of the judiciary, convictions, subjected, violence, rights

Civil Rights Law, Protection of Rights, Immunity From Liability, Judicial & Quasi-Judicial Functions, Governments, Courts, Judges, Torts, Public Entity Liability, Immunities, Judicial Immunity, Local Officials, Customs & Policies, Intentional Torts, False Imprisonment, General Overview, False Arrest, Civil Rights Actions, Defenses, Defenses, Justifications & Privileges