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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

Case Summary

Procedural Posture

Petitioner appealed a judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which affirmed the dismissal of petitioner's suit for damages against respondents, agents of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, who were alleged to have conducted an unlawful search and arrest in violation of U.S. Const. amend. IV.

Overview

The federal agents argued that petitioner's right to damages for an invasion of the state-created right to privacy was available only in a state court applying state law. Thus, respondents asserted, they would stand before state law as private citizens if a constitutional violation was found. The court disagreed, saying that the relationship between federal agents, acting unconstitutionally, and a private citizen differed from that between private citizens. Because agents had a far greater capacity for harm, the Court reasoned, the Fourth Amendment limited the exercise of federal power. The Court explained that the Amendment did not proscribe only those acts engaged in by private citizens that were condemned by state law, that the interests of state laws regulating invasion of privacy and the Amendment's guarantee against unreasonable searches could be inconsistent, and that the awarding of damages to petitioner following a violation of the Amendment by federal agents was a remedy normally available in the federal courts.

Outcome

The judgment affirming the dismissal of petitioner's suit for damages against the federal agents in federal court was reversed and remanded, because a federal remedy for an unlawful search and arrest allegedly in violation of the Fourth Amendment was not limited to conduct condemned by state law.

LexisNexis® Headnotes

 

 

Constitutional Law > ... > Fundamental Rights > Search & Seizure > Scope of Protection

HN1  Scope of Protection

See U.S. Const. amend. IV.

 

Governments > Federal Government > Claims By & Against

Constitutional Law > ... > Fundamental Rights > Search & Seizure > Scope of Protection

Governments > Federal Government > Employees & Officials

Constitutional Law > ... > Fundamental Rights > Search & Seizure > General Overview

HN2  Claims By & Against

A violation of the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures by a federal agent acting under color of his authority gives rise to a cause of action for damages consequent upon his unconstitutional conduct.

 

Torts > ... > Duty On Premises > Trespassers > General Overview

Criminal Law & Procedure > Search & Seizure > Governmental Action Requirement

Criminal Law & Procedure > Search & Seizure > Warrantless Searches > Private Searches

Constitutional Law > ... > Fundamental Rights > Search & Seizure > Scope of Protection

Criminal Law & Procedure > Search & Seizure > General Overview

HN3 U.S. Const. amend. IV operates as a limitation upon the exercise of federal power regardless of whether the state in whose jurisdiction that power is exercised would prohibit or penalize the identical act if engaged in by a private citizen. It guarantees to citizens of the United States the absolute right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures carried out by virtue of federal authority. And where federally protected rights have been invaded, it has been the rule from the beginning that courts will be alert to adjust their remedies so as to grant the necessary relief.

 

Governments > Legislation > Statutory Remedies & Rights

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

BIVENS v. SIX UNKNOWN NAMED AGENTS OF FEDERAL BUREAU OF NARCOTICS

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)

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

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.