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Law School Case Brief

Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Fed. Bureau of Narcotics - 403 U.S. 388, 91 S. Ct. 1999 (1971)


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.


Petitioner Bivens alleged that on the morning of November 26, 1965, respondents, agents of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics acting under claim of federal authority, entered his apartment and arrested him for alleged narcotics violations. According to Bivens, the agents manacled him 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. Bivens also claimed to have suffered great humiliation, 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  that it failed to state a cause of action. The Court of Appeals affirmed on that basis.


Did the petitioner’s complaint fail to state a cause of action?




The Court held that a violation of the Fourth Amendment's command against unreasonable searches and seizures, by a federal agent acting under color of federal authority, gave rise to a federal cause of action for damages consequent upon the agent's unconstitutional conduct. The Supreme Court accordingly reversed the decision of the appellate court.

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