Law School Case Brief
Gomez v. Toledo - 446 U.S. 635, 100 S. Ct. 1920 (1980)
By the plain terms of 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983, two, and only two, allegations are required in order to state a cause of action under that statute. First, the plaintiff must allege that some person has deprived him of a federal right. Second, he must allege that the person who has deprived him of that right acted under color of state or territorial law.
Plaintiff Carlos Rivera Gomez was an agent for the police bureau of criminal investigations of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. He accused two agents of improper conduct. An investigation was ordered by defendant Astol Calero Toledo, the chief of police; Gomez was transferred to non-investigative duties. Gomez subsequently testified in a criminal case on behalf of Toledo to the effect that false evidence was obtained and introduced by these two agents. His admission that he obtained this knowledge by tapping the telephone conversations of the agents resulted in criminal charges against him for violating the wiretapping statute of Puerto Rico. Gomez was discharged and later reinstated with retroactive pay. Gomez then filed an action under 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983 against Toledo and others in federal district court seeking to recover damages for stress, anxiety, and injury to his reputation. On Toledo's motion, the district court dismissed the action for failure to state a claim upon which could be granted, ruling that Gomez was required to plead, as part of his claim for relief, that Toledo was motivated by bad faith, and dismissal was warranted because Gomez failed to do so. The court of appeals affirmed that judgment. Gomez was granted a writ of certiorari.
Did the district court err when it dismissed Gomez's complaint for failure to alleged bad faith on the part of Toledo?
The Supreme Court of the United States reversed the appellate court's judgment and remanded the case to that court for further proceedings. The Court ruled that in an action brought under § 1983 against a public official whose position might entitle him to immunity if he acted in good faith, a plaintiff was not required to allege that the official acted in bad faith in order to state a claim for relief. The burden was on the public official to plead qualified immunity as a defense. As such, Gomez was required only to allege that he was deprived of a federal right and that Toledo, the person who deprived him of it, did so under color of state law. Gomez satisfied the pleading requirements to state a cause of action under § 1983.
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