Lexis Nexis - Case Brief

Not a Lexis Advance subscriber? Try it out for free.

Law School Case Brief

Painter v. Harvey - 863 F.2d 329 (4th Cir. 1988)


If the counterclaim is compulsory, it is within the ancillary jurisdiction of the court to entertain and no independent basis of federal jurisdiction is required. If the counterclaim is permissive, however, it must have its own independent jurisdictional base. 


Police officer Larry Harvey stopped a vehicle driven erratically by plaintiff Florhline Painter in the Town of Luray, Virginia. Both plaintiff and a companion appeared intoxicated, so Harvey called for additional assistance. After the assistance arrived, Harvey placed Painter under arrest for driving while intoxicated, handcuffed her, and, with the help of another officer, placed her in the back seat of his patrol car. A plastic shield separated the front and back seats. When Painter arrived at the jail, her blouse was unbuttoned, one *** was exposed, and her shoes, panty hose, and underpants were removed. She claimed Officer Harvey had raped her and initially refused to cover herself when requested to do so. 

Painter filed suit in federal district court in February, 1985. She alleged that Harvey lacked probable cause to arrest her and had used excessive force during her arrest, all in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Harvey counterclaimed against Painter for defamation. He alleged that Painter had falsely claimed that she was molested or raped during the November 1984 arrest, and had submitted a false summary of the circumstances of her arrest. The case was tried before a jury. The jury found for Harvey on Painter's § 1983 claim. The jury also found in Harvey's favor on the defamation counterclaim, awarding compensatory damages of $5,000 and punitive damages of $15,000. Painter moved to set aside the verdict on the grounds that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the counterclaim. Harvey moved for attorney's fees. The district court denied both motions. Painter appealed and Harvey cross-appealed.


Did the district court properly invoked its ancillary subject matter jurisdiction to entertain a state libel counterclaim?




The Court held that defendant's counterclaim is compulsory and that the district court properly exercised jurisdiction over it. Thus, it affirmed the judgment of the district court.  It held that on cross-appeal, defendant challenged the district court's denial of attorney's fees that defendant sought to recover upon the unsuccessful conclusion of plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action. Such fees are awarded only in the unusual circumstances where a case is "frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation, even though not brought in subjective bad faith." Whether to impose such sanctions was best left to the discretion of the district court and the court discerned no abuse of discretion in this case. 

Access the full text case Not a Lexis Advance subscriber? Try it out for free.
Be Sure You're Prepared for Class