Monroe v. Pape
Annotate this Case
365 U.S. 167 (1961)
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U.S. Supreme Court
Monroe v. Pape, 365 U.S. 167 (1961)
Monroe v. Pape
Argued November 8, 1960
Decided February 20, 1961
365 U.S. 167
Under R.S. § 1979, derived from § 1 of the "Ku Klux Act" of April 20, 1871, petitioners (six Negro children and their parents) brought an action in a Federal District Court against the City of Chicago and 13 of its police officers for damages for violation of their rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. They alleged that, acting "under color of the statutes, ordinances, regulations, customs and usages" of Illinois and the City of Chicago, but without any warrant for search or arrest, the police officers broke into petitioners' home in the early morning, routed them from bed, made them stand naked in the living room, and ransacked every room, emptying drawers and ripping mattress covers; that the father was taken to the police station and detained on "open" charges for ten hours while he was interrogated about a two-day-old murder; that he was not taken before a magistrate, though one was accessible; that he was not permitted to call his family or attorney, and that he was subsequently released without criminal charges being preferred against him.
Held: The complaint stated a cause of action against the police officers under § 1979; but the City of Chicago was not liable under that section. Pp. 365 U. S. 168-192.
1. Allegation of facts constituting a deprivation under color of state authority of the guaranty against unreasonable searches and seizures, contained in the Fourth Amendment and made applicable to the States by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, satisfies to that extent the requirement of § 1979. Pp. 365 U. S. 170-171.
2. In enacting § 1979, Congress intended to give a remedy to parties deprived of constitutional rights, privileges and immunities by an official's abuse of his position. Pp. 365 U. S. 171-187.
(a) The statutory words "under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory" do not exclude acts of an official or policeman who can show no authority under state law, custom or usage to do what he did, or even who violated the state constitution and laws. Pp. 365 U. S. 172-187.
(b) One of the purposes of this legislation was to afford a federal right in federal courts because, by reason of prejudice, passion, neglect, intolerance, or otherwise, state laws might not be enforced and the claims of citizens to the enjoyment of rights, privileges and immunities guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment might be denied by state agencies. Pp. 365 U. S. 174-180.
(c) The federal remedy is supplementary to the state remedy, and the state remedy need not be sought and refused before the federal remedy is invoked. P. 365 U. S. 183.
(d) Misuse of power possessed by virtue of state law and made possible only because the wrongdoer is clothed with the authority of state law is action taken "under color of" state law within the meaning of § 1979. United States v. Classic, 313 U. S. 299; Screws v. United States, 325 U. S. 91. Pp. 365 U. S. 183-187.
3. Since § 1979 does not contain the word "willfully," as does 18 U.S.C. § 242, and § 1979 imposes civil liability, rather than criminal sanctions, actions under § 1979 can dispense with the requirement of showing a "specific intent to deprive a person of a federal right."
P. 365 U. S. 187.
4. The City of Chicago is not liable under § 1979, because Congress did not intend to bring municipal corporations within the ambit of that section. Pp. 365 U. S. 187-192.
272 F.2d 365, reversed.