Monroe v. Pape,
365 U.S. 167 (1961)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Monroe v. Pape, 365 U.S. 167 (1961)

Monroe v. Pape

No. 39

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.

Page 365 U. S. 168

(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.

Primary Holding

A party does not need to seek a state remedy before seeking a federal remedy under 42 U.S.C. 1983, since these remedies are supplemental.


Monroe brought a claim under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 against Pape, the representative for the city of Chicago, after 13 police officers had entered and searched Monroe's home without a warrant before arresting and detaining Monroe without a warrant and without an arraignment. Monroe stated in his complaint that he had been deprived of his constitutional rights and privileges by actions that the officers had taken under color of the statutes, ordinances, and regulations of Illinois and Chicago. The city argued that it could not be held liable under this law for the conduct of its officials who were engaged in governmental activities. Also, together with the police officers, the city sought to dismiss the case on the grounds that Monroe had failed to state a valid cause of action under this law or the Constitution. The lower courts agreed.



  • William Orville Douglas (Author)
  • Earl Warren
  • Tom C. Clark
  • Hugo Lafayette Black
  • William Joseph Brennan, Jr.
  • Charles Evans Whittaker

The purpose of Section 1983 is to provide recourse to individuals in federal courts when state laws are not properly enforced because of intolerance, prejudice, or neglect, and the state fails to properly respect the rights and privileges guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. The defendants argued that the police actions violated state laws, and the plaintiff could have sought a remedy under those laws by bringing a claim in state court. They also suggest that Section 1983 does not extend to actions by an official or policeman that are not taken under the authority of state law, since the federal statute is based on actions that are taken under color of enumerated state authority. The fact that a state law would provide a remedy if it were enforced is irrelevant to this case, as is the fact that there are provisions in the state constitution that are not being enforced.


  • John Marshall Harlan II (Author)
  • Potter Stewart

The state legislature drafted a separate law in the awareness that the Fourteenth Amendment was self-executing. It is unlikely that they would have perceived the remedies provided by the state law to be unnecessary if there were self-executing provisions of state constitutions that cover the same rights as the Fourteenth Amendment.


  • Felix Frankfurter (Author)

Under the common law, individual rights are largely protected by state law and enforced by state courts rather than federal courts. Article III of the U.S. Constitution was devised with that vision in mind, and federalism principles prevent a more expansive application of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Case Commentary

Suits under this law must be based on some type of state action, which can be either by an official of a state government or a private entity taking the state's place. It does not cover members of the federal government.

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