Gomez v. Toledo,
446 U.S. 635 (1980)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Gomez v. Toledo, 446 U.S. 635 (1980)

Gomez v. Toledo

No. 79-5601

Argued April 16, 1980

Decided May 27, 1980

446 U.S. 635


Held: In an action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against a public official whose position might entitle him to qualified immunity, the plaintiff is not required to allege that the defendant acted in bad faith in order to state a claim for relief, but the burden is on the defendant to plead good faith as an affirmative defense. By § 1983's plain terms, the plaintiff is required to make only two allegations in order to state a cause of action under the statute: (1) that some person deprived him of a federal right, and (2) that such person acted under color of state or territorial law. This allocation of the burden of pleading is supported by the nature of the qualified immunity defense, since whether such immunity has been established depends on facts peculiarly within the defendant's knowledge and control, the applicable test focusing not only on whether he has an objectively reasonable basis for his belief that his conduct was lawful, but also on whether he has a subjective belief. Pp. 446 U. S. 638-641.

602 F.2d 1018, reversed and remanded.

MARSHALL, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. REHNQUIST, J., filed a concurring statement, post, p. 446 U. S. 642.

Primary Holding

A claim for relief under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 does not require the plaintiff to assert that the public official has acted in bad faith.


Gomez was fired by the Puerto Rico Police Department's Bureau of Criminal Investigation. He sued Toledo, the police superintendent, on the grounds that his right to procedural due process had been violated. To support his claim, Gomez introduced a sworn statement that he had given to Toledo in which he stated that two other officers had provided false evidence to be used in a criminal case that they were investigating. He stated that he was transferred to a different division because of reporting their misconduct, but a police investigation supported the truth of his statements. He also later testified at a trial that the other officers had provided false evidence. However, he was terminated without a hearing and charged with the unlawful wiretapping of the other officers' telephones.

This claim under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 was brought after the criminal case against Gomez had been dismissed. The trial court judge dismissed his Section 1983 claim on the basis that he had failed to plead that Toledo had acted in bad faith during the relevant course of conduct.



  • Thurgood Marshall (Author)
  • Warren Earl Burger
  • William Joseph Brennan, Jr.
  • Potter Stewart
  • Byron Raymond White
  • William Hubbs Rehnquist
  • Harry Andrew Blackmun
  • Lewis Franklin Powell, Jr.
  • John Paul Stevens

The two required elements in a Section 1983 claim are that the plaintiff must assert that another party deprived him of a federal right and that this party acted under color of state or territorial law. The complaint meets both of these requirements because it alleges that the defendant acted under color of Puerto Rican law in firing the plaintiff without respecting his right to procedural due process. Qualified immunity is merely an affirmative defense rather than an element of the cause of action.


  • William Hubbs Rehnquist (Author)

The majority appropriately limited its opinion to the burden of pleading rather than the burden of persuasion with regard to qualified immunity.

Case Commentary

Qualified immunity applies to public officers who are sued for damages based on actions that were taken on the objectively reasonable belief that they were lawful, but it is not necessary to allege bad faith at the outset to state a claim. This should be considered an affirmative defense rather than an element of the complaint.

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