Monroe v. Pape – Case Brief

Summary of Monroe v. Pape, 365 U.S. 167, 81 S. Ct. 473, 5 L. Ed. 2d 492 (1961).

Facts

Thirteen Chicago police officers broke into Monroe’s home in the early morning, routed Monroe, his wife, and six children (Ps) from bed and made them stand naked in the living room. The officers ransacked every room, emptying the contents of drawers onto the floor and ripping mattress covers in search of evidence of a recent murder. The officers did not have a warrant for search or arrest. Monroe was taken into custody and was interrogated for ten hours without access to a telephone, attorney, or magistrate. He was later released without charges.

The plaintiffs sued the police officers and the city of Chicago in federal district court for damages arising from a violation of their Fourteenth Amendment rights under R.S. § 1979 (later codified as 42 U.S.C. § 1983), derived from § 1 of the “Ku Klux Act” of April 20, 1871. That statute provides a remedy for parties deprived of constitutional rights by an official’s abuse of his position under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage of any State or Territory.

The City of Chicago (D) moved to dismiss, contending that it was not liable for acts committed in performance of its governmental functions. The district court granted Chicago’s motion to dismiss and Monroe appealed. The Court of Appeals affirmed and the Supreme Court granted cert.

Issues

  1. Does R.S. § 1979 provide a private right of action under federal law for parties deprived of their constitutional rights through a violation of that statute?
  2. Does R.S. § 1979 exclude acts of an official or police officer who can show no authority under state law, custom, or usage for his actions?
  3. Can police officers as individuals be liable under R.S. § 1979?
  4. Can municipalities be liable under R.S. § 1979?

Holding and Rule

  1. Yes. R.S. § 1979 provides a private right of action under federal law for parties deprived of their constitutional rights through a violation of that statute.
  2. No. R.S. § 1979 does not exclude acts of an official or police officer who can show no authority under state law, custom, or usage for his actions.
  3. Yes. Police officers as individuals can be liable under R.S. § 1979.
  4. No. Municipalities are not liable under R.S. § 1979.

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. 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. 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.

Misuse of power 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. Since § 1979 does not contain the word “willfully” as does 18 U.S.C. § 242, and § 1979 imposes civil liability rather than criminal sanctions, a plaintiff need not show a specific intent to deprive a person of a federal right. The City of Chicago is not liable under § 1979 because Congress did not intend for the statute to apply to municipalities.

Disposition

Judgment for defendants affirmed in regard to Chicago, judgment reversed in favor of Monroe in regard to the officers.

Dissent (Frankfurter)

The jurisdiction which Article III conferred upon the judiciary reflected the assumption that the state courts, not the federal courts, would remain the primary guardians of that fundamental security of person and property which the long evolution of the common law had secured to one individual as against others.

Leatherman v. Tarrant County


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