327 U.S. 678 (1946), 344, Bell v. Hood

Docket Nº:No. 344
Citation:327 U.S. 678, 66 S.Ct. 773, 90 L.Ed. 939
Party Name:Bell v. Hood
Case Date:April 01, 1946
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 678

327 U.S. 678 (1946)

66 S.Ct. 773, 90 L.Ed. 939

Bell

v.

Hood

No. 344

United States Supreme Court

April 1, 1946

Argued January 29, 1946

CERTIORARI TO THE CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

1. Where the complaint seeks recovery squarely on the ground of violation of plaintiffs' rights under the Fourth and Fifth Amendments, a federal district court has jurisdiction of a suit against agents of the Federal Government to recover damages in excess of $3,000 alleged to have been suffered by the plaintiffs as a result of such violations -- even though neither the Constitution nor the Congress has provided for the recovery of money damages for such violations and the complaint is so framed as possibly to state a common law action in tort or trespass. Pp. 680-685.

2. Where a complaint in a federal court is so drawn as to seek recovery directly under the Constitution or laws of the United States, the court must entertain the suit, except: (a) where the alleged claim appears to be immaterial, and made solely for the purpose of obtaining jurisdiction, or (b) where it is wholly insubstantial and frivolous. P. 682.

3. Whether the complaint states a cause of action on which relief could be granted is a question of law which must be decided after, and not before, the court assumes jurisdiction. P. 682.

4. The issue whether federal courts can grant money recovery for damages alleged to have been suffered as a result of federal agents' violating the Fourth and Fifth Amendments has sufficient merit to warrant exercise of federal jurisdiction for purposes of adjudicating it. P. 684.

150 F.2d 96, reversed.

Petitioners brought suit in a federal district court against agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation to recover damages in excess of $3,000 alleged to have been sustained as a result of violations of their rights under the Fourth and Fifth Amendments. The District Court dismissed the suit for want of federal jurisdiction. The Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. 150 F.2d 96. This Court granted certiorari. 326 U.S. 706. Reversed, p. 685.

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BLACK, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioners brought this suit in a federal district court to recover damages in excess of $3,000 from the respondents, who are agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The complaint alleges that the Court's jurisdiction is founded upon federal questions arising under the Fourth and Fifth Amendments. It is alleged that the damages were suffered as a result of the defendants' imprisoning the petitioners in violation of their Constitutional right to be free from deprivation of their liberty without due process of law, and subjecting their premises to search and their possessions to seizure, in violation of their Constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.1

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Respondents moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a cause of action for which relief could be granted and for summary judgment [66 S.Ct. 775] on the grounds that the federal agents acted within the scope of their authority as officers of the United States and that the searches and seizures were incidental to lawful arrests, and were therefore valid. Respondents filed affidavits in support of their motions, and petitioners filed counter-affidavits. After hearing the motions, the district judge did not pass on them, but, on his own motion, dismissed the suit for want of federal jurisdiction on the ground that this action was not one that " . . . arises under the Constitution or laws of the United States . . . ," as required by 28 U.S.C. § 41(1). The Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed on the same ground. 150 F.2d 96. At the same time, it denied a motion made by petitioners asking it to direct the district court to give petitioners leave to amend their complaint in order to make it still more clearly appear that the action was directly grounded on violations of rights alleged to stem from the Fourth and Fifth Amendments. We granted certiorari because of the importance of the jurisdictional issue involved.

Respondents make the following argument in support of the district court's dismissal of the complaint for want of federal jurisdiction. First, they urge that the complaint states a cause of action for the common law tort of trespass made actionable by state law, and that it therefore does not raise questions arising "under the Constitution

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or laws of the United States." Second, to support this contention, respondents maintain that petitioners could not recover under the Constitution or laws of the United States, since the Constitution does not expressly...

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