341 U.S. 651 (1951), 217, Collins v. Hardyman

Docket Nº:No. 217
Citation:341 U.S. 651, 71 S.Ct. 937, 95 L.Ed. 1253
Party Name:Collins v. Hardyman
Case Date:June 04, 1951
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 651

341 U.S. 651 (1951)

71 S.Ct. 937, 95 L.Ed. 1253




No. 217

United States Supreme Court

June 4, 1951

Argued January 8-9, 1951




A complaint in an action to recover damages under 8 U.S.C. § 47(3) alleged that the plaintiffs were members of a political club which planned a meeting to adopt a resolution opposing the Marshall Plan; that defendants conspired to deprive plaintiffs of their rights as citizens of the United States peaceably to assemble and to equal privileges and immunities under the laws of the United States; that, in furtherance of the conspiracy, defendants proceeded to plaintiffs' meeting place and, by threats and violence, broke up the meeting, thus interfering with the right of plaintiffs to petition the Government for redress of grievances, and that defendants did not interfere or conspire to interfere with meetings of other groups with whose opinions defendants agreed. There was no averment that defendants were state officers or acted under color of state law.

Held: The complaint did not state a cause of action under 8 U.S.C. § 47(3). Pp. 652-663.

(a) Assuming, without deciding, that the facts alleged show that defendants deprived plaintiffs "of having and exercising" a federal right, the facts alleged did not show that the conspiracy was "for the purpose of depriving [them] of the equal protection of the laws, or of equal privileges and immunities under the laws," and therefore, in this case, a cause of action under 8 U.S.C. § 47(3) was not stated. Pp. 660-663.

(b) Section 47(3) does not attempt to reach a conspiracy to deprive one of rights unless it is a deprivation of equality, of "equal protection of the law," or of "equal privileges and immunities under the law." Pp. 660-661.

(c) The fact that the defendants broke up plaintiffs' meeting but did not interfere with the meetings of those who shared defendants' views is not inequality before the law unless there is some manipulation of the law or its agencies to give sanction or sanctuary for doing so. P. 661.

(d) Although plaintiffs' rights were invaded, disregarded, and lawlessly violated, neither their rights nor their equality of rights under the law have been, or were intended to be, denied or impaired. Pp. 661-662.

183 F.2d 308, reversed.

Page 652

In an action brought by respondents against petitioners to recover damages under 8 U.S.C. § 47(3), the District Court dismissed the complaint. 80 F.Supp. 501. The Court of Appeals reversed. 183 F.2d 308. This Court granted certiorari. 340 U.S. 809. Reversed, p. 663.

JACKSON, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE JACKSON delivered the opinion of the Court.

This controversy arises under 8 U.S.C. § 47(3), which provides civil remedies for certain conspiracies.1 A motion to dismiss the amended [71 S.Ct. 938] complaint raises the issue of its sufficiency and, of course, requires us to accept its well pleaded facts as the hypothesis for decision.

Page 653

Its essential allegations are that plaintiffs are citizens of the United States, residents of California, and members or officers of a voluntary association or political club organized for the purpose of participating in the election of officers of the United States, petitioning the national government for redress of grievances, and engaging in public meetings for the discussion of national public issues. It planned a public meeting for November 14, 1947, on the subject, "The Cominform and the Marshall Plan," at which it was intended to adopt a resolution opposing said Marshall Plan, to be forwarded, by way of a petition for the redress of grievances, to appropriate federal officials.

The conspiracy charged as being within the Act is that defendants, with knowledge of the meeting and its purposes,

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entered into an agreement to deprive the plaintiffs,

as citizens of the United States, of privileges and immunities, as citizens of the United States, of the rights peaceably to assemble for the purpose of discussing and communicating upon national public issues. . . .

And further,

to deprive the plaintiffs as well as the members of said club, as citizens of the United States, of equal privileges and immunities under the laws of the United States. . . .

This is amplified by allegations that defendants knew of many public meetings in the locality at which resolutions were adopted by groups with whose opinions defendants agreed, and with which defendants did not interfere or conspire to interfere.

With respect to the meeting aforesaid on November 14, 1947, however, the defendants conspired to interfere with said meeting for the reason that the defendants opposed the views of the plaintiff. . . . .

In the effort to bring the case within the statute, the pleader also alleged that defendants conspired "to go in disguise upon the highways," and that they did in fact go in disguise "consisting of the unlawful and unauthorized wearing of caps of the American Legion." The District Court disposed of this part of the complaint by holding that wearing such headgear did not constitute the disguise or concealment of identity contemplated by the Act. Plaintiffs thereupon abandoned that part of the complaint, and do not here rely upon it to support their claims.

The complaint then separately sets out the overt acts of injury and damage relied upon to meet the requirements of the Act. To carry out the conspiracy, it is alleged, defendants proceeded to the meeting place and, by force and threats of force, did assault and intimidate plaintiffs and those present at the meeting, and thereby broke up the meeting, thus interfering with the right of the plaintiffs to petition the Government for

Page 655

redress of grievances. Both compensatory and punitive damages are demanded.

It is averred that the cause of action arises under the statute cited and under the Constitution of the United States. But apparently the draftsman was scrupulously cautious not to allege that it arose under the Fourteenth Amendment, or that defendants had conspired to deprive plaintiffs of rights secured by that Amendment, thus seeking to avoid the effect of earlier [71 S.Ct. 939] decisions of this Court in Fourteenth Amendment cases.

The complaint makes no claim that the conspiracy or the overt acts involved any action by state officials, or that defendants even pretended to act under color of state law. It is not shown that defendants had or claimed any protection or immunity from the law of the State, or that they in fact enjoyed such because of any act or omission by state authorities. Indeed, the trial court found that the acts alleged are punishable under the laws of California relating to disturbance of the peace, assault, and trespass, and are also civilly actionable.2

Page 656

The District Judge held that the statute does not and cannot constitutionally afford redress for invasions of civil rights at the hands of individuals, but can only be applied to injuries to civil rights by persons acting pursuant to or under color of state law.3 In reversing the District Court's dismissal of the complaint, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held otherwise, one judge dissenting.4 The Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, in Love v. Chandler, 124 F.2d 785, has ruled in accord with the District Judge and the dissenting Court of Appeals Judge here.5 To resolve the conflict, we granted certiorari.6

This statutory provision has long been dormant. It was introduced into the federal statutes by the Act of April 20, 1871, entitled

An Act to enforce the Provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, and for other Purposes.7

The Act was among the last of the reconstruction legislation to be based on the "conquered province" theory which prevailed in Congress for a period following the Civil War. This statute, without separability provisions, established the civil liability with which we are here concerned, as well as other civil liabilities, together with parallel criminal liabilities. It also provided that unlawful combinations and conspiracies named in the Act might be deemed rebellions, and authorized the President to employ the militia to suppress them. The President was also authorized to suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus. It prohibited any person from being a federal grand or

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petit juror in any case arising under the Act unless he took and subscribed an oath in open court "that he has never, directly or indirectly, counseled, advised, or voluntarily aided any such combination or conspiracy." Heavy penalties and liabilities were laid upon any person who, with knowledge of such conspiracies, aided them or failed to do what he could to suppress them.

The Act, popularly known as the Ku Klux Act, was passed by a partisan vote in a highly inflamed atmosphere. It was preceded by spirited debate which pointed [71 S.Ct. 940] out its grave character and susceptibility to abuse, and its defects were soon realized when its execution brought about a severe reaction.8

The provision establishing criminal conspiracies in language indistinguishable from that used to describe civil conspiracies came to judgment in United States v. Harris, 106 U.S. 629.9 It was held unconstitutional. This decision was in harmony with that of other important decisions during that period10 by a Court every member of

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which had been appointed by President Lincoln, Grant, Hayes, Garfield or Arthur -- all indoctrinated in the cause which produced the Fourteenth Amendment, but convinced that it was not to be used to centralize power so as to upset the federal system.


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