386 U.S. 547 (1967), 79, Pierson v. Ray

Docket Nº:No. 79
Citation:386 U.S. 547, 87 S.Ct. 1213, 18 L.Ed.2d 288
Party Name:Pierson v. Ray
Case Date:April 11, 1967
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 547

386 U.S. 547 (1967)

87 S.Ct. 1213, 18 L.Ed.2d 288

Pierson

v.

Ray

No. 79

United States Supreme Court

April 11, 1967

Argued January 11, 1967

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Petitioners, ** members of a group of white and Negro clergymen on a "prayer pilgrimage" to promote racial integration, attempted to use a segregated interstate bus terminal waiting room in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1961. They were arrested by respondent policemen and charged with conduct breaching the peace in violation of § 2087.5 of the Mississippi Code, which this Court, in 1965, held unconstitutional in Thomas v. Mississippi, 380 U.S. 524, as applied to similar facts. Petitioners waived a jury trial, and were convicted by respondent municipal police justice. On appeal, one petitioner was accorded a trial de novo and, following a directed verdict in his favor, the cases against the other petitioners were dropped. Petitioners then brought this action in the District Court for damages (1) under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which makes liable "every person" who under color of law deprives another person of his civil rights, and (2) at common law for false arrest and imprisonment. The evidence showed that the ministers expected to be arrested on entering a segregated area. Though the witnesses agreed that petitioners entered the waiting room peacefully, petitioners testified that there was no crowd at the terminal, whereas the police testified that a threatening crowd followed petitioners. The jury found for respondents. On appeal, the Court of Appeals held that (1) respondent police justice had immunity for his judicial acts under both § 1983 and the state common law and (2) the policemen had immunity under the state common law of false arrest if they had probable cause to believe § 2087.5 valid, since they were not required to predict what laws are constitutional, but that, by virtue of Monroe v. Pape, 365 U.S. 167, they had no such immunity under § 1983 where the state statute was subsequently declared invalid. The court remanded the case against the officers for a new trial under § 1983 because of prejudicial cross-examination of petitioners, but ruled that they

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could not recover if it were shown at the new trial that they had gone to Mississippi in anticipation that they would be illegally arrested.

Held:

1. The settled common law principle that a judge is immune from liability for damages for his judicial acts was not abolished by § 1983. Cf. Tenney v. Brandhove, 341 U.S. 367. Pp. 553-555,

2. The defense of good faith and probable cause which is available to police officers in a common law action for false arrest and imprisonment is also available in an action under § 1983. Monroe v. Pape, supra, distinguished. Pp. 555-557.

3. Though the officers were not required to predict this Court's ruling in Thomas v. Mississippi, supra, that § 2087.5 was unconstitutional as applied, and the defense of good faith and probable cause is available in an action under § 1983, it does not follow that the count based thereon should be dismissed, since the evidence was conflicting as to whether the police had acted in good faith and with probable cause in arresting the petitioners. Pp. 557-558.

4. Petitioners did not consent to their arrest by deliberately exercising their right to use the waiting room in a peaceful manner with the expectation that they would be illegally arrested. P. 558. 352 F. & 213, affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.

WARREN, J., lead opinion

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE WARREN delivered the opinion of Court.

These cases present issues involving the liability of local police officers and judges under § 1 of the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 17 Stat. 13, now 42 U.S.C. § 1983.1 Petitioners

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in No. 79 were members of a group of 15 white and Negro Episcopal clergymen who attempted to use segregated facilities at an interstate bus terminal in Jackson Mississippi, in 1961. They were arrested by respondents Ray, Griffith, and Nichols, policemen of the City of Jackson, and charged with violating § 2087.5 of the Mississippi Code, which makes guilty of a misdemeanor anyone who congregates with others in a public place under circumstances such that a breach of the peace may be occasioned thereby, and refuses to move on when ordered to do so by a police officer.2 Petitioners3 waived a jury trial and were convicted of the offense by respondent Spencer, a municipal police justice. They were each given the maximum sentence of four months in jail and

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a fine of $200. On appeal, petitioner Jones was accorded a trial de novo in the County Court, and, after the city produced its evidence, the court granted his motion for a directed verdict. The cases against the other petitioners were then dropped.

Having been vindicated in the County Court, petitioners brought this action for damages in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, Jackson Division, alleging that respondents had violated § 1983, supra, and that respondents were liable at common law for false arrest and imprisonment. A jury returned verdicts for respondents [87 S.Ct. 1216] on both counts. On appeal, the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that respondent Spencer was immune from liability under both § 1983 and the common law of Mississippi for acts committed within his judicial jurisdiction. 352 F.2d 213. As to the police officers, the court noted that § 2087.5 of the Mississippi Code was held unconstitutional as applied to similar facts in Thomas v. Mississippi, 380 U.S. 524 (1965).4 Although Thomas was decided years after the arrest involved in this trial, the court held that the policemen would be liable in a suit under § 1983 for an unconstitutional arrest even if they acted in good faith and with probable cause in making an arrest under a state statute not yet held invalid. The court believed that this stern result was required by Monroe v. Pape,

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365 U.S. 167 (1961). Under the count based on the common law of Mississippi, however, it held that the policemen would not be liable if they had probable cause to believe that the statute had been violated, because Mississippi law does not require police officers to predict at their peril which state laws are constitutional and which are not. Apparently dismissing the common law claim,5 the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded for a new trial on the § 1983 claim against the police officers because defense counsel had been allowed to cross-examine the ministers on various irrelevant and prejudicial matters, particularly including an alleged convergence of their views on racial justice with those of the Communist Party. At the new trial, however, the court held that the ministers could not recover if it were proved that they went to Mississippi anticipating that they would be illegally arrested, because such action would constitute consent to the arrest under the principle of volenti non fit injuria, he who consents to a wrong cannot be injured.

We granted certiorari in No. 79 to consider whether a local judge is liable for damages under § 1983 for an unconstitutional conviction and whether the ministers should be denied recovery against the police officers if they acted with the anticipation that they would be illegally arrested. We also granted the police officers' petition in No. 94 to determine if the Court of Appeals correctly held that they could not assert the defense of

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good faith and probable cause to an action under § 1983 for unconstitutional arrest.6

The evidence at the federal trial showed that petitioners and other Negro [87 S.Ct. 1217] and white Episcopal clergymen undertook a "prayer pilgrimage" in 1961 from New Orleans to Detroit. The purpose of the pilgrimage was to visit church institutions and other places in the North and South to promote racial equality and integration, and, finally, to report to a church convention in Detroit. Letters from the leader of the group to its members indicate that the clergymen intended from the beginning to go to Jackson and attempt to use segregated facilities at the bus terminal there, and that they fully expected to be arrested for doing so. The group made plans based on the assumption that they would be arrested if they attempted peacefully to exercise their right as interstate travelers to use the waiting rooms and other facilities at the bus terminal, and the letters discussed arrangements for bail and other matters relevant to arrests.

The ministers stayed one night in Jackson, and went to the bus terminal the next morning to depart for Chattanooga, Tennessee. They entered the waiting room, disobeying a sign at the entrance that announced "White Waiting Room Only -- By Order of the Police Department." They then turned to enter the small terminal restaurant, but were stopped by two Jackson police officers, respondents Griffith and Nichols, who had been awaiting their arrival and who ordered them to "move on." The ministers replied that they wanted to eat,

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and refused to move on. Respondent Ray, then a police captain and now the deputy chief of police, arrived a few minutes later. The ministers were placed under arrest and taken to the jail.

All witnesses, including the police officers, agreed that the ministers entered the waiting room peacefully and engaged in no boisterous or objectionable conduct while in the "White Only" area. There was conflicting testimony on the number of bystanders present and their behavior. Petitioners testified that there was no crowd at the station, that no one followed them into the waiting room, and that no one uttered threatening words or made threatening gestures. The police testified that some 25 to 30 persons followed...

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