387 U.S. 82 (1967), 118, Dombrowski v. Eastland

Docket NºNo. 118
Citation387 U.S. 82, 87 S.Ct. 1425, 18 L.Ed.2d 577
Party NameDombrowski v. Eastland
Case DateMay 15, 1967
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

Page 82

387 U.S. 82 (1967)

87 S.Ct. 1425, 18 L.Ed.2d 577




No. 118

United States Supreme Court

May 15, 1967

Argued February 20, 1967




Petitioners claim that respondents, Chairman of the Internal Security Subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee and the Subcommittee's chief counsel, tortiously entered into and participated in a conspiracy with Louisiana officials to seize petitioners' property and records in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Louisiana courts held the arrests and searches illegal. Here, the court below, while recognizing difficulty in concluding that there were no disputed issues of fact respecting petitioners' claim, upheld summary dismissal of the action on the ground of respondents' legislative immunity.

Held: Since there is no evidence of the respondent Chairman's "involvement in any activity that could result in liability," the complaint as to him was properly dismissed. The doctrine of legislative immunity protects

legislators engaged "in the sphere of legitimate legislative activity," . . . not only from the consequences of litigation's results, but also from the burden of defending themselves.

However, the doctrine of legislative immunity is less absolute when applied to officers or employees of legislative bodies. There is a sufficient factual dispute with respect to the alleged participation in the conspiracy of the subcommittee's chief counsel to require that a trial be had. The legal consequences of such participation, if it occurred, cannot be determined prior to the factual refinement of trial. The judgment below is therefore reversed as to the subcommittee's chief counsel. 123 U.S.App.D.C.190, 358 F.2d 821, affirmed in part and reversed and remanded in part.

Per curiam opinion.


The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit sustained the order granting summary judgment

Page 83

to the respondents who are, respectively, the Chairman and counsel of the Internal Security Subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee of the United States Senate. Petitioners' claim is essentially that respondents tortiously entered into and participated in a conspiracy and concert of action with Louisiana officials to seize property and records of petitioners by unlawful means in violation of petitioners' Fourth Amendment rights. The circumstances of the searches and arrests involved are set forth in Dombrowski v. Pfister, 380 U.S. 479 (1965), and in Judge Wisdom's dissenting opinion in the District [87 S.Ct. 1427] Court in that case, 227 F.Supp. 556, 573 (D.C.E.D.La.1964). Louisiana courts held the arrests and searches illegal because the warrants secured by the police had not been supported by a showing of probable cause. In a civil suit by these same petitioners against the Louisiana officials allegedly involved in the conspiracy, the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversing a summary judgment in favor of third-party defendants, held that plaintiffs had raised a genuine issue of...

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