446 U.S. 14 (1980), 78-1261, Carlson v. Green

Docket Nº:No. 78-1261
Citation:446 U.S. 14, 100 S.Ct. 1468, 64 L.Ed.2d 15
Party Name:Carlson v. Green
Case Date:April 22, 1980
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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446 U.S. 14 (1980)

100 S.Ct. 1468, 64 L.Ed.2d 15

Carlson

v.

Green

No. 78-1261

United States Supreme Court

April 22, 1980

Argued January 7, 1980

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE SEVENTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Respondent brought suit in Federal District Court in Indiana on behalf of her deceased son's estate, alleging that her son, while a prisoner in a federal prison in Indiana, suffered personal injuries from which he died because petitioner prison officials violated, inter alia, his Eighth Amendment rights by failing to give him proper medical attention. Asserting jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331(a), respondent claimed compensatory and punitive damages. The District Court held that the allegations pleaded a violation of the Eighth Amendment's proscription against cruel and unusual punishment, thus giving rise to a cause of action for damages under Bivens v. Six Unknown Fed. Narcotics Agents, 403 U.S. 388, under which it was established that victims of a constitutional violation by a federal official have a right to recover damages against the official in federal court despite the absence of any statute conferring such a right. But the court dismissed the complaint on the ground that, although the decedent could have maintained the action if he had survived, the damages remedy, as a matter of federal law, was limited to that provided by Indiana's survivorship and wrongful death laws, which the court construed as making the damages available to the decedent's estate insufficient to meet § 1331(a)'s $10,000 jurisdictional amount requirement. While otherwise agreeing with the District Court, the Court of Appeals held that the latter requirement was satisfied because, whenever a state survivorship statute would abate a Bivens-type action, the federal common law allows survival of the action.

Held:

1. A Bivens remedy is available to respondent even though the allegations could also support a suit against the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). Pp. 18-23.

(a) Neither of the situations in which a cause of action under Bivens may be defeated are present here. First, the case involves no special factors counseling hesitation in the absence of affirmative action by Congress, petitioners not enjoying such independent status in our

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constitutional scheme as to suggest that judicially created remedies against them might be inappropriate. Second, there is no explicit congressional declaration that persons injured by federal officers' violations of the Eighth Amendment may not recover damage's from the officers, but must be remitted to another remedy, equally effective in Congress' view. There is nothing in the FTCA or its legislative history to show that Congress meant to preempt a Bivens remedy or to create an equally effective remedy for constitutional violations. Rather, in the absence of a contrary expression from Congress, the FTCA's provision creating a cause of action against the United States for intentional torts committed by federal law enforcement officers, contemplates that victims of the kind of intentional wrongdoing alleged in the complaint in this case shall have an action under the FTCA against the United States as well as a Bivens action against the individual officials alleged to have infringed their constitutional rights. Pp. 18-20.

(b) The following factors also support the conclusion that Congress did not intend to limit respondent to an FTCA action: (i) the Bivens remedy, being recoverable against individuals, is a more effective deterrent than the FTCA remedy against the United States; (ii) punitive damages may be awarded in a Bivens suit, but are statutorily prohibited in an FTCA suit; (iii) a plaintiff cannot opt for a jury trial in an FTCA action, as he may in a Bivens suit; and (iv) an action under the FTCA exists only if the State in which the alleged misconduct occurred would permit a cause of action for that misconduct to go forward. Pp. 20-23.

2. Since Bivens actions are a creation of federal law, the question whether respondent's action survived her son's death is a question of federal law. Only a uniform federal rule of survivorship will suffice to redress the constitutional deprivation here alleged and to protect against repetition of such conduct. Robertson v. Wegmann, 436 U.S. 584 distinguished. Pp. 23-25.

581 F.2d 669, affirmed.

BRENNAN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. POWELL, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which STEWART, J., joined, post p. 25. BURGER, C.J., post, p. 30, and REHNQUIST, J., post, p. 31, filed dissenting opinions.

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BRENNAN, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

Respondent brought this suit in the District Court for the Southern District of Indiana on behalf of the estate of her deceased son, Joseph Jones, Jr., alleging that he suffered personal injuries from which he died because the petitioners, federal prison official, violated his due process, equal protection, and Eighth Amendment rights.1 Asserting jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331(a), she claimed compensatory and punitive damages for the constitutional violations. Two questions are presented for decision: (1) Is a remedy available directly under the Constitution, given that respondent's allegations could also support a suit against the United States

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under the Federal Tort Claims Act?2 And (2) if so, is survival of the cause [100 S.Ct. 1471] of action governed by federal common law or by state statutes?

I

The District Court held that, under Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97 (1976), the allegations set out in note 1, supra, pleaded a violation of the Eighth Amendment's proscription against infliction of cruel and unusual punishment,3 giving rise to a cause of action for damages under Bivens v. Six Unknown Fed. Narcotics Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971). The court recognized that the decedent could have maintained this action if he had survived, but dismissed the complaint because, in its view, the damages remedy, as a matter of federal law, was limited to that provided by Indiana's survivorship and wrongful death laws and, as the court construed those laws, the damages available to Jones' estate failed to meet § 1331(a)'s $10,000 jurisdictional amount requirement. The Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit agreed that an Eighth Amendment violation was pleaded under Estelle and that a cause of action was stated under Bivens, but reversed the holding that § 1331(a)'s jurisdictional amount requirement was not met.4 Rather, the Court of Appeals held that

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§ 1331(a) was satisfied because,

whenever the relevant State survival statute would abate a Bivens-type action brought against defendants whose conduct results in death, the federal common law allows survival of the action.

581 F.2d 669, 675 (1978). The court reasoned that the Indiana law, if applied, would "subvert" "the policy of allowing complete vindication of constitutional rights" by making it "more advantageous for a tortfeasor to kill, rather than to injure." Id. at 674. We granted certiorari. 442 U.S. 940 (1979). We affirm.

II

Bivens established that the victims of a constitutional violation by a federal agent have a right to recover damages against the official in federal court despite the absence of any statute conferring such a right. Such a cause of action may be defeated in a particular case, however, in two situations. The first is when defendants demonstrate "special factors counseling hesitation in the absence of affirmative action by Congress." 403 U.S. at 396; Davis v. Passman, 442 U.S. 228, 245 (1979). The second is when defendants show that Congress has provided an alternative remedy which it explicitly declared to be a substitute for recovery directly

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under the Constitution and viewed as equally effective. Bivens, supra at 397; Davis v. Passman, supra at 245-247.

[100 S.Ct. 1472] Neither situation obtains in this case. First, the case involves no special factors counseling hesitation in the absence of affirmative action by Congress. Petitioners do not enjoy such independent status in our constitutional scheme as to suggest that judicially created remedies against them might be inappropriate. Davis v. Passman, supra at 246. Moreover, even if requiring them to defend respondent's suit might inhibit their efforts to perform their official duties, the qualified immunity accorded them under Butz v. Economou, 438 U.S. 478 (1978), provides adequate protection. See Davis v. Passman, supra at 246.

Second, we have here no explicit congressional declaration that persons injured by federal officers' violations of the Eighth Amendment may not recover money damages from the agents, but must be remitted to another remedy, equally effective in the view of Congress. Petitioners point to nothing in the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) or its legislative history to show that Congress meant to preempt a Bivens remedy or to create an equally effective remedy for constitutional violations.5 FTCA was enacted long before Bivens was decided, but when Congress amended FTCA in 1974 to create a cause of action against the United States for intentional torts committed by federal law enforcement officers, 28 U.S.C. § 2680(h), the congressional comments accompanying

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that amendment made it crystal clear that Congress views FTCA and Bivens as parallel, complementary causes of action:

[A]fter the date of enactment of this measure, innocent individuals who are subjected to raids [like that in Bivens] will have a cause of action against the individual Federal agents and the Federal Government. Furthermore, this provision should be viewed...

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