446 U.S. 635 (1980), 79-5601, Gomez v. Toledo

Docket Nº:No. 79-5601
Citation:446 U.S. 635, 100 S.Ct. 1920, 64 L.Ed.2d 572
Party Name:Gomez v. Toledo
Case Date:May 27, 1980
Court:United States Supreme Court

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446 U.S. 635 (1980)

100 S.Ct. 1920, 64 L.Ed.2d 572




No. 79-5601

United States Supreme Court

May 27, 1980

Argued April 16, 1980




Held: In an action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against a public official whose position might entitle him to qualified immunity, the plaintiff is not required to allege that the defendant acted in bad faith in order to state a claim for relief, but the burden is on the defendant to plead good faith as an affirmative defense. By § 1983's plain terms, the plaintiff is required to make only two allegations in order to state a cause of action under the statute: (1) that some person deprived him of a federal right, and (2) that such person acted under color of state or territorial law. This allocation of the burden of pleading is supported by the nature of the qualified immunity defense, since whether such immunity has been established depends on facts peculiarly within the defendant's knowledge and control, the applicable test focusing not only on whether he has an objectively reasonable basis for his belief that his conduct was lawful, but also on whether he has a subjective belief. Pp. 638-641.

602 F.2d 1018, reversed and remanded.

MARSHALL, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. RHENNQUIST, J., filed a concurring statement, post, p. 642.

MARSHALL, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question presented is whether, in an action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against a public official whose position might entitle him to qualified immunity, a plaintiff must

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allege that the official has acted in bad faith in order to state a claim for relief or, alternatively, whether the defendant must plead good faith as an affirmative defense.


Petitioner Carlos Rivera Gomez brought this action against respondent, the Superintendent of the Police of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, contending that respondent had violated his right to procedural due process by discharging him from employment with the Police Department's Bureau of Criminal Investigation.1 Basing jurisdiction on 28 U.S.C. § 1343(3),2 petitioner alleged the following facts in his complaint.3 Petitioner had been employed as an agent with the Puerto Rican police since 1968. In April, 1975, he submitted a sworn statement to his supervisor in which he asserted that two other agents had offered false evidence for use in a criminal case under their investigation. As a result of this statement, petitioner was immediately transferred [100 S.Ct. 1922] from the Criminal Investigation Corps for the Southern Area to Police Headquarters in San Juan, and a few weeks later to the Police Academy in Gurabo, where he was given no investigative authority. In the meantime respondent ordered an investigation of petitioner's claims, and the Legal Division of

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the Police Department concluded that all of petitioner's factual allegations were true.

In April, 1976, while still stationed at the Police Academy, petitioner was subpoenaed to give testimony in a criminal case arising out of the evidence that petitioner had alleged to be false. At the trial, petitioner, appearing as a defense witness, testified that the evidence was in fact false. As a result of this testimony, criminal charges, filed on the basis of information furnished by respondent, were brought against petitioner for the allegedly unlawful wiretapping of the agents' telephones. Respondent suspended petitioner in May, 1976, and discharged him without a hearing in July. In October, the District Court of Puerto Rico found no probable cause to believe that petitioner was guilty of the allegedly unlawful wiretapping and, upon appeal by the prosecution, the Superior Court affirmed. Petitioner, in turn, sought review of his discharge before the Investigation, Prosecution, and Appeals Commission of Puerto Rico, which, after a hearing, revoked the discharge order rendered by respondent and ordered that petitioner be reinstated with backpay.

Based on the foregoing factual allegations, petitioner brought this suit for damages, contending that his discharge violated his right to procedural due process, and that it had caused him anxiety, embarrassment, and injury to his reputation in the community. In his answer, respondent denied a number of petitioner's allegations of fact and asserted several affirmative defenses. Respondent then moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a cause of action, see Fed.Rule Civ Proc. 12(b)(6), and the District Court granted the motion. Observing that respondent was entitled to qualified immunity for acts done in good faith within the scope of his official duties, it concluded that petitioner was required to plead as part of his claim for relief that, in committing the actions alleged, respondent was motivated by bad faith. The absence of any such allegation, it held, required dismissal of

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the complaint. The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed. 602 F.2d 1018 (1979).4

We granted certiorari to resolve a conflict anong the Courts of Appeals.5 444 U.S. 1031 (1980). We now reverse.


Section 1983 provides a cause of action for "the deprivation of ay rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws" by any person acting "under color of a.ny statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory." 42 U.S.C. § 1983.6 This statute, enacted to aid in "`the preservation of human liberty and human rights,'" Owen v. City of Independence, 445 U.S. 622, 636 (1980), quoting Cong.Globe, 42d Cong., 1st Sess., App. 68

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(1871) (Rep. Shellabarger), reflects a congressional judgment that a "damages remedy against the offending party is a vital component of any scheme for vindicating cherished constitutional guarantees," 445 U.S. at 651. As remedial legislation, § 1983 is to be construed generously to further its primary purpose. See 445 U.S. at 636.

In certain limited circumstances, we have held that public officers are entitled to a qualified immunity from damages liability under § 1983. This conclusion has been based on an unwillingness to infer from legislative silence a congressional intention to abrogate immunities that were both "well established at common law" and "compatible with the purposes of the Civil Rights Act." 445 U.S. at 638. Findings of immunity have thus been

predicated upon a considered inquiry into the immunity historically accorded the relevant official at common law and the interests behind it.

Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 421 (1976). In Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547, 555 (1967), for example, we concluded that a police officer...

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