462 U.S. 296 (1983), 82-167, Chappell v. Wallace

Docket Nº:No. 82-167.
Citation:462 U.S. 296, 103 S.Ct. 2362, 76 L.Ed.2d 586
Party Name:George C. CHAPPELL, et al., Petitioners v. Vernon WALLACE et al.
Case Date:June 13, 1983
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 296

462 U.S. 296 (1983)

103 S.Ct. 2362, 76 L.Ed.2d 586

George C. CHAPPELL, et al., Petitioners

v.

Vernon WALLACE et al.

No. 82-167.

United States Supreme Court.

June 13, 1983

Argued April 26, 1983.

Navy enlisted men brought race discrimination action against superior officers. The United States District Court for the Southern District of California entered judgment from which the enlisted men appealed. The Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, reversed and remanded, 661 F.2d 729. After granting certiorari, the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Burger, held that unique disciplinary structure of military establishment and Congress' activity in field constitute "special factors" which dictate that it would be inappropriate to provide enlisted military personnel a Bivens-type remedy against their superior officers.

Reversed and remanded.

[103 S.Ct. 2363] Syllabus[*]

SYLLABUS

Respondent Navy enlisted men brought an action for damages and other relief in Federal District Court against petitioner superior officers, alleging that petitioners in making duty assignments and performance evaluations and in imposing penalties had discriminated against respondents because of their race in violation of their constitutional rights. The District Court dismissed the complaint on the grounds that the actions complained of were nonreviewable military decisions, that petitioners were entitled to immunity, and that respondents had failed to exhaust their administrative remedies. The Court of Appeals reversed.

[103 S.Ct. 2364] Held: Enlisted military personnel may not maintain a suit to recover damages from a superior officer for alleged constitutional violations. The special status of the military has required, the Constitution contemplated, Congress has created, and this Court has long recognized two systems of justice: one for civilians and one for military personnel. The need for unhesitating and decisive action by military officers and equally disciplined responses by enlisted personnel would be undermined by a judicially created remedy exposing officers to personal liability at the hands of those they are charged to command. Moreover, Congress, the constitutionally authorized source of authority over the military system of justice, has not provided a damages remedy for claims by military personnel that constitutional rights have been violated by superior officers. Any action to provide a judicial response by way of such a remedy would be inconsistent with Congress' authority. Taken together, the unique disciplinary structure of the military establishment and Congress' activity in the field constitute "special factors" which dictate that it would be inappropriate to provide enlisted military personnel a Bivens-type remedy against their superior officers. Pp. 2364-2368.

661 F.2d 729 (9th Cir., 1981), reversed and remanded.

COUNSEL

Assistant Attorney General McGrath argued the cause for petitioners. With him on the briefs were Solicitor General Lee, Deputy Solicitor General Geller, David A. Strauss, Robert E. Kopp, and John F. Cordes.

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John Murcko, by appointment of the Court, 459 U.S. 1068, argued the cause and filed a brief for respondents.*

* Briefs of amici curiae urging reversal were filed by Mitchell L. Lathrop andTerrence L. Bingman for the Naval Reserve Association; and by Daniel J. Popeo, Paul D. Kamenar, and Nicholas E. Calio for the Washington Legal Foundation.

Briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance were filed by Nanette Dembitz andBurt Neuborne for the American Civil Liberties Union; by Leonard B. Boudin for the Bill of Rights Foundation, Inc.; by Barry Sullivan for the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; and by Jack Greenberg, James M. Nabritt III, Steven L. Winter, and Steven J. Phillips for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.

J. Paul McGrath, Washington, D.C., for petitioners.

John Murcko, San Francisco, Cal., for respondents.

OPINION

Chief Justice BURGER delivered the opinion of the Court.

We granted certiorari to determine whether enlisted military personnel may maintain suits to recover damages from superior officers for injuries sustained as a result of violations of constitutional rights in the course of military service.

I

Respondents are five enlisted men who serve in the United States Navy on board a combat naval vessel. Petitioners are the Commanding Officer of the vessel, four lieutenants and three noncommissioned officers.

Respondents brought action against these officers seeking damages, declaratory judgment, and injunctive relief. Respondents alleged that because of their minority race petitioners failed to assign them desirable duties, threatened them, gave them low performance evaluations, and imposed penalties of unusual severity. App. 5-16. Respondents claimed, inter alia, that the actions complained of "deprived [them] of [their] rights under the Constitution and laws of the United States, including the right not to be discriminated against because of [their] race, color or previous condition of servitude...." App. 7, 9, 11, 13, 15. Respondents also alleged a conspiracy among petitioners to deprive them of rights in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1985.

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The United States District Court for the Southern District of California dismissed the complaint on the grounds that the actions respondents complained of were nonreviewable military decisions, that petitioners were entitled to immunity and that respondents had failed to exhaust their administrative remedies.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed. 661 F.2d 729 (CA9 1981). The Court of Appeals assumed that Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388, 91 S.Ct. 1999, 29 L.Ed.2d 619 (1971), authorized the award of damages for the constitutional violations alleged in their complaint, unless the actions complained of were either not reviewable or petitioners were immune from suit. The Court of Appeals set out certain tests for determining whether the actions at issue are reviewable by a civilian court and, if so, whether petitioners are nonetheless immune from suit. The case was remanded to the District Court for application of these tests.

We granted certiorari, --- U.S. ----, 103 S.Ct. 292, 75 L.Ed.2d ---- (1982), and we reverse.

[103 S.Ct. 2365] II

This Court's holding in Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, supra, authorized a suit for damages against federal officials whose actions violated an individual's constitutional rights, even though Congress had not expressly authorized such suits. The Court, in Bivens and its progeny, has expressly cautioned, however, that such a remedy will not be available when "special factors counselling hesitation" are present. Id., at 396, 91 S.Ct., at 2005. See also Carlson v. Green, 446 U.S. 14, 18, 100 S.Ct. 1468, 1471, 64 L.Ed.2d 15 (1980). Before a Bivens remedy may be fashioned, therefore, a court must take into account any "special factors counselling hesitation." See Bush v. Lucas, --- U.S. ----, ----, 103 S.Ct. 2404, 2411, 75 L.Ed.2d --- (1983).

The "special factors" that bear on the propriety of respondents' Bivens action also formed the basis of this Court's decision in Feres v. United States, 340 U.S. 135, 71 S.Ct. 153, 95 L.Ed. 152 (1950). There

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the Court addressed the question "whether the Federal Tort Claims Act extends its remedy to one sustaining 'incident to [military] service' what under other circumstances would be an actionable wrong." Id., at 138, 71 S.Ct., at 155. The Court held that, even assuming the Act might be read literally to allow tort actions against the United States for injuries suffered by a soldier in service, Congress did not intend to subject the Government to such claims by a member of the armed forces. The Court acknowledged "that if we consider relevant only a part of the circumstances and ignore the status of both the wronged and the wrongdoer in these cases," id., at 142, 71 S.Ct., at 157, the Government would have waived its sovereign immunity under the Act and would be subject to liability. But the Feres Court was acutely aware that it was resolving the question of whether soldiers could maintain tort suits against the government for injuries arising out of their military service. The Court focused on the unique relationship between the government and military personnel--noting that no such liability existed before the Federal Tort Claims Act--and held that Congress did not intend to create such liability. The Court also took note of the various "enactments by Congress which provide systems of simple, certain, and uniform compensation for injuries or death of those in the armed services." Id., at 144, 71 S.Ct., at 158. As the Court has since recognized, "[i]n the last analysis, Feres seems best explained by the 'peculiar and special relationship of the soldier to his superiors, [and] the effects on the maintenance of such suits on discipline ....' " United States v. Muniz, 374 U.S. 150, 162, 83 S.Ct. 1850, 1858, 10 L.Ed.2d 805 (1963), quoting United States v. Brown, 348 U.S. 110, 112, 75 S.Ct. 141, 143, 99 L.Ed. 139 (1954). See also Parker v. Levy, 417 U.S. 733, 743-744, 94 S.Ct. 2547, 2555-2556, 41 L.Ed.2d 439 (1...

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