Alvarez v. Wilson

Decision Date07 March 1977
Docket NumberNo. 75 C 2734.,75 C 2734.
Citation431 F. Supp. 136
PartiesFrank ALVAREZ, Jr., Plaintiff, v. Captain Almon C. WILSON, etc., et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Illinois

Ronald J. Clark, Clark, Howard, Thomas & Piers, Chicago, Ill., for plaintiffs.

Samuel K. Skinner, U. S. Atty., Chicago, Ill., for defendants.


MARSHALL, District Judge.

Plaintiff, Frank Alvarez, brought this action against several Navy officers, alleging that they individually and collectively violated his constitutional rights to due process of law and equal protection of the laws. Jurisdiction over this action is allegedly grounded upon 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and 28 U.S.C. § 1343. In its current posture, three issues are presented for decision: 1) whether 42 U.S.C. § 1985 creates a cause of action against federal officials; 2) whether sovereign immunity bars plaintiff's action against these defendants; 3) whether defendants are shielded from liability for money damages by absolute or qualified immunity. After describing the parties and the relevant facts, these issues will be discussed.

I. The Parties

Plaintiff Alvarez was, at the time the alleged occurrences took place, a Lieutenant Junior Grade in the United States Navy. He is no longer in the Navy. His complaint names five defendants, listed in descending order of command: Rear Admiral Warren O'Neil, Captain Almon Wilson, Captain W. J. Wagner, Commander James Devane, and Commander Gary Almy. Rear Admiral O'Neil is Commandant of the Ninth Naval District and commands naval shore activities in twelve states. He controls surface reserves of 14,000 to 15,000 people at 80 Reserve Centers and has a staff of 80 at Great Lakes Naval Base. He also exercises "area command authority" — not direct control — over 160 independent activities and commands in the Ninth Naval District. One of these independent units is the Naval Regional Medical Center (NRMC) at Great Lakes, where plaintiff Alvarez was stationed.

Captain Wilson, a medical doctor, is the commanding officer of NRMC. This hospital has a staff of over 1200 military and civilian employees. Captain Wilson has complete control of the command, organization, and management of NRMC. He directs and oversees patient care and the safety, health, and well-being of the entire NRMC staff. He is responsible to Rear Admiral O'Neil with respect to the coordination of NRMC with other commands in the Ninth Naval District. In other matters, his superior is the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery of the Navy. Captain Wagner, also a medical doctor, is the deputy commanding officer of NRMC at Great Lakes. He is the direct representative of Captain Wilson and he assists him in his medical duties. During the course of the incidents leading to this lawsuit, Captain Wilson was away from NRMC for five days and Captain Wagner was then the acting commanding officer.

Commander Devane is the director of administrative services at NRMC. He is responsible for such day-to-day functions as personnel management, patient affairs, and food services. He works directly under Captain Wilson. Finally, Commander Almy is a medical doctor with a specialty in psychiatry. He is Chief of Neuropsychiatric Service at NRMC. The Service provides for examination, diagnosis, and treatment of Navy personnel needing psychiatric care. Commander Almy's job contains administrative and clinical duties; he supervises a staff and treats patients himself.

The five defendants were on duty in their respective offices at all times during the alleged conduct giving rise to this lawsuit.

II. The Facts

The relevant facts, in summary form,1 are these. Plaintiff, Frank Alvarez, is a black Puerto-Rican man. He enlisted in the Navy in 1959 and attained the rank of Lieutenant Junior Grade by 1974. Alvarez had a personal commitment towards improving race relations and in 1972, he began to serve on a race relations committee at Great Lakes NRMC, where he was stationed. This committee was named Committee on Equal Treatment and Opportunity (CETO). In April, 1974, his commanding officers, Rear Admiral Turville and Captain John Pruitt, asked him to help implement the Navy's Race Relations Education Program at NRMC.

The Race Relations Education Program was conceived in the wake of racial tensions and disorders within the Navy. Its purpose is to end racial prejudice and to guarantee equal opportunity for all Navy men and women. To achieve this goal, the Chief of Naval Operations developed a system of seminars for members of the Navy at various levels in the military hierarchy. It was hoped that these seminars would enable Navy officers and enlisted persons to gain awareness of racial tensions among ethnic groups. Each seminar participant would then strive to eliminate personal and institutional racism from the Navy. UPWARD (Understanding Personal Worth and Racial Dignity) seminars were designated for middle management officers, junior officers, and enlisted men. The seminars were to be conducted by RAF (Racial Awareness Facilitators) teams, each with one majority and one minority group member.

Alvarez volunteered to become a Racial Awareness Facilitator. Under orders of his superiors, he attended a training session for several weeks, returned to NRMC, and in June of 1974, began conducting UPWARD seminars with his white partner, Petty Officer Bernard Miller. Meanwhile, the command at NRMC changed and Captain Wilson and Commander Devane replaced Rear Admiral Turville and Captain Pruitt, respectively.

What occurred during the next three months is anything but clear. Alvarez asserts that he seriously and conscientiously tried to conduct effective UPWARD seminars and to improve race relations. He claims that the defendants withheld support and funding for the program, and tried to thwart his efforts. Defendant O'Neil, he claims, specifically cautioned him not to take the race relations program too seriously. Further, the defendants allegedly conspired to cut out the program and silence Alvarez, who was persistent and vocal in his fight against racism. Defendants Wilson, Devane, and Almy harassed Alvarez and his partner by interrupting an UPWARD seminar without warning, destroying the rapport between the RAF team and the participants. Alvarez remained firm in his dedication to his principles and openly criticized his superiors for their negative attitudes. Finally, the defendants suspended the UPWARD seminars, and ordered plaintiff to report to the sick list for psychiatric evaluation. He was hospitalized against his will from September 23 to September 27, 1974 and then released with a finding of no psychosis, no neurosis and no mental impairment. Alvarez claims his Navy career was destroyed as a result. He claims these actions were motivated by racial prejudice.

From the defendant's point of view, the story is radically different. Alvarez had good intentions, they assert, but he used poor tactics and poor judgment. Instead of improving relations between blacks and whites, his intensity alienated people. Before the seminars started, Alvarez had irritated Rear Admiral O'Neil by interrogating him "with a series of inappropriate questions in a very challenging and rude manner." O'Neil Affidavit. After the seminars began, a number of participants complained about the confrontation techniques allegedly used by Alvarez. One woman became so emotionally upset that she was unable to work for a day. By September 18, defendants O'Neil, Wilson, Devane and Almy were fully aware of the complaints and Wilson advised Alvarez to change his style. But the next day, another woman participant became emotionally upset during a seminar session. This "group casualty" led defendant Wilson to immediately suspend the seminars. Psychiatric evaluation for Alvarez was suggested, but he refused to cooperate. Only then did Commander Devane order Alvarez to report for in-patient evaluation. The defendants believed that their actions were essential to preserve the racial harmony which they say was jeopardized by Alvarez's conduct.

Alvarez claims that this course of conduct deprived him of constitutional rights to due process of law and to the equal protection of the laws. Although the facts are stated in Count I, the six-count complaint proposes a number of legal theories for recovery. In Count I, plaintiff alleges that his hospitalization or "incarceration" was a deprivation of liberty without due process of law, and that defendants' conduct amounted to racial discrimination. Count I, it is claimed, arises directly under the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment. Count II claims that the defendants conspired to deprive plaintiff of equal protection of the laws in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3). Count III invokes 42 U.S.C. § 1985(1) and claims that defendants conspired to prevent plaintiff from carrying out his duties. The next count, based on 42 U.S.C. § 1986, states that defendants knew that plaintiff's rights under § 1985 were threatened, and refused to prevent the commission of wrongs and injury to him. In these four counts, Alvarez demands compensatory and punitive damages. Jurisdiction of Count I is based on the existence of a federal question, 28 U.S.C. § 1331. The jurisdictional basis of Counts II, III, and IV is 28 U.S.C. § 1343.

Counts V and VI are brought as class actions and seek injunctive relief as well as damages.2 The proposed class consists of minority group members who are or will be3 stationed at Great Lakes. Count V seeks an injunction prohibiting defendants from threatening or incarcerating any class members because of race. Count VI seeks an injunction restraining defendants from interfering with the Race Relations Education Program at Great Lakes. Jurisdiction is asserted under § 1331.

Defendants urge dismissal of the entire complaint for three reasons. First, they state that Counts II, III, and IV, claiming rights under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1985 and 1986, should be dismissed because these...

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