Bell v. Hood, No. 344

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtBLACK
Citation327 U.S. 678,66 S.Ct. 773,90 L.Ed. 939
PartiesBELL et al. v. HOOD et al
Docket NumberNo. 344
Decision Date01 April 1946

327 U.S. 678
66 S.Ct. 773
90 L.Ed. 939
BELL et al.

v.

HOOD et al.

No. 344.
Argued Jan. 29, 1946.
Decided April 1, 1946.

Messrs.A. L. Wirin and Russell E. Parsons, both of Los Angeles, Cal., for petitioners.

Page 679

Mr.Frederick Bernays Wiener, of Providence, R.I., for respondents.

Mr. Justice BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioners brought this suit in a federal district court to recover damages in excess of $3000 from the respondents who are agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The complaint alleges that the Court's jurisdiction is founded upon federal questions arising under the Fourth and Fifth Amendments. It is alleged that the damages were suffered as a result of the defendants imprisoning the petitioners in violation of their Constitutional right to be free from deprivation of their liberty without due process of law, and subjecting their premises to search and their possessions to seizure, in violation of their Constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.1

Page 680

Respondents moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a cause of action for which relief could be granted and for summary judgment on the grounds that the federal agents acted within the scope of their authority as officers of the United States and that the searches and seizures were incidental to lawful arrests and were therefore valid. Respondents filed affidavits in support of their motions and petitioners filed counter-affidavits. After hearing the motions the district judge did not pass on them but, on his own motion, dismissed the suit for want of federal jurisdiction on the ground that this action was not one that '* * * arises under the Constitution or laws of the United States * * *' as required by 28 U.S.C. § 41(1), 28 U.S.C.A. § 41(1). The Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed on the same ground. 9 Cir., 150 F.2d 96. At the same time it denied a motion made by petitioners asking it to direct the district court to give petitioners leave to amend their complaint in order to make it still more clearly appear that the action was directly grounded on violations of rights alleged to stem from the Fourth and Fifth Amendments. We granted certiorari because of the importance of the jurisdictional issue involved.

Respondents make the following argument in support of the district court's dismissal of the complaint for want of federal jurisdiction. First, they urge that the complaint states a cause of action for the common law tort of trespass made actionable by state law and that it therefore does not raise questions arising 'under the Constitution

Page 681

or laws of the United States.' Second, to support this contention, respondents maintain that petitioners could not recover under the Constitution or laws of the United States, since the Constitution does not expressly provide for recovery in money damages for violations of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments and Congress has not enacted a statute that does so provide. A mere reading of the complaint refutes the first contention and, as will be seen, the second one is not decisive on the question of jurisdiction of the federal court.

Whether or not the complaint as drafted states a common law action in trespass made actionable by state law, it is clear from the way it was drawn that petitioners seek recovery squarely on the ground that respondents violated the Fourth and Fifth Amendments. It charges that the respondents conspired to do acts prohibited by these amendments and alleges that respondents' conduct pursuant to the conspiracy resulted in damages in excess of $3,000. It cannot be doubted therefore that it was the pleaders' purpose to make violation of these Constitutional provisions the basis of this suit. Before deciding that there is no jurisdiction, the district court must look to the way the complaint is drawn to see if it is drawn so as to claim a right to recover under the Constitution and laws of the United States. For to that extent 'the party who brings a suit is master to decide what law he will rely upon, and * * * does determine whether he will bring a 'suit arising under' the * * * (Constitution or laws) of the United States by his declaration or bill.' The Fair v. Kohler Die & Specialty Co., 228 U.S. 22, 25, 33 S.Ct. 410, 411, 57 L.Ed. 716. Though the mere failure to set out the federal or Constitutional claims as specifically as petitioners have done would not always be conclusive against the party bringing the suit, where the complaint, as here, is so drawn as to seek recovery directly under the Constitution or laws of the United States, the federal court, but for two possible exceptions later noted, must

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entertain the suit. Thus allegations far less specific than the ones in the complaint before us have been held adequate to show that the matter in controversy arose under the Constitution of the United States. Wiley v. Sinkler, 179 U.S. 58, 64, 65, 21 S.Ct. 17, 20, 45 L.Ed. 84; Swafford v. Templetion, 185 U.S. 487, 491, 492, 22 S.Ct. 783, 784, 785, 46 L.Ed. 1005. The reason for this is that the court must assume jurisdiction to decide whether the allegations state a cause of action on which the court can grant relief as well as to determine issues of fact arising in the controversy.

Jurisdiction, therefore, is not defeated as respondents seem to contend, by the possibility that the averments might fail to state a cause of action on which petitioners could actually recover. For it is well settled that the failure to state a proper cause of action calls for a judgment on the merits and not for a dismissal for want of jurisdiction. Whether the complaint states a cause of action on which relief could be granted is a question of law and just as issues of fact it must be decided after and not before the court has assumed jurisdiction over the controversy. If the court does later exercise its jurisdiction to determine that the allegations in the complaint do not state a ground for relief, then dismissal of the case would be on the merits, not for want of jurisdiction. Swafford v. Templeton, 185 U.S. 487, 493, 494, 22 S.Ct. 783, 785, 786, 46 L.Ed. 1005; Binderup v. Pathe Exchange, 263 U.S. 291, 305-308, 44 S.Ct. 96, 98-99, 68 L.Ed. 308.2 The previously carved out exceptions are that a suit may sometimes be dismissed for want of jurisdiction where the alleged claim under the Constitution or federal statutes clearly...

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3818 practice notes
  • SEC v. Lorin, No. 90 Civ. 7461 (HB).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • November 21, 1994
    ...courts `to adjust their remedies so as to grant the necessary relief where federally secured rights are invaded." (quoting Bell v. Hood, 327 U.S. 678, 684, 66 S.Ct. 773, 777, 90 L.Ed. 939 (1946))). Moreover, as the Second Circuit pointed out in SEC v. Texas Gulf Sulphur Co., 446 F.2d 1301, ......
  • Global v. Prithvi Info. Sols., Civil Action No. 2:18-cv-01290-WSS
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Western District of Pennsylvania
    • March 10, 2020
    ...2) are "insubstantial on their face." Growth Horizons, Inc. v. Del. Cnty., Pa., 983 F.2d 1277, 1280 (3d Cir. 1993) (quoting Bell v. Hood, 327 U.S. 678, 773, 776 (1946)).Page 26 II. Federal Rule 12(b)(2) Rule 12(b)(2) requires a court to dismiss a case when a court lacks personal jurisdictio......
  • Gomez v. Wilson, No. 71-1484.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • March 23, 1973
    ...Federal Officers, 71 Colum.L.Rev. 1474 (1971). 50 Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186, 199, 82 S.Ct. 691, 7 L.Ed.2d 663 (1962); Bell v. Hood, 327 U.S. 678, 681-682, 66 S.Ct. 773, 90 L.Ed. 939 (1946); Chasis v. Progress Mfg. Co., 382 F.2d 773, 776 (3d Cir. 1967); Farkas v. Texas Instrument, Inc., 37......
  • Hill v. Sec. & Exch. Comm'n, Civil Action No. 1:15–CV–1801–LMM.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Northern District of Georgia
    • June 8, 2015
    ...Court to sustain the jurisdiction of federal courts to issue injunctions to protect rights safeguarded by the Constitution." Bell v. Hood, 327 U.S. 678, 684, 66 S.Ct. 773, 90 L.Ed. 939 (1946) ; Free Enter. Fund v. Pub. Co. Accounting Oversight Bd., 561 U.S. 477, 491 n. 2, 130 S.Ct. 3138, 17......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
3814 cases
  • SEC v. Lorin, No. 90 Civ. 7461 (HB).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • November 21, 1994
    ...courts `to adjust their remedies so as to grant the necessary relief where federally secured rights are invaded." (quoting Bell v. Hood, 327 U.S. 678, 684, 66 S.Ct. 773, 777, 90 L.Ed. 939 (1946))). Moreover, as the Second Circuit pointed out in SEC v. Texas Gulf Sulphur Co., 446 F.2d 1301, ......
  • Global v. Prithvi Info. Sols., Civil Action No. 2:18-cv-01290-WSS
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Western District of Pennsylvania
    • March 10, 2020
    ...2) are "insubstantial on their face." Growth Horizons, Inc. v. Del. Cnty., Pa., 983 F.2d 1277, 1280 (3d Cir. 1993) (quoting Bell v. Hood, 327 U.S. 678, 773, 776 (1946)).Page 26 II. Federal Rule 12(b)(2) Rule 12(b)(2) requires a court to dismiss a case when a court lacks personal jurisdictio......
  • Gomez v. Wilson, No. 71-1484.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • March 23, 1973
    ...Federal Officers, 71 Colum.L.Rev. 1474 (1971). 50 Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186, 199, 82 S.Ct. 691, 7 L.Ed.2d 663 (1962); Bell v. Hood, 327 U.S. 678, 681-682, 66 S.Ct. 773, 90 L.Ed. 939 (1946); Chasis v. Progress Mfg. Co., 382 F.2d 773, 776 (3d Cir. 1967); Farkas v. Texas Instrument, Inc., 37......
  • Hill v. Sec. & Exch. Comm'n, Civil Action No. 1:15–CV–1801–LMM.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Northern District of Georgia
    • June 8, 2015
    ...Court to sustain the jurisdiction of federal courts to issue injunctions to protect rights safeguarded by the Constitution." Bell v. Hood, 327 U.S. 678, 684, 66 S.Ct. 773, 90 L.Ed. 939 (1946) ; Free Enter. Fund v. Pub. Co. Accounting Oversight Bd., 561 U.S. 477, 491 n. 2, 130 S.Ct. 3138, 17......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
5 books & journal articles
  • Addressing the problem: the judicial branches
    • United States
    • Environmental justice: legal theory and practice - second edition
    • May 23, 2012
    ...courts have jurisdiction to provide prospective injunctive relief against the unconstitutional actions of federal officers. Bell v. Hood , 327 U.S. 678, 66 S. Ct. 773, 90 L. Ed. 939 (1946). Plaintiffs somewhat disingenuously argue that “this action is virtually entirely, if not exclusively,......
  • Addressing the Problem: The Judicial Branches
    • United States
    • Environmental justice: legal theory and practice. 3rd Edition
    • November 20, 2014
    ...courts have jurisdiction to provide prospective injunctive relief against the unconstitutional actions of federal oicers. Bell v. Hood , 327 U.S. 678, 66 S. Ct. 773, 90 L. Ed. 939 (1946). Plaintifs somewhat disingenuously argue that “this action is virtually entirely, if not exclusively, fo......
  • Addressing the Problem: The Judicial Branches
    • United States
    • Environmental justice: legal theory and practice. 4th edition
    • February 20, 2018
    ...courts have jurisdiction to provide prospective injunctive relief against the unconstitutional actions of federal oicers. Bell v. Hood, 327 U.S. 678, 66 S. Ct. 773, 90 L. Ed. 939 (1946). Plaintifs somewhat disingenuously argue that “this action is virtually entirely, if not exclusively, for......
  • Addressing The Problem: The Judicial Branches
    • United States
    • Environmental justice: legal theory and practice
    • February 17, 2009
    ...courts have jurisdiction to provide prospective injunctive relief against the unconstitutional actions of federal officers. Bell v. Hood , 327 U.S. 678, 66 S. Ct. 773, 90 L. Ed. 939 (1946). Plaintiffs somewhat disingenuously argue that “this action is virtually entirely, if not exclusively,......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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