Brandon v. Holt

Decision Date21 January 1985
Docket NumberNo. 83-1622,83-1622
Citation105 S.Ct. 873,469 U.S. 464,83 L.Ed.2d 878
PartiesElizabeth BRANDON et al., Petitioners, v. John D. HOLT, etc., et al
CourtU.S. Supreme Court
Syllabus

In petitioners' action in Federal District Court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, they alleged and proved that they had been assaulted by an officer of the Memphis Police Department who had a history of violent behavior that was well known within the Department. The court's judgment for petitioners, in addition to awarding compensatory and punitive damages against the officer, also awarded compensatory damages against the then Director of the Police Department "in his official capacity," the court having found that although the Director had no actual knowledge of the officer's disciplinary record because of the Department's administrative policies, he should have known of the officer's dangerous propensities. The Court of Appeals reversed the judgment against the Director, holding that he had acted in good faith and was accordingly entitled to immunity. The court rejected petitioners' contention that the action against the Director was tantamount to an action against the city of Memphis, which could not claim the qualified immunity that its agents could assert and thus was liable for the damages awarded against the Director. The court concluded that the suit was against an individual, not the city.

Held:

1. The city was not named as a defendant in this case because the complaint was filed before Monroe v. Pape, 365 U.S. 167, 81 S.Ct. 473, 5 L.Ed.2d 492—which held that municipalities could not be held liable under § 1983—was overruled by Monell v. New York City Dept. of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 56 L.Ed.2d 611. The course of these proceedings after Monell was decided, however, made it abundantly clear that the action against the Director was in his official capacity and only in that capacity, and that petitioners claimed a right to recover damages from the city. Thus, petitioners would be entitled to amend their pleadings to conform to the proof and to the District Court's findings of fact, and it is appropriate for this Court to decide the legal issues without first insisting that such a formal amendment be filed. Pp. 469-471.

2. In cases under § 1983, a judgment against a public servant "in his official capacity" imposes liability on the entity that he represents. This rule was plainly implied in Monell, supra; Hutto v. Finney, 437 U.S. 678, 98 S.Ct. 2565, 57 L.Ed.2d 522; and Owen v. City of Independence, 445 U.S. 622, 100 S.Ct. 1398, 63 L.Ed.2d 673. The Court of Appeals erred in failing to apply the distinction between suits against government officials "in their individual capacities" entitled to qualified immunity, and suits in which only the liability of the municipality itself was at issue. Pp. 471-473.

719 F.2d 151, reversed and remanded.

Justice STEVENS delivered the opinion of the Court.

The District Court entered a damages judgment against the Director of the Memphis (Tenn.) Police Department in his official capacity. Brandon v. Allen, 516 F.Supp. 1355, 1361 (WD Tenn.1981). The Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed, holding that he was protected by qualified immunity. Brandon v. Allen, 719 F.2d 151, 153 (1983). The question presented is whether the damages judgment is payable by the city of Memphis because the Director was sued in his official capacity or whether the Director is individually liable, but shielded by qualified immunity.

Petitioners brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.1 They alleged and proved that Robert J. Allen, who was then a Memphis police officer, viciously assaulted them on March 5, 1977.2 They also proved that Allen had a history of violent and irregular behavior 3 that was well known within the Police Department.4

E. Winslow Chapman had been the Director of the Memphis Police Department for approximately six months when Officer Allen attacked the petitioners. It is undisputed that Chapman had no actual knowledge of Allen's disciplinary record. The District Court found, however, that "Director Chapman should have known that Officer Allen's dangerous propensities created a threat to the rights and safety of citizens." 5 The Director's lack of actual knowledge of Allen's propensities was found to have been caused by the "policies in effect during that period of Mr. Chapman's relatively new administration," which policies included "the inherently deficient nature of police administrative procedures involving the discovery of officer misconduct." 6

Petitioners sought damages from Officer Allen and from Director Chapman. Allen did not defend the action and a default judgment was entered against him for both compen- satory and punitive damages. The award against Director Chapman was, however, limited to compensatory damages.7 In its findings and conclusions, the District Court repeatedly and unambiguously stated that the liability of Director Chapman was "in his official capacity." 8

The Court of Appeals reversed the judgment against Director Chapman on the ground that he had "acted in good faith and is accordingly entitled to immunity." 9 In explaining its holding, the Court of Appeals rejected the petitioners' contention that the action against Chapman was tantamount to an action against the city of Memphis. The court wrote:

"The plaintiffs' argument that the qualified immunity is inapplicable simply because they sued Chapman in his official capacity is unavailing. Under Owen v. City of Independence, 445 U.S. 622 . . . [100 S.Ct. 1398, 63 L.Ed.2d 673] (1980), a municipality is not entitled to claim the qualified immunity that the city's agents can assert. But this is a suit against an individual, not the city. In reality, plaintiffs are attempting to amend their complaint so as to treat the Police Director as though he were the City in order to avoid the qualified immunity which shields Director Chapman. Such an argument is without support in precedent or reason." 10

We granted certiorari to consider the validity of that argument. 467 U.S. 1204, 104 S.Ct. 2384, 81 L.Ed.2d 342 (1984). We now reverse.

I

In Monroe v. Pape, 365 U.S. 167, 187-192, 81 S.Ct. 473, 484-486, 5 L.Ed.2d 492 (1961), the Court held that a city was not "a person" within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. That construction of § 1983 protected municipalities from liability in cases of this kind until June 6, 1978, when we decided Monell v. New York City Dept. of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 56 L.Ed.2d 611. The complaint in this case was filed on February 22, 1978, before Monroe v. Pape was overruled; this explains why the city of Memphis was not named as a defendant in this case. The timing of the complaint may also explain why petitioners did not expressly allege at the outset of the litigation that they were suing Chapman in his official capacity as Director of Police of the Memphis Police Department.11

The course of proceedings after Monell was decided did, however, make it abundantly clear that the action against Chapman was in his official capacity and only in that capacity. Thus, in petitioners' response to a defense motion for summary judgment, petitioners' counsel stated:

"Defendant Chapman is sued in his official capacity as Director of Police Services, City of Memphis, Tennessee. '[O]fficial capacity suits generally represent an action against an entity of which an officer is an agent. . . . Monell v. New York Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 690 n. 55, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 2035 n. 55, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978).' "12

The point was reiterated in counsel's opening statement,13 in the trial court's evidentiary rulings,14 in the findings on liability,15 and in the proceedings relating to damages in which it was recognized that our decision in Newport v. Facts Concert, Inc., 453 U.S. 247, 101 S.Ct. 2748, 69 L.Ed.2d 616 (1981), precluded an award of punitive damages against Director Chapman.16

The Court of Appeals also repeatedly noted that the suit against Chapman was "in his official capacity." 17 Moreover, while the appeal was pending Director Chapman left office and was replaced by John D. Holt. Pursuant to Rule 43(c)(1) of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure, Holt was automatically substituted as a party.18 It is Director Holt who appears as a respondent in this Court, and there is not even an arguable basis for claiming that the record would support an award of damages against him individually.

Given this state of the record, even at this late stage of the proceedings, petitioners are entitled to amend their pleadings to conform to the proof and to the District Court's findings of fact.19 Moreover, it is appropriate for us to proceed to decide the legal issues without first insisting that such a formal amendment be filed; this is because we regard the record as plainly identifying petitioners' claim for damages as one that is asserted against the office of "Director of Police, City of Memphis," rather than against the particular individual who occupied that office when the claim arose. Petitioners are claiming a right to recover damages from the city of Memphis.

II

In at least three recent cases arising under § 1983, we have plainly implied that a judgment against a public servant "in his official capacity" imposes liability on the entity that he represents provided, of course, the public entity received notice and an opportunity to respond.20 We now make that point explicit.

In Monell, the City of New York was not itself expressly named as a defendant. The suit was nominally against the city's Department of Social Services, but that Department had no greater separate identity from the city than did the Director of the Department when he was acting in his official capacity. For the purpose of evaluating the city's potential liability under § 1983, our...

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