Chappell v. Wallace, 82-167

Decision Date13 June 1983
Docket NumberNo. 82-167,82-167
Citation76 L.Ed.2d 586,103 S.Ct. 2362,462 U.S. 296
PartiesGeorge C. CHAPPELL, et al., Petitioners v. Vernon WALLACE et al
CourtU.S. Supreme Court
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.

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. 298-305.

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

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

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

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 U ited 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.

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.

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 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 'pecu iar 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 (1974); Stencel Aero Engineering Corp. v. United States, 431 U.S. 666, 673, 97 S.Ct. 2054, 2058-2059, 52 L.Ed.2d 665 (1977). Although this case concerns the limitations on the type of nonstatutory damage remedy recognized in Bivens, rather than Congress' intent in enacting the Federal Tort Claims Act, the Court's analysis in Feres guides our analysis in this case.

The need for special regulations in relation to military discipline, and the consequent need and justification for a special and exclusive system of military justice, is too obvious to require extensive discussion; no military organization can function without strict discipline and regulation that would be unacceptable in a civilian setting. See Parker v. Levy, supra, 417 U.S., at 743-744, 94 S.Ct., at 2555-2556; Orloff v. Willoughby, 345 U.S. 83, 94, 73 S.Ct. 534, 540, 97 L.Ed. 842 (1953). In the civilian life of a democracy many command few; in the military, however, this is reversed, for military necessity makes demands on its personnel "without counterpart in civilian life." Schlesinger v. Councilman, 420 U.S. 738, 757, 95 S.Ct. 1300, 1313, 43 L.Ed.2d 591 (1975). The inescapable demands of military discipline and obedience to orders cannot be taught on battlefields; the habit of immediate compliance with military procedures and orders must be virtually reflex with no time for debate or reflection. The Court has often noted "the peculiar and special relationship of the soldier to his superiors," United States v. Brown, supra, 348 U.S., at 112, 75 S.Ct., at 143; see In re Grimley, 137 U.S. 147, 153, 11 S.Ct. 54, 55, 34 L.Ed. 636 (1890), and has acknowledged that "the rights of men in the armed forces must perforce be conditioned to meet certain overriding demands of discipline and duty. . . ." Burns v. Wilson, 346 U.S. 137, 140, 73 S.Ct. 1045, 1048, 97 L.Ed. 1508 (1953) (plurality opinion). This becomes imperative in combat, but conduct in combat inevitably reflects the training that precedes combat; for that reason, centuries of experience has developed a hierarchical structure of discipline and obedience to command, unique in its application to the military establishment and wholly different from civilian patterns. Civilian courts must, at the very least, hesitate long before entertaining a suit which asks the court to tamper with the established relationship between enlisted military personnel and their superior officers; that relationship is at...

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