Dombrowski v. Eastland

Decision Date15 May 1967
Docket NumberNo. 118,118
Citation387 U.S. 82,87 S.Ct. 1425,18 L.Ed.2d 577
PartiesJames A. DOMBROWSKI et al., Petitioners, v. James EASTLAND et al
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Arthur Kinoy, New York City, for petitioners.

Roger Robb, Washington, D.C., for respondents.


The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit sustained the order granting summary judgment to the respondents who are, respectively, the Chairman and counsel of the Internal Security Subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee of the United States Senate. Petitioners' claim is essentially that respondents tortiously entered into and participated in a conspiracy and concert of action with Louisiana officials to seize property and records of petitioners by unlawful means in violation of petitioners' Fourth Amendment rights. The circumstances of the searches and arrests involved are set forth in Dombrowski v. Pfister, 380 U.S. 479, 85 S.Ct. 1116, 14 L.Ed.2d 22 (1965), and in Judge Wisdom's dissenting opinion in the District Court in that case, 227 F.Supp. 556, 573 (D.C.E.D.La.1964). Louisiana courts held the arrests and searches illegal because the warrants secured by the police had not been supported by a showing of probable cause. In a civil suit by these same petitioners against the Louisiana officials allegedly involved in the conspiracy, the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, reversing a summary judgment in favor of third-party defendants, held that plaintiffs had raised a genuine issue of material fact whether the Chairman 'and the other members of the (State) committee were 'acting in the sphere of legitimate legislative activity', which would entitle them to immunity.' Pfister v. Arceneaux, C.A.5th Cir., Nov. 14, 1966, 376 F.2d 821.

In the present case, the court below recognized 'considerable difficulty' in reaching the conclusion that, on the basis of the affidavits of the parties, there were no disputed issues of fact with respect to petitioners' claim. It nevertheless upheld summary dismissal of the action on the ground that 'the record before the District Court contained unchallenged facts of a nature and scope sufficient to give (respondents) an immunity against answerability in damages * * *.' In support of this conclusion the court addressed itself to only that part of petitioners' claims which related to the take-over of the records by respondents after the 'raids.' As to this, it held that the subject matter of the seized records was within the jurisdiction of the Seat e Subcommittee and that the issuance of subpoenas to the Louisiana committee to obtain the records held by it was validated by subsequent Subcommittee ratification. On this basis, the court held that the acts for which petitioners seek relief were privileged, citing Tenney v. Brandhove, 341 U.S. 367, 71 S.Ct. 783, 95 L.Ed. 1019 (1951).

The court did not specifically comment upon petitioners' contention that the record shows a material dispute of fact as to their claim that respondent Sourwine actively collaborated with counsel to the Louisiana committee in making the plans for the allegedly illegal 'raids' pursuant to the claimed authority of the Louisiana committee and on its behalf, in which petitioners claim that their property and records were seized in violation of their Fourth Amendment rights. In the absense of the factual refinement which can occur only as a result of trial, we need not and, indeed, could not express judgment as to the legal consequences of such collaboration, if it occurred.

There is controverted evidence in the record, such as the date appearing on certain documents which respond...

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482 cases
  • Doe v. Pittsylvania Cnty., Va.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Western District of Virginia
    • February 3, 2012
    ...acts,” Brewster, 408 U.S. at 509, 92 S.Ct. 2531, “from the burden of defending” certain suits, Dombrowski v. Eastland, 387 U.S. 82, 85, 87 S.Ct. 1425, 18 L.Ed.2d 577 (1967) (per curiam), and “from the consequences of litigation's results,” id.;seeUnited States v. Helstoski, 442 U.S. 477, 48......
  • Doona v. Onesource Holdings Inc
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    ... ... his favor, summary judgment may be ... granted. Id. at 248-50, 106 S.Ct. 2505 ... (citing Dombrowski v. Eastland, 387 U.S ... 82, 87 S.Ct. 1425, 18 L.Ed.2d 577 (1967)) ... The materiality of the facts is determined ... by the substantive law ... ...
  • CONSUMERS U. OF UNITED STATES v. American Bar Ass'n
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of Virginia
    • May 8, 1979
    ...clause of the Constitution," the Supreme Court looks to Tenney to define the scope of such immunity. Dombrowski v. Eastland, 387 U.S. 82, 84-85, 87 S.Ct. 1425, 1427, 18 L.Ed.2d 577 (1967). The Fourth Circuit has specifically held that the constitutional privilege has been extended to State ......
  • Bethune-Hill v. Va. State Bd. of Elections
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    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of Virginia
    • May 26, 2015
    ... ... See Eastland v. U.S. Servicemen's Fund, 421 U.S. 491, 502, 95 S.Ct. 1813, 44 L.Ed.2d 324 (1975) (observing that "the clause ... reinforc[es] the separation of ... activity are "protected not only from the consequences of litigation's results but also from the burden of defending themselves." Dombrowski v. Eastland, 387 U.S. 82, 85, 87 S.Ct. 1425, 18 L.Ed.2d 577 (1967). In short, federal legislators are entitled to an absolute legislative immunity ... ...
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6 books & journal articles
  • U.s. Supreme Court Decisions: 1974-1975
    • United States
    • Colorado Bar Association Colorado Lawyer No. 4-9, September 1975
    • Invalid date
    ...the sphere of legislative activity from the consequences of litigation and the burden of defending themselves. Dombroswki v. Eastland, 387 U.S. 82 (1967). The Clause creates an absolute bar to federal court interference when legislators are acting within that sphere. Doe v. McMillan, 412 U.......
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    • United States
    • University of Washington School of Law University of Washington Law Review No. 87-4, June 2018
    • Invalid date
    ...Cir. 1995). 43. See Brewster, 408 U.S. at 508. 44. Reinstein and Silverglate, supra note 28, at 1171. 45. See Dombrowski v. Eastland, 387 U.S. 82, 84-85 (1967); Tenney v. Brandhove, 341 U.S. 367, 376 (1951); Kilbourn v. Thompson, 103 U.S. 168, 201-05 46. See Reinstein and Silverglate, supra......
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    • United States
    • American Criminal Law Review Vol. 44 No. 3, June 2007
    • June 22, 2007
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  • Alan K. Chen, the Facts About Qualified Immunity
    • United States
    • Emory University School of Law Emory Law Journal No. 55-2, 2006
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    ..."not only from the consequences of litigation's results but also from the burden of defending themselves" (quoting Dombrowski v. Eastland, 387 U.S. 82, 85 (1967))); Tenney v. Brandhove, 341 U.S. 367, 376-79 (1951) (holding that state legislators are immune from civil rights liability). The ......
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