Gomez v. Toledo

Citation446 U.S. 635,100 S.Ct. 1920,64 L.Ed.2d 572
Decision Date27 May 1980
Docket NumberNo. 79-5601,79-5601
PartiesCarlos Rivera GOMEZ, Petitioner, v. Astol Calero TOLEDO
CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Syllabus

Held: In an action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against a public official whose position might entitle him to qualified immunity, the plaintiff is not required to allege that the defendant acted in bad faith in order to state a claim for relief, but the burden is on the defendant to plead good faith as an affirmative defense. By § 1983's plain terms, the plaintiff is required to make only two allegations in order to state a cause of action under the statute: (1) that some person deprived him of a federal right, and (2) that such person acted under color of state or territorial law. This allocation of the burden of pleading is supported by the nature of the qualified-immunity defense, since whether such immunity has been established depends on facts peculiarly within the defendant's knowledge and control, the applicable test focusing not only on whether he has an objectively reasonable basis for his belief that his conduct was lawful but also on whether he has a subjective belief. Pp. 638-641.

602 F.2d 1018 (1st Cir.), reversed and remanded.

Michael Avery, Boston, Mass., for petitioner.

Federico A. Cedo-Alzamora, San Juan, P. R., for respondent.

Mr. Justice MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question presented is whether, in an action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against a public official whose position might entitle him to qualified immunity, a plaintiff must allege that the official has acted in bad faith in order to state a claim for relief or, alternatively, whether the defendant must plead good faith as an affirmative defense.

I

Petitioner Carlos Rivera Gomez brought this action against respondent, the Superintendent of the Police of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, contending that respondent had violated his right to procedural due process by discharging him from employment with the Police Department's Bureau of Criminal Investigation.1 Basing jurisdiction on 28 U.S.C. § 1343(3),2 petitioner alleged the following facts in his complaint.3 Petitioner had been employed as an agent with the Puerto Rican police since 1968. In April 1975, he submitted a sworn statement to his supervisor in which he asserted that two other agents had offered false evidence for use in a criminal case under their investigation. As a result of this statement, petitioner was immediately transferred from the Criminal Investigation Corps for the Southern Area to Police Headquarters in San Juan, and a few weeks later to the Police Academy in Gurabo, where he was given no investigative authority. In the meantime respondent ordered an investigation of petitioner's claims, and the Legal Division of the Police Department concluded that all of petitioner's factual allegations were true.

In April 1976, while still stationed at the Police Academy, petitioner was subpoenaed to give testimony in a criminal case arising out of the evidence that petitioner had alleged to be false. At the trial petitioner, appearing as a defense witness, testified that the evidence was in fact false. As a result of this testimony, criminal charges, filed on the basis of information furnished by respondent, were brought against petitioner for the allegedly unlawful wiretapping of the agents' telephones. Respondent suspended petitioner in May 1976 and discharged him without a hearing in July. In October, the District Court of Puerto Rico found no probable cause to believe that petitioner was guilty of the allegedly unlawful wiretapping and, upon appeal by the prosecution, the Superior Court affirmed. Petitioner in turn sought review of his discharge before the Investigation, Prosecution, and Appeals Commission of Puerto Rico, which, after a hearing, revoked the discharge order rendered by respondent and ordered that petitioner be reinstated with back pay.

Based on the foregoing factual allegations, petitioner brought this suit for damages, contending that his discharge violated his right to procedural due process, and that it had caused him anxiety, embarrassment, and injury to his reputation in the community. In his answer, respondent denied a number of petitioner's allegations of fact and asserted several affirmative defenses. Respondent then moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a cause of action, see Fed.Rule Civ.Proc. 12(b)(6), and the District Court granted the motion. Observing that respondent was entitled to qualified immunity for acts done in good faith within the scope of his official duties, it concluded that petitioner was required to plead as part of his claim for relief that, in committing the actions alleged, respondent was motivated by bad faith. The absence of any such allegation, it held, required dismissal of the complaint. The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed. 602 F.2d 1018 (1979).4

We granted certiorari to resolve a conflict among the Courts of Appeals.5 444 U.S. 1031, 100 S.Ct. 701, 62 L.Ed.2d 666 (1980). We now reverse.

II

Section 1983 provides a cause of action for "the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws" by any person acting "under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, or any State or Territory." 42 U.S.C. § 1983.6 This statute, enacted to aid in " 'the preservation of human liberty and human rights,' " Owen v. City of Independence, 445 U.S. 622, 636, 100 S.Ct. 1398, 1408, 63 L.Ed.2d 673 (1980), quoting Cong.Globe, 42d Cong., 1st Sess., App. 68 (1871) (Rep. Shellabarger), reflects a congressional judgment that a "damages remedy against the offending party is a vital component of any scheme for vindicating cherished constitutional guarantees," 445 U.S., at 651, 100 S.Ct., at 1415. As remedial legislation, § 1983 is to be construed generously to further its primary purpose. See 445 U.S., at 636, 100 S.Ct., at 1407-08.

In certain limited circumstances, we have held that public officers are entitled to a qualified immunity from damages liability under § 1983. This conclusion has been based on an unwillingness to infer from legislative silence a congressional intention to abrogate immunities that were both "well established at common law" and "compatible with the purposes of the Civil Rights Act." 445 U.S., at 638, 100 S.Ct., at 1409. Findings of immunity have thus been "predicated upon a considered inquiry into the immunity historically accorded the relevant official at common law and the interests behind it." Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 421, 96 S.Ct. 984, 990, 47 L.Ed.2d 128 (1976). In Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547, 555, 87 S.Ct. 1213, 1218, 18 L.Ed.2d 288 (1967), for example, we concluded that a police officer would be "excus[ed] from liability for acting under a statute that he reasonably believed to be valid but that was later held unconstitutional, on its face or as applied." And in other contexts we have held, on the basis of "[c]ommon-law tradition . . . and strong public-policy reasons," Wood v. Strickland, 420 U.S. 308, 318, 95 S.Ct. 992, 999, 43 L.Ed.2d 214 (1975), that certain categories of executive officers should be allowed qualified immunity from liability for acts done on the basis of an objectively reasonable belief that those acts were lawful. See Procunier v. Navarette, 434 U.S. 555, 98 S.Ct. 855, 55 L.Ed.2d 24 (1978) (prison officials); O'Connor v. Donaldson, 422 U.S. 563, 95 S.Ct. 2486, 45 L.Ed.2d 396 (1975) (superintendent of state hospital); Wood v. Strickland, supra (local school board members); Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 94 S.Ct. 1683, 40 L.Ed.2d 90 (1974) (state Governor and other executive officers). Cf. Owen v. City of Independence, supra (no qualified immunity for municipalities).

Nothing in the language or legislative history of § 1983 however, suggests that in an action brought against a public official whose position might entitle him to immunity if he acted in good faith, a plaintiff must allege bad faith in order to state a claim for relief. By the plain terms of § 1983, two—and only two—allegations are required in order to state a cause of action under that statute. First, the plaintiff must allege that some person has deprived him of a federal right. Second, he must allege that the person who has deprived him of that right acted under color of state or territorial law. See Monroe v. Pape, 365 U.S. 167, 171, 81 S.Ct. 473, 475, 5 L.Ed.2d 492 (1961). Petitioner has made both of the required allegations. He alleged that his discharge by respondent violated his right to procedural due process, see Board of Regents v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 92 S.Ct. 2701, 33 L.Ed.2d 548 (1972), and that respondent acted under color of Puerto Rican law. See Monroe v. Pape, supra, at 172-187, 81 S.Ct., at 476-484.7

Moreover, this Court has never indicated that qualified immunity is relevant to the existence of the plaintiff's cause of action; instead we have described it as a defense available to the official in question. See Procunier v. Navarette, supra, 434 U.S., at 562, 98 S.Ct., at 859; Pierson v. Ray, supra, 386 U.S., at 556, 557, 87 S.Ct., at 1219; Butz v. Economou, 438 U.S. 478, 508, 98 S.Ct. 2894, 2911, 57 L.Ed.2d 895 (1978). Since qualified immunity is a defense, the burden of pleading it rests with the defendant. See Fed.Rule Civ.Proc. 8(c) (defendant must plead any "matter constituting an avoidance or affirmative defense"); 5 C. Wright & A. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1271 (1969). It is for the official to claim that his conduct was justified by an objectively reasonable belief that it was lawful. We see no basis for imposing on the plaintiff an obligation to anticipate such a defense by stating in his complaint that the defendant acted in bad faith.

Our conclusion as to the allocation of the burden of pleading is supported by the nature of the qualified immunity defense. As...

To continue reading

Request your trial
4493 cases
  • Thomas v. Colvin
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of South Carolina
    • 6 Septiembre 2011
    ...must allege that: (1) individual defendant(s) deprived him of a federal right, and (2) did so under color of state law. Gomez v. Toledo, 446 U.S. 635, 640 (1980); Hall v. Quillen, 631 F.2d 1154, 1155-56 (4th Cir. 1980). The purpose of § 1983 is to deter state actors from using the badge of ......
  • Randle v. City and County of San Francisco
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
    • 16 Octubre 1986
    ...party is a vital component of any scheme for vindicating cherished constitutional guarantees.' " (Gomez v. Toledo (1980) 446 U.S. 635, 639, 100 S.Ct. 1920, 1923, 64 L.Ed.2d 572, quoting Owen v. City of Independence (1980) 445 U.S. 622, 651, 100 S.Ct. 1398, 1415, 63 L.Ed.2d 673.) "As remedia......
  • Sullivan v. Stein
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Connecticut
    • 30 Mayo 2007
    ...of that right acted under color of state ... law.'" Velez v. Levy, 401 F.3d 75, 84 (2d Cir.2005) (citing Gomez v. Toledo, 446 U.S. 635, 640, 100 S.Ct. 1920, 64 L.Ed.2d 572 (1980) (alteration in original)). "An official acts under color of state law for Section 1983 purposes when the officia......
  • Orange v. Fielding, C.A. No. 0:06-2601-PMD-BM.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of South Carolina
    • 24 Julio 2007
    ...§ 1983, a plaintiff must show, in part, that a named Defendant deprived him or her of a federal right. See Gomez v. Toledo, 446 U.S. 635, 640, 100 S.Ct. 1920, 64 L.Ed.2d 572 (1980); see also Harris v. City of Va. Beach, 11 Fed.Appx. 212, 215 (4th Cir.2001) (affirming the district court's di......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
6 books & journal articles
  • Qualified Immunity and the Colorblindness Fallacy: Why 'Black Lives [Don't] Matter' to the Country's High Court
    • United States
    • Georgetown Journal of Law & Modern Critical Race Perspectives No. 13-2, July 2021
    • 1 Julio 2021
    ...citation omitted) (opining “immunity is an aff‌irmative defense that must be pleaded by a defendant off‌icial”) . 29. Gomez v. Toledo, 446 U.S. 635, 640 (1980) (“Since qualif‌ied immunity is a defense, the burden of pleading it rests with the defendant.”). 30. Martin A. Schwartz, Procedural......
  • Constitutional violations (42 U.S.C. §1983)
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Federal Employment Jury Instructions - Volume I
    • 30 Abril 2014
    ...it; instead, plaintiff must have a legitimate claim of entitlement to the property interest under state or federal law. Gomez v. Toledo , 446 U.S. 635, 640 (1980); Finley v. Giacobbe , 79 F.3d 1285, 1296 (2nd Cir. 1996). An employee with a constitutionally protectable property interest in h......
  • Qualified and Absolute Immunity at Common Law.
    • United States
    • Stanford Law Review Vol. 73 No. 6, June 2021
    • 1 Junio 2021
    ...Brief for Petitioners Harlow & Butterfield, supra note 366, at 44-45,45 n.1 8. (390.) 457 U.S. at 815 n.24 (citing Gomez v. Toledo, 446 U.S. 635, 642 (1980) (Rehnquist, J., (391.) Kenneth Duval, Burdens of Proof and Qualified Immunity, 37 S. ILL. U. L.J. 135,142-43(2012). (392.) See 457......
  • A better path for constitutional tort law.
    • United States
    • Constitutional Commentary Vol. 25 No. 2, June 2008
    • 22 Junio 2008
    ...for making qualified immunity an affirmative defense as to which the individual defendant bore the burden of proof. See Gomez v. Toledo, 446 U.S. 635, 640-42 (1980) (explaining that a successful assertion of qualified immunity required a defendant to make both objective and subjective showi......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT