Gregoire v. Biddle, 36

Decision Date24 October 1949
Docket NumberNo. 36,Docket 21401.,36
Citation177 F.2d 579
PartiesGREGOIRE v. BIDDLE et al.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Second Circuit

Gunther Jacobson, New York City, for plaintiff-appellant.

John F. X. McGohey, U.S. Atty., New York City, Harold J. Raby, New York City, Robert Roy Dann, New York City, for defendants-appellees.

Before L. HAND, Chief Judge, and SWAN and CLARK, Circuit Judges.

L. HAND, Chief Judge.

The plaintiff has appealed from a judgment, which dismissed a complaint in two counts because of its "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted"Rule 12(b) (6), Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, 28 U.S.C.A. The first count alleged that the five defendants were two successive Attorneys-General of the United States, two successive Directors of the Enemy Alien Control Unit of the Department of Justice, and the District Director of Immigration at Ellis Island; and that they arrested the plaintiff on the pretence that he was a German and therefore an enemy alien. In spite of a ruling of the Enemy Alien Hearing Board after a hearing that he was a Frenchman, they kept him in custody from January 5, 1942, until September 18, 1946, when Judge Knox found that he was a Frenchman and released him by an order, D.C. 69 F.Supp. 889, which this court affirmed on November 6, 1947.1 The count ended by alleging that the arrest and imprisonment was "without any authority of law and without any reasonable or colorable cause," and that the defendants "conspired together and maliciously and wilfully entered into a scheme to deprive the plaintiff * * * of his liberty contrary to law." The second count reiterated these allegations and added that the defendants "subjected the plaintiff * * * to the deprivation of his liberty and of his rights, privileges and immunities secured by the Constitution and the laws of the United States," and deprived him of equal protection of the law in violation of Sections 43 and 47 of Civil Rights Act.2 The judge held that the defendants had an absolute immunity from liability, even though their unlawful acts had been induced only by personal ill-will, and dismissed the complaint for that reason.

We lay aside any extenuating facts, which we might gather from the record in United States ex rel. Gregoire v. Watkins, supra,1 not because we should not be free to consider them if need were;3 but, because we think that the complaint should not stand, even though under Rule 9(b) we read the allegation that the defendants arrested the plaintiff "maliciously and wilfully," as though it had specifically alleged that they had acted altogether from personal spite and had been fully aware that they had no legal warrant for arresting or deporting the plaintiff. True, so stated, that seems at first blush a startling proposition; but we think, not only that it necessarily follows from the decision of the Supreme Court in Yaselli v. Goff;4 but that, as a new question, the result is desirable. The facts in Yaselli v. Goff appear in the opinion of this court from which the appeal was taken,5 they were as follows. The action was to recover damages for the malicious prosecution of the plaintiff — a "Special Assistant to the United States Attorney" — by the defendant, Goff, who had been appointed a "Special Assistant to the Attorney-General," and had been charged with the criminal prosecution of the plaintiff for an attempt to defraud the United States. The case came up upon a motion to dismiss the action, on a record consisting of the complaint, the answer, a reply and a stipulation. The complaint alleged that Goff had "falsely and maliciously and without any reasonable or probable cause," procured an indictment against the plaintiff, had caused him to be arrested, arraigned and brought to trial; but that the judge before whom the case was brought dismissed the indictment upon the prosecution's evidence. Goff answered that he had been appointed to prosecute the case against the plaintiff, and that all the acts charged against him had been in discharge of his duties as such. The reply alleged that, already before he was appointed, Goff had conspired maliciously and without cause to prosecute the plaintiff, and that he had obtained his appointment for that purpose alone. It further alleged that he had represented to the Department of Justice that the United States Shipping Board, of which he had been a commissioner, had evidence of the plaintiff's crime, and that it was by this false means that he had secured his appointment. The stipulation merely contained the letter appointing Goff as "Special Assistant," and declared that it was in that capacity that he appeared before the grand jury, presented the evidence against the plaintiff and conducted all the proceedings.

We discussed at length the absolute privilege of judges, and held that a United States attorney "if not a judicial officer, is at least a quasi-judicial officer, of the government,"6 and that as such the defendant "in the performance of the duties imposed upon him by law, is immune from a civil action for malicious prosecution. * * * The immunity is absolute and is grounded on principles of public policy. The public interest requires that persons occupying such important positions and so closely identified with the judicial departments of the Government should speak and act freely and fearlessly in the discharge of their important official functions."7 Upon appeal the Supreme Court affirmed this judgment in a per curiam opinion on the authority of Bradley v. Fisher8 and Alzua v. Johnson.9 Both those decisions concerned the privilege of a judge, and held that it was absolute, even though his decision was not the result of an honest effort to apply the law to the facts before him, but of a desire to gratify his personal ill-will against the defeated suitor. Thus the conclusion is inevitable that the Supreme Court took the same view as we: i. e., that officers of the Department of Justice, when engaged in prosecuting private persons enjoy the same absolute privilege as judges. The Court had indeed already granted similar immunity to the Postmaster General10 declaring that the doctrine covered "heads of Executive Departments"; and the Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia has extended it to a number of other executive officials, some of them by no means heads of departments.11

It does indeed go without saying that an official, who is in fact guilty of using his powers to vent his spleen upon others, or for any other personal motive not connected with the public good, should not...

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720 cases
  • Gildea v. Ellershaw
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court
    • July 9, 1973
    ...to an assistant to the Attorney General. One of the more frequently cited Federal cases on this subject is that of Gregoire v. Biddle, 177 F.2d 579 (2d Cir.) (1949), applying to nonjudicial Federal officers, in this case the persons serving in the office of the Attorney General, the Directo......
  • Green v. Cauthen
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of South Carolina
    • May 20, 1974
    ...their duty to the constant dread of retaliation. * * * Id. at 571-572, 79 S.Ct. at 1340, quoting Judge Learned Hand in Gregoire v. Biddle, 177 F.2d 579, 581 (2d Cir. 1949). Cases have continued to hold that an official's actions are subject to the defense of official immunity, regardless of......
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    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
    • January 21, 1970
    ...White v. Towers, supra, 37 Cal.2d 727, 235 P.2d 209; Hardy v. Vial, 48 Cal.2d 577, 311 P.2d 494, 66 A.L.R.2d 739; and Gregoire v. Biddle (2nd Cir.), 177 F.2d 579, 581, with approval. The court stated (55 Cal.2d p. 220, 11 Cal.Rptr. 89, 359 P.2d 457) that in the companion case decided the sa......
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    ... ... at 651-652; Saylor v. Lindsay, 302 F.Supp. 1174, 1184 (S.D.N.Y.1969); Loughman v. Pitz, 36 F.Supp. 302 (E.D.N.Y. 1941) ...         The better reasoned cases require the addition ...         439 F.Supp. at 804, quoting Gregoire v. Biddle, 177 F.2d 579, 581 (2d Cir.1949) ...         Count IV of the counterclaim ... ...
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17 books & journal articles
  • Qualified Immunity and Federalism
    • United States
    • Georgetown Law Journal No. 109-2, December 2020
    • December 1, 2020
    ...[public off‌icials], in the unf‌linching discharge of their duties.’” (second alteration in original) (quoting Gregoire v. Biddle, 177 F.2d 579, 581 (2d Cir. 1949))). 163. See Nielson & Walker, supra note 13, at 1872–74; see also Echols v. Lawton, 913 F.3d 1313, 1325 (11th Cir. 2019) (obser......
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    ...done by dishonest officers than to subject those who try to do their duty to the constant dread of retaliation." Gregoire v. Biddle, 177 F.2d 579, 581 (C.A.2 1949), cert. denied, 339 U.S. 949 (1950). We emphasize that the immunity of prosecutors from liability in suits under § 1983 does not......
  • Qualified and Absolute Immunity at Common Law.
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    • Stanford Law Review Vol. 73 No. 6, June 2021
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    ...supra notes 158-66 and accompanying text. (248.) See Cooper v. O'Connor, 99 F.2d 135,141 (D.C. Cir. 1938). (249.) See Gregoire v. Biddle, 177 F.2d 579, 580-81 (2d Cir. 1949) (Hand, J.); Taylor v. Glotfelty, 201 F.2d 51, 51 (6th Cir. 1952) (per curiam); see also Butz v. Economou, 438 U.S. 47......
  • 'n' guilty men.
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    ...was onto something, though; better to keep such suits out of the civil justice system and leave them to the poetic justice system. (139) 177 F.2d 579, 581 (2d Cir. (140) Letter from Charles Dickens to the editors of The Daily News, supra note 102, at 215; see also Captain David D. Jividen, ......
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1 provisions
  • 28 APPENDIX U.S.C. § 25 Substitution of Parties
    • United States
    • US Code Federal Rules of Civil Procedure Title IV. Parties
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    ...in some way related to the office, see Barr v. Matteo, 360 U.S. 564 (1959); Howard v. Lyons, 360 U.S. 593 (1959); Gregoire v. Biddle, 177 F.2d 579 (2d Cir. 1949), cert. denied, 339 U.S. 949 (1950). Another example is the anomalous action for a tax refund against a collector of internal reve......

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