Monroe v. Pape

Citation5 L.Ed.2d 492,81 S.Ct. 473,365 U.S. 167
Decision Date20 February 1961
Docket NumberNo. 39,39
PartiesJames MONROE et al., Petitioners, v. Frank PAPE et al
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Mr. Donald Page Moore, Chicago, Ill., for petitioners.

Mr. Sydney R. Drebin, Chicago, Ill., for respondents.

Mr. Justice DOUGLAS delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents important questions concerning the construction of R.S. § 1979, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, 42 U.S.C.A. § 1983, which reads as follows:

'Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom or usage, of any State or Territory, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress.'

The complaint alleges that 13 Chicago police officers broke into petitioners' home in the early morning, routed them from bed, made them stand naked in the living room, and ransacked every room, emptying drawers and ripping mattress covers. It further alleges that Mr. Monroe was then taken to the police station and detained on 'open' charges for 10 hours, while he was interrogated about a two-day-old murder, that he was not taken before a magistrate, though one was accessible, that he was not permitted to call his family or attorney, that he was subsequently released without criminal charges being preferred against him. It is alleged that the officers had no search warrant and no arrest warrant and that they acted 'under color of the statutes, ordinances, regulations, customs and usages' of Illinois and of the City of Chicago. Federal jurisdiction was asserted under R.S. § 1979, which we have set out above, and 28 U.S.C. § 1343, 28 U.S.C.A. s 1343,1 and 28 U.S.C. § 1331, 28 U.S.C.A. § 1331.2 The City of Chicago moved to dismiss the complaint on the ground that it is not liable under the Civil Rights Acts nor for acts committed in performance of its governmental functions. All defendants moved to dismiss, alleging that the complaint alleged no cause of action under those Acts or under the Federal Constitution. The District Court dismissed the complaint. The Court of Appeals affirmed, 272 F.2d 365, relying on its earlier decision, Stift v. Lynch, 7 Cir., 267 F.2d 237. The case is here on a writ of certiorari which we granted because of a seeming conflict of that ruling with our prior cases. 362 U.S. 926, 80 S.Ct. 756, 4 L.Ed.2d 745.


Petitioners claim that the invasion of their home and the subsequent search without a warrant and the arrest and detention of Mr. Monroe without a warrant and without arraignment constituted a deprivation of their 'rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution' within the meaning of R.S. § 1979. It has been said that when 18 U.S.C. § 241, 18 U.S.C.A. § 241, made criminal a conspiracy 'to injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any citizen in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him by the Constitution,' it embraced only rights that an individual has by reason of his relation to the central government, not to state governments. United States v. Williams, 341 U.S. 70, 71 S.Ct. 581, 95 L.Ed. 758. Cf. United States v. Cruikshank, 92 U.S. 542, 23 L.Ed. 588; Ex parte Yarbrough, 110 U.S. 651, 4 S.Ct. 152, 28 L.Ed. 274; Guinn v. United States, 238 U.S. 347, 35 S.Ct. 926, 59 L.Ed. 1340. But the history of the section of the Civil Rights Act presently involved does not permit such a narrow interpretation.

Section 1979 came onto the books as § 1 of the Ku Klux Act of April 20, 1871. 17 Stat. 13. It was one of the means whereby Congress exercised the power vested in it by § 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment to enforce the provisions of that Amendment.3 Senator Edmunds, Chairman of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, said concerning this section:

'The first section is one that I believe nobody objects to, as defining the rights secured by the Constitution of the United States when they are assailed by any State law or under color of any State law, and it is merely carrying out the principles of the civil rights bill,4 which has since become a part of the Constitution,'5 viz., the Fourteenth Amendment.

Its purpose is plain from the title of the legislation, 'An Act to enforce the Provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, and for other Purposes.' 17 Stat. 13. Allegation of facts constituting a deprivation under color of state authority of a right guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment satisfies to that extent the requirement of R.S. § 1979. See Douglas v. City of Jeannette, 319 U.S. 157, 161—162, 63 S.Ct. 877, 880, 87 L.Ed. 1324. So far petitioners are on solid ground. For the guarantee against unreasonable searches and seizures contained in the Fourth Amendment has been made applicable to the States by reason of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Wolf v. People of State of Colorado, 338 U.S. 25, 69 S.Ct. 1359, 93 L.Ed. 1782; Elkins v. United States, 364 U.S. 206, 213, 80 S.Ct. 1437, 1441, 4 L.Ed.2d 1669.


There can be no doubt at least since Ex parte Virginia, 100 U.S. 339, 346—347, 25 L.Ed. 676, that Congress has the power to enforce provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment against those who carry a badge of authority of a State and represent it in some capacity, whether they act in accordance with their authority or misuse it. See Home Tel. & Tel. Co. v. City of Los Angeles, 227 U.S. 278, 287—296, 33 S.Ct. 312, 314, 318, 57 L.Ed. 510. The question with which we now deal is the narrower one of whether Congress, in enacting § 1979, meant to give a remedy to parties deprived of constitutional rights, privileges and immunities by an official's abuse of his position. Cf. Williams v. United States, 341 U.S. 97, 71 S.Ct. 576, 95 L.Ed. 774; Screws v. United States, 325 U.S. 91, 65 S.Ct. 1031, 89 L.Ed. 1495; United States v. Classic, 313 U.S. 299, 61 S.Ct. 1031, 85 L.Ed. 1368. We conclude that it did so intend.

It is argued that 'under color of' enumerated state authority excludes acts of an official or policeman who can show no authority under state law, state custom, or state usage to do what he did. In this case it is said that these policemen, in breaking into petitioners' apartment, violated the Constitution6 and laws of Illinois. It is pointed out that under Illinois law a simple remedy is offered for that violation and that, so far as it appears, the courts of Illinois are available to give petitioners that full redress which the common law affords for violence done to a person; and it is earnestly argued that no 'statute, ordinance, regulation, custom or usage' of Illinois bars that redress.

The Ku Klux Act grew out of a message sent to Congress by President Grant on March 23, 1871, reading:

'A condition of affairs now exists in some States of the Union rendering life and property insecure and the carrying of the mails and the collection of the revenue dangerous. The proof that such a condition of affairs exists in some localities is now before the Senate. That the power to correct these evils is beyond the control of State authorities I do not doubt; that the power of the Executive of the United States, acting within the limits of existing laws, is sufficient for present emergencies is not clear. Therefore, I urgently recommend such legislation as in the judgment of Congress shall effectually secure life, liberty, and property, and the enforcement of law in all parts of the United States. * * *'7

The legislation—in particular the section with which we are now concerned—had several purposes. There are threads of many thoughts running through the debates. One who reads them in their entirety sees that the present section had three main aims.

First, it might, of course, override certains kinds of state laws. Mr. Sloss of Alabama, in opposition, spoke of that object and emphasized that it was irrelevant because there were no such laws:8

'The first section of this bill prohibits any invidious legislation by States against the rights or privileges of citizens of the United States. The object of this section is not very clear, as it is not pretended by its advocates on this floor that any State has passed any laws endangering the rights or privileges of the colored people.'

Second, it provided a remedy where state law was inadequate. That aspect of the legislation was summed up as follows by Senator Sherman of Ohio:

'* * * it is said the reason is that any offense may be committed upon a negro by a white man, and a negro cannot testify in any case against a white man, so that the only way by which any conviction can be had in Kentucky in those cases is in the United States courts, because the United States courts enforce the United States laws by which negroes may testify.'9

But the purposes were much broader. The third aim was to provide a federal remedy where the state remedy, though adequate in theory, was not available in practice. The opposition to the measure complained that 'It overrides the reserved powers of the States,'10 just as they argued that the second section of the bill 'absorb(ed) the entire jurisdiction of the State over their local and domestic affairs.'11

This Act of April 20, 1871, sometimes called 'the third 'force bill," was passed by a Congress that had the Klan 'particularly in mind.'12 The debates are replete with references to the lawless conditions existing in the South in 1871. There was available to the Congress during these debates a report, nearly 600 pages in length, dealing with the activities of the Klan and the inability of the state governments to cope with it.13 This report was drawn on by many of the speakers.14 It was not the unavailability of state remedies but the failure of certain States to enforce the laws with an equal hand that fur- ...

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