Siegert v. Gilley, No. 90-96

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtREHNQUIST, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, O'CONNOR, SCALIA, and SOUTER, JJ., joined. KENNEDY, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BLACKMUN, J., joined, and i
Citation111 S.Ct. 1789,114 L.Ed.2d 277,500 U.S. 226
PartiesFrederick A. SIEGERT, Petitioner v. H. Melvyn GILLEY
Docket NumberNo. 90-96
Decision Date23 May 1991

500 U.S. 226
111 S.Ct. 1789
114 L.Ed.2d 277
Frederick A. SIEGERT, Petitioner

v.

H. Melvyn GILLEY.

No. 90-96.
Argued Feb. 19, 1991.
Decided May 23, 1991.

Rehearing Denied June 28, 1991. See --- U.S. ----, 111 S.Ct. 2920.

Syllabus

In seeking to become "credentialed" in his new job at an Army hospital, petitioner Siegert, a clinical psychologist, asked his former employer, a federal hospital, to provide job performance and other information to his new employer. Respondent Gilley, Siegert's supervisor at his former job, responded with a letter declaring that he could not recommend Siegert because he was inept, unethical, and untrustworthy. After he was denied credentials and his federal service employment was terminated, Siegert filed a damages action against Gilley in the District Court, alleging, inter alia, that, under Bivens v. Six Unknown Fed. Narcotics Agents, 403 U.S. 388, 91 S.Ct. 1999, 29 L.Ed.2d 619, Gilley had caused an infringement of his "liberty interests" in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment "by maliciously and in bad faith publishing a defamatory per se statement . . . which [he] knew to be untrue." Gilley filed a motion to dismiss or for summary judgment, asserting, among other things, the defense of qualified immunity under Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 102 S.Ct. 2727, 73 L.Ed.2d 396, and contending that Siegert's factual allegations did not state the violation of any constitutional right "clearly established" at the time of the complained-of actions, see id., at 818, 102 S.Ct., at 2738. The court ultimately found Siegert's allegations to be sufficient, but the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded with instructions that the case be dismissed. Although assuming that bad-faith motivation would suffice to make Gilley's actions in writing the letter a violation of Siegert's clearly established constitutional rights, the court held that Siegert's particular allegations were insufficient under its "heightened pleading standard" to overcome Gilley's qualified immunity claim.

Held: The Court of Appeals properly concluded that the District Court should have dismissed Siegert's suit because he had not overcome Gilley's qualified immunity defense. Siegert failed to allege the violation of a clearly established constitutional right—indeed, of any constitutional right at all—since, under Paul v. Davis, 424 U.S. 693, 708-709, 96 S.Ct. 1155, 1164-1165, 47 L.Ed.2d 405, injury to reputation by itself is not a protected "liberty" interest. He therefore failed to satisfy the necessary threshold inquiry in the determination of a qualified immunity claim. See, e.g., Harlow, supra, at 818, 102 S.Ct., at 2738. Thus, although the Court of Appeals reached the correct result, it should not have assumed without deciding the necessary preliminary

Page 227

issue and then proceeded to examine the sufficiency of Siegert's allegations. Siegert's claim failed at an analytically earlier stage of the inquiry. Pp. 231-235.

282 U.S.App.D.C. 392, 895 F.2d 797 (CADC 1990) affirmed.

REHNQUIST, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, O'CONNOR, SCALIA, and SOUTER, JJ., joined. KENNEDY, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BLACKMUN, J., joined, and in Parts II and III of which STEVENS, J., joined.

Nina Kraut, Washington, D.C., for petitioner.

Michael R. Lazerwitz, Washington, D.C., for respondent.

Chief Justice REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

We granted certiorari in this case to determine whether the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit properly directed dismissal of petitioner's Bivens claim on the grounds that he had not overcome respondent's claim of qualified immunity. The Court of Appeals relied on its "heightened pleading standard," but we hold that petitioner's claim failed at an analytically earlier stage of the inquiry into qualified immunity: his allegations, even if accepted as true, did not state a claim for violation of any rights secured to him under the United States Constitution.

Petitioner Frederick A. Siegert, a clinical psychologist, was employed at St. Elizabeth's Hospital, a Federal Government facility in Washington, D.C., from November 1979 to October 1985. He was a behavior therapy coordinator specializing in work with mentally retarded children and, to a lesser extent, with adults. In January 1985, respondent H.

Page 228

Melvin Gilley became head of the division for which Siegert worked.

In August 1985, St. Elizabeth's notified Siegert that it was preparing to terminate his employment. Siegert was informed that his "proposed removal was based upon his inability to report for duty in a dependable and reliable manner, his failure to comply with supervisory directives, and cumulative charges of absence without approved leave." App. 15, 21. After meeting with hospital officials, Siegert agreed to resign from the hospital and thereby avoid a termination that might damage his reputation. Id., at 21.

Following his resignation from St. Elizabeth's, Siegert began working as a clinical psychologist at a United States Army Hospital in Bremerhaven, West Germany. Because of the requirement that he be "credentialed" to work in hospitals operated by the Army, Siegert signed a "Credential Information Request Form" asking that St. Elizabeth's Hospital provide to his prospective supervisor, Colonel William Smith, "all information on job performance and the privileges" he had enjoyed while a member of its staff. Siegert's request was referred to Gilley because he had been Siegert's supervisor at St. Elizabeth's.

In response to Siegert's request, Gilley notified the Army by letter that "he could not recommend [Siegert] for privileges as a psychologist." Id., at 6. In that letter, Gilley wrote that he "consider[ed] Dr. Siegert to be both inept and unethical, perhaps the least trustworthy individual I have supervised in my thirteen years at [St. Elizabeth's]." Ibid. After receiving this letter, the Army Credentials Committee told Siegert that since "reports about him were 'extremely unfavorable' . . . the committee was . . . recommending that [Siegert] not be credentialed." Id., at 7.

After being denied credentials by the Committee, Siegert was turned down for a position he sought with an Army hospital in Stuttgart. Siegert then returned to Bremerhaven where he was given provisional credentials, limited to his

Page 229

work with adults. Siegert filed administrative appeals with the Office of the Surgeon General to obtain full credentials. In December 1987, the Surgeon General denied Siegert's claims. Soon thereafter, his "federal service employment [was] terminated." Id., at 23.

Upon learning of Gilley's letter in November 1986, Siegert filed suit in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, alleging that Gilley's letter had caused him to lose his post as a psychologist at the Bremerhaven Army Hospital, and had rendered him unable to obtain other appropriate employment in the field. Relying on Bivens v. Six Unknown Fed. Narcotics Agents, 403 U.S. 388, 91 S.Ct. 1999, 29 L.Ed.2d 619 (1971), Siegert sought $4 million in damages against Gilley, contending that—"by maliciously and in bad faith publishing a defamatory per se statement . . . which [he] knew to be untrue, or with reckless disregard as to whether it was true or not,"—Gilley had caused an infringement of his "liberty interests" in violation of the protections afforded by the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. App. 9. Siegert also asserted pendent state-law claims of defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and interference with contractual relations.

Gilley filed a motion to dismiss or in the alternative for summary judgment. He contended that Siegert's factual allegations, even if true, did not make out a violation of any constitutional right. Gilley also asserted the defense of qualified immunity under Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 102 S.Ct. 2727, 73 L.Ed.2d 396 (1982), contending that Siegert's allegations did not state the violation of any "clearly established" constitutional right. App. to Pet. for Cert. 30a-31a, 36a. Siegert submitted opposing affidavits stating facts supporting his allegations of malice.

In December 1987, the District Court issued an order "[declining] to decide this matter on a Summary Judgment motion at this time." Id., at 54a. Instead, the court determined that "[it] would like to see a more developed record,"

Page 230

and therefore ordered "a limited amount of discovery." Ibid. In particular, the court directed the taking of the depositions of the parties and Colonel Smith.

Gilley filed a motion for reconsideration, asking the court to stay further discovery pending disposition of his qualified immunity claim. In June, 1988, the District Court denied the motion, and in a written opinion found that Siegert's factual allegations were sufficient to state violations of a clearly established constitutional right. It analyzed our decision in Paul v. Davis, 424 U.S. 693, 96 S.Ct. 1155, 47 L.Ed.2d 405 (1976), but found this case closer on its facts to two decisions of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, Doe v. United States Department of Justice, 243 U.S.App.D.C. 354, 753 F.2d 1092 (1985), and Bartel v. FAA, 233 U.S.App.D.C. 297, 725 F.2d 1403 (1985). The court directed the parties to proceed with the previously ordered limited discovery. Gilley appealed the denial of his qualified immunity defense to the Court of Appeals pursuant to Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 105 S.Ct. 2806, 86 L.Ed.2d 411 (1985).

A divided panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed and remanded with instructions that the case be dismissed. The court first determined that to the extent Siegert's Bivens action was premised on allegations of...

To continue reading

Request your trial
2909 practice notes
  • Hadad v. Croucher, No. 1:87 CV 1211.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Ohio
    • January 28, 1997
    ...civil rights defamation claim under § 1983. Compare Paul v. Davis, 424 U.S. 693, 96 S.Ct. 1155, 47 L.Ed.2d 405 (1976); Siegert v. Gilley, 500 U.S. 226, 111 S.Ct. 1789, 114 L.Ed.2d 277 (1991). (Liberty interest against governmental action inflicting stigma to reputation impairing future empl......
  • Nannay v. Rowan College, No. CIV. A. 98-3672.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. District of New Jersey
    • June 30, 2000
    ...are entitled to qualified immunity. Qualified or "good faith" immunity is an affirmative defense to § 1983 liability. Siegert v. Gilley, 500 U.S. 226, 111 S.Ct. 1789, 114 L.Ed.2d 277 (1991). "[G]overnment officials performing discretionary functions generally are granted a qualified immunit......
  • Puchalski v. School Dist. of Springfield, No. CIV. A. 99-1068.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
    • March 30, 2001
    ...right to an evaluation. There is no constitutionally protected property or liberty interest in reputation. See Siegert v. Gilley, 500 U.S. 226, 233, 111 S.Ct. 1789, 114 L.Ed.2d 277 (1991); Paul v. Davis, 424 U.S. 693, 701, 96 S.Ct. 1155, 47 L.Ed.2d 405 (1976); Clark v. Township of Falls, 89......
  • Battle v. City of Florala, No. CIV. A. 97-D-1612-N.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Middle District of Alabama
    • October 6, 1998
    ...of qualified immunity, it must first decide whether Plaintiff has alleged a violation of a constitutional right. See Siegert v. Gilley, 500 U.S. 226, 111 S.Ct. 1789, 114 L.Ed.2d 277 (1991) (stating that "a necessary concomitant to the determination of whether the constitutional right assert......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
2886 cases
  • Hadad v. Croucher, No. 1:87 CV 1211.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Ohio
    • January 28, 1997
    ...civil rights defamation claim under § 1983. Compare Paul v. Davis, 424 U.S. 693, 96 S.Ct. 1155, 47 L.Ed.2d 405 (1976); Siegert v. Gilley, 500 U.S. 226, 111 S.Ct. 1789, 114 L.Ed.2d 277 (1991). (Liberty interest against governmental action inflicting stigma to reputation impairing future empl......
  • Nannay v. Rowan College, No. CIV. A. 98-3672.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. District of New Jersey
    • June 30, 2000
    ...are entitled to qualified immunity. Qualified or "good faith" immunity is an affirmative defense to § 1983 liability. Siegert v. Gilley, 500 U.S. 226, 111 S.Ct. 1789, 114 L.Ed.2d 277 (1991). "[G]overnment officials performing discretionary functions generally are granted a qualified immunit......
  • Puchalski v. School Dist. of Springfield, No. CIV. A. 99-1068.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
    • March 30, 2001
    ...right to an evaluation. There is no constitutionally protected property or liberty interest in reputation. See Siegert v. Gilley, 500 U.S. 226, 233, 111 S.Ct. 1789, 114 L.Ed.2d 277 (1991); Paul v. Davis, 424 U.S. 693, 701, 96 S.Ct. 1155, 47 L.Ed.2d 405 (1976); Clark v. Township of Falls, 89......
  • Battle v. City of Florala, No. CIV. A. 97-D-1612-N.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Middle District of Alabama
    • October 6, 1998
    ...of qualified immunity, it must first decide whether Plaintiff has alleged a violation of a constitutional right. See Siegert v. Gilley, 500 U.S. 226, 111 S.Ct. 1789, 114 L.Ed.2d 277 (1991) (stating that "a necessary concomitant to the determination of whether the constitutional right assert......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
7 books & journal articles
  • FEDERAL PLEADING STANDARDS IN STATE COURT.
    • United States
    • Michigan Law Review Vol. 121 Nbr. 3, December 2022
    • December 1, 2022
    ...is to free officials from the concerns of litigation, including 'avoidance of disruptive discovery.' " (quoting Siegert v. Gilley, 500 U.S. 226, 236 (1991) (Kennedy, J., concurring in the (68.) Id. (69.) See Patricia W. Hatamyar, The Tao of Pleading: Do Twombly and Iqbal Matter Empirically?......
  • THE CASE AGAINST QUALIFIED IMMUNITY.
    • United States
    • Notre Dame Law Review Vol. 93 Nbr. 5, May 2018
    • May 1, 2018
    ...doctrine is to free officials from the concerns of litigation, including 'avoidance of disruptive discovery.'" (quoting Siegert v. Gilley, 500 U.S. 226, 236 (1991) (Kennedy, J., concurring in the (77) For additional information about the districts and my methodology, see Schwartz, supra not......
  • QUALIFIED IMMUNITY AT TRIAL.
    • United States
    • Notre Dame Law Review Vol. 93 Nbr. 5, May 2018
    • May 1, 2018
    ...to dismiss and summary judgment stages without regard for how many times a defendant has raised the defense. (22) See Siegert v. Gilley, 500 U.S. 226, 232 (23) See Behrens, 516 U.S. at 307-09; Mitchell, 472 U.S. at 526-27. (24) See Behrens, 516 U.S. at 306. (25) Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S......
  • DISCOVERY AS REGULATION.
    • United States
    • Michigan Law Review Vol. 119 Nbr. 1, October 2020
    • October 1, 2020
    ...at 817. (70.) Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 526 (1985). (71.) Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 685 (2009) (quoting Siegert v. Gilley, 500 U.S. 226, 236 (1991) (Kennedy, J., concurring in (72.) See Gorga & Halberstam, supra note 13, at 1392-93; Hillary A. Sale, Heightened Pleading a......
  • 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