MR. CHIEF JUSTICE WARREN delivered the opinion of Court.
These cases present issues involving the liability of local police officers and judges under § 1 of the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 17 Stat. 13, now 42 U. S. C. § 1983.
Having been vindicated in the County Court, petitioners brought this action for damages in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, Jackson Division, alleging that respondents had violated § 1983, supra, and that respondents were liable at common law for false arrest and imprisonment. A jury returned verdicts for respondents on both counts. On appeal, the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that respondent Spencer was immune from liability under both § 1983 and the common law of Mississippi for acts committed within his judicial jurisdiction. 352 F.2d 213. As to the police officers, the court noted that § 2087.5 of the Mississippi Code was held unconstitutional as applied to similar facts in Thomas v. Mississippi, 380 U.S. 524 (1965).
We granted certiorari in No. 79 to consider whether a local judge is liable for damages under § 1983 for an unconstitutional conviction and whether the ministers should be denied recovery against the police officers if they acted with the anticipation that they would be illegally arrested. We also granted the police officers' petition in No. 94 to determine if the Court of Appeals correctly held that they could not assert the defense of
The evidence at the federal trial showed that petitioners and other Negro and white Episcopal clergymen undertook a "prayer pilgrimage" in 1961 from New Orleans to Detroit. The purpose of the pilgrimage was to visit church institutions and other places in the North and South to promote racial equality and integration, and, finally, to report to a church convention in Detroit. Letters from the leader of the group to its members indicate that the clergymen intended from the beginning to go to Jackson and attempt to use segregated facilities at the bus terminal there, and that they fully expected to be arrested for doing so. The group made plans based on the assumption that they would be arrested if they attempted peacefully to exercise their right as interstate travelers to use the waiting rooms and other facilities at the bus terminal, and the letters discussed arrangements for bail and other matters relevant to arrests.
The ministers stayed one night in Jackson, and went to the bus terminal the next morning to depart for Chattanooga, Tennessee. They entered the waiting room, disobeying a sign at the entrance that announced "White Waiting Room Only—By Order of the Police Department." They then turned to enter the small terminal restaurant but were stopped by two Jackson police officers, respondents Griffith and Nichols, who had been awaiting their arrival and who ordered them to "move on." The ministers replied that they wanted to eat,
All witnesses including the police officers agreed that the ministers entered the waiting room peacefully and engaged in no boisterous or objectionable conduct while in the "White Only" area. There was conflicting testimony on the number of bystanders present and their behavior. Petitioners testified that there was no crowd at the station, that no one followed them into the waiting room, and that no one uttered threatening words or made threatening gestures. The police testified that some 25 to 30 persons followed the ministers into the terminal, that persons in the crowd were in a very dissatisfied and ugly mood, and that they were mumbling and making unspecified threatening gestures. The police did not describe any specific threatening incidents, and testified that they took no action against any persons in the crowd who were threatening violence because they "had determined that the ministers was the cause of the violence if any might occur,"
We find no difficulty in agreeing with the Court of Appeals that Judge Spencer is immune from liability for damages for his role in these convictions. The record is barren of any proof or specific allegation that Judge Spencer played any role in these arrests and convictions other than to adjudge petitioners guilty when their cases came before his court.
We do not believe that this settled principle of law was abolished by § 1983, which makes liable "every person" who under color of law deprives another person of his civil rights. The legislative record gives no clear indication that Congress meant to abolish wholesale all common-law immunities. Accordingly, this Court held in Tenney v. Brandhove, 341 U.S. 367 (1951), that the immunity of legislators for acts within the legislative role was not abolished. The immunity of judges for acts within the judicial role is equally well established, and
The common law has never granted police officers an absolute and unqualified immunity, and the officers in this case do not claim that they are entitled to one. Their claim is rather that they should not be liable if they acted in good faith and with probable cause in making an arrest under a statute that they believed to be valid. Under the prevailing view in this country a peace officer who arrests someone with probable cause is not liable for false arrest simply because the innocence of the suspect is later proved. Restatement, Second, Torts § 121 (1965); 1 Harper & James, The Law of Torts § 3.18, at 277-278 (1956); Ward v. Fidelity & Deposit Co. of Maryland, 179 F.2d 327 (C. A. 8th Cir. 1950). A policeman's lot is not so unhappy that he must choose between being charged with dereliction of duty if he does not arrest when he has probable cause, and being mulcted in damages if he does. Although the matter is not entirely free from doubt,
The Court of Appeals held that the officers had such a limited privilege under the common law of Mississippi,
We hold that the defense of good faith and probable cause, which the Court of Appeals found available to the officers in the common-law action for false arrest and imprisonment, is also available to them in the action under § 1983. This holding does not, however, mean that the count based thereon should be dismissed. The Court of Appeals ordered dismissal of the common-law count on the theory that the police officers were not required to predict our decision in Thomas v. Mississippi, 380 U.S. 524. We agree that a police officer is not charged with predicting the future course of constitutional law. But the petitioners in this case did not simply argue that they were arrested under a statute later held unconstitutional. They claimed and attempted to prove that the police officers arrested them solely for attempting to use the "White Only" waiting room, that no crowd was present, and that no one threatened violence or seemed about to cause a disturbance. The officers did not defend on the theory that they believed in good faith that it was constitutional to arrest the ministers solely for using the waiting room. Rather, they claimed and attempted to prove that they did not arrest the ministers for the purpose of preserving the custom of segregation in Mississippi, but solely for the purpose of preventing violence. They testified, in contradiction to the ministers, that a crowd gathered and that imminent violence was likely. If the jury believed the testimony of the officers and disbelieved that of the ministers, and if the jury found that the officers reasonably believed in good faith that the arrest was constitutional, then a verdict for the officers would follow even though the arrest was in fact unconstitutional. The jury did resolve the factual issues in favor of the officers but, for reasons previously stated,
It is necessary to decide what importance should be given at the new trial to the substantially undisputed fact that the petitioners went to Jackson expecting to be illegally arrested. We do not agree with the Court of Appeals that they somehow consented to the arrest because of their anticipation that they would be illegally arrested, even assuming that they went to the Jackson bus terminal for the sole purpose of testing their rights to unsegregated public accommodations. The case contains no proof or allegation that they in any way tricked or goaded the officers into arresting them. The petitioners had the right to use the waiting room of the Jackson bus terminal, and their deliberate exercise of that right in a peaceful, orderly, and inoffensive manner does not disqualify them from seeking damages under § 1983.
The judgment of the Court of Appeals is affirmed in part and reversed in part, and the cases are remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
It is so ordered.
MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS, dissenting.
I do not think that all judges, under all circumstances, no matter how outrageous their conduct are immune
The statute, which came on the books as § 1 of the Ku Klux Klan Act of April 20, 1871, 17 Stat. 13, provides that "every person" who under color of state law or custom "subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen . . . 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." To most, "every person" would mean every person, not every person except judges. Despite the plain import of those words, the Court decided in Tenney v. Brandhove, 341 U.S. 367, that state legislators are immune from suit as long as the deprivation of civil rights which they caused a person occurred while the legislators "were acting in a field where legislators traditionally have power to act." Id., at 379. I dissented from the creation of that judicial exception as I do from the creation of the present one.
The congressional purpose seems to me to be clear. A condition of lawlessness existed in certain of the States, under which people were being denied their civil rights. Congress intended to provide a remedy for the wrongs being perpetrated. And its members were not unaware that certain members of the judiciary were implicated in the state of affairs which the statute was intended to rectify. It was often noted that "[i]mmunity is given to crime, and the records of the public tribunals are searched in vain for any evidence of effective redress." Cong. Globe, 42d Cong., 1st Sess., 374. Mr. Rainey of South Carolina noted that "[T]he courts are in many instances under the control of those who are wholly inimical to the impartial administration of law and equity." Id., at 394.
It is said that, at the time of the statute's enactment, the doctrine of judicial immunity was well settled and that Congress cannot be presumed to have intended to abrogate the doctrine since it did not clearly evince such a purpose. This view is beset by many difficulties. It assumes that Congress could and should specify in advance all the possible circumstances to which a remedial statute might apply and state which cases are within the scope of a statute.
Congress of course acts in the context of existing common-law rules, and in construing a statute a court considers the "common law before the making of the Act." Heydon's Case, 3 Co. Rep. 7 a, 76 Eng. Rep. 637 (Ex. 1584). But Congress enacts a statute to remedy the inadequacies of the pre-existing law, including the common law.
The position that Congress did not intend to change the common-law rule of judicial immunity ignores the fact that every member of Congress who spoke to the issue assumed that the words of the statute meant what they said and that judges would be liable. Many members of Congress objected to the statute because it imposed
And Senator Thurman noted that:
Mr. Lewis of Kentucky expressed the fear that:
The section's purpose was to provide redress for the deprivation of civil rights. It was recognized that certain members of the judiciary were instruments of oppression and were partially responsible for the wrongs to be remedied. The parade of cases coming to this Court shows that a similar condition now obtains in some of the States. Some state courts have been instruments of suppression of civil rights. The methods may have changed; the means may have become more subtle; but the wrong to be remedied still exists.
Today's decision is not dictated by our prior decisions. In Ex parte Virginia, 100 U.S. 339, the Court held that a judge who excluded Negroes from juries could be held liable under the Act of March 1, 1875 (18 Stat. 335), one of the Civil Rights Acts. The Court assumed that the judge was merely performing a ministerial function. But it went on to state that the judge would be liable under the statute even if his actions were judicial.
The immunity which the Court today grants the judiciary is not necessary to preserve an independent judiciary. If the threat of civil action lies in the background of litigation, so the argument goes, judges will be reluctant to exercise the discretion and judgment inherent in their position and vital to the effective operation of the judiciary. We should, of course, not protect a member of the judiciary "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." Gregoire v. Biddle, 177 F.2d 579, 581. To deny recovery to a person injured by the ruling of a judge acting for personal gain or out of personal motives would be "monstrous." Ibid. But, it is argued that absolute immunity is necessary to prevent the chilling effects of a judicial inquiry, or the threat of such inquiry, into whether, in fact, a judge has been unfaithful to his oath of office. Thus, it is necessary to protect the guilty as well as the innocent.
The doctrine of separation of powers is, of course, applicable only to the relations of coordinate branches of the same government, not to the relations between the
The argument that the actions of public officials must not be subjected to judicial scrutiny because to do so would have an inhibiting effect on their work, is but a more sophisticated manner of saying "The King can do no wrong."
This is not to say that a judge who makes an honest mistake should be subjected to civil liability. It is necessary to exempt judges from liability for the consequences of their honest mistakes. The judicial function involves an informed exercise of judgment. It is often necessary to choose between differing versions of fact, to reconcile opposing interests, and to decide closely contested issues. Decisions must often be made in the heat of trial. A vigorous and independent mind is needed to perform such delicate tasks. It would be unfair to require a judge to exercise his independent judgment and then to punish him for having exercised it in a manner which, in retrospect, was erroneous. Imposing liability for mistaken, though honest judicial acts, would curb the independent mind and spirit needed to perform judicial functions. Thus, a judge who sustains a conviction on what he forthrightly considers adequate evidence should not be subjected to liability when an appellate court decides that the evidence was not adequate. Nor should a judge who allows a conviction under what is later held an unconstitutional statute.
But that is far different from saying that a judge shall be immune from the consequences of any of his judicial actions, and that he shall not be liable for the knowing and intentional deprivation of a person's civil rights. What about the judge who conspires with local law enforcement officers to "railroad" a dissenter? What about the judge who knowingly turns a trial into a "kangaroo" court? Or one who intentionally flouts the
The plight of the oppressed is indeed serious. Under City of Greenwood v. Peacock, 384 U.S. 808, the defendant cannot remove to a federal court to prevent a state court from depriving him of his civil rights. And under the rule announced today, the person cannot recover damages for the deprivation.
"(1) crowds or congregates with others in . . . any hotel, motel, store, restaurant, lunch counter, cafeteria, sandwich shop, . . . or any other place of business engaged in selling or serving members of the public, or in or around any free entrance to any such place of business or public building, or to any building owned by another individual, or a corporation, or a partnership or an association, and who fails or refuses to disperse and move on, or disperse or move on, when ordered so to do by any law enforcement officer of any municipality, or county, in which such act or acts are committed, or by any law enforcement officer of the State of Mississippi, or any other authorized person, . . . shall be guilty of disorderly conduct, which is made a misdemeanor, and, upon conviction thereof, shall be punished by a fine of not more than two hundred dollars ($200.00), or imprisonment in the county jail for not more than four (4) months, or by both such fine and imprisonment . . . ."