JUSTICE STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.
At a hearing before his criminal trial in a Missouri court, the respondent, Willie McCurry, invoked the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to suppress evidence that had been seized by the police. The trial court denied the suppression motion in part, and McCurry was subsequently convicted after a jury trial. The conviction was later affirmed on appeal. State v. McCurry, 587 S.W.2d 337 (Mo. App. 1979). Because he did not assert that the state courts had denied him a "full and fair opportunity" to litigate his search and seizure claim, McCurry was barred by this Court's decision in Stone v. Powell, 428 U.S. 465, from seeking a writ of habeas corpus in a federal district court. Nevertheless, he sought federal-court redress for the alleged constitutional violation by bringing a damages suit under 42 U. S. C. § 1983 against the officers who had entered his home and seized the evidence in question. We granted certiorari to consider whether the unavailability of federal habeas corpus prevented the police officers from raising the state courts' partial rejection of McCurry's constitutional claim as a collateral estoppel defense to the § 1983 suit against them for damages. 444 U.S. 1070.
In April 1977, several undercover police officers, following an informant's tip that McCurry was dealing in heroin, went to his house in St. Louis, Mo., to attempt a purchase.
McCurry was charged with possession of heroin and assault with intent to kill. At the pretrial suppression hearing, the trial judge excluded the evidence seized from the dresser drawers and tires, but denied suppression of the evidence found in plain view. McCurry was convicted of both the heroin and assault offenses.
McCurry subsequently filed the present § 1983 action for $1 million in damages against petitioners Allen and Jacobsmeyer, other unnamed individual police officers, and the city of St. Louis and its police department. The complaint alleged a conspiracy to violate McCurry's Fourth Amendment rights, an unconstitutional search and seizure of his house, and an assault on him by unknown police officers after he had been arrested and handcuffed. The petitioners moved for summary judgment. The District Court apparently understood
The Court of Appeals reversed the judgment and remanded the case for trial. 606 F.2d 795 (CA8 1979).
The federal courts have traditionally adhered to the related doctrines of res judicata and collateral estoppel. Under res judicata, a final judgment on the merits of an action precludes the parties or their privies from relitigating issues that were or could have been raised in that action. Cromwell v. County of Sac, 94 U.S. 351, 352. Under collateral estoppel, once a court has decided an issue of fact or law necessary to its judgment, that decision may preclude relitigation of the issue in a suit on a different cause of action involving a party to the first case. Montana v. United States, 440 U.S. 147, 153.
In recent years, this Court has reaffirmed the benefits of collateral estoppel in particular, finding the policies underlying it to apply in contexts not formerly recognized at common law. Thus, the Court has eliminated the requirement of mutuality in applying collateral estoppel to bar relitigation
The federal courts generally have also consistently accorded preclusive effect to issues decided by state courts. E. g., Montana v. United States, supra; Angel v. Bullington, 330 U.S. 183. Thus, res judicata and collateral estoppel not only reduce unnecessary litigation and foster reliance on adjudication,
Indeed, though the federal courts may look to the common law or to the policies supporting res judicata and collateral estoppel in assessing the preclusive effect of decisions of other federal courts, Congress has specifically required all federal courts to give preclusive effect to state-court judgments whenever the courts of the State from which the judgments emerged would do so:
Huron Holding Corp. v. Lincoln Mine Operating Co., 312 U.S. 183, 193; Davis v. Davis, 305 U.S. 32, 40. It is against this background that we examine the relationship of § 1983 and collateral estoppel, and the decision of the Court of Appeals in this case.
This Court has never directly decided whether the rules of res judicata and collateral estoppel are generally applicable to § 1983 actions. But in Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 497, the Court noted with implicit approval the view of other federal courts that res judicata principles fully apply to civil rights suits brought under that statute. See also Huffman v. Pursue, Ltd., 420 U.S. 592, 606, n. 18; Wolff v.
Because the requirement of mutuality of estoppel was still alive in the federal courts until well into this century, see Blonder-Tongue Laboratories, Inc. v. University of Illinois Foundation, supra, at 322-323, the drafters of the 1871 Civil Rights Act, of which § 1983 is a part, may have had less reason to concern themselves with rules of preclusion than a modern Congress would. Nevertheless, in 1871 res judicata and collateral estoppel could certainly have applied in federal suits following state-court litigation between the same parties or their privies, and nothing in the language of § 1983 remotely expresses any congressional intent to contravene the common-law rules of preclusion or to repeal the express statutory
Moreover, the legislative history of § 1983 does not in any clear way suggest that Congress intended to repeal or restrict the traditional doctrines of preclusion. The main goal of the Act was to override the corrupting influence of the Ku Klux Klan and its sympathizers on the governments and law enforcement agencies of the Southern States, see Monroe v. Pape, 365 U.S. 167, 174, and of course the debates show that one strong motive behind its enactment was grave congressional concern that the state courts had been deficient in
As the Court has understood the history of the legislation, Congress realized that in enacting § 1983 it was altering the balance of judicial power between the state and federal courts. See Mitchum v. Foster, supra, at 241. But in doing so, Congress was adding to the jurisdiction of the federal courts, not subtracting from that of the state courts. See Monroe v. Pape, supra, at 183 ("The federal remedy is supplementary to the state remedy . . .").
To the extent that it did intend to change the balance of power over federal questions between the state and federal courts, the 42d Congress was acting in a way thoroughly consistent with the doctrines of preclusion. In reviewing the legislative history of § 1983 in Monroe v. Pape, supra, the Court inferred that Congress had intended a federal remedy in three circumstances: where state substantive law was facially unconstitutional, where state procedural law was
Stone v. Powell does not provide a logical doctrinal source for the court's ruling. This Court in Stone assessed the costs and benefits of the judge-made exclusionary rule within the boundaries of the federal courts' statutory power to issue writs of habeas corpus, and decided that the incremental deterrent effect that the issuance of the writ in Fourth Amendment cases might have on police conduct did not justify the cost the writ imposed upon the fair administration of criminal justice. 428 U. S., at 489-496. The Stone decision concerns only the prudent exercise of federal-court jurisdiction under 28 U. S. C. § 2254. It has no bearing on § 1983 suits or on the question of the preclusive effect of state-court judgments.
The actual basis of the Court of Appeals' holding appears to be a generally framed principle that every person asserting a federal right is entitled to one unencumbered opportunity to litigate that right in a federal district court, regardless of the legal posture in which the federal claim arises. But the authority for this principle is difficult to discern. It cannot lie in the Constitution, which makes no such guarantee, but leaves the scope of the jurisdiction of the federal district courts to the wisdom of Congress.
Through § 1983, the 42d Congress intended to afford an opportunity for legal and equitable relief in a federal court for certain types of injuries. It is difficult to believe that the drafters of that Act considered it a substitute for a federal writ of habeas corpus, the purpose of which is not to redress civil injury, but to release the applicant from unlawful physical confinement, Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U. S., at 484; Fay v. Noia, 372 U.S. 391, 399, n. 5,
The only other conceivable basis for finding a universal right to litigate a federal claim in a federal district court is hardly a legal basis at all, but rather a general distrust of the capacity of the state courts to render correct decisions on constitutional issues. It is ironic that Stone v. Powell provided the occasion for the expression of such an attitude in the present litigation, in view of this Court's emphatic reaffirmation in that case of the constitutional obligation of the state courts to uphold federal law, and its expression of confidence in their ability to do so. 428 U. S., at 493-494, n. 35; see Robb v. Connolly, 111 U.S. 624, 637 (Harlan, J.).
The Court of Appeals erred in holding that McCurry's inability to obtain federal habeas corpus relief upon his Fourth Amendment claim renders the doctrine of collateral estoppel inapplicable to his § 1983 suit.
It is so ordered.
JUSTICE BLACKMUN, with whom JUSTICE BRENNAN and JUSTICE MARSHALL join, dissenting.
The legal principles with which the Court is concerned in this civil case obviously far transcend the ugly facts of respondent's criminal convictions in the courts of Missouri for heroin possession and assault.
The Court today holds that notions of collateral estoppel apply with full force to this suit brought under 42 U. S. C. § 1983. In my view, the Court, in so ruling, ignores the clear import of the legislative history of that statute and disregards the important federal policies that underlie its
In deciding whether a common-law doctrine is to apply to § 1983 when the statute itself is silent, prior cases uniformly have accorded the intent of the legislators great weight.
That the new federal jurisdiction was conceived of as concurrent with state jurisdiction does not alter the significance of Congress' opening the federal courts to these claims. Congress consciously acted in the broadest possible manner.
I appreciate that the legislative history is capable of alternative interpretations. See the Court's opinion, ante, at 98-101. I would have thought, however, that our prior decisions made very clear which reading is required. The Court repeatedly has recognized that § 1983 embodies a strong congressional policy in favor of federal courts' acting as the primary and final arbiters of constitutional rights.
The Court appears to me to misconstrue the plain meaning of Monroe. It states that in that case "the Court inferred that Congress had intended a federal remedy in three circumstances: where state substantive law was facially unconstitutional, where state procedural law was inadequate to allow
In Mitchum v. Foster, 407 U.S. 225 (1972), the Court reiterated its understanding of the effect of § 1983 upon state and federal relations:
One should note also that in England v. Medical Examiners, 375 U.S. 411 (1964), the Court had affirmed the federal courts' special role in protecting constitutional rights under § 1983. In that case it held that a plaintiff required by the abstention doctrine to submit his constitutional claim first to a state court could not be precluded entirely from having the federal court, in which he initially had sought relief, pass on his constitutional claim. The Court relied on "the unqualified terms in which Congress, pursuant to constitutional authorization, has conferred specific categories of jurisdiction upon the federal courts," and on its "fundamental objections to any conclusion that a litigant who has properly invoked the jurisdiction of a Federal District Court to consider federal constitutional claims can be compelled, without his consent and through no fault of his own, to accept instead a state court's determination of those claims." Id., at 415. The Court set out its understanding as to when a litigant in a §1983 case might be precluded by prior litigation, holding that "if a party freely and without reservation submits his federal claims for decision by the state courts, litigates them there, and has them decided there, then—whether or not he seeks direct review of the state decision in this Court—he has elected to forgo his right to return to the District Court." Id., at 419. I do not understand why the Court today should abandon this approach.
The Court now fashions a new doctrine of preclusion, applicable only to actions brought under § 1983, that is more
But now the Court states that the collateral-estoppel effect of prior state adjudication should turn on only one factor, namely, what it considers the "one general limitation" inherent in the doctrine of preclusion: "that the concept of collateral estoppel cannot apply when the party against whom the earlier decision is asserted did not have a `full and fair opportunity' to litigate that issue in the earlier case." Ante, at 95, 101. If that one factor is present, the Court asserts, the litigant properly should be barred from relitigating the issue in federal court.
In this case, the police officers seek to prevent a criminal defendant from relitigating the constitutionality of their conduct in searching his house, after the state trial court had
The following factors persuade me to conclude that this respondent should not be precluded from asserting his claim in federal court. First, at the time § 1983 was passed, a nonparty's ability, as a practical matter, to invoke collateral estoppel was nonexistent. One could not preclude an opponent from relitigating an issue in a new cause of action, though that issue had been determined conclusively in a prior proceeding, unless there was "mutuality."
Also, the process of deciding in a state criminal trial whether to exclude or admit evidence is not at all the equivalent of a § 1983 proceeding. The remedy sought in the latter is utterly different. In bringing the civil suit the criminal defendant does not seek to challenge his conviction collaterally. At most, he wins damages. In contrast, the exclusion of evidence may prevent a criminal conviction. A trial court, faced with the decision whether to exclude relevant evidence, confronts institutional pressures that may cause it to give a different shape to the Fourth Amendment right from what would result in civil litigation of a damages claim. Also, the issue whether to exclude evidence is subsidiary to the purpose of a criminal trial, which is to determine the guilt or innocence of the defendant, and a trial court, at least subconsciously, must weigh the potential damage to the truth-seeking process caused by excluding relevant evidence. See Stone v. Powell, 428 U.S. 465, 489-495 (1976). Cf. Bivens v. Six Unknown Federal Narcotics Agents, 403 U.S. 388, 411-412 (1971) (dissenting opinion).
A state criminal defendant cannot be held to have chosen "voluntarily" to litigate his Fourth Amendment claim in the state court. The risk of conviction puts pressure upon him to raise all possible defenses.
I would affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals.
Contrary to a suggestion in the dissenting opinion, post, at 113, n. 12, this case does not involve the question whether a § 1983 claimant can litigate in federal court an issue he might have raised but did not raise in previous litigation.
Contrary to the suggestion of the dissent, post, at 112-113, our decision today does not "fashion" any new, more stringent doctrine of collateral estoppel, nor does it hold that the collateral-estoppel effect of a state-court decision turns on the single factor of whether the State gave the federal claimant a full and fair opportunity to litigate a federal question. Our decision does not "fashion" any doctrine of collateral estoppel at all. Rather, it construes § 1983 to determine whether the conventional doctrine of collateral estoppel applies to the case at hand. It must be emphasized that the question whether any exceptions or qualifications within the bounds of that doctrine might ultimately defeat a collateral-estoppel defense in this case is not before us. See n. 2, supra.
A very few courts have suggested that the normal rules of claim preclusion should not apply in § 1983 suits in one peculiar circumstance: Where a § 1983 plaintiff seeks to litigate in federal court a federal issue which he could have raised but did not raise in an earlier state-court suit against the same adverse party. Graves v. Olgiati, 550 F.2d 1327 (CA2 1977); Lombard v. Board of Ed. of New York City, 502 F.2d 631 (CA2 1974); Mack v. Florida Bd. of Dentistry, 430 F.2d 862 (CA5 1970). These cases present a narrow question not now before us, and we intimate no view as to whether they were correctly decided.
It has been argued that, since there remains little federal common law after Erie R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, to hold that the creation of a federal cause of action by itself does away with the rules of preclusion would take away almost all meaning from § 1738. Currie, Res Judicata: The Neglected Defense, 45 U. Chi. L. Rev. 317, 328 (1978).
"The bill, like all bills of this character, in its first and second sections, is a declaration of rights and a provision for the punishment of conspiracies against constitutional rights, and a redress for wrongs. It does not undertake to overthrow any court. . . . It does not undertake to interpose itself out of the regular order of the administration of law. It does not attempt to deprive any State of the honor which is due the punishment of crime. It is a law acting upon the citizen like every other law, and it is a law to be enforced by the courts through the regular and ordinary processes of judicial administration, and in no other way, until forcible resistance shall be offered to the quiet and ordinary course of justice." Cong. Globe, 42d Cong., 1st Sess., 697-698 (1871).
Representative Coburn expressed his belief that after passage of the Act "the tumbling and tottering States will spring up and resume the long-neglected administration of law in their own courts, giving, as they ought, themselves, equal protection to all." Id., at 460. Representative Sheldon noted:
"Convenience and courtesy to the States suggest a sparing use [of national authority] and never so far as to supplant the State authority except in cases of extreme necessity, and when the State governments criminally refuse or neglect those duties which are imposed on them. . . . It seems to me to be sufficient, and at the same time to be proper, to make a permanent law affording to every citizen a remedy in the United States courts for injuries to him in those rights declared and guaranteed by the Constitution. . . ." Id., at 368.
Dictum in Ney v. California, 439 F.2d 1285, 1288 (CA9 1971), suggested that applying collateral estoppel in § 1983 actions might make the Civil Rights Act "a dead letter," but in that case, because the state prosecutor had agreed to withdraw the evidence allegedly seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment, the state court had never decided the constitutional claim. In Brubaker v. King, 505 F.2d 534, 537-538 (1974), the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held that since the issues in the state and federal cases were different—the legality of police conduct in the former and the good faith of the police in the latter—the state decision could not have preclusive effect in the federal court. This solution, however, fails to recognize that a state-court decision that the police acted legally cannot but foreclose a claim that they acted in bad faith. At least one Federal District Court has relied on the Brubaker case. Clark v. Lutcher, 436 F.Supp. 1266 (MD Pa. 1977).
"That the State courts in the several States have been unable to enforce the criminal laws of their respective States or to suppress the disorders existing, and in fact that the preservation of life and property in many sections of the country is beyond the power of the State government, is a sufficient reason why Congress should [enact protective legislation]. . . .
"The question now is, what and where is the remedy? I believe the true remedy lies chiefly in the United States district and circuit courts. If the State courts had proven themselves competent to suppress the local disorders, or to maintain law and order, we should not have been called upon to legislate upon this subject at all. But they have not done so. We are driven by existing facts to provide for the several States in the South what they have been unable fully to provide for themselves; i. e., the full and complete administration of justice in the courts. And the courts with reference to which we legislate must be the United States courts." Cong. Globe, 42d Cong., 1st Sess., 653.
"This act is remedial, and in aid of the preservation of human liberty and human rights. All statutes and constitutional provisions authorizing such statutes are liberally and beneficently construed. It would be most strange and, in civilized law, monstrous were this not the rule of interpretation. As has been again and again decided by your own Supreme Court of the United States, and everywhere else where there is wise judicial interpretation, the largest latitude consistent with the words employed is uniformly given in construing such statutes and constitutional provisions as are meant to protect and defend and give remedies for their wrongs to all the people." Id., App., at 68.
"This legislative history makes evident that Congress clearly conceived that it was altering the relationship between the States and the Nation with respect to the protection of federally created rights; it was concerned that state instrumentalities could not protect those rights; it realized that state officers might, in fact, be antipathetic to the vindication of those rights; and it believed that these failings extended to the state courts." 407 U. S., at 242.