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Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics

Citation. Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Fed. Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388, 91 S. Ct. 1999, 29 L. Ed. 2d 619, 1971)
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Brief Fact Summary.

Petitioner alleged damages resulting from a federal agent acting unlawfully.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Actions for damages may be brought against federal agents acting unlawfully as they carry out their duties of the United States.


Petitioner’s complaint alleged that agents of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (Respondents) acting under claim of federal authority, entered his apartment and arrested him for alleged narcotics violations. The agents manacled Petitioner in front of his wife and children, threatened to arrest the entire family, and searched the apartment. Petitioner also alleges that the arrest was conducted with unreasonable force and without probable cause. Petitioner sought $15,000.00 in damages for “great humiliation, embarrassment, and mental suffering.” The district court, on Respondents’ motion, dismissed the complaint on the ground, inter alia, that it failed to state a cause of action. The court of appeals affirmed.


Whether a federal agent acting under color of his authority gives rise to a cause of action for damages consequent upon his unconstitutional conduct.


(Justice Brennan). Yes. An action for damages may be brought against federal agents acting under the color of their authority but acting unconstitutionally. The judgment is reversed. “The Fourth Amendment [of the United States Constitution] provides that: ‘[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated . . . .’” Therefore, those who have their rights violated under the Fourth Amendment by a federal agent require protection under the Constitution. The Court has consistently ruled that “where federally protected rights have been invaded, it has been the rule from the beginning that courts will be alert to adjust their remedies so as to grant the necessary relief.” The Fourth Amendment, however, does not provide any monetary damages for injuries suffered as a result of a federal agent acting unconstitutionally. However, when there is a general right to sue under a federal statut
e, a court “may use any available remedy to make good the wrong done.” Petitioner is entitled to a cause of action and to recover monetary damages. The court of appeals is reversed and remanded.


The dissenting opinions are as follows:
* (Justice Burger). The Court’s holding “judicially create[d] a damage remedy not provided for by the Constitution and not enacted by Congress.”
* (J. Black). “[n]either Congress nor the State of New York has enacted legislation creating such a right of action. For [the Court] to do so is.

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