Bell et al. v. Hood et al.
Decided on Apr. 1, 1946; 327 US 678


I. ISSUES II. CASE SUMMARY III. AMICI CURIAE IV. DECISION V. WIN OR LOSS?
I. ISSUES:

A. Issues Discussed: Civil procedure, statutory interpretation

B. Legal Question Presented:

Can Petitioners' recover money for damages in federal district court for damages said to have been suffered as a result of federal officers violating Fourth Amendment right against unlawful search and Fifth Amendment right against deprivation of liberty "without due process of law?"

II. CASE SUMMARY:

A. Background:

"Petitioners brought this suit in a federal district court to recover damages in excess of $3,000 from the respondents who are agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The complaint alleges that the Court's jurisdiction is founded upon federal questions arising under the Fourth and Fifth Amendments. It is alleged that the damages were suffered as a result of the defendants imprisoning the petitioners in violation of their Constitutional right to be free from deprivation of their liberty without due process of law, and subjecting their premises to search and their possessions to seizure, in violation of their Constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. Respondents moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a cause of action for which relief could be granted and for summary judgment on the grounds that the federal agents acted within the scope of their authority as officers of the United States and that the searches and seizures were incidental to lawful arrests and were therefore valid...

After hearing the motions the district judge did not pass on them but, on his own motion, dismissed the suit for want of federal jurisdiction on the ground that this action was not one that '... arises under the Constitution or laws of the United States ...' as required by 28 U.S.C. 41(1), 28 U.S.C.A. 41(1). The Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed on the same ground."

On certiorari the US Supreme Court reversed.
B. Counsel of Record:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Unavailable Unavailable
C. The Arguments:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Unavailable Unavailable
III. AMICI CURIAE:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Messrs A. L. Wirin and Russell E. Parsons, both of Los Angeles, Cal., for petitioners. Mr.Frederick Bernays Wiener, of Providence, R.I., for respondents.
IV. THE SUPREME COURT'S DECISION:

"Whether or not the complaint as drafted states a common law action in trespass made actionable by state law, it is clear from the way it was drawn that petitioners seek recovery squarely on the ground that respondents violated the Fourth and Fifth Amendments. It charges that the respondents conspired to do acts prohibited by these amendments and alleges that respondents' conduct pursuant to the conspiracy resulted in damages in excess of $3,000. It cannot be doubted therefore that it was the pleaders' purpose to make violation of these Constitutional provisions the basis of this suit...

Whether the petitioners are entitled to recover depends upon an interpretation of 28 U.S.C . 41(1), 28 U.S.C.A. 41(1), and on a determination of the scope of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments' protection from unreasonable searches and deprivations of liberty without due process of law. Thus, the right of the petitioners to recover under their complaint will be sustained if the Constitution and laws of the United States are given one construction and will be defeated if they are given another. For this reason the district court has jurisdiction."

The US Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Circuit Court of Appeals.

Justice Vote: 5 Pro vs. 2 Con

  • Black, H.Pro (Wrote majority opinion)
  • Reed, S. Pro (Wrote concurring opinion)
  • Frankfurter, f. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Douglas, W. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Rutledge, W. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Stone, H. Con (Wrote dissenting opinion)
  • Burton, H. Con (Wrote dissenting opinion)
  • Jackson, R. Took no part in the decision
V. A WIN OR LOSS FOR THE ACLU?

The ACLU, as counsel of record, urged reversal of the judgment the Circuit Court of Appeals; the Supreme Court reversed in a 5-2 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent win.