PIERSON V. RAY, 386 U. S. 547 (1967)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547 (1967)

Pierson v. Ray

No. 79

Argued January 11, 1967

Decided April 11, 1967*

386 U.S. 547


Petitioners, 386 U. S. attempted to use a segregated interstate bus terminal waiting room in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1961. They were arrested by respondent policemen and charged with conduct breaching the peace in violation of § 2087.5 of the Mississippi Code, which this Court, in 1965, held unconstitutional in Thomas v. Mississippi, 380 U. S. 524, as applied to similar facts. Petitioners waived a jury trial, and were convicted by respondent municipal police justice. On appeal, one petitioner was accorded a trial de novo and, following a directed verdict in his favor, the cases against the other petitioners were dropped. Petitioners then brought this action in the District Court for damages (1) under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which makes liable "every person" who under color of law deprives another person of his civil rights, and (2) at common law for false arrest and imprisonment. The evidence showed that the ministers expected to be arrested on entering a segregated area. Though the witnesses agreed that petitioners entered the waiting room peacefully, petitioners testified that there was no crowd at the terminal, whereas the police testified that a threatening crowd followed petitioners. The jury found for respondents. On appeal, the Court of Appeals held that (1) respondent police justice had immunity for his judicial acts under both § 1983 and the state common law and (2) the policemen had immunity under the state common law of false arrest if they had probable cause to believe § 2087.5 valid, since they were not required to predict what laws are constitutional, but that, by virtue of Monroe v. Pape, 365 U. S. 167, they had no such immunity under § 1983 where the state statute was subsequently declared invalid. The court remanded the case against the officers for a new trial under § 1983 because of prejudicial cross-examination of petitioners, but ruled that they

Page 386 U. S. 548

could not recover if it were shown at the new trial that they had gone to Mississippi in anticipation that they would be illegally arrested.


1. The settled common law principle that a judge is immune from liability for damages for his judicial acts was not abolished by § 1983. Cf. Tenney v. Brandhove, 341 U. S. 367. Pp. 386 U. S. 553-555,

2. The defense of good faith and probable cause which is available to police officers in a common law action for false arrest and imprisonment is also available in an action under § 1983. Monroe v. Pape, supra, distinguished. Pp. 386 U. S. 555-557.

3. Though the officers were not required to predict this Court's ruling in Thomas v. Mississippi, supra, that § 2087.5 was unconstitutional as applied, and the defense of good faith and probable cause is available in an action under § 1983, it does not follow that the count based thereon should be dismissed, since the evidence was conflicting as to whether the police had acted in good faith and with probable cause in arresting the petitioners. Pp. 386 U. S. 557-558.

4. Petitioners did not consent to their arrest by deliberately exercising their right to use the waiting room in a peaceful manner with the expectation that they would be illegally arrested. P. 386 U. S. 558. 352 F. & 213, affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.

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