BAKER V. MCOLLAN, 443 U. S. 137 (1979)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Baker v. MCollan, 443 U.S. 137 (1979)

Baker v. MCollan

No. 78-752

Argued April 23, 1979

Decided June 26, 1979

443 U.S. 137


Respondent's brother somehow procured a duplicate of respondent's driver's license, except that it bore the brother's picture. The brother was arrested on narcotics charges, booked in respondent's name, and released on bond. An arrest warrant intended for the brother was subsequently issued in respondent's name. Pursuant to that warrant, respondent, over his protest, was taken into custody by the Potter County, Tex., Sheriff's Department and detained in jail for several days before the error was discovered and he was released. Claiming that his detention in jail had deprived him of liberty without due process of law, respondent brought an action in District Court against petitioner sheriff of Potter County and his surety under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which imposes civil liability on any person who, under color of state law, subjects another to the deprivation of rights "secured by the Constitution and laws." The District Court directed a verdict in favor of petitioner and his surety. The Court of Appeals, characterizing respondent's cause of action as a "[§] 1983 false imprisonment action," reversed, holding that respondent was entitled to have his § 1983 claim presented to the jury even though the evidence supported no more than a finding of negligence on petitioner's part.

Held: Respondent failed to satisfy § 1983's threshold requirement that the plaintiff be deprived of a right "secured by the Constitution and laws," and hence had no claim cognizable under § 1983. Pp. 443 U. S. 142-147.

(a) Absent an attack on the validity of the warrant under which he was arrested, respondent's complaint is simply that, despite his protests of mistaken identity, he was detained in jail for three days. Whatever claim this situation might give rise to under state tort law, it gives rise to no claim under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. While respondent was deprived of his liberty for three days, it was pursuant to a warrant conforming to the requirements of the Fourth Amendment. His detention, therefore, did not amount to a deprivation of liberty without due process of law. Pp. 443 U. S. 142-145.

(b) Respondent's innocence of the charge contained in the warrant, while relevant to a tort claim of false imprisonment, is largely irrelevant to his claim of deprivation of liberty without due process of law.

Page 443 U. S. 138

Given the requirements that an arrest be made only on probable cause and that one detained be accorded a speedy trial, a sheriff executing a valid arrest warrant is not required by the Constitution to investigate independently every claim of innocence, whether the claim is based on mistaken identity or a defense such as lack of requisite intent. Nor is the official maintaining custody of the person named in the warrant required by the Constitution to perform an error-free investigation of such a claim. Pp. 443 U. S. 145-146.

(c) The tort of false imprisonment does not become a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment merely because the defendant is a state official. P. 443 U. S. 146.

575 F.2d 509, reversed.

REHNQUIST, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J.,and STEWART, WHITE, BLACKMUN, and POWELL, JJ., joined. BLACKMUN, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 443 U. S. 147. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 443 U. S. 149. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 443 U. S. 149.

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