CARLSON V. GREEN, 446 U. S. 14 (1980)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Carlson v. Green, 446 U.S. 14 (1980)

Carlson v. Green

No. 78-1261

Argued January 7, 1980

Decided April 22, 1980

446 U.S. 14


Respondent brought suit in Federal District Court in Indiana on behalf of her deceased son's estate, alleging that her son, while a prisoner in a federal prison in Indiana, suffered personal injuries from which he died because petitioner prison officials violated, inter alia, his Eighth Amendment rights by failing to give him proper medical attention. Asserting jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331(a), respondent claimed compensatory and punitive damages. The District Court held that the allegations pleaded a violation of the Eighth Amendment's proscription against cruel and unusual punishment, thus giving rise to a cause of action for damages under Bivens v. Six Unknown Fed. Narcotics Agents, 403 U. S. 388, under which it was established that victims of a constitutional violation by a federal official have a right to recover damages against the official in federal court despite the absence of any statute conferring such a right. But the court dismissed the complaint on the ground that, although the decedent could have maintained the action if he had survived, the damages remedy, as a matter of federal law, was limited to that provided by Indiana's survivorship and wrongful death laws, which the court construed as making the damages available to the decedent's estate insufficient to meet § 1331(a)'s $10,000 jurisdictional amount requirement. While otherwise agreeing with the District Court, the Court of Appeals held that the latter requirement was satisfied because, whenever a state survivorship statute would abate a Bivens-type action, the federal common law allows survival of the action.


1. A Bivens remedy is available to respondent even though the allegations could also support a suit against the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). Pp. 446 U. S. 18-23.

(a) Neither of the situations in which a cause of action under Bivens may be defeated are present here. First, the case involves no special factors counseling hesitation in the absence of affirmative action by Congress, petitioners not enjoying such independent status in our

Page 446 U. S. 15

constitutional scheme as to suggest that judicially created remedies against them might be inappropriate. Second, there is no explicit congressional declaration that persons injured by federal officers' violations of the Eighth Amendment may not recover damage's from the officers, but must be remitted to another remedy, equally effective in Congress' view. There is nothing in the FTCA or its legislative history to show that Congress meant to preempt a Bivens remedy or to create an equally effective remedy for constitutional violations. Rather, in the absence of a contrary expression from Congress, the FTCA's provision creating a cause of action against the United States for intentional torts committed by federal law enforcement officers, contemplates that victims of the kind of intentional wrongdoing alleged in the complaint in this case shall have an action under the FTCA against the United States as well as a Bivens action against the individual officials alleged to have infringed their constitutional rights. Pp. 446 U. S. 18-20.

(b) The following factors also support the conclusion that Congress did not intend to limit respondent to an FTCA action: (i) the Bivens remedy, being recoverable against individuals, is a more effective deterrent than the FTCA remedy against the United States; (ii) punitive damages may be awarded in a Bivens suit, but are statutorily prohibited in an FTCA suit; (iii) a plaintiff cannot opt for a jury trial in an FTCA action, as he may in a Bivens suit; and (iv) an action under the FTCA exists only if the State in which the alleged misconduct occurred would permit a cause of action for that misconduct to go forward. Pp. 446 U. S. 20-23.

2. Since Bivens actions are a creation of federal law, the question whether respondent's action survived her son's death is a question of federal law. Only a uniform federal rule of survivorship will suffice to redress the constitutional deprivation here alleged and to protect against repetition of such conduct. Robertson v. Wegmann, 436 U. S. 584 distinguished. Pp. 446 U. S. 23-25.

581 F.2d 669, affirmed.

BRENNAN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. POWELL, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which STEWART, J., joined, post p. 446 U. S. 25. BURGER, C.J.,post, p. 446 U. S. 30, and REHNQUIST, J., post, p. 446 U. S. 31, filed dissenting opinions.

Page 446 U. S. 16

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