Bivens sued federal agents under Title 42 U.S.C. § 1983 after they entered his apartment without a warrant. The agents searched his apartment, then placed him under arrest for violating narcotics laws. They placed Bivens in manacles in the presence of his wife and children. They also threatened to arrest his family. The agents took Bivens to the courthouse, then their headquarters. He was interrogated, fingerprinted, photographed, subjected to a visual strip search, and booked. The charges against Bivens were ultimately dismissed. Bivens alleged the search and his arrest were conducted “in an unreasonable manner.” Initially, the court dismissed Bivens’ lawsuit because Title 42 U.S.C. § 1983 was inapplicable to actions performed by federal officials. This ruling was affirmed by the court of appeals, and Bivens appealed to the Supreme Court.Whether a violation of the Fourth Amendment by a federal official acting under color
of federal authority gives rise to a cause of action for damages in federal court?
Whether a violation of the Fourth Amendment by a federal official acting under color of federal authority gives rise to a cause of action for damages in federal court?
Yes. When a federal official acting under color of law violates the Fourth Amendment, a cause of action for damages may be pursued in federal court.
The Fourth Amendment guarantees to the people of the United States the absolute right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures carried out by virtue of federal authority. And where federally protected rights have been violated, it has been the rule from the beginning that courts will be alert to adjust their remedies so as to grant the necessary relief to those who have been victimized. While the Fourth Amendment does not provide for its enforcement by an award of money damages for the consequences of its violation, it is well settled that where legal rights have been invaded, and a federal statute provides for a general right to sue for such invasion, federal courts may use any available remedy to make good the wrong done. Here, Bivens’ complaint stated a cause of action under the Fourth Amendment, and he was entitled to recover money damages for any injuries he suffered as a result of the agents’ violation of that Amendment.
403 U.S. 388, 91 S. Ct. 1999 (1971)