Butz v. Economou

LOCATION: Oakland County, Michigan

DOCKET NO.: 76-709
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

CITATION: 438 US 478 (1978)
ARGUED: Nov 07, 1977
DECIDED: Jun 29, 1978

David C. Buxbaum - Argued the cause for the respondents
Daniel M. Friedman - Argued the cause for the petitioners

Facts of the case

Following a failed attempt by the Department of Agriculture to revoke or suspend his commodity futures commission company's registration, Arthur Economou sought damages against Earl Butz and several other federal administrative officials for wrongful initiation of administrative proceedings. On appeal from an adverse district court finding of absolute immunity for state officials, the New York Court of Appeals reversed as it found that federal administrators were only entitled to qualified immunity. Butz appealed and the Supreme Court granted certiorari.


Are federal administrators entitled to absolute or qualified immunity in the face of challenges to their conduct of public business?

Media for Butz v. Economou

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 07, 1977 in Butz v. Economou

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 29, 1978 in Butz v. Economou

Warren E. Burger:

The judgment and opinion of the court in 76-709, Butz against the Economou will be announced by Mr. Justice White.

Byron R. White:

This case is here on the certiorari, from Court of Appeals for the second circuit.

It involves a suit against various department of agricultural officials for they are having suspended the registration of a commodity futures trading company.

The officials sued ranged from the Secretary of Agriculture as down to the hearing officers and investigating officials that were involved in the suspension proceedings.

And the claims made against them included claims that they had deliberately violated the constitutional rights of the plaintiffs in the course of the suspension proceedings.

All of the officials claim that under Barr against Matteo, a case decided here some years ago.

That they were absolutely immune from damages liability.

The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit however held that under cases decided here, since Bar, that the officials were not entitled to absolute immunity, but only to a qualified immunity.

We brought the case here and we have concluded that we don't agree with the Court of Appeals, but we don't agree with the petitioners either.

Some of these officials are entitled absolute immunity and some aren't.

We have filed an opinion which attempts to set down the considerations that go into deciding the degree of immunity that these officials may enjoy and the bottom line is that we make the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and remand the case for further proceedings consistent with the principles set down in the opinion.

But again all is not harmony here.

Mr. Justice Rehnquist has filed a dissenting opinion.

The Chief Justice, Mr. Justice Stewart and Mr. Justice Stevens have joined him.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you Mr. Justice White.