Carey v. Piphus

PETITIONER: John D. Carey, et al.
RESPONDENT: Jarius Piphus, et al.
LOCATION: Chicago Vocational High School

DOCKET NO.: 76-1149
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

CITATION: 435 US 247 (1978)
ARGUED: Dec 06, 1977
DECIDED: Mar 21, 1978
GRANTED: Apr 18, 1977

Earl B. Hoffenberg - for petitioners
John S. Elson - for respondents

Facts of the case

During school hours on January 23, 1974, the principal of the Chicago Vocational High School saw Jarius Piphus, then a freshman, standing on school property sharing an irregularly shaped cigarette with another student. The principal saw a pack of the cigarettes change hands and believed he smelled marijuana. When the principal approached, the students immediately discarded the cigarette. The students were suspended for the customary 20 days for violation of the school drug policy, despite their protests that they had not been smoking marijuana. A few days later, Piphus, his mother and sister, school officials, and representatives from a legal aid clinic met to discuss the suspension, not to determine whether or not Piphus had violated the school drug policy. Piphus and his mother sued the school official in federal district court for violating Piphus’ Fourteenth Amendment right to due process. They sought declaratory and injunctive relief as well as $3000 in damages.

On September 11, 1973, Silas Brisco, a sixth grader at Clara Barton Elementary School in Chicago, received a 20-day suspension for wearing an earring to school in violation of school policy. The previous year, the school principal had enacted a policy banning earrings, as he believed they were associated with gang affiliation. When asked to remove the earring, Brisco refused and stated it was a symbol of black pride. Brisco and his mother sued the school officials in federal district court for violating Brisco’s right to due process. They sought declaratory and injunctive relief and $5000 in damages.

The two cases were consolidated for trial and the district court held that their suspensions violated the Fourteenth Amendment and that the schools were not entitled to immunity, but the court did not award damages. The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed and remanded for the district court to reconsider questions of relief and damages.


In cases dealing with the denial of due process, must a plaintiff prove that he was actually injured by the deprivation in order to recover substantial nonpunitive damages?

Media for Carey v. Piphus

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 06, 1977 in Carey v. Piphus

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - March 21, 1978 in Carey v. Piphus

Warren E. Burger:

The judgment and opinion of the court in Carey against Piphus will be announced by Mr. Justice Powell.

Lewis F. Powell, Jr.:

The respondents in this case are public school students who were suspended without a hearing. They sued petitioners, the school officials seeking damages under Section 1983 of Title 42 of the United States Code.

They contend that the denial of a hearing deprived them of that Fourteenth Amendment right to procedural due process.

The District Court agreed that there was a denial of procedural due process, but refused to award damages because respondents had proved no resulting injury.

The Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed.

It held that respondents are entitled to recover substantial damages even if the suspensions were justified and even if respondents do not prove any injury other than the denial of a hearing.

Petitioners do not contest the holding of a constitutional right not to be suspended without notice of hearing.

They insist, however, that the Court of Appeals erred in it's holding of entitlement to substantial damages.

We agree with petitioners that the mere denial of notice and hearing without more cannot be the basis for the award of substantial damages in absence of any proof of injury.

We make clear in our opinion filed today that compensable injury may include mental and emotional distress provided a claim therefore is supported by competent evidence.

As there was no such evidence in this case, we hold that respondents are not entitled to recover substantial damages.

We also hold, however, that even where denial of procedural due process is not shown to have caused actual injury, the plaintiff is entitled to recover damages not to exceed $1.

Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

Mr. Justice Marshall concurs in the judgment.

Mr. Justice Blackmun took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you, Mr. Justice Powell.