Carlson, v. Green

LOCATION: United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division

DOCKET NO.: 78-1261
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

CITATION: 446 US 14 (1980)
ARGUED: Jan 07, 1980
DECIDED: Apr 22, 1980

Kenneth Steven Geller - on behalf of the Petitioners
Michael E. Deutsch - on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case

Green, the respondent, was presented in the case in Federal District Court in Indiana due to the deceased estate of her son. According to the case brief, she informed that while her son was an inmate in a federal prison in Indiana, he has been suffering from numerous injuries that eventually led to his death. She indicated that the actions of the prison workers clearly violated his Eighth Amendment rights since they did not provide adequate medical care when it was needed. Based on the jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331(a), Green decided to claim compensatory and disciplinary damages.

After the analysis of this case study, the District Court stated that the accusations could be considered a violation of the Eighth Amendment's prescription due to strange and inhuman punishment measures. The judges' decision was based on the previously released cause of action for the situation under the case Bivens v. Six Unknown Fed. Narcotics Agents. According to this case study, it was known that the victims of any constitutional violation by a government official should have a right to recover losses against the official despite the nonexistence of any statute giving such right. However, it was proven that the judges decided to reject the complaints because the decedent could have maintained the action if he had survived.

As a matter of federal law, the treatment was limited, confirming the wrongful death laws. The Court of Appeals agreed with District Court and stated that the need to meet § 1331(a)'s $10,000 jurisdictional amount requirement was satisfied since it was important to acknowledge that the federal common law allowed survival of the action.


Media for Carlson, v. Green

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 07, 1980 (Part 2) in Carlson, v. Green
Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 07, 1980 (Part 1) in Carlson, v. Green

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - April 22, 1980 in Carlson, v. Green

Warren E. Burger:

The judgment and opinion in Number 1261, Carlson the Director of Federal Prisons against Green will be announced by Mr. Justice Brennan.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

This case is here from the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

Respondent's son died in a federal prison, allegedly from injuries caused by federal prison officials in violation of his son's due process, equal protection and Eighth Amendment's rights.

The respondent mother sued the prison officials, seeking compensatory and punitive damages on behalf of her son's state for the constitutional violations.

Nine years ago, in a case called Bivens versus Federal Agents, this Court held that allegations of such constitutional violations causing injury give rise to a direct cause of action for damages against the federal officials involved.

However, it also happens that the allegations give rise to a cause of action against the United States itself under a 1971 Amendment to the Federal Tort Claims Act.

And the Government argues in this case that in that situation, no Bivens action directly under the Constitution against the federal officials should be permitted.

We reject that argument.

Agreeing with the Court of Appeals, an Eighth Amendment violation was pleaded by the respondent, and that a cause of action was stated under Bivens, we hold that the legislative history of the 1974 Amendment to the Tort Claims Act makes it crystal clear that Congress views that Tort Claims Act and the Bivens action as parallel complementary causes of action.

In other words, Congress contemplated that victims of the kind of intentional wrong doing alleged in this complaint shall have an action under the Tort Claims Act against the United States and also a Bivens action against the individual officials alleged to have infringed their constitutional rights.

There's a second question in the case, namely is the matter of the survival of respondent's Bivens action to be decided by reference to state law here, Indiana law.

The Government concedes that federal law governs that argues that we should fashion a federal rule of survivorship that incorporates the survivorship laws of a forum state here Indiana.

And under Indiana law, the action would abate and not survive and could not be maintained.

We reject the suggestion.

We hold that only a uniform federal rule of survivorship was compatible with a goal of deterring federal officials from infringing federal constitutional rights and the manner alleged in respondent's complaint.

We therefore agree with and affirm the holding of the Court of Appeals that "whenever as in this case, the relevants States survival statute would abate a Bivens type action brought against defendants whose conduct results in death, the federal common law allows survival of the action."

Mr. Justice Powell joined by Mr. Justice Stewart has filed an opinion concurring in the judgment.

The Chief Justice and Mr. Justice Rehnquist dissent and each has filed a dissenting opinion.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you, Mr. Justice Brennan.