Malone v. Bowdoin

LOCATION: South Carolina State House

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1962)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 369 US 643 (1962)
ARGUED: Mar 20, 1962
DECIDED: May 14, 1962

Facts of the case


Media for Malone v. Bowdoin

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 20, 1962 in Malone v. Bowdoin

Earl Warren:

Number 113, Buford Malone, Jr., Petitioner, versus James A. Bowdoin.

Mr. Friedman.

Daniel M. Friedman:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

This case, here on a writ of certiorari to the Fifth Circuit, once again brings before the Court the perplexing problem of when an action brought against a government official to restrain acts done in his official capacity is in fact an action against the United States which cannot be maintained in the absence of consent by the United States.

Specifically, the question in this case is whether an action may be maintained to reject a federal officer from land that he holds in his official capacity and the basic facts are simple.

The petitioner in this case, Mr. Malone, is a Forest Service Officer in the United States Forest Service.

In 1959, the respondents instituted an action in the State Courts of Georgia an ejectment to eject the petitioner from certain lands.

The action was brought in the traditional fictitious form which is employed in Georgia that is the complaint alleged that the respondents had demised the land to one John Doe that when John Doe had entered onto to the land and then that one Richard Roe had forcibly evicted him from it.

And under the settled practice in Georgia in that kind of a case, the real party in interest, the respondent, is not permitted to challenge any of these allegations.

He asked to admit the fact one of the least, two, the fact of entry into possession and three, the fact of the ouster and as we have indicated in our brief in -- under the Georgia practice, this is a method by which basically the title to land is determined.

The Government and, I might mention that the process in the case was served upon both the petitioner, Mr. Malone and upon the United States, the Government removed the case from the state court to the federal court.

And in its petition for removal, which is set forth at pages one and two of the record, the Government alleged that it had acquired the land by a deed in 1936 that since that time, it had lawfully owned and possessed the same and that the petitioner, Mr. Malone, at all times held the land solely by virtue of his official position and under color of his office.

After the case had been removed into the District Court, the United States and the petitioner then moved to dismiss the case on the ground that the suit was one directed against the United States and the United States have not consented.

And after a pretrial conference and a hearing, the District Court granted the motion to dismiss.

The District Court pointed out that at the pretrial conference, the respondent's counsel had conceded the correctness of the allegations in the petition for removal that at all times the petitioner, Mr. Malone, held the land by virtue of the color of his office and as result of his official position.

And the court ruled that on the basis of those facts, this case was controlled by the court's decision of this Court in Larson against Domestic and Foreign Commerce Corporation in 337 U.S. about which I will have much to say shortly and that accordingly, it was a suit against the United States.

A divided Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed.

And I think a fair reading of the opinion of the Fifth Circuit is that in the court's view, this case was not controlled by Larson but was controlled by the earlier decision of this Court in United States against Lee in 106.

And so we think this case, as it comes to this Court, presents fairly the question whether in this type of a situation, this Court's decision in Larson controls or whether the Lee case controls and I'd like briefly --

Felix Frankfurter:

What does Larson leave of the (Voice Overlap), won't you?

Daniel M. Friedman:

Yes, I think it is left virtually nothing Mr. Justice at least in its application to this type of case.

I like to refer briefly to the facts in the Larson case.

In the Larson case, the War Assets Administrator had entered into a contract to sell certain surplus coal of the Government to the Domestic and Foreign Commerce Corporation.

A dispute arose between the Administrator and the Foreign Commerce Corporation over the terms of the contract and the Administrator ultimately concluded that the contract had been breached.

He then undertook to sell the coal to someone else.

The company instituted a suit in the District Court to enjoin the Administrator from doing this on the theory first, that there had been no breach of the contract and secondly, that under the terms of the contract, title had passed to the company, and therefore, that what the Administrator was trying to do was improperly to dispose of property which belonged to the company.

This Court, after a thorough review of the authorities in the case in this field, concluded that this was in fact a suit against the United States, and therefore, could not be maintained and the Court enunciated the basic principle that where an action to compel specific relief for -- against a government official, acting in his official capacity, is brought, it is in fact the suit against the sovereign unless one of two conditions is met, either that it's alleged and shown, and the court said it had to be specifically alleged, that the officer is acting beyond the scope of his authority or secondly, if the officer is acting within the purported scope of his authority that such authority is unconstitutional.

In other words, in those two situations, relief maybe had against the officer and that it is not relief against the sovereign because the relief is sought against conduct that is beyond the officer's authority, either the officer's actual authority or the officer's valid authority and in that situation, the actions of the officer are not fairly viewed as the actions of the sovereign.

Now, in this case, we think it's clear that neither of those conditions has been satisfied.

There's no allegation here and no claim that Mr. Malone in holding this land in his official capacity is acting beyond the scope of his authority.