Martinez v. California

LOCATION:Superior Court of San Diego

DOCKET NO.: 78-1268
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: State appellate court

CITATION: 444 US 277 (1980)
ARGUED: Nov 05, 1979
DECIDED: Jan 15, 1980

Donald McGrath, II – on behalf of the Appellants
Jeffrey T. Miller – on behalf of the Appellees
Jeffery T. Miller

Facts of the case

Richard Thomas was convicted of attempted murder and committed to a mental institution for a suggested one to twenty years. The parole officials released him after five months. Five months after his release on parole, he murdered Mary Ellen Martinez, a fifteen-year-old girl. Her family, sued the parole official for negligence, but the district court dismissed the case because a California statute states that a parole officer cannot be liable for injury resulting from the decision to revoke parole or release a parolee. The California Supreme Court also dismissed the case and the Martinez family appealed by arguing the statute of immunization of parole officials violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.


Does a statute immunizing parole officials from injuries resulting from parole decisions violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?

Media for Martinez v. California

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – November 05, 1979 in Martinez v. California

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – January 15, 1980 in Martinez v. California

Warren E. Burger:

The judgment and opinion of the Court in Number 78-1268, Martinez against California will be announced by Mr. Justice Stevens.

John Paul Stevens:

In December of 1969, a man named Thomas was convicted of attempted rape in California.

He was first committed to a state mental hospital as a “Mentally Disordered Sex Offender not amenable to treatment” and later was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of — from one to 20 years.

After a little over five years, he was granted a parole by the California parole board.

About five months later, he committed another — a very brutal crime resulting in a death of a 15-year-old girl.

The parents of the 15-year-old girl brought this action in the California courts against the members of the parole board, seeking to impose liability on them for the death caused to their daughter by Thomas.

The California courts dismissed the complaint holding that a California statute granted members of the parole board complete immunity and that no federal claim was stated.

The case comes here by appeal since the constitutionality of the state statute is in issue. This Court unanimously affirms the holding of the California Court.

We reject the argument that the states statute granting immunity to parole officers violates the Federal Constitution and — and hold that the question of whether to allow a claim like this to be prosecuted in the state court is a matter for the State of California to decide without inhibition from the Federal Constitution.

We also hold that the action of the members of the parole board in releasing Thomas did not deprive the young girl of her life without due process of law within the meaning of the Constitution and therefore, that no cause of action is stated under Section 1983 of the federal civil rights laws.

We therefore — for the reasons stated more fully in the opinion filed with the clerk, we therefore affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals of California.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you, Mr. Justice Stevens.