Pierson v. Ray

LOCATION: U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, Central Division

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1965-1967)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 386 US 547 (1967)
ARGUED: Jan 11, 1967
DECIDED: Apr 11, 1967

Facts of the case


Media for Pierson v. Ray

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 11, 1967 in Pierson v. Ray

Earl Warren:

Number 79, Robert L.Pierson, et al., petitioners versus J.L. Ray et al.

And Number 94 J.L. Ray et al. versus Robert L. Pierson.

Mr. Rachlin.

Carl Rachlin:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

The complaint here alleged two causes of action, one based upon Title 42, Section 1983 of the 18 -- based upon the 1871 Civil Rights Act and the second cause of action was a common law action for false imprisonment.

The defendants in each -- of each of these causes of action were the police officers and the convicting magistrate who had incarcerated the petitioners herein, the petitioners being one of Negro and three white Episcopal ministers who were arrested in the bus station in Jackson, Mississippi.

At the trial, before on the damage question which is present before this Court before Judge Mize of the Southern District of Mississippi, before him in a jury, there was a verdict for the defendant that is the respondents here.

The petitioners appeal to the Fifth Circuit and the Fifth Circuit reversed because of errors made by Judge Mize with regard to the admission of evidence.

However, in reversing the Fifth Circuit dismissed the case against the magistrate respondents Pierson here and in so far of damages was concerned set forth a rule on the new trial which indicated that if there was a finding, that there was a plan and purpose to be arrested then the petitioners here could not recover in the trial.

It was on those two issues purely.

On those two issues mainly that we came to this Court and upon our petition certiorari was granted by this Court.

John M. Harlan II:


Carl Rachlin:

They are raised in the cross-petition Your Honor by my colleague but they are not raised by us.

Now, very briefly and I will try to be very brief because there are the forth questions of law and noble to this Court.

Very briefly, the facts are as follows.

The general convention of the Episcopal Church, the trial in general convention of Episcopal Church was to be held in September 1961 in Detroit.

The petitioners here particularly petitioner Reverend John Morris who was the Director of the Episcopal Society for Cultural and Racial Unity, thought it would be great witness for that church to hold a prayer pilgrimage beginning in New Orleans and ending in Detroit and on the way bearing Christian witness to factors in various communities going up generally to Mississippi Valley on the way to Detroit with intention of stopping to places like Suwanee, Dearborn, Michigan as well as Jackson, Mississippi and they set out by bus from New Orleans and arrived in Jackson and spent the night on the day before the arrest were made here at Tougaloo College.

There had been of course some publicity in the papers and the news, in the radio about their activities.

But the next morning when they went with tickets for the -- for Continental Railway bus to Chattanooga and they had not given any publicity, there's nothing in the record which indicates that anyone knew when they were arriving at the bus station.

And the fact of the matter is that the record reflects that when they did arrive at the bus station no one was waiting for them, the police testimony was very clear on that point.

They arrived quietly in taxi cabs.

There were two police waiting on the back ramp of the bus station.

The police went around the back way and met the priest as they walked through the main entrance of the bus station passed a police expansion right in front of the entrance to the bus station which said "White only by order of the police."

As they went into the door of the bus station, Father Jones, one of the petitioners here heard one of the officer say, "Shall we get them now or shall we wait until later.

In any event, the -- there were 15 priests on this group, four of whom are petitioners here walked through the entrance and started towards the coffee shop a few feet inside the bus station.

A few of them of the 15 did actually get into the coffee shop but at that point, one of the two officers, either officer Nichols and Griffith, two of the respondents here halted them and made them come -- those who are in the bus station come back and they halt at the whole group and were told to move on.

At this point, one of the priests said, "We're on our way to Chattanooga.

We have tickets and we wanted to have -- it will be a long trip, we wanted to have coffee or sandwich or something before we take off on our trip."

No coffee, the police officer said, "Move on."

With no moving on they were arrested and not being told, the record doesn't reflect why they were they were being arrested at that point or what they were being arrested for or why they were told to move on.