United States v. Stanley

PETITIONER: United States, et al.
RESPONDENT: James B. Stanley
LOCATION: U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense

DOCKET NO.: 86-393
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-1987)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

CITATION: 483 US 669 (1987)
ARGUED: Apr 21, 1987
DECIDED: Jun 25, 1987
GRANTED: Dec 08, 1986

Christopher J. Wright - on behalf of the petitioners
Richard A. Kupfer - on behalf of the respondents

Facts of the case

In February 1958, Master Sergeant James Stanley volunteered to participate in a military program ostensibly testing the effectiveness of protective clothing and equipment against chemical warfare. He spent a month at the Army’s Chemical Warfare Laboratories and during that time was secretly administered doses of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD). As a result of his exposure to LSD, Stanley began experiencing hallucinations, memory loss, impaired performance of his job, and he engaged in domestic violence without remembering it later. He was discharged from the Army in 1969. In 1975, Stanley received a letter from the military asking for his cooperation in a study to determine the long-term effects of LSD and referring to his previous “voluntary” involvement in the 1958 tests. This letter was the first notification that Stanley received regarding the true purpose of the 1958 tests. He sued the government under the Federal Torts Claim Act (FTCA) and argued that there had been negligence in the administration, supervision, and subsequent monitoring of the drug testing program.

The district court granted the government’s motion for summary judgment and held that the government was not liable for negligence that occurred while Stanley was on active duty. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed but also held that the district court should have dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction. On remand, Stanley amended his complaint to include claims that unknown officers violated his constitutional rights and argued that the constitutional claim did not fall under the service exception to the FTCA. The district court again dismissed the claim under the FTCA and rejected the government’s argument that the same exception barred Stanley’s constitutional claims. The government moved for partial final judgment because Stanley had not named individual defendants. Stanley filed a second amended complaint that named individual defendants, but before the court ruled on it, the Supreme Court decided Chappell v. Wallace, which held that enlisted military personnel may not file constitutional claims. The district court held that the Chappell decision did not bar Stanley’s constitutional claims. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed and held that recent precedent did not require Stanley’s FTCA claim to be barred.


(1) Did the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit err in reinstating Stanley’s claims under the Federal Torts Claim Act?

(2) Did the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit err in determining that the Supreme Court’s decision in Chappell did not bar Stanley’s constitutional claims?

Media for United States v. Stanley

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 21, 1987 in United States v. Stanley

William H. Rehnquist:

We will hear argument next in No. 86-393, the United States versus James B. Stanley.

Mr. Wright, you may proceed whenever you are ready.

Christopher J. Wright:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court, in the 1950s the Army conducted tests regarding the effects of LSD, and respondent was one of the servicemen who participated in those tests.

He alleges that he was secretly administered LSD on four occasions in February, 1958, at the Army's chemical warfare laboratories while he was supposedly testing gas masks, and that he did not know he had been given LSD until 1975, when the Army asked him to participate in a follow-up study.

He alleges that he sustained mental injuries as a result of taking the drug.

The procedural history of this case is noteworthy because it shows that respondent gave up on both of his claims during the course of this litigation.

Respondent's original complaint, which alleged a claim under the Federal Tort Claims Act, was dismissed by the District Court on the basis that respondent had been injured incident to military service and the Fifth Circuit in 1981 held that that claim was barred by this Court's decision in Feres.

Respondent filed an amended complaint that contained an FTCA claim and a Bivens claim as well, but the District Court dismissed the FTCA claim and granted final judgment in favor of the United States.

Respondent did not appeal the dismissal of the FTCA.

William H. Rehnquist:

Well, Mr. Weight, when you say granted final judgment, was there ever a judgment ordered in compliance with the separate document required?

What is that, Rule 58?

Christopher J. Wright:

Yes, Your Honor.

It is printed at Pages 54 to 55 of the appendix to our petition.

The judge entered... wrote an opinion which is printed at Pages 56 to 66, and then he entered this two-page order which says that

"there is no just reason for delay in expressly directing the entry of judgment in favor of the United States and that such relief is hereby granted. "

And I would like to note that "hereby granted" is printed in all capital letters.

That is about as plain a final judgment under Rule 54B as there can be.

William H. Rehnquist:

Well, but how about the separate instrument requirement of Rule 58?

Christopher J. Wright:

We contend that this order is a separate document.

William H. Rehnquist:

You say it satisfies both those rules?

Christopher J. Wright:


The purpose of the rule is that there should not merely be some apparently dispository language in the opinion, as there is in the opinion that is printed on Pages 56 to 66, but that there should be a separate order that complies with the rule.

We asked, the government asked the District Court to enter this final order pursuant to Rule 54B dismissing the United States, and the District Court did.

Respondent didn't appeal that dismissal as he was required to do, but instead filed a second amended complaint which is the live complaint in this case and which is printed in the--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Before we leave that point, Mr. Wright, I guess the respondent argues that, on this same order you refer us to, in the next paragraph it says,

"Further ordered that the clerk enter final judgment in favor of the United States. "

and the clerk never did.

Christopher J. Wright:

--The clerk is required to enter a final judgment on the docket sheet, and we printed that in Page 2 of our joint appendix.

And if I may quote from it, it says

"Motion for partial final judgment by defendant USA is granted. "