Wheeldin v. Wheeler

LOCATION: Circuit Court of Anne Arundel County

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1962-1965)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 373 US 647 (1963)
ARGUED: Apr 23, 1963
DECIDED: Jun 03, 1963

Facts of the case


Media for Wheeldin v. Wheeler

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 23, 1963 in Wheeldin v. Wheeler

Earl Warren:

Number 493, Donald Wheeldin and Admiral Dawson, Petitioners, versus William Wheeler; Mr. Wirin?

A. L. Wirin:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

The issues raised by the instant petition as the petitioners view it are two.

First, whether or not, the District Court, and I say District Court for the Southern District of California, had jurisdiction to adjudicate the issues raised by a suit filed in that court and secondly, whether or not, the complaint states a cause of action warranting relief or requiring the trial on the merits.

The complaint which I can summarize very quickly is in behalf of two persons, both of whom were subpoenaed to appear before the House Committee on Un-American activities.

The defendant below, the respondent here, is an agent of that Committee, is the investigator for that Committee in California and the complaint recites in effect that the respondent secured or issued subpoenas against the petitioners for the purpose of harassing them and that particularly with respect to the petitioner Admiral Dawson.

And I may say the only public official in this case is the respondent, Wheeler, the petitioner, Admiral Dawson is not a public official.

He is -- the Admiral is merely his first name.

Be that as it may, with respect to that petitioner that the complaint alleges that the respondent, Wheeler, arranged for the process to be served at Admiral Dawson’s place of employment with the intention that such service would result in a loss of employment and that as a result of such service at that place and for that purpose in actual fact, Admiral Dawson did lose his employment through this damage of course.

The complaint as filed in the District Court sought both equitable and relief, and relief at law.

It sought a declaratory judgment as to the validity of the subpoena and additionally sought damages on -- because of the manner of the service of the subpoena and the nature of the subpoena.

Earl Warren:

Mr. Wirin.

Is your case --

A. L. Wirin:

Yes, Your Honor.

Earl Warren:

Is the case of Wheeldin before us?

A. L. Wirin:


Well, let me come.

I -- I'll answer Your Honor's question right now that I had intended to do so in a moment.

The petitioners, or the petitioner Wheeldin, has determined to withdraw his petition with a certiorari and asked leave of Court to do so and has so stated in the preliminary statement in the reply brief.

We have done that because we feel that the damages to the petitioner, Wheeldin, are not substantial.

The jurisdictional statute requires damages in a sum of $10,000 and also there are some problems in res judicata which is raised by the Government which we think unnecessarily obfuscate or deviate the central issues so that, if Your Honor's grant a leave of court to the petitioner, Wheeldin, to withdraw his petition, the only petitioner remaining is the petitioner, Dawson, and the only matters which are at issue pertain to the petitioner, Dawson.

And I shall address myself, my oral argument exclusively to the issues as raised in the complaint in connection with the petitioner, Dawson.

Now, I brief -- further word by way of -- of the -- of the history of the -- of the proceedings below because that would, which I will now state, will -- I think, tell some light upon the import of certain concessions made by the Solicitor General in his brief, concessions which are to the petitioner of a considerable consequence.

When the suit was first filed, the respondent through a licensed attorney and special counsel retained for the respondent by the Congress, by the House Representatives, urged that the Court have no jurisdiction.

The trial court agreed with that view, but upon appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed the judgment and took the view that there was jurisdiction in the trial court.

From that ruling by the Court of Appeals, the first decision that government took no -- sought no review in this Court.

In any event, at the second round, when the matter was remanded to the trial court, the Government then took the view that the complaint didn't state a cause of action.

The trial court sustained that position granting a motion to dismiss.

And that position was posited on the claim that the respondent Wheeldin, was -- had complete, absolute immunity from liability under Barr versus Matteo, the decision of this Court that a public official in some circumstances when he commits an alleged libel, he's absolutely privileged.

Before the Court of Appeals, the sole basis for the Government's contention was the claim of absolute immunity and the sole basis for the cause of ruling was absolute immunity.