Willingham v. Morgan

PETITIONER: Willingham
LOCATION: Des Moines Independent Community School District

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1969)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

CITATION: 395 US 402 (1969)
ARGUED: Apr 22, 1969
DECIDED: Jun 09, 1969

Facts of the case


Media for Willingham v. Morgan

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 22, 1969 in Willingham v. Morgan

Earl Warren:

T. Willingham, C.A. Jarvis, petitioners, versus Daniel Morgan.

Mr. Beytagh.

Francis X. Beytagh, Jr.:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

In certain respects, this case involves a rather narrow and somewhat technical issue of federal procedure but underlying it are some important questions that relate to notions of federal supremacy involving issues of importance to prison officials and to federal governmental officials generally.

The issue in a nutshell is this, a federal statute.

Section 1442 (a) (1) of Title 28 of the United States Code provides that suits against federal officers may be removed when brought in a State Court to a Federal Court where the acts that are alleged to have occurred about the basis of the suit occur when the officer is acting under “color” of his office.

We've set the statute out at page 2 of our brief.

It provides important part as follows.

A civil action or a criminal prosecution commenced in a State Court against any of the following persons may be removed by them to the District Court of the United States for the district and division embracing the place wherein it is pending, one, any officer of the United States or any agency thereof or person acting under him for any act under color of such office.

The issue arises here on the following facts.

Respondent Daniel Morgan was a prisoner at the Federal Penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas.

He had been transferred there in March 1966 and in July 1966, some-four months later, filed the damage action which is the subject of this suit in a Kansas State Court.

Petitioners Willingham and Jarvis are the Warden -- and were then, Warden and Chief officer of the Federal Penitentiary at Leavenworth.

They were the only named defendants in respondent Morgan's suit.

There were 75 unnamed co-defendants.

He sought a total recovery of an excessive $90 million in damages.

He alleged in some-10 counts a variety of tortuous acts that he said had been perpetrated upon him by petitioners Willingham and Jarvis and the other 75 people.

In substance, his complaints can be boiled down to really two issues.

He asserted that he had been inoculated with some dangerous foreign substance which had caused him to fall and injure himself and that, in the course of this inoculation, unauthorized people had been giving him medical assistance.

And, in another count, he asserted in conclusory fashion that he had been beaten and assaulted and tortured in various respects.

Petitioners Willingham and Jarvis filed a general denial in the State Court denying all the allegations in the 10-count complaint that had been filed by respondent.

They also filed, pursuant to Section 1442 (a) (1), a verified petition for removal of this action from the Kansas State Court to the Federal District Court for the District of Kansas.

In this removal petition, they asserted that, at all relevant times, they had been acting in their official capacities as Warden and Chief Medical Officer of Leavenworth Penitentiary and they set out the various counts of the complaint and then, at page 9 of the record, they said that Morgan is, and was at all times mentioned, a dully committed prisoner inmate of the Federal Penitentiary at Leavenworth and rather that any act or thing that these petitioners, or either of them, may have done or authorized to be done concerning Morgan, complained of by him, was done and made by them in the course of their duties as officers of the United States of America and as persons acting under officers of the United States of America and under color of such office and by virtue thereof.

And, they again refer to their officers as the Warden and Chief Medical Officer.

Morgan then filed a motion in the Federal District Court to remand the case back to the State Court.

He asserted for a variety of respects that petitioners were not acting under color of office when they committed the acts he alleged they had committed.

He also filed a rather extensive set of interrogatories on petitioner Willingham, directed in substantial part obtaining the names of the unnamed unidentified co-defendants.

With the District Court's approval, an enlargement of time to answer these interrogatories was obtained.

The next step was petitioners filing for a summary judgment in the Federal District Court on the ground that Morgan's suit should be dismissed under the so-called Official Immunity Doctrine which has been established by this Court as relating to executive officials as well as judicial and legislative officials in cases dating back to Spalding versus Vilas and going through Barr versus Matteo.

Petitioners, at that point, filed failry extensive affidavits which are set out at pages 44 and -- through 48 of the defendant appendix.