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Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents
Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971) was a case in which the United States Supreme Court ruled that an implied cause of action existed for an individual whose Fourth Amendment freedom from unreasonable search and seizures had been violated by federal agents. The victim of such a deprivation could sue for the violation of the Amendment itself, despite the lack of any federal statute authorizing such a suit. The existence of a remedy for the violation was implied from the importance of the right violated.
Drug Enforcement Agency agents searched the house of the plaintiff, Bivens, and arrested him without a warrant; however, no charges were brought against Bivens, who filed a lawsuit alleging the violation of his Fourth Amendment freedom from unreasonable search and seizure. The Government claimed that the violation only allowed for a a state law claim for invasion of privacy, and that the Fourth Amendment provides no cause of action, but only a rebuttable defense for the DEA agents.
Can a plaintiff bring a claim in a federal court based solely on an alleged violation of his Fourth Amendment rights?
The Court, in an opinion by Justice Brennan determined there must be a remedy for every wrong, and laid down a rule that it will imply a private right of action for monetary damages where no other federal remedy is provided for the vindication of a Constitutional right. The Court stated that the presumption is that where there is a violation of a right, the plaintiff can recover whatever he could recover under any civil action, unless Congress has specifically curtailed that right of recovery.
For Bivens, the Court notes, the remedy is damages or nothing. For example, there is no vindication of rights through the exclusionary rule because no charges are pending against Bivens. The Court also notes that Congress has not said "no money damages" and has not instead required some other, equally effective remedy; finally there are no "special factors counseling hesitation" in this case.
Justice Harlan wrote a concurring opinion asserting that no one questions that the court has the power to grant equitable relief based on the grant of jurisdiction in § 1331, which allows federal courts to hear cases arising under the Constitution and laws of the United States. Different remedies must be available for the same purpose - it is a special purpose of the Courts to have every remedy available to guard the rights granted in the Bill of Rights against the will of the popular majority.
Burger's dissent says that this decision is legislating, and should be left to Congress.
Black basically agrees with Burger, and worries about the growing docket.
Blackmun says this will lead to "another avalanche of new federal cases."
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