Anderson is an agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. On
November 11, 1983,
Anderson and other state and federal law enforcement officers conducted
a warrantless search of
the home of respondents, the Creighton family.
The search was conducted because Anderson believed that Vadaain Dixon,
a man suspected of a bank robbery
committed earlier that day, might be found there.
Filed suit against Anderson in a Minnesota state court, asserting among
other things a claim for money damages under the Fourth
Motioned for SJ
After removing the suit to Federal District Court, Anderson filed a
motion to dismiss or for summary judgment.
Arguing that the Bivens claim was barred by Anderson's qualified
immunity from civil damages liability.
Before any discovery took place, the District Court granted summary
judgment on the ground that the search was lawful.
Holding Anderson had probable cause to search the Creighton's
Appeals - Reversed
Held that the issue of the lawfulness of the search could not properly
be decided on summary judgment.
Because unresolved factual disputes
made it impossible to determine as a matter of law
that the warrantless search had been supported by probable cause
and exigent circumstances.
When government officials abuse their offices, "action[s] for damages
may offer the only realistic avenue for vindication of
Permitting damages suits against government officials can entail
substantial social costs, including the risk that fear of
personal monetary liability and harassing litigation will unduly
[excessively] inhibit [restrain] officials in the discharge of
Government Official Immunity
- Shielding From Civil Damages
Government officials performing discretionary functions are generally
provided with a qualified immunity, shielding them from civil
damages liability as long as their actions could reasonably have
been thought consistent with the rights they are alleged to have
Qualified immunity protects "all but the plainly incompetent or those
who knowingly violate the law."
Officials are immune unless "the law clearly proscribed [prohibits] the
actions" they took.
There is a sense in which any action that violates that Clause (no
matter how unclear it may be that the particular action is a
violation) violates a clearly established right.
Plaintiffs would be able to convert the rule of qualified immunity into
a rule of virtually unqualified liability simply by alleging
violation of extremely abstract rights.
Harlow would be transformed from a guarantee of immunity
into a rule of pleading.
Such an approach would destroy "the balance that our cases strike
between the interests in vindication of citizens' constitutional
rights and in public officials' effective performance of their
duties," by making it impossible for officials "reasonably to
anticipate when their conduct may give rise to liability for
protect by qualified immunity
An official has qualified immunity UNLESS unlawfulness is apparent.
Contends that the Court of Appeals misapplied these principles.
Warrantless Searches Rule
The right to be free from warrantless searches of one's home unless the
searching officers have probable cause and there are exigent
Probable Cause Analysis
It simply does not follow immediately from the conclusion that it was
firmly established that warrantless searches not supported by
probable cause and exigent circumstances violate the Fourth
Amendment that Anderson's search was objectively legally
We have recognized that it is inevitable that
law enforcement officials will in some
cases reasonably but mistakenly conclude that
probable cause is present, and we have indicated that in such
cases those officials like other officials
who act in ways they reasonably believe
to be lawful --
should not be held personally liable.
Relevant Question For This Case
Whether a reasonable officer could have believed Anderson's warrantless
search to be lawful, in light of clearly established law and the
information the searching officers possessed.
Anderson's subjective beliefs about the search are irrelevant.
The principles of qualified immunity that we reaffirm today
require that Anderson be
permitted to argue that he is entitled to summary
judgment on the ground that, in light of the clearly
established principles governing warrantless searches,
he could, as a matter of law,
reasonably have believed that the search of the
Creightons' home was lawful.
Stevens, Brennan, Marshall
This opinion announces a new rule of law that protects federal
agents who make
forcible nighttime entries into the homes of innocent
probable cause, without
a warrant, and without
any valid emergency justification for their warrantless