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06/30/83 National Black Police v. Richard W. Velde

June 30, 1983









Tamm, Circuit Judge, Bazelon, Senior Circuit Judge, and Parker,* United States District Court Judge. Opinion for the Court filed by Senior Circuit Judge Bazelon. Dissenting opinion filed by Circuit Judge Tamm.


The Supreme Court vacated and remanded this case *fn1 for further consideration in light of its recent decision in Harlow & Butterfield v. Fitzgerald. *fn2 The remand requires that we address the following question: *fn3 Did appellees have "clearly established" statutory or constitutional duties to terminate federal funds to local law enforcement agencies allegedly known to be discriminating unlawfully on the basis of race and sex? The liability standard announced in Harlow entitles appellees to qualified immunity on summary judgment unless such clear duties existed.

Appellants allege that "termination" duties existed under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Crime Control Act of 1973, and the due process clause of the fifth amendment. We find that such a duty was not clear under Title VI, but that clear duties to terminate funding existed under both the Crime Control Act and the fifth amendment. Accordingly, appellees are entitled to summary judgment with respect to appellants' claims for damages under Title VI, but not for the damage claims under either the Crime Control Act or the fifth amendment.


Prior Proceedings

Appellants, six blacks and six women, filed this lawsuit on September 4, 1975. They alleged that federal agencies and officials had violated appellants' constitutional and statutory rights by continuing to provide financial assistance to local law enforcement agencies that discriminate on the basis of race and sex. They claimed that this continued funding violated, inter alia, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI),4 sections 518(c) and 509 of the Crime Control Act of 1973 (the

On December 8, 1976, the district court granted appellees' motion for dismissal.8 The court held that plaintiffs' claims for declaratory and injunctive relief had "been rendered moot by virtue of the enactment of the Crime Control Act of 1976,"9 which altered the statutory duties in question.10 The court also held that appellants' damage claims against the individual officials were "barred by the doctrine of official immunity."11

The Supreme Court's subsequent decision in Butz v. Economou12 limited the scope of official immunity available to government officials. The Court held that as a general rule, federal officials are entitled only to a qualified immunity in suits alleging constitutional violations. To escape liability, a defendant official must establish a good faith basis and reasonable grounds for his conduct.13 The Court identified a limited exception to this general rule for administrative officials performing judicial and prosecutorial functions, reasoning that absolute immunity was necessary to protect discretionary prosecutorial decisions from the potentially distorting effect of threats of civil liability.14

On appeal of the district court's dismissal of the instant case, appellees argued that their discretion in administering the LEAA funds brought them within the narrowed realm of absolute immunity identified in Butz. Based on the mandatory language of the statute and appellees' constitutional duty not to use federal funds in a discriminatory manner, the court found the funding termination provisions to be mandatory, "outside the realm of discretion"15 and that absolute immunity was therefore inappropriate.16 Accordingly, the case was remanded for appellants to prove their claims and for appellees to demonstrate the factual basis for a qualified immunity.

Appellees petitioned for review to the Supreme Court and the Court granted certiorari. While the case was pending, the Court decided Harlow & Butterfield v. Fitzgerald,17 which significantly altered the law of official immunity. Shortly thereafter, the Court vacated our judgment in the instant case and remanded "for further consideration in light of Harlow & Butterfield v. Fitzgerald."18 We requested the parties to file supplemental briefs on the matter.

Harlow substantially altered the standards governing motions for summary judgment in cases involving claims of qualified immunity. However defined, qualified immunity strikes an uneasy balance between two competing concerns: (1) the need to protect individual rights from official abuse, and (2) the need to shield well-meaning officials "from potentially disabling threats of liability."19 The Court in Harlow reiterated that the latter concern requires quick resolution of insubstantial claims against government officials,20 and noted that the existing qualified immunity standard had not adequately accomplished this objective.

Prior to Harlow, summary judgment on questions of qualified immunity generally required both subjective and objective determinations. Summary judgment was denied if there was a factual dispute about whether an official "knew or reasonably should have known that the action he took within his sphere of official responsibility would violate the constitutional rights of the [plaintiff], or if he took the action with the malicious intention to cause a deprivation of constitutional rights or other injury . . . ."21 By alleging that an official acted with malicious intent or with a belief that a clear standard prohibited such conduct, plaintiffs could create a factual dispute that frequently required a subjective determination necessitating a trial. The need for such determinations thus frustrated the goal of terminating insubstantial lawsuits on summary judgment.22

Harlow adjusted the summary judgment standard to make it rely on objective factors. Under the new standard, "government officials performing discretionary functions generally are shielded from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known."23 On summary judgment, a court must first determine whether the rights allegedly violated were clearly established in the law.24 That determination is purely legal. If the court finds that the rights were clearly established, and that there is a genuine dispute over material facts, summary judgment must be denied. In subsequent proceedings, a defendant can still obtain qualified immunity by showing that because of "extraordinary circumstances" he neither knew nor should have known that his conduct was unlawful.25

Applying this standard to the instant case,26 we must determine whether appellees' failure to terminate funding to local law enforcement agencies violated statutory or constitutional duties clearly established at the time the failure occurred. We find that appellants' allegations, judged in their most favorable light, allege violations of statutory and constitutional rights which were clearly established at the time they allegedly occurred. Summary judgment is therefore denied.27


Application of the Harlow ...

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