STAFFORD, U.S. ATTORNEY, ET AL. v. BRIGGS ET AL.
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE DISTRICT
OF COLUMBIA CIRCUIT.
Argued April 24, 1979. Reargued November 7, 1979.
Decided February 20, 1980. *
[ Footnote * ] Together with No. 78-303, Colby, Director, Central Intelligence Agency, et al. v. Driver et al., on certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.
In No. 77-1546, respondents, who had been among those subpoenaed to appear before a federal grand jury in Florida investigating a possible conspiracy to cause a riot, brought suit in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia against petitioners (the then United States Attorney and Assistant United States Attorney for the Northern District of Florida, and a Federal Bureau of Investigation agent) and a Department of Justice attorney, individually and in their official capacities, alleging a conspiracy to deprive respondents of various statutory and constitutional rights, and seeking damages and a declaratory judgment. Petitioners, each of whom resided in Florida, were served by certified mail, and the Department of Justice attorney, who resided in the District of Columbia, was served personally. Respondents relied on 2 of the Mandamus and Venue Act of 1962 (Act), 28 U.S.C. 1391 (e), which provides in part that "[a] civil action in which a defendant is an officer or employee of the United States or any agency thereof acting in his official capacity or under color of legal authority . . . may, except as otherwise provided by law, be brought in any judicial district in which (1) a defendant in the action resides, or (2) the cause of action arose . . ., or (4) the plaintiff resides if no real property is involved in the action," and that delivery of the summons and complaint to the officer in such an action may be made by certified mail beyond the territorial limits of the district in which the action is brought. The District Court dismissed the action, ruling that venue was improper and that the court lacked in personam jurisdiction over petitioners. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that 2 permits damages actions against federal officials to be brought in any district in which any one defendant resides, and that since the Department of Justice attorney was a resident of the District of Columbia venue there was proper. In No. 78-303, respondents, whose mail between the United States and the Soviet Union had allegedly been opened by the Central Intelligence [444 U.S. 527, 528] Agency, brought suit in the United States District Court for the District of Rhode Island against petitioners (the then Director and Deputy Director of the CIA) and others, in their individual and official capacities, alleging that interference with respondents' mail violated their constitutional rights, and seeking damages, as well as declaratory and injunctive relief. Petitioners and the other defendants were served outside of Rhode Island by certified mail. The District Court denied the defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction, improper venue, and insufficiency of process, but certified the questions involved for an immediate appeal. The Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court's order as to petitioners, who were CIA officials when the complaint was filed, but reversed as to those defendants who had left their Government positions at the time of filing, holding that 2 applied to damages actions against federal officials in their individual capacities and provided the mechanism for obtaining personal jurisdiction, over them, and that accordingly venue was proper in Rhode Island because one of the respondents resided there.
Section 2 of the Act does not apply to actions for money damages brought against federal officials in their individual capacities. Pp. 533-545.
BURGER, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BLACKMUN, POWELL, REHNQUIST, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. STEWART, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, J., joined, post, p. 545. WHITE, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the cases. MARSHALL, J., took no part in the decision of the cases.
Peter Megargee Brown reargued the cause for petitioners in No. 77-1546. With him on the briefs was Earl H. Nemser. Mr. Nemser reargued the cause for petitioners in No. 78-303. With him on the briefs was Mr. Brown.
Doris Peterson reargued the cause for respondents in No. 77-1546. With her on the briefs were Morton Stavis, Nancy Stearns, Robert L. Boehm, Cameron Cunningham, Brady Coleman, Jack Levine, and Philip Hirschkop. Melvin L. Wulf reargued the cause for respondents in No. 78-303. With him on the brief were Leon Friedman and Burt Neuborne.
Elinor H. Stillman reargued the cause for the United States as amicus curiae urging reversal in No. 78-303. On the brief urging reversal in both cases were Solicitor General McCree, Assistant Attorney General Babcock, Deputy Solicitor General Easterbrook, Allan A. Ryan, Jr., and Robert E. Kopp.
MR. CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER delivered the opinion of the Court.
We granted certiorari in these cases to decide whether the venue provisions contained in 2 of the Mandamus and Venue Act of 1962, 28 U.S.C. 1391 (e), apply to actions [444 U.S. 527, 530] for money damages brought against federal officials in their individual capacities. 439 U.S. 1113 (1979).
Respondents later brought this suit in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia against Goodwin, Stafford, Carrouth, and petitioner Claude Meadow, an agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Each was sued individually and in his official capacity. Respondents alleged that Goodwin had testified falsely in furtherance of a conspiracy among petitioners and Goodwin to deprive respondents of various statutory and constitutional rights. Each respondent sought a declaratory judgment, $50,000 in compensatory damages, and $100,000 in punitive damages. Petitioners, each of whom resided in Florida, were served by certified mail; Goodwin, whose residence was in the District of Columbia, was served personally. [444 U.S. 527, 531]
Respondents relied on 2 of the Mandamus and Venue Act of 1962, which, as amended and codified in Title 28 of the United States Code, provides:
Respondents appealed the District Court's order dismissing the case against petitioners, and the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed, holding that 28 U.S.C. 1391 (e) permits damages actions against federal officials to be brought in any district in which any one defendant resides. Briggs v. Goodwin, 186 U.S. App. D.C. 170, 569 F.2d 1 (1977). Because Goodwin was a resident of the District of Columbia, venue there was proper. The court also held that there was no constitutional infirmity in the statute as applied. It refused to apply the "minimum contacts" analysis of International Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310 (1945), and held that in a case such as this there is no constitutional requirement that defendants have any contacts with the place in which a particular federal court sits before they may be sued in that court.
Petitioner Vernon Walters was appointed Deputy Director of Central Intelligence in 1972; petitioner William Colby was appointed Director of Central Intelligence in 1973. Both petitioners were in office in 1975 when respondents, acting on behalf of themselves and others whose mail had allegedly been opened by the CIA, brought suit in the United States District Court for the District of Rhode Island. Respondents alleged that the interference with their mail to and from the [444 U.S. 527, 533] Soviet Union violated their constitutional rights. Their suit, brought against both present and former federal officials in their individual and official capacities, requested declaratory, injunctive, and monetary relief, including $20,000 for each letter opened and punitive damages of $100,000 for each member of the plaintiff class.
Petitioners and the other defendants were served outside of Rhode Island by certified mail. All the defendants moved to dismiss the complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction, improper venue, and insufficiency of process, claiming that no defendant resided in or had substantial contacts with Rhode Island and that the complaint failed to allege that any activity had occurred there. The District Court denied these motions but certified the questions involved for an immediate appeal.
The Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the order of the District Court as to petitioners, who were CIA officials when the complaint was filed, but it reversed as to those defendants who had left their Government positions at the time of filing. Driver v. Helms, 577 F.2d 147 (1978). 4 The court held that 1391 (e) applied to damages actions against federal officials in their individual capacities and provided the mechanism for obtaining personal jurisdiction over them. Venue was proper in Rhode Island because one of the respondents resided there. The court also rejected petitioners' challenge to the constitutionality of the statute, ruling that minimum contacts analysis was not relevant in this situation.
Soon after the passage of the Judiciary Act of 1789, 1 Stat. 73, this Court held that Congress had not granted the federal [444 U.S. 527, 534] trial courts generally the power to issue writs of mandamus. McIntire v. Wood, 7 Cranch 504 (1813). The federal courts in the District of Columbia, which derived power to issue the writ from the common law of the State of Maryland, were the sole exception. Kendall v. United States ex rel. Stokes, 12 Pet. 524 (1838).
To avoid this jurisdictional obstacle, litigants seeking mandamus-type relief outside of the District of Columbia often brought suits for injunctive or declaratory relief instead. But in most cases a superior federal officer was an indispensable party. See, e. g., Williams v. Fanning, 332 U.S. 490 (1947). Because of the legal fiction that officers of such rank resided only where they were stationed - usually the District of Columbia - effective service could be obtained only there. And with the restrictive venue provisions then in effect, joinder of such an official required that the action be brought in the District of Columbia. See 28 U.S.C. 1391 (b) (1946 ed., Supp. II), amended in Pub. L. 89-714, 80 Stat. 1111 (1966). The net result was that persons in distant parts of the country claiming injury by reason of the acts or omissions of a federal officer or agency were faced with significant expense and inconvenience in bringing suits for enforcement of claimed rights.
In response to this problem, Congress enacted the Mandamus and Venue Act of 1962. Section 1 of the Act, 28 U.S.C. 1361, provides that actions in the nature of mandamus can be brought in any district court of the United States. 5 Section 2 of the Act, 28 U.S.C. 1391 (e), provides a similarly expanded choice of venue and authorizes service by certified mail on federal officers or agencies located outside the district in which such a suit is filed. [444 U.S. 527, 535]
The 1962 legislation thus makes it more convenient for aggrieved persons to file actions in the nature of mandamus. Respondents argue, however, that much more was intended. They contend that by using the general language "civil action," Congress intended to include in the expanded venue provision not only mandamus-type actions but all civil actions, including those seeking money damages from federal officers as individuals.
The language of 1391 (e) does refer to "a civil action." Recitation of that fact, however, but begins our inquiry, as this Court noted over a century ago when faced with a similar problem of statutory interpretation:
Our analysis does not stop with the language of the statute; we must also look to "the objects and policy of the law." Brown v. Duchesne, 19 How., at 194. In order to "give [the Act] such a construction as will carry into execution the will of the Legislature . . . according to its true intent and meaning," ibid., we turn to the legislative history. Schlanger v. Seamans, 401 U.S. 487, 490 , n. 4 (1971). See also United States v. Culbert, 435 U.S. 371, 374 , n. 4 (1978); Train v. Colorado Public Interest Research Group, 426 U.S. 1, 9 -10 (1976).
H. R. 10089, 86th Cong., 2d Sess. (1960), was a precursor of the bill which eventually became the 1962 Act. Congressman Budge, the author of H. R. 10089, explained its purpose:
Judge Albert Maris, then Chairman of the Standing Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure of the Judicial Conference of the United States, testified that such an "injustice" to the Government officer could be avoided only by requiring a damages suit to be brought in the district of his residence or where the cause of action arose. "That," said Judge Maris, "is the normal procedure in the law. That is what ordinarily happens in the ordinary law suit." Id., at 86. Congressman Dowdy, one of the four Members present, then said:
Finally, near the conclusion of the hearing, the bill's author, Mr. Budge, stated:
The Senate Judiciary Committee also solicited comments on the bill from the Department of Justice. The Department suggested, inter alia, that it would be prudent to effect the [444 U.S. 527, 541] venue reform by amending the Administrative Procedure Act so that "suits for money judgments against officers" would be "unquestionably eliminate[d]." See Letter from Deputy Attorney General White to Senator Eastland (Feb. 28, 1962), reprinted in S. Rep. No. 1992, 87th Cong., 2d Sess., 6 (1962). Although the Senate Committee in its Report commented on other suggestions proffered by the Justice Department, in this instance it made no response at all. 9 Respondents and the Courts of Appeals rely on this failure to respond as indicating an intention that the venue provisions were to apply to actions for money damages brought against a federal official in his individual capacity.
We are not persuaded by this negative inference. Several passages affirmatively state the limited nature of the bill: The Senate Committee's statement of the bill's purpose is exactly the same as that found in the House Report. Compare S. Rep. No. 1992, supra, at 2, with H. R. Rep. No. 536, supra, at 1. The Committee also states that "[t]he bill, as amended, is intended to facilitate review by the Federal courts of administrative actions," S. Rep. No. 1992, supra, at 2 (emphasis added), which does not afford a basis for reading the language of the statute to include money damages actions against individuals. And the following comment as to the bill's venue provisions appears in the Report:
What emerges is that the bill's author, the Committees, and the Congress intended nothing more than to provide nationwide venue for the convenience of individual plaintiffs in actions which are nominally against an individual officer but are in reality against the Government. A suit for money damages which must be paid out of the pocket of the private individual who happens to be - or formerly was - employed by the Federal Government plainly is not one "essentially against the United States," and thus is not encompassed by the venue provisions of 1391 (e). 10
This is not the first time an overbroad interpretation of 1391 (e) has been rejected by this Court. In Schlanger v. Seamans, 401 U.S. 487 (1971), the question was whether in a habeas corpus proceeding "any custodian, or one in the chain of command, as well as the person detained, must be [444 U.S. 527, 543] in the territorial jurisdiction of the District Court." Id., at 489. While recognizing that habeas corpus is "a civil action," we noted that reference to 1391 (e) did not provide the answer. In the opinion for the Court, Mr. Justice Douglas stated:
The conclusion derived from the legislative history that 1391 (e) does not cover the type of suits here at issue is buttressed by consideration of the consequences of the broad interpretation urged upon us by respondents. The conditions and venue provisions under which officers of the United States may be sued, while in office or after leaving office, have serious implications for defendants as well as for those seeking relief. An officer of the Government while so employed may have numerous mandamus-type suits naming him or her as a party. [444 U.S. 527, 544] Without doubt, under 1391 (e), venue lies in every one of the 95 federal districts, and suits may be pending in a dozen or several dozen at any one time. Even though the burden of defending multiple suits while in office may be onerous, the United States Attorney in each of the districts and the Department of Justice carry that burden. In a mandamus suit only rarely would the officer himself be obliged to travel to the district in which the case was heard; if so obliged, the travel would be at Government expense. When an official leaves office, his personal involvement in a mandamus suit effectively ends and his successor carries on. No personal cost or inconvenience is incurred, either while in office or later. It was with this understanding that Congress sought to ameliorate the inconvenience and expense to private plaintiffs seeking relief from the action or inaction of their Government. H. R. Rep. No. 536, at 3; S. Rep. No. 1992, at 3.
Suits for money damages for which an individual office-holder may be found personally liable are quite different. If 1391 (e) were construed to govern actions for money damages against federal officers individually, suits could be brought against these federal officers while in Government service - and could be pressed even after the official has left federal service - in any one of the 95 federal districts covering the 50 states and other areas within federal jurisdiction. This would place federal officers, solely by reason of their Government service, in a very different posture in personal damages suits from that of all other persons, since under 28 U.S.C. 1391 (b), suits against private persons for money damages must be brought "in the judicial district where all defendants reside, or in which the claim arose." 11 [444 U.S. 527, 545]
There is, however, no indication that a Congress concerned with "the sound and equitable administration of justice," H. R. Rep. No. 536, at 3; S. Rep. No. 1992, at 3, intended to impose on those serving their Government the burden of defending personal damages actions in a variety of distant districts after leaving office. Absent a clear indication that Congress intended such a sweeping effect, we will not infer such a purpose nor will we interpret a statute to effect that result. "We think these laws ought to be construed in the spirit in which they were made - that is, as founded in justice - and should not be strained by technical constructions to reach cases which Congress evidently could not have contemplated, without departing from the principle upon which they were legislating, and going far beyond the object they intended to accomplish." Brown v. Duchesne, 19 How., at 197.
The judgments of the Courts of Appeals in No. 77-1546 and No. 78-303 are reversed, and the cases are remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL took no part in the decision of these cases.
[ Footnote 2 ] Goodwin joined petitioners in making the transfer request. He also moved for dismissal on grounds of prosecutorial immunity. This motion was denied. See Briggs v. Goodwin, 384 F. Supp. 1228 (DC 1974), [444 U.S. 527, 532] aff'd, 186 U.S. App. D.C. 179, 569 F.2d 10 (1977), cert. denied, 437 U.S. 904 (1978).
[ Footnote 3 ] See Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with respect to Intelligence Activities, Final Report, S. Rep. No. 94-755, Book 3, pp. 559-677 (1976).
[ Footnote 4 ] The court concluded that because 28 U.S.C. 1391 (e) was drafted in the present tense, Congress did not mean it to apply to former officials. Although respondents sought certiorari on this question, we declined review. 439 U.S. 1114 (1979).
[ Footnote 5 ] " 1361. Action to compel an officer of the United States to perform his duty
[ Footnote 6 ] Congress' use of the language "under color of legal authority" is explained in the House Committee Report as an effort to circumvent the sovereign immunity doctrine. See infra, at 538-539.
[ Footnote 7 ] A certified copy of these unpublished hearings has been lodged with the Clerk of this Court.
[ Footnote 8 ] Respondents' argument that 1391 (e) should apply to personal damages actions is based on an isolated passage in the Committee Report:
[ Footnote 9 ] The only arguable reference is a passage taken verbatim from the House Report which mentions that the venue problem also arises in suits against officials for damages for acts taken in the course of performing official duties. See S. Rep. No. 1992, at 3. Inasmuch as this passage, like much of the Senate Report, is but a recitation of language used earlier in the House Report, see n. 8, supra, it obviously was not drafted in response to the Justice Department's letter.
[ Footnote 10 ] In deciding whether an action is in reality one against the Government, the identity of the named parties defendant is not controlling; the dispositive inquiry is "who will pay the judgment?" See Larson v. Domestic & Foreign Commerce Corp., 337 U.S. 682 (1949). Here, it is against individuals and not against the Government that a money judgment is sought.
[ Footnote 11 ] Under this provision the case against petitioner Stafford could have been brought only in the Northern District of Florida where the alleged claim arose. As to petitioner Colby, the proper venue would have been the Eastern District of New York where the alleged claim arose, or perhaps the Eastern District of Virginia, where some acts may have occurred at the headquarters of the CIA.
MR. JUSTICE STEWART, with whom MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN joins, dissenting.
The Court today holds that in a suit against a federal officer for allegedly wrongful actions under color of legal authority, the venue provisions of 2 of the Mandamus and Venue Act of 1962, 28 U.S.C. 1391 (e), are applicable only if the officer is simply a nominal defendant, and the plaintiff's real grievance is against the Government. I disagree. It is my view that 1391 (e) means what it says, and that it thus [444 U.S. 527, 546] applies as well to a suit for damages against a federal officer for his own wrongdoing.
When Congress enacted 1391 (e) in 1962, this Court had recognized two types of suits against federal officers acting under color of legal authority. 1 See Larson v. Domestic & Foreign Corp., 337 U.S. 682 . The first of these two types of suits was based on a legal fiction designed to circumvent the doctrine of sovereign immunity. This fiction enabled an aggrieved party to obtain equitable relief in a case nominally directed against a federal officer if the officer had acted either unconstitutionally or in excess of his statutory authority. The theory underlying the fiction was that the relief sought was against the officer in his individual capacity, rather than against the Government. Id., at 689-690. But, since any sovereign can act only through its agents, the reality was that the relief sought was in fact against the Government itself. The second type of suit, by contrast, was a direct action against the federal officer in his individual capacity for actions taken under color of legal authority. Id., at 687. Such a suit typically sought to assess personal monetary liability against the officer.
The issue here is whether the venue and service of process provisions of 1391 (e) were intended to apply to both of these kinds of suits. Section 1391 (e) provides in relevant part:
Relying on legislative history and policy considerations, the Court turns its back on the words of the statute and holds that it does not cover a suit against a federal officer for money damages. The legislative history, according to the Court, indicates that the general purpose of Congress in enacting the Mandamus and Venue Act of 1962 (Act) was to remove then [444 U.S. 527, 548] existing jurisdictional and venue obstacles to suits against federal officers for mandamus-type relief outside the District of Columbia. The legislative history further indicates, in the Court's view, that the specific, and exclusive, concern of Congress in adding to 1391 (e) the phrase at issue here, "acting . . . under color of legal authority," was to ensure that the provision would govern suits against federal officers for equitable relief. Thus the Court concludes that the proper construction of the phrase "acting . . . under color of legal authority" is coextensive with the sole concern to which it was purportedly addressed. This construction is said to find further support in the policies underlying the Act. 3
The Court thus purports to rely on the familiar rule that "`in interpreting a statute, the court will not look merely to a particular clause in which general words may be used, but will take in connection with it the whole statute . . . and the objects and policy of the law.'" Ante, at 535, quoting Brown v. Duchesne, 19 How. 183, 194. See Steelworkers v. Weber, 443 U.S. 193, 201 -202. This reliance is misplaced, however, since neither the legislative history nor public policy is inconsistent with the plain meaning of 1391 (e).
The forerunner of the Act was introduced as H. R. 10089, 86th Cong., 2d Sess. (1960). That bill provided:
The question here is why Congress expanded the ambit of the second section of the Act, now 1391 (e), to include not only a suit against a federal officer "acting in his official capacity," but also a suit against a federal officer "acting . . . under color of legal authority." The Court says that the legislative history reveals that the phrase "acting . . . under color of legal authority" was added to 1391 (e) for the sole purpose of including within its coverage suits against federal officers for equitable relief. This view is said to find support in the positions announced by members of the House Subcommittee during the hearings on H. R. 10089, and in the Committee Reports that accompanied the subsequent versions of the bill.
I would have to agree that a principal purpose of adding the phrase "acting . . . under color of legal authority" to 1391 (e) was to ensure that the venue provisions would apply to suits against federal officers for equitable relief. At the Subcommittee [444 U.S. 527, 550] Hearings on H. R. 10089, the proponent of the bill, Representative Budge, explained the basic problem to which it was addressed - that, in light of then existing venue and jurisdictional obstacles, "there is no opportunity for a judicial review of the action of any decision that is made by a Federal officer in charge out there [in the field], no matter how arbitrary or capricious, because it is too expensive to come back here [to Washington, D.C.] to litigate it." Hearings on H. R. 10089 before Subcommittee No. 4 of the House Committee on the Judiciary, 86th Cong., 2d Sess., 19-20 (1960).
The record of the testimony at the Subcommittee hearings, however, reveals substantial confusion both as to the scope of the problem and the manner in which it ought to be resolved. During the hearings, a representative of the Justice Department observed that since the bill, as drafted, applied only to a suit against a federal officer "in his official capacity," there would remain unresolved the venue and jurisdictional problems in the context of a suit for equitable relief brought against a federal officer in his individual capacity to sidestep the problem of sovereign immunity. Id., at 32-33. In response, the Subcommittee's counsel proposed the addition of the language at issue here: "Suppose in order to take care of a body of law which seems to say that when a government official does something wrong he is acting in his individual capacity, we added the following language - `acting in his official capacity or under color of legal authority.'" Id., at 61 (emphasis added). That phrase was then incorporated in the redrafted bill, H. R. 12622, as well as subsequent bills. The Committee Reports accompanying those bills confirm that Congress intended 1391 (e) to govern suits against federal officers for equitable relief.
Although a principal purpose of adding the phrase "acting . . . under color of legal authority" to 1391 (e) thus undoubtedly was to ensure that the venue provision would apply to suits against federal officers for equitable relief, it is not at all clear [444 U.S. 527, 551] from the legislative history that Congress sought only to include such suits within the broadened ambit of the provision. Whatever may have been the intent of the Subcommittee members who conducted the hearings on the original bill, the Committee Reports accompanying subsequent bill - all of which included the phrase "acting . . . under color of legal authority" - indicated an intent to reach suits against federal officers not only for equitable relief, but also for money damages. In describing the scope of the problem addressed by the Act, the Committee Reports indicated that "[t]he venue problem also arises in an action against a Government official seeking damages from him for actions which are claimed to be without legal authority but which were taken by the official in the course of performing his duty." H. R. Rep. No. 1936, 86th Cong., 2d Sess., 3 (1960); H. R. Rep. No. 536, 87th Cong., 1st Sess., 3 (1961); S. Rep. No. 1992, 87th Cong., 2d Sess., 3 (1961) (emphasis added).
It is also significant that at least one of these Committee Reports, that of the Senate Judiciary Committee, was issued after the then Deputy Attorney General had recommended that the venue reform be tied in directly to the Administrative Procedure Act. Letter from Deputy Attorney General White to Senator Eastland (Feb. 28, 1962), reprinted in S. Rep. No. 1992, supra, at 6. "This," he observed, "[would] unquestionably eliminat[e] suits for money judgments against officers." Ibid. Although the Committee acted upon other suggestions in that letter, it took no steps whatsoever to narrow the ambit of 1391 (e) to exclude suits for money damages. Rather, as stated above, the Committee Report indicated that the venue problem to which the bill was addressed applied to such suits.
It is also instructive that shortly after the Act was signed into law, then Deputy Attorney General Katzenbach circulated a memorandum to all United States Attorneys to assist [444 U.S. 527, 552] them in defending suits brought under the newly enacted legislation. In that memorandum, he noted:
The significance of this memorandum is twofold. First, it represents a contemporaneous interpretation of 1391 (e) that is wholly at odds with that adopted by the Court. Second, it indicates that the Justice Department has long assumed a special responsibility for representing federal officers sued for money damages for actions taken under color of legal authority. This longstanding responsibility is carried forth in current regulations. See 28 CFR 50.15, 50.16 (1979).
The fact that the Justice Department, in most circumstances, will provide such representation substantially undercuts the Court's policy argument that to construe 1391 (e) to govern suits for money damages would undermine the "sound and equitable administration of justice," see H. R. Rep. No. 536, supra, at 3; S. Rep. No. 1992, supra, at 3, by "plac[ing] federal officers, solely by reason of their Government service, in a very different posture in personal damages suits from that of all other persons, since under 28 U.S.C. 1391 (b), suits against private persons for money damages must be brought `in the judicial district where all the defendants reside, or in which the claim arose.'" Ante, at 544. The Court's argument overlooks the fact that since the Government [444 U.S. 527, 553] is willing to provide representation in a suit against a federal officer for money damages, the federal officer is relieved of the greatest burden involved in defending himself.
The petitioners also argue that principles of due process militate against construing 1391 (e) to govern suits against federal officers for money damages. This argument turns on the fact that 1391 (e) provides not only for expanded venue, but also for nationwide service of process. It is the petitioners' position that a serious due process problem arises when the provisions of 1391 (e) are taken to mean what they say, so as to permit a federal district court to exercise personal jurisdiction over a federal officer who lacks sufficient "minimum contacts" with the State or district in which the federal court sits. 5
The petitioners concede that previous cases in this area have involved the Fourteenth Amendment requirement that a state court may acquire personal jurisdiction only if there exist "minimum contacts" between the defendant and the forum State. Reasoning by analogy, however, the petitioners [444 U.S. 527, 554] argue that traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice inherent in the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment similarly limit the exercise of congressional power to provide for nationwide in personam jurisdiction.
The short answer to this argument is that due process requires only certain minimum contacts between the defendant and the sovereign that has created the court. See Shaffer v. Heitner, 433 U.S. 186 ; International Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310 . The issue is not whether it is unfair to require a defendant to assume the burden of litigating in an inconvenient forum, but rather whether the court of a particular sovereign has power to exercise personal jurisdiction over a named defendant. The cases before us involve suits against residents of the United States in the courts of the United States. No due process problem exists.
This is not to say that a federal officer in a suit for money damages is without recourse in the event he is sued in an inconvenient place. A federal district court is vested with broad authority "[f]or the convenience of parties and witnesses, in the interest of justice, [to] . . . transfer any civil action to any other district . . . where it might have been brought." 28 U.S.C. 1404 (a). It is not unreasonable to expect that district courts would look sympathetically upon a motion for a change of venue in any case where a federal officer could show that he would be substantially prejudiced if the suit were not transferred to a more convenient forum.
For the reasons stated, I think that 1391 (e) means exactly what it says, and that its provisions present no constitutional problem whatever. Accordingly, I would affirm the judgments in both of these cases.
[ Footnote 1 ] For purposes of brevity, I hereafter refer to "suits against federal officers acting under color of legal authority" simply as "suits against federal officers."
[ Footnote 2 ] The Court argues that since 1391 (e) is written in the present tense ("[a] civil action in which a defendant is an officer or employee of the United States . . . acting in his official capacity or under color of legal authority" (emphasis added)), the phrase "acting . . . under color of legal authority" is properly construed as applying only to a nominal suit against a federal officer for equitable relief. Such a suit, the Court notes, is necessarily brought against a defendant who is presently serving as a federal officer. Ante, at 535-536. This argument falls short of the mark, however, for many suits against federal officers for money damages, such as those at issue here, are brought against the officers while they are still in Government service.
[ Footnote 3 ] The Court also finds support for its construction of 1391 (e) in our holding in Schlanger v. Seamans, 401 U.S. 487, 490 , n. 4, that 1391 (e) does not apply to habeas corpus actions. This reliance is misplaced, because the Schlanger decision turned on the sui generis nature of habeas corpus actions which, though "technically `civil,' . . . [are] not automatically subject to all the rules governing ordinary civil actions." Ibid.
[ Footnote 4 ] This section of the bill, with minor modifications, was later enacted as 1 of the Act, 28 U.S.C. 1361, which provides: "The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of any action in the nature of mandamus to compel an officer or employee of the United States or any agency thereof to perform a duty owed to the plaintiff."
[ Footnote 5 ] The petitioners also argue, on statutory grounds, that 1391 (e) does not confer personal jurisdiction. It is the petitioners' position that 1391 (e) was designed only to govern venue and service of process, not to confer personal jurisdiction. The flaw in this argument is that, as a general rule, service of process is the means by which a court obtains personal jurisdiction over a defendant, and in the cases before us the petitioners have failed to demonstrate that there was any defect in the means by which service of process was effected.
It cannot seriously be argued that 1391 (e) does not authorize extra-territorial service of process, for it provides that in civil actions governed by 1391 (e) "the delivery of the summons and complaint to the officer or agency as required by the [Federal Rules of Civil Procedure] may be made by certified mail beyond the territorial limits of the district in which the action is brought." The legislative history, moreover, confirms that Congress intended extraterritorial service of process for all cases governed by 1391 (e). See H. R. Rep. No. 536, 87th Cong., 1st Sess., 4 (1961). [444 U.S. 527, 555]