Hunter v. Bryant, 502 U.S. 224 (1991) (per curiam)

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Per Curiam


on petition for writ of certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the ninth circuit

No. 90-1440. Decided December 16, 1991

Petitioner Secret Service agents arrested respondent Bryant for making threats against President Reagan in violation of federal law. At the time of the arrest, the agents knew that Bryant had written, and delivered to offices at the University of Southern California, a letter referring to a plot to assassinate the President; that a witness had identified Bryant and reported that he said that the President should have been assassinated in West Germany, where he was then traveling; and that Bryant had refused to answer the agents' questions about whether he intended to harm the President. After the criminal complaint against him was dismissed, Bryant sued the agents, inter alios, seeking relief under the Federal Tort Claims Act and claiming, among other things, that he had been arrested without probable cause and a warrant. The District Court denied the agents' motion for summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds. The Court of Appeals held that they were entitled to qualified immunity for arresting Bryant without a warrant but not for arresting him without probable cause, because their belief that he was plotting to kill the President was not the most reasonable reading of the letter.

Held: Petitioners are entitled to qualified immunity. They are shielded from suit because a reasonable officer could have believed the arrest to be lawful in light of clearly established law and the information the agents possessed. Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U. S. 635, 641. On the basis of that information, a Magistrate ordered Bryant held without bond. Even assuming that they erred in concluding that probable cause existed, they would nevertheless be entitled to qualified immunity because their decision was reasonable. Ibid. Officials should not err always on the side of caution because they fear being sued, a principle that is nowhere more important than when the specter of Presidential assassination is raised.

Certiorari granted; 903 F. 2d 717, reversed and remanded.

Per Curiam.

On May 3, 1985, respondent James V. Bryant delivered two photocopies of a handwritten letter to two administrative

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