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Brawner v. Irvin

169 F. 964 (1909)

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Brawner v. Irvin

United States Circuit Court for the Northern District of Georgia

169 F. 964 (1909)

Facts

Lula Brawner (plaintiff), a Black woman, lived in Elberton, Georgia, with her husband and children. W. H. Irvin (defendant), a White man, was Elberton’s chief of police. Irvin went to Brawner’s house, called her into her yard, arrested her, and charged her with hitting his relative’s child. Brawner denied the allegation. In view of Brawner’s neighbors, Irvin began to whip her, cutting her skin and causing her pain, suffering, and humiliation. Irvin then put Brawner in jail for two hours before releasing her. No charges were brought against Brawner, nor was she required to appear in court. Irvin was not criminally prosecuted for his actions, and a grand jury took no action against him. Brawner then filed suit against Irvin in federal district court for violations under the Constitution and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Brawner argued that Irvin was acting under color of law; that is, he used his state-granted authority of arresting and taking people into custody to carry out his actions against her. Brawner sought $5,000 in punitive damages, i.e., compensation designed to punish the defendant and serve as a deterrent, also known as exemplary damages. Irvin argued there was no jurisdiction and no cause of action.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Newman, J.)

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