434 U.S. 555 (1978), 76-446, Procunier v. Navarette

Docket NºNo. 76-446
Citation434 U.S. 555, 98 S.Ct. 855, 55 L.Ed.2d 24
Party NameProcunier v. Navarette
Case DateFebruary 22, 1978
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

Page 555

434 U.S. 555 (1978)

98 S.Ct. 855, 55 L.Ed.2d 24

Procunier

v.

Navarette

No. 76-446

United States Supreme Court

Feb. 22, 1978

Argued October 11, 1977

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Respondent state prisoner brought an action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against petitioner prison officials, alleging, inter alia, negligent interference with respondent's outgoing mail in violation of his constitutional rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The District Court granted summary judgment for petitioners on this claim on the basis of their asserted qualified immunity from liability for damages under § 1983. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that prisoners are entitled to First and Fourteenth Amendment protection for their outgoing mail, that the claim in question stated a cause of action under § 1983, and that summary judgment for petitioners was improper because, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to respondent, petitioners were not entitled to prevail as a matter of law.

Held: The Court of Appeals erred in reversing the District Court's summary judgment for petitioners. Pp. 560-566.

(a) Petitioners, as state prison officials, were entitled to immunity unless they "knew or reasonably should have known" that the action they took with respect to respondent's mail would violate his federal constitutional rights, or they took the action with the "malicious intention" to cause a deprivation of constitutional rights or other injury to respondent.

Wood v. Strickland, 420 U.S. 308, 32. Pp. 561-562.

(b) There was no established First and Fourteenth Amendment right protecting state prisoners' mail privileges at the time in question, and therefore, as a matter of law, there was no basis for rejecting the immunity defense on the ground that petitioners knew or should have known that their alleged conduct violated a constitutional right. Pp. 562-565.

(c) Neither should petitioners' immunity defense be overruled under the standard authorizing liability where the defendant [98 S.Ct. 857] state official has acted with "malicious intention" to deprive the plaintiff of a constitutional right or to cause him "other injury," since the claim in question charged negligent conduct, not intentional injury. P. 566.

536 F.2d 277, reversed.

Page 556

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, STEWART, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. BURGER, C.J., post, p. 566, and STEVENS, J., post, p. 568, filed dissenting opinions.

WHITE, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

Respondent Navarette, an inmate of Soledad Prison in California when the events revealed here occurred, filed his second amended complaint on January 19, 1974, charging six prison officials with various types of conduct allegedly violative of his constitutional rights and of 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985.1 Three of the defendants were subordinate officials at Soledad;2 three were supervisory officials: the director of the

Page 557

State Department of Corrections and the warden and assistant warden of Soledad. The first three of nine claims for relief alleged wrongful interference with Navarette's outgoing mail. The first claim charged that the three subordinate officers, who were in charge of mail handling, had failed to mail various items of correspondence during the 15 months that respondent was incarcerated at Soledad, from September 1, 1971, to December 11, 1972. These items, described in 13 numbered paragraphs, included letters to legal assistance groups, law students, the news media, and inmates in other state prisons, as well as personal friends. Some of these items had been returned to Navarette, some the defendants had refused to send by registered mail as Navarette had requested, and, it was alleged, none of the items had ever reached the intended recipient. This "interference" or "confiscation" was asserted to have been in "knowing disregard" of the applicable statewide prisoner mail regulations3 and of Navarette's "constitutional rights," including his rights to free speech and due process as guaranteed by the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth

Page 558

Amendments to the United States Constitution. The three supervisory officers were alleged to have knowingly condoned this conduct and to have conspired with their subordinates for forbidden ends.

The second claim for relief alleged wrongful failure to mail the same items of correspondence and asserted that the "interference or confiscation" had been conducted [98 S.Ct. 858] with "bad faith disregard" for Navarette's rights. The third claim posed the same failures to mail but claimed that the "interference" or "confiscation" had occurred because the three subordinate officers had "negligently and inadvertently" misapplied the prison mail regulations and because the supervisory officers had "negligent[ly]" failed to provide sufficient training and direction to their subordinates, all assertedly in violation of Navarette's constitutional rights.

Petitioners moved for dismissal for failure to state a claim on which relief could be granted, or, alternatively, for summary judgment. Affidavits in support of the motion and counteraffidavits opposing it were also before the District Court. By order and without opinion, the court then granted summary judgment for petitioners on the first three claims and dismissed the remaining claims for failure to state a federal claim.4

The Court of Appeals reversed as to the first three claims. Navarette v. Enomoto, 536 F.2d 277 (CA9 1976). It held, first, that prisoners themselves are entitled to First and Fourteenth Amendment protection for their outgoing mail, and that Navarette's allegations were sufficient to encompass proof that would entitle him to relief in damages. Second, the court ruled

Page 559

that summary judgment on the first two claims was improper because there were issues of fact to be tried, particularly with respect to the claim that

a reasonable and good faith belief of a state official that his or her conduct is lawful, even where in fact it is not, constitutes a complete defense to a § 1983 claim for damages.

Id. at 280. Third, the Court of Appeals held that Navarette's "allegations that state officers negligently deprived him of [his constitutional] rights state a § 1983 cause of action," and that summary judgment on the third purported claim was

improper because, as in the case of counts one and two, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Navarette, we are unable to say appellees are entitled to prevail as a matter of law.

Id. at 282, and n. 6.5

We granted certiorari, 429 U.S. 1060, and the question before us is whether the Court of Appeals correctly reversed the District Court's judgment with respect to Navarette's third claim for relief alleging negligent interference with a claimed constitutional right.6

Page 560

[98 S.Ct. 859] In support of their motion for summary judgment, petitioners argued that on the record before the court they were immune from liability for damages under § 1983, and hence were entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The claim was not that they shared the absolute immunity accorded judges and prosecutors, but that they were entitled to the qualified immunity accorded those officials involved in Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232 (1974), and Wood v. Strickland, 420 U.S. 308 (1975). The Court of Appeals appeared to agree that petitioners were entitled to the claimed degree of immunity, but held that they were nevertheless not entitled to summary judgment because, in the court's view, there were issues of fact to be resolved and because, when the facts were viewed most favorably to respondent, it could not be held that petitioners were entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Without disagreeing that petitioners enjoyed a qualified immunity from damages liability under § 1983, respondent defends

Page 561

the judgment of the Court of Appeals as a proper application of § 1983 and of the Court's cases construing it.

Although the Court has recognized that, in enacting § 1983 Congress must have intended to expose state officials to damages liability in some circumstances, the section has been consistently construed as not intending wholesale revocation of the common law immunity afforded government officials. Legislators, judges, and prosecutors have been held absolutely immune from liability for damages under § 1983. Tenney v. Brandhove, 341 U.S. 367 (191); Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547 (1967); Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409 (1976). Only a qualified immunity from damages is available to a state Governor, a president of a state university, and officers and members of a state National Guard. Scheuer v. Rhodes, supra. The same is true of local school board members, Wood v. Strickland, supra; of the superintendent of a state hospital, O'Connor v. Donaldson, 422 U.S. 563 (1975); and of policemen, Pierson v. Ray, supra; see Imbler v. Pachtman, supra at 418-419.

We agree with petitioners that, as prison officials and officers, they were not absolutely immune from liability in this § 1983 damages suit, and could rely only on the qualified immunity described in Scheuer v. Rhodes, supra, and Wood v. Strickland, supra.7 Scheuer declared:

[I]n varying scope, a qualified immunity is available to officer of the executive branch of government, the variation being dependent upon the scope of discretion and responsibilities of the office and all the circumstances as

Page 562

they reasonably appeared at the time of the action on which liability is sought to be based. It is the existence of reasonable grounds for the belief formed at the time and in light of all the circumstances, coupled with good faith belief, that affords a basis for [98 S.Ct. 860] qualified immunity of executive officers for acts performed in...

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  • 458 F.Supp. 379 (E.D.Mich. 1978), Civ. 5-71937, Baker v. City of Detroit
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 6th Circuit
    • July 31, 1978
    ...that in a s 1983 action for money damages, public officials have qualified immunity if they acted in good faith. Procunier v. Navarette, 434 U.S. 555, 98 S.Ct. 855, 55 L.Ed.2d 24 (1978) (prison officials); O'Connor v. Donaldson, 422 U.S. 563, 95 S.Ct. 2486, 45 L.Ed.2d 396 (1975) (state hosp......
  • 477 F.Supp. 822 (D.Hawai'I 1979), Civ. 78-0062, Fujiwara v. Clark
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 9th Circuit
    • August 10, 1979
    ...on the issue of qualified immunity because they have shown that they satisfy both prongs of the Wood test. In Procunier v. Navarette, 434 U.S. 555, 98 S.Ct. 855, 55 L.Ed.2d 24 (1978), the Supreme Court clarified the objective standard of Wood. 27 Under the first part of the Wood v. Strickla......
  • 970 F.3d 174 (2nd Cir. 2020), 17-1558, Liberian Community Association of Connecticut v. Lamont
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Courts of Appeals Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
    • August 14, 2020
    ...reading of a handful of non-precedential opinions. Wilson, 526 U.S. at 617-18, 119 S.Ct. 1692 (quoting Procunier v. Navarette, 434 U.S. 555, 562, 98 S.Ct. 855, 55 L.Ed.2d 24 (1978)). It is "unfair" to subject such officials to damages liability when even &......
  • 986 F.2d 339 (9th Cir. 1993), 91-70352, N.L.R.B. v. Valley Bakery, Inc.
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Courts of Appeals Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
    • February 24, 1993
    ...itself to resolution, on the basis of affidavits, by summary judgment"), rev'd on other grounds sub nom., Procunier v. Navarette, 434 U.S. 555, 98 S.Ct. 855, 55 L.Ed.2d 24 (1978). Because the subjective reactions of the employees to the alleged threat are relevant, an evidentiary heari......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
760 cases
  • 458 F.Supp. 379 (E.D.Mich. 1978), Civ. 5-71937, Baker v. City of Detroit
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 6th Circuit
    • July 31, 1978
    ...that in a s 1983 action for money damages, public officials have qualified immunity if they acted in good faith. Procunier v. Navarette, 434 U.S. 555, 98 S.Ct. 855, 55 L.Ed.2d 24 (1978) (prison officials); O'Connor v. Donaldson, 422 U.S. 563, 95 S.Ct. 2486, 45 L.Ed.2d 396 (1975) (state hosp......
  • 477 F.Supp. 822 (D.Hawai'I 1979), Civ. 78-0062, Fujiwara v. Clark
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 9th Circuit
    • August 10, 1979
    ...on the issue of qualified immunity because they have shown that they satisfy both prongs of the Wood test. In Procunier v. Navarette, 434 U.S. 555, 98 S.Ct. 855, 55 L.Ed.2d 24 (1978), the Supreme Court clarified the objective standard of Wood. 27 Under the first part of the Wood v. Strickla......
  • 970 F.3d 174 (2nd Cir. 2020), 17-1558, Liberian Community Association of Connecticut v. Lamont
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Courts of Appeals Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
    • August 14, 2020
    ...reading of a handful of non-precedential opinions. Wilson, 526 U.S. at 617-18, 119 S.Ct. 1692 (quoting Procunier v. Navarette, 434 U.S. 555, 562, 98 S.Ct. 855, 55 L.Ed.2d 24 (1978)). It is "unfair" to subject such officials to damages liability when even &......
  • 986 F.2d 339 (9th Cir. 1993), 91-70352, N.L.R.B. v. Valley Bakery, Inc.
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Courts of Appeals Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
    • February 24, 1993
    ...itself to resolution, on the basis of affidavits, by summary judgment"), rev'd on other grounds sub nom., Procunier v. Navarette, 434 U.S. 555, 98 S.Ct. 855, 55 L.Ed.2d 24 (1978). Because the subjective reactions of the employees to the alleged threat are relevant, an evidentiary heari......
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