474 U.S. 327 (1986), 84-5872, Daniels v. Williams

Docket Nº:Nos. 84-5872, 84-6470.
Citation:474 U.S. 327, 106 S.Ct. 677, 88 L.Ed.2d 662
Party Name:Roy E. DANIELS, Petitioner, v. Andrew WILLIAMS. Robert DAVIDSON, Petitioner, v. Joseph CANNON et al.
Case Date:January 21, 1986
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 327

474 U.S. 327 (1986)

106 S.Ct. 677, 88 L.Ed.2d 662

Roy E. DANIELS, Petitioner,

v.

Andrew WILLIAMS.

Robert DAVIDSON, Petitioner,

v.

Joseph CANNON et al.

Nos. 84-5872, 84-6470.

United States Supreme Court.

Jan. 21, 1986

OPINION

[106 S.Ct. 677] For majority opinions of the Court, see 106 S.Ct. 662, 668.

Page 327

Justice STEVENS, concurring in the judgments. [*]

Page 336

Two prisoners raise similar claims in these two cases. Both seek to recover for personal injuries suffered, in part, from what they allege was negligence by state officials. Both characterize their injuries as "deprivations of liberty" and both invoke 42 U.S.C. § 1983 as a basis for their claims.

Prisoner Roy Daniels was injured when he slipped on a newspaper and pillows left on a stairway in the Virginia jail where he is incarcerated; he alleges state negligence in the presence of the objects on the stairs. Prisoner Robert Davidson suffered injury when he was attacked by another inmate in the New Jersey prison where he is incarcerated; he alleges (and proved at trial) state negligence in the failure of prison authorities to prevent the assault after he had written a note expressing apprehension about the inmate who ultimately assaulted him. I agree with the majority that petitioners cannot prevail under § 1983. I do not agree, however, that it is necessary either to redefine the meaning of "deprive" in the Fourteenth Amendment,1 or to repudiate

Page 337

the reasoning of Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527, 101 S.Ct. 1908, 68 L.Ed.2d 420 (1981), to support this conclusion.

We should begin by identifying the precise constitutional claims that petitioners have advanced. It is not enough to note that they rely on the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, for that Clause is the source of three different kinds of constitutional protection. First, it incorporates specific protections defined in the Bill of Rights. Thus, the State, as well as the Federal Government, must comply with the commands in the First2 and Eighth3 Amendments; so too, the State must respect the guarantees in the Fourth,4 Fifth,5 and Sixth6 Amendments. [106 S.Ct. 678] Second, it contains a substantive component, sometimes referred to as "substantive due process," which bars certain arbitrary government actions "regardless of the fairness of the procedures used to implement them." Ante, at 665. 7 Third, it is a guarantee of fair procedure, sometimes referred to as "procedural due process": the State may not execute, imprison, or fine a defendant without giving him a fair trial,8 nor may it take property without providing appropriate procedural safeguards. 9

The type of Fourteenth Amendment interest that is implicated has important effects on the nature of the constitutional claim and the availability of § 1983 relief. If the claim is in

Page 338

the first category (a violation of one of the specific constitutional guarantees of the Bill of Rights), a plaintiff may invoke § 1983 regardless of the availability of a state remedy. 10 As explained in Monroe v. Pape, 365 U.S. 167, 81 S.Ct. 473, 5 L.Ed.2d 492 (1961), this conclusion derives from the fact that the statute--the Ku Klux Act of 1871--was intended to provide a federal remedy for the violation of a federal constitutional right. Thus, when the Fourth Amendment is violated, as in Pape, the provision of an independent federal remedy under § 1983 is necessary to satisfy the purpose of the statute.

Similarly, if the claim is in the second category (a violation of the substantive component of the Due Process Clause), a plaintiff may also invoke § 1983 regardless of the availability of a state remedy. 11 For, in that category, no less than with the provisions of the Bill of Rights, if the Federal Constitution prohibits a State from taking certain actions "regardless of the fairness of the procedures used to implement them," the constitutional violation is complete as soon as the prohibited action is taken; the independent federal remedy is then authorized by the language and legislative history of § 1983.

A claim in the third category--a procedural due process claim--is fundamentally different. In such a case, the deprivation may be entirely legitimate--a State may have every right to discharge a teacher or punish a student--but the State may nevertheless violate the Constitution by failing to provide appropriate procedural safeguards. The constitutional duty to provide fair procedures gives the citizen the opportunity to try to prevent the deprivation from happening, but the deprivation itself does not necessarily reflect any

Page 339

"abuse" of state power. Similarly, a deprivation may be the consequence of a mistake or a negligent act, and the State may violate the Constitution by failing to provide an appropriate procedural response. In a procedural due process claim, it is not the deprivation of property or liberty that is unconstitutional; it is the deprivation of property or liberty without due process of law --without adequate procedures.

Thus, even though the State may have every right to deprive a person of his property [106 S.Ct. 679] or his liberty, the individual may nevertheless be able to allege a valid § 1983 due process claim, perhaps because a predeprivation hearing must be held,12 or because the state procedure itself is fundamentally flawed. 13 So too, even though a deprivation may be unauthorized, a procedural due process claim may be raised if it challenges the State's procedures for preventing or redressing the deprivation. However, a complaint does not state a valid procedural due process objection--and a valid § 1983 claim--if it does not include a challenge to the fundamental fairness of the State's procedures. In consequence, when a predeprivation hearing is clearly not feasible,14 when the regime of state tort law provides a constitutionally unobjectionable system of recovery for the deprivation of property or liberty, and when there is no other challenge to the State's procedures, a valid § 1983 claim is not stated. For, unlike cases in the other two categories--those in which the alleged

Page 340

deprivation violates a substantive federal right--if a procedural due process claim lacks a colorable objection to the validity of the State's procedures, no constitutional violation has been alleged. 15

Petitioners' claims are not of the first kind. Neither Daniels nor Davidson argues in this Court that the prison authorities' actions violated specific constitutional guarantees incorporated by the Fourteenth Amendment. Neither now claims, for instance, that his rights under the Eighth Amendment were violated. Similarly, I do not believe petitioners have raised a colorable violation of "substantive due process." 16 Rather, their claims are of the third kind: Daniels and Davidson attack the validity of the procedures that Virginia and New Jersey, respectively, provide for prisoners who seek redress for physical injury caused by the negligence of corrections officers.

I would not reject these claims, as the Court does, by attempting to fashion a new definition of the term "deprivation"

Page 341

and excluding negligence from its scope. No serious question has been raised about the presence of "state action" in the allegations [106 S.Ct. 680] of negligence,17 and the interest in freedom from bodily harm surely qualifies as an interest in "liberty." Thus, the only question is whether negligence by state actors can result in a deprivation. "Deprivation," it seems to me, identifies, not the actor's state of mind, but the victim's infringement or loss. The harm to a prisoner is the same whether a pillow is left on a stair negligently, recklessly, or intentionally; so too, the harm resulting to a prisoner from an attack is the same whether his request for protection is ignored negligently, recklessly, or deliberately. In each instance, the prisoner is losing--being "deprived" of--an aspect of liberty as the result, in part, of a form of state action.

Thus, I would characterize each loss as a "deprivation" of liberty. Because the cases raise only procedural due process claims, however, it is also necessary to examine the nature of petitioners' challenges to the state procedures. To prevail, petitioners must demonstrate that the state procedures for redressing injuries of this kind are constitutionally inadequate. Petitioners must show that they contain a defect so serious that we can characterize the procedures as fundamentally unfair, a defect so basic that we are forced to conclude that the deprivation occurred without due process.

Daniels' claim is essentially the same as the claim we rejected in Parratt. The Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit determined that Daniels had a remedy for the claimed negligence under Virginia law. Although Daniels vigorously argues that sovereign immunity would have defeated his claim, the Fourth Circuit found to the contrary, and it is our settled practice to defer to the...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP