534 U.S. 61 (2001), 00-860, Correctional Services Corp. v. Malesko

Docket Nº:Case No. 00-860
Citation:534 U.S. 61, 122 S.Ct. 515, 151 L.Ed.2d 456, 70 U.S.L.W. 4013
Case Date:November 27, 2001
Court:United States Supreme Court

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534 U.S. 61 (2001)

122 S.Ct. 515, 151 L.Ed.2d 456, 70 U.S.L.W. 4013




Case No. 00-860

United States Supreme Court

November 27, 2001

Argued October 1, 2001



Petitioner Correctional Services Corporation (CSC), under contract with the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), operates Le Marquis Community Correctional Center (Le Marquis), a facility that houses federal inmates. After respondent, a federal inmate afflicted with a heart condition limiting his ability to climb stairs, was assigned to a bedroom on Le Marquis' fifth floor, CSC instituted a policy requiring inmates residing below the sixth floor to use the stairs rather than the elevator. Respondent was exempted from this policy. But when a CSC employee forbade respondent to use the elevator to reach his bedroom, he climbed the stairs, suffered a heart attack, and fell. Subsequently, respondent filed this damages action against CSC and individual defendants, alleging, inter alia, that they were negligent in refusing him the use of the elevator. The District Court treated the complaint as raising claims under Bivens v. Six Unknown Fed. Narcotics Agents, 403 U.S. 388, in which this Court recognized for the first time an implied private action for damages against federal officers alleged to have violated a citizen's constitutional rights. In dismissing the suit, the District Court relied on FDIC v. Meyer, 510 U.S. 471, reasoning, inter alia, that a Bivens action may only be maintained against an individual, not a corporate entity. The Second Circuit reversed in pertinent part and remanded, remarking, with respect to CSC, that Meyer expressly declined to expand the category of defendants against whom Bivens-type actions may be brought to include not only federal agents, but also federal agencies. But the court reasoned that such private entities should be held liable under Bivens to accomplish the important Bivens goal of providing a remedy for constitutional violations.


Bivens' limited holding may not be extended to confer a right of action for damages against private entities acting under color of federal law. The Court's authority to imply a new constitutional tort, not expressly authorized by statute, is anchored in its general jurisdiction to decide all cases arising under federal law. The Court first exercised this authority in Bivens. From a discussion of that and subsequent cases, it is clear that respondent's claim is fundamentally different from anything the Court has heretofore recognized. In 30 years of Bivens jurisprudence, the Court has extended its holding only twice, to provide

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an otherwise nonexistent cause of action against individual officers alleged to have acted unconstitutionally, e. g., Carlson v. Green, 446 U.S. 14, and to provide a cause of action for a plaintiff who lacked any alternative remedy for harms caused by an individual officer's unconstitutional conduct, e. g., Davis v. Passman, 442 U.S. 228, 245. Where such circumstances are not present, the Court has consistently rejected invitations to extend Bivens, often for reasons that foreclose its extension here. See, e. g., Bush v. Lucas, 462 U.S. 367. Bivens' purpose is to deter individual federal officers, not the agency, from committing constitutional violations. Meyer made clear, inter alia, that the threat of suit against an individual's employer was not the kind of deterrence contemplated by Bivens. 510 U.S., at 485. This case is, in every meaningful sense, the same. For if a corporate defendant is available for suit, claimants will focus their collection efforts on it, and not the individual directly responsible for the alleged injury. On Meyer 's logic, inferring a constitutional tort remedy against a private entity like CSC is therefore foreclosed. Respondent's claim that requiring private corporations acting under color of federal law to pay for the constitutional harms they commit is the best way to discourage future harms has no relevance to Bivens, which is concerned solely with deterring individual officers' unconstitutional acts. There is no reason here to consider extending Bivens beyond its core premise. To begin with, no federal prisoners enjoy respondent's contemplated remedy. If such a prisoner in a BOP facility alleges a constitutional deprivation, his only remedy lies against the offending individual officer. Whether it makes sense to impose asymmetrical liability costs on private prison facilities alone is a question for Congress to decide. Nor is this a situation in which claimants in respondent's shoes lack effective remedies. It was conceded at oral argument that alternative remedies are at least as great, and in many respects greater, than anything that could be had under Bivens. For example, federal prisoners in private facilities enjoy a parallel tort remedy that is unavailable to prisoners housed in government facilities. Inmates in respondent's position also have full access to remedial mechanisms established by the BOP, including suits in federal court for injunctive relief—long recognized as the proper means for preventing entities from acting unconstitutionally—and grievances filed through the BOP's Administrative Remedy Program. Pp. 66-74.

229 F.3d 374, reversed.

Rehnquist, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which O'Connor, Scalia, Kennedy, and Thomas, JJ., joined. Scalia, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which Thomas, J., joined, post, p. 75. Stevens, J.,

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filed a dissenting opinion, in which Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer, JJ., joined, post, p. 75.

Carter G. Phillips argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs were Frank R. Volpe, George P. Stasiuk, and Karen M. Morinelli.

Jeffrey A. Lamken argued the cause for the United States as amicus curiae urging reversal. With him on the brief were Acting Solicitor General Underwood, Deputy Solicitor General Clement, Barbara L. Herwig, and Thomas M. Bondy.

Steven Pasternak argued the cause for respondent. With him on the brief was David C. Vladeck. [*]

Chief Justice Rehnquist delivered the opinion of the Court.

We decide here whether the implied damages action first recognized in Bivens v. Six Unknown Fed. Narcotics Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971), should be extended to allow recovery against a private corporation operating a halfway house under contract with the Bureau of Prisons. We decline to so extend Bivens.

Petitioner Correctional Services Corporation (CSC), under contract with the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), operates Community Corrections Centers and other facilities that house federal prisoners and detainees.[1] Since the late

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1980's, CSC has operated Le Marquis Community Correctional Center (Le Marquis), a halfway house located in New York City. Respondent John E. Malesko is a former federal inmate who, having been convicted of federal securities fraud in December 1992, was sentenced to a term of 18 months' imprisonment under the supervision of the BOP. During his imprisonment, respondent was diagnosed with a heart condition and treated with prescription medication. Respondent's condition limited his ability to engage in physical activity, such as climbing stairs.

In February 1993, the BOP transferred respondent to Le Marquis where he was to serve the remainder of his sentence. Respondent was assigned to living quarters on the fifth floor. On or about March 1, 1994, CSC instituted a policy at Le Marquis requiring inmates residing below the sixth floor to use the staircase rather than the elevator to travel from the first-floor lobby to their rooms. There is no dispute that respondent was exempted from this policy on account of his heart condition. Respondent alleges that on March 28, 1994, however, Jorge Urena, an employee of CSC, forbade him to use the elevator to reach his fifth-floor bedroom. Respondent protested that he was specially permitted elevator access, but Urena was adamant. Respondent then climbed the stairs, suffered a heart attack, and fell, injuring his left ear.

Three years after this incident occurred, respondent filed a pro se action against CSC and unnamed CSC employees in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. Two years later, now acting with counsel, respondent filed an amended complaint which named Urena as 1 of the 10 John Doe defendants. The amended complaint alleged that CSC, Urena, and unnamed defendants were "negligent in failing to obtain requisite medication for [respondent's] condition and were further negligent by refusing

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[respondent] the use of the elevator." App. 12. It further alleged that respondent injured his left ear and aggravated a pre-existing condition "[a]s a result of the negligence of the Defendants." Ibid. Respondent demanded judgment in the sum of $1 million in compensatory damages, $3 million in anticipated future damages, and punitive damages "for such sum as the Court and/or [j]ury may determine." Id., at 13.

The District Court treated the amended complaint as raising claims under Bivens v. Six Unknown Fed. Narcotics Agents, supra, and dismissed respondent's cause of action in its entirety. App. to Pet. for Cert. 20a. Relying on our decision in FDIC v. Meyer, 510 U.S. 471 (1994), the District Court reasoned that "a Bivens action may only be maintained against an individual," and thus was not available against CSC, a corporate entity. App. to Pet. for Cert. 20a. With respect to Urena and the unnamed individual defendants, the complaint was dismissed on statute of limitations grounds.

The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded. 229 F.3d 374 (2000). That court affirmed dismissal of...

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