951 F.2d 1314 (D.C. Cir. 1991), 91-7023, Crawford-El v. Britton

Docket Nº:91-7023.
Citation:951 F.2d 1314
Party Name:Leonard Rollon CRAWFORD-EL, Appellee, v. Patricia BRITTON and District of Columbia Department of Corrections, Appellants.
Case Date:December 27, 1991
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

Page 1314

951 F.2d 1314 (D.C. Cir. 1991)

Leonard Rollon CRAWFORD-EL, Appellee,

v.

Patricia BRITTON and District of Columbia Department of

Corrections, Appellants.

No. 91-7023.

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit.

December 27, 1991

Page 1315

As Amended Dec. 27, 1991. Rehearing Denied Feb. 14, 1992.

Argued Sept. 13, 1991.

Page 1316

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (Civil Action No. 89-03076).

Edward E. Schwab, Asst. Corp. Counsel, Office of the Corp. Counsel, with whom John Payton, Corp. Counsel, and Charles L. Reischel, Deputy Corp. Counsel, Office of the Corp. Counsel, Washington, D.C., were on the brief, for appellants. Lutz Alexander Prager, Attorney, Office of the Corp. Counsel, Washington, D.C., also entered an appearance for appellants.

Daniel M. Schember, Washington, D.C., for appellee.

Before BUCKLEY and WILLIAMS, Circuit Judges, and ALAN D. LOURIE, [*] Circuit Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

Opinion for the Court filed by Circuit Judge WILLIAMS.

STEPHEN F. WILLIAMS, Circuit Judge:

Because of overcrowding in the District of Columbia prison system, plaintiff Leonard Rollon Crawford-El was shuffled about between its Lorton, Virginia facility and several other places of custody. He was first transferred in December 1988 to the Spokane County Jail in the state of Washington, then in the late summer and early fall of 1989 back to Lorton, and ultimately to a federal prison in Marianna, Florida, where he arrived in September 1989. Defendant Patricia Britton, a District of Columbia corrections officer, had charge of arranging his journeys. At the time, he owned three boxes containing clothes and papers relating to several pending lawsuits. At some point (by his account in August or September 1989, by hers in October 1989), Britton delivered the boxes to Crawford-El's brother-in-law, Jesse Carter, rather than simply shipping them to him at the next destination. Some time later Crawford-El's mother secured the boxes and shipped them to him in Florida, where they reached him in February 1990.

Crawford-El sued Britton for damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming that her misdelivery of his legal papers to Carter was an intentional interference with his constitutional right of access to the courts. In support he alleged (among other things) various prior conversations between himself and Britton that suggested both her awareness that the boxes contained active legal files and her wish to do him harm. (We review the details below.)

In his brief here Crawford-El also argues that Britton retaliated against him for exercising his First Amendment rights. See Appellee's Brief at 14-19. The complaint makes no reference to this First Amendment claim, however, and the district court quite reasonably did not understand it as raising such a claim, see Crawford-El v. Britton, No. 89-3076, Order at 1, Joint Appendix ("J.A.") at 8, 1 so we do not consider it here. See District of Columbia v. Air Florida, Inc., 750 F.2d 1077, 1078 (D.C.Cir.1984).

Britton moved for dismissal of the complaint and for summary judgment. She asserted a qualified immunity defense under Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 102 S.Ct. 2727, 73 L.Ed.2d 396 (1982), arguing that the plaintiff's claims do not make out a violation of any constitutional right "clearly established" at the time of her acts, id. at 818, 102 S.Ct. at 2738. She also argued that the plaintiff had failed to satisfy the "heightened pleading standard" that this circuit applies to damage actions against government officials. The district court denied the motion, Crawford-El v. Britton, No. 89-3076, Order (D.D.C. Dec. 21, 1990), and she appeals.

Page 1317

We hold that the complaint has not satisfied our heightened pleading standard, but remand the case to the district court for repleading and reconsideration in light of our opinion.

I.

Our jurisdiction is limited to whether at this stage Crawford-El's claim withstands the qualified immunity defense and satisfies the heightened pleading standard. A district court's rejection of a qualified immunity defense is immediately appealable under the "collateral order" exception to 28 U.S.C. § 1291's requirement of finality, to the extent it turns on an issue of law. Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 524-30, 105 S.Ct. 2806, 2814-18, 86 L.Ed.2d 411 (1985). Otherwise trial court error could defeat much of the defense's purpose--to protect officials not only from liability but also from undue burdens of litigation. To determine the relevant facts, we look not only to the pleadings but to the entire record on appeal, viewed, as under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56, in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment (except for the heightened pleading requirement discussed below). See, e.g., Elliott v. Thomas, 937 F.2d 338, 341-42 (7th Cir.1991); Unwin v. Campbell, 863 F.2d 124, 130-33 (1st Cir.1988).

We do not apply the summary judgment model pure and simple, however, as the plaintiff has not yet secured discovery. Harlow, 457 U.S. at 818, 102 S.Ct. at 2738 (discovery should not be allowed until qualified immunity issue is resolved). Our heightened pleading requirement insists that, before discovery, plaintiffs suing government officers for damages set forth " 'nonconclusory allegations' that are 'sufficiently precise to put defendants on notice of the nature of the claim and enable them to prepare a response and, where appropriate, a summary judgment motion on qualified immunity grounds.' " Andrews v. Wilkins, 934 F.2d 1267, 1269-70 (D.C.Cir.1991) (quoting Hobson v. Wilson, 737 F.2d 1, 30 (D.C.Cir.1984)). Because application of the heightened pleading standard precedes discovery, the assumptions of ordinary summary judgment are (as we shall see) not fully applicable.

We note that some of Britton's arguments on appeal take the form of a simple denial--an "I didn't do it" defense. Immediate review of the district court's treatment of those issues is beyond the scope of Mitchell 's exception, which exists to supply early review of the law "clearly established" at the relevant time. See, e.g., Elliott v. Thomas, 937 F.2d at 341-42; Kaminsky v. Rosenblum, 929 F.2d 922, 925-26 (2d Cir.1991); Ryan v. Burlington County, 860 F.2d 1199, 1203 n. 8 (3d Cir.1988); Lion Boulos v. Wilson, 834 F.2d 504, 509 (5th Cir.1987); Velasquez v. Senko, 813 F.2d 1509, 1511 (9th Cir.1987).

II.

To determine whether Britton's qualified immunity defense prevails, we first consider what state of mind must have accompanied her misdelivery of Crawford-El's legal papers to render that action a constitutional tort (or, more precisely, what state of mind would a reasonable officer at the time of the alleged misdelivery have thought rendered it unconstitutional). 2 Although a purpose of the reasonable-officer standard is to enable a court to decide on qualified immunity without intrusive discovery, Harlow, 457 U.S. at 815-19, 102 S.Ct. at 2736-39, we have understood Harlow to allow inquiry into motive where a bad one could transform an official's otherwise reasonable conduct into a constitutional tort. See Siegert v. Gilley, 895 F.2d 797, 800-02 (D.C.Cir.1990), aff'd on other grounds, --- U.S. ----, 111 S.Ct. 1789, 114 L.Ed.2d 277 (1991); Whitacre v. Davey, 890 F.2d 1168, 1171 (D.C.Cir.1989); Martin v. D.C. Metropolitan Police Department, 812 F.2d 1425, 1431 (D.C.Cir.1987); Halperin

Page 1318

v. Kissinger, 807 F.2d 180, 185-87 (D.C.Cir.1986); Hobson v. Wilson, 737 F.2d at 29-31; compare Penthouse International, Ltd. v. Meese, 939 F.2d 1011, 1017 (D.C.Cir.1991) (no state of mind could make the specified conduct unconstitutional).

Well before defendant's activities in 1989 the Supreme Court decided that prisoners have a general right of access to law libraries or legal assistance. See Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 821-25, 97 S.Ct. 1491, 1494-96, 52 L.Ed.2d 72 (1977); Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 579, 94 S.Ct. 2963, 2986, 41 L.Ed.2d 935 (1974). But it doesn't follow that any interruption in Crawford-El's access to his papers was unconstitutional. Prison officials have considerable discretion to implement policies for the administration of correctional facilities and are free to formulate rules (including regulation of inmates' property) that impinge on fundamental rights so long as they are " 'reasonably related' to legitimate penological objectives". Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 87, 107 S.Ct. 2254, 2260-61, 96 L.Ed.2d 64 (1987). At a minimum, if Britton's delivery of the boxes to Carter was a reasonable means of securing their safe transfer, it would not violate his Bounds right. 3

Plaintiff argues that any "unreasonable" (by which he appears to mean "negligent") withholding or misdelivery of property would violate the Bounds right if the parcel contains active legal files. He suggests that prison officials in Britton's position are aware that many prisoners have active legal papers, so that there should be no need to offer specific evidence of awareness of a parcel's contents. Appellee's Brief at 19-20 n. 8.

Though Britton's position is more obscure, she implicitly and correctly recognizes that it was clear by 1989 that an officer who interfered with the transmission of an inmate's legal papers for the purpose of thwarting the inmate's litigation violated his constitutional right of access to the courts. See, e.g., Simmons v. Dickhaut, 804 F.2d 182, 183 (1st Cir.1986); Wright v. Newsome, 795 F.2d 964, 968 (11th Cir.1986); Carter v. Hutto, 781 F.2d 1028, 1031-32 (4th Cir.1986); Tyler v. "Ron" Deputy Sheriff, 574 F.2d 427, 429 (8th Cir.1978); cf. Jackson v. Procunier, 789 F.2d 307, 310-11 (5th Cir.1986) (allegation that prison officials deliberately held up inmate's mailing of in forma pauperis petition stated claim for constitutional violation); Washington v. James, 782 F.2d 1134, 1138-39 (2d Cir.1986)...

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48 practice notes
  • 977 F.2d 299 (7th Cir. 1992), 91-3469, Hessel v. O'Hearn
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Courts of Appeals Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
    • 6 de Outubro de 1992
    ...opinion); Williams v. Boles, 841 F.2d 181, 183 (7th Cir.1988); Jones v. Reagan, 696 F.2d 551, 555 (7th Cir.1983); Crawford-El v. Britton, 951 F.2d 1314, 1322 (D.C.Cir.1991); Mann v. Smith, 796 F.2d 79, 85 (5th Cir.1986); Boals v. Gray, 775 F.2d 686, 689 n. 5 (6th Cir.1985); Carter v. Wester......
  • Johnson v. Holt, 022615 GAMDC, 5:14-CV-380 (MTT)
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 11th Circuit Middle District of Georgia
    • 26 de Fevereiro de 2015
    ...access to courts is required; if right derives from Due Process Clause, deliberate indifference is required);4 Crawford-El v. Britton, 951 F.2d 1314, 1318 (D.C. Cir. 1991) (at least deliberate indifference required); Germany v. Vance, 868 F.2d 9, 17-18 (1st Cir. 1989) ("reckless or cal......
  • Pittman v. Corbett, 060619 PAMDC, C. A. 3:14-CV-598
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 3th Circuit Middle District of Pennsylvania
    • 6 de Junho de 2019
    ...such, mental and emotional distress, standing alone, is insufficient to support such a claim. See Crawford-El v. Britton, 951 F.2d 1314, 1322 (D.C. Cir. 1991) (noting that alleged injuries such as “emotional distress” are “completely peripheral . . . [and] do not he......
  • 57 F.3d 1070 (6th Cir. 1995), 94-1215, Stockenauer v. DeLeeuw
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Courts of Appeals Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
    • 2 de Junho de 1995
    ...officials resulting in the interruption and/or delay of plaintiff's pending or contemplated litigation "); Crawford-El v. Britton, 951 F.2d 1314, 1322 (D.C.Cir.1991)(deprivation must be linked to an "adverse litigation effect"), cert. denied, U.S. , 113 S.Ct. 62,121 L.Ed.2d 2......
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47 cases
  • 977 F.2d 299 (7th Cir. 1992), 91-3469, Hessel v. O'Hearn
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Courts of Appeals Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
    • 6 de Outubro de 1992
    ...opinion); Williams v. Boles, 841 F.2d 181, 183 (7th Cir.1988); Jones v. Reagan, 696 F.2d 551, 555 (7th Cir.1983); Crawford-El v. Britton, 951 F.2d 1314, 1322 (D.C.Cir.1991); Mann v. Smith, 796 F.2d 79, 85 (5th Cir.1986); Boals v. Gray, 775 F.2d 686, 689 n. 5 (6th Cir.1985); Carter v. Wester......
  • Johnson v. Holt, 022615 GAMDC, 5:14-CV-380 (MTT)
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 11th Circuit Middle District of Georgia
    • 26 de Fevereiro de 2015
    ...access to courts is required; if right derives from Due Process Clause, deliberate indifference is required);4 Crawford-El v. Britton, 951 F.2d 1314, 1318 (D.C. Cir. 1991) (at least deliberate indifference required); Germany v. Vance, 868 F.2d 9, 17-18 (1st Cir. 1989) ("reckless or cal......
  • Pittman v. Corbett, 060619 PAMDC, C. A. 3:14-CV-598
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 3th Circuit Middle District of Pennsylvania
    • 6 de Junho de 2019
    ...such, mental and emotional distress, standing alone, is insufficient to support such a claim. See Crawford-El v. Britton, 951 F.2d 1314, 1322 (D.C. Cir. 1991) (noting that alleged injuries such as “emotional distress” are “completely peripheral . . . [and] do not he......
  • 57 F.3d 1070 (6th Cir. 1995), 94-1215, Stockenauer v. DeLeeuw
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Courts of Appeals Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
    • 2 de Junho de 1995
    ...officials resulting in the interruption and/or delay of plaintiff's pending or contemplated litigation "); Crawford-El v. Britton, 951 F.2d 1314, 1322 (D.C.Cir.1991)(deprivation must be linked to an "adverse litigation effect"), cert. denied, U.S. , 113 S.Ct. 62,121 L.Ed.2d 2......
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