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DANIELS v. WILLIAMS

decided: January 21, 1986.

DANIELS
v.
WILLIAMS



CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT.

Rehnquist, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Burger, C. J., and Brennan, White, Powell, and O'connor, JJ., joined. Marshall, J., concurred in the result. Blackmun, J., post, p. 336, and Stevens, J., post, p. 336, filed opinions concurring in the judgment.

Author: Rehnquist

[ 474 U.S. Page 328]

 JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

In Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527 (1981), a state prisoner sued under 42 U. S. C. § 1983, claiming that prison officials had negligently deprived him of his property without due process of law. After deciding that § 1983 contains no independent state-of-mind requirement, we concluded that although petitioner had been "deprived" of property within the meaning of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the State's post-deprivation tort remedy provided the process that was due. Petitioner's claim in this case, which also rests on an alleged Fourteenth Amendment "deprivation" caused by the negligent conduct of a prison official, leads us to reconsider our statement in Parratt that "the alleged loss, even though negligently caused, amounted to a deprivation." Id., at 536-537. We conclude that the Due Process Clause is simply not implicated by a negligent act of an official causing unintended loss of or injury to life, liberty, or property.

In this § 1983 action, petitioner seeks to recover damages for back and ankle injuries allegedly sustained when he fell on a prison stairway. He claims that, while an inmate at the city jail in Richmond, Virginia, he slipped on a pillow negligently left on the stairs by respondent, a correctional deputy stationed at the jail. Respondent's negligence, the argument runs, "deprived" petitioner of his "liberty" interest in freedom from bodily injury, see Ingraham v. Wright, 430 U.S. 651, 673 (1977); because respondent maintains that he is entitled to the defense of sovereign immunity in a state tort suit, petitioner is without an "adequate" state remedy, cf. Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 534-536 (1984). Accordingly, the deprivation of liberty was without "due process of law."

[ 474 U.S. Page 329]

     The District Court granted respondent's motion for summary judgment. A panel of the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed, concluding that even if respondent could make out an immunity defense in state court, petitioner would not be deprived of a meaningful opportunity to present his case. 720 F.2d 792 (1983). On rehearing, the en banc Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the District Court, but under reasoning different from that of the panel. 748 F.2d 229 (1984). First, a 5-4 majority ruled that negligent infliction of bodily injury, unlike the negligent loss of property in Parratt, does not constitute a deprivation of any interest protected by the Due Process Clause. The majority therefore believed that the post-deprivation process mandated by Parratt for property losses was not required. Second, the en banc court unanimously decided that even if a prisoner is entitled to some remedy for personal injuries attributable to the negligence of state officials, Parratt would bar petitioner's claim if the State provided an adequate post-deprivation remedy. Finally, a 6-3 majority concluded that petitioner had an adequate remedy in state court, even though respondent asserted that he would rely on sovereign immunity as a defense in a state suit. The majority apparently believed that respondent's sovereign immunity defense would fail under Virginia law.

Because of the inconsistent approaches taken by lower courts in determining when tortious conduct by state officials rises to the level of a constitutional tort, see Jackson v. Joliet, 465 U.S. 1049, 1050 (1984) (WHITE, J., dissenting from denial of certiorari) (collecting cases), and the apparent lack of adequate guidance from this Court, we granted certiorari. 469 U.S. 1207 (1985). We now affirm.

In Parratt v. Taylor, we granted certiorari, as we had twice before, "to decide whether mere negligence will support a claim for relief under § 1983." 451 U.S., at 532. After examining the language, legislative history, and prior interpretations of the statute, we concluded that § 1983, unlike

[ 474 U.S. Page 330]

     its criminal counterpart, 18 U. S. C. § 242, contains no state-of-mind requirement independent of that necessary to state a violation of the underlying constitutional right. Id., at 534-535. We adhere to that conclusion. But in any given § 1983 suit, the plaintiff must still prove a violation of the underlying constitutional right; and depending on the right, merely negligent conduct may not be enough to state a claim. See, e. g., Arlington Heights v. Metropolitan Housing Dev. Corp., 429 U.S. 252 (1977) (invidious discriminatory purpose required for claim of racial discrimination under the Equal Protection Clause); Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 105 (1976) ("deliberate indifference" to prisoner's serious illness or injury sufficient to constitute cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment).

In Parratt, before concluding that Nebraska's tort remedy provided all the process that was due, we said that the loss of the prisoner's hobby kit, "even though negligently caused, amounted to a deprivation [under the Due Process Clause]." 451 U.S., at 536-537. JUSTICE POWELL, concurring in the result, criticized the majority for "[passing] over" this important question of the state of mind required to constitute a "deprivation" of property. Id., at 547. He argued that negligent acts by state officials, though causing loss of property, are not actionable under the Due Process Clause. To JUSTICE POWELL, mere negligence could not "[work] a deprivation in the constitutional sense." Id., at 548 (emphasis in original). Not only does the word "deprive" in the Due Process Clause connote more than a negligent act, but we should not "open the federal courts to lawsuits where there has been no affirmative abuse of power." Id., at 548-549; see also id., at 545 (Stewart, J., concurring) ("To hold that this kind of loss is a deprivation of property within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment seems not only to trivialize, but grossly to distort the meaning and intent of the Constitution"). Upon reflection, we agree and overrule Parratt to the extent that it states that mere lack of due care by a state

[ 474 U.S. Page 331]

     official may "deprive" an individual of life, liberty, or property under the Fourteenth Amendment.

The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment provides: "[Nor] shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." Historically, this guarantee of due process has been applied to deliberate decisions of government officials to deprive a person of life, liberty, or property. E. g., Davidson v. New Orleans, 96 U.S. 97 (1878) (assessment of real estate); Rochin v. California, 342 U.S. 165 (1952) (stomach pumping); Bell v. Burson, 402 U.S. 535 (1971) (suspension of driver's license); Ingraham v. Wright, 430 U.S. 651 (1977) (paddling student); Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517 (1984) (intentional destruction of inmate's property). No decision of this Court before Parratt supported the view that negligent conduct by a state official, even though causing injury, constitutes a deprivation under the Due Process Clause. This history reflects the traditional and common-sense notion that the Due Process Clause, like its forebear in the Magna Carta, see Corwin, The Doctrine of Due Process of Law Before the Civil War, 24 Harv. L. Rev. 366, 368 (1911), was "'intended to secure the individual from the arbitrary exercise of the powers of government,'" Hurtado v. California, 110 U.S. 516, 527 (1884) (quoting Bank of Columbia v. Okely, 4 Wheat. 235, 244 (1819)). See also Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 558 (1974) ("The touchstone of due process is protection of the individual against arbitrary action of government, Dent v. West Virginia, 129 U.S. 114, 123 (1889)"); Parratt, supra, at 549 (POWELL, J., concurring in result). By requiring the government to follow appropriate procedures when its agents decide to "deprive any person of life, liberty, or property," the Due Process Clause promotes fairness in such decisions. And by barring certain government actions regardless of the fairness of the procedures used to implement them, e. g., Rochin, supra, it serves to prevent governmental power from being "used for purposes of oppression," Murray's Lessee

[ 474 U.S. Page 332]

     v. Hoboken Land & Improvement Co., 18 How. 272, 277 (1856) (discussing Due Process Clause of Fifth Amendment).

We think that the actions of prison custodians in leaving a pillow on the prison stairs, or mislaying an inmate's property, are quite remote from the concerns just discussed. Far from an abuse of power, lack of due care suggests no more than a failure to measure up to the conduct of a reasonable person. To hold that injury caused by such conduct is a deprivation within the ...


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