Minneci v. Pollard

Justia.com Opinion Summary: Respondent sought damages from employees at a privately run federal prison in California, claiming that they had deprived him of adequate medical care in violation of the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. At issue was whether the Court could imply the existence of an Eighth Amendment-based damages action against employees of a privately operated federal prison. Because the Court believed that in the circumstances of this case, state tort law authorized adequate alternative damage actions - actions that provide both significant deterrence and compensation - no Bivens v. Six Unknown Fed. Narcotics Agents remedy could be implied here.

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NOTE: Where it is feasible, a syllabus (headnote) will be released, as is being done in connection with this case, at the time the opinion is issued. The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader. See United States v. Detroit Timber & Lumber Co., 200 U. S. 321 .

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

Syllabus

MINNECI et al. v. POLLARD et al.

certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the ninth circuit

No. 10–1104. Argued November 1, 2011—Decided January 10, 2012

Respondent Pollard sought damages from employees at a privately run federal prison in California, claiming that they had deprived him of adequate medical care in violation of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. The Federal District Court dismissed the complaint, ruling that the Eighth Amendment does not imply an action under Bivens v. Six Unknown Fed. Narcotics Agents, 403 U. S. 388 , against a privately managed prison’s personnel. The Ninth Circuit reversed.

Held: Because in the circumstance of this case, state tort law authorizes adequate alternative damages actions—providing both significant deterrence and compensation—no Bivens remedy can be implied here. Pp. 3−12.

     (a) Wilkie v. Robbins, 551 U. S. 537 , fairly summarizes the basic considerations the Court applies here. In deciding whether to recognize a Bivens remedy, a court must first ask “whether any alternative, existing process for protecting the [constitutionally recognized] interest amounts to a convincing reason for the Judicial Branch to refrain from providing a new and freestanding” damages remedy. Even absent an alternative, “a Bivens remedy is a subject of judgment: ‘the federal courts must make the kind of remedial determination that is appropriate for a common-law tribunal, paying particular heed . . . to any special factors counselling hesitation before authorizing a new kind of federal litigation.’ ” Id., at 550. In Bivens itself, the Court held that the Fourth Amendment implicitly authorized a court to order federal agents to pay damages to a person injured by the agents’ violation of the Amendment’s strictures, 403 U. S., at 389, noting that the Fourth Amendment prohibited conduct that state law might permit, id., at 392–393, and that the interests protected on the one hand by state “trespass” and “invasion of privacy” laws and on the other hand by the Fourth Amendment “may be inconsistent or even hostile,” id., at 394. It also stated that “[h]istorically, damages have been regarded as the ordinary remedy for an invasion of personal interests in liberty,” id., at 395, and found “no special factors counselling hesitation in the absence of affirmative action by Congress.” Id., at 396. Bivens actions were allowed in Davis v. Passman, 442 U. S. 228 , for a Fifth Amendment due process claim involving gender-based employment discrimination, and in Carlson v. Green, 446 U. S. 14 , for an Eighth Amendment claim based on federal government officials’ “deliberat[e] indifferen[ce]” to a federal prisoner’s medical needs, id., at 16, n. 1, 17. Since Carlson, this Court has declined to imply a Bivens action in several different instances. See, e.g., Bush v. Lucas, 462 U. S. 367 , Correctional Services Corp. v. Malesko, 534 U. S. 61 .

     Applying Wilkie’s approach here, Pollard cannot assert a Bivens claim, primarily because his Eighth Amendment claim focuses on a kind of conduct that typically falls within the scope of traditional state tort law. And in the case of a privately employed defendant, state tort law provides an “alternative, existing process” capable of protecting the constitutional interests at stake. Wilkie, 551 U. S., at 550. The existence of that alternative remedy constitutes a “convincing reason for the Judicial Branch to refrain from providing a new and freestanding” damages remedy. Ibid. Pp. 3−7.

     (b) Pollard’s contrary arguments are rejected. First, he claims that Carlson authorizes an Eighth Amendment-based Bivens action here, but Carlson involved government, not privately employed, personnel. The potential existence of an “adequate alternative, existing process” differs dramatically for public and private employees, as prisoners ordinarily can bring state tort actions against private employees, but not against public ones. Second, Pollard’s argument that this Court should consider only whether federal laws provide adequate alternative remedies because of the “vagaries” of state tort law, Carlson, supra, at 23, was rejected in Malesko, supra, at 72−73. Third, Pollard claims that state tort law does not provide remedies adequate to protect the constitutional interests at issue here, but California, like every other State (as far as the Court is aware), has tort law that provides for negligence actions for claims such as his. That the state law may prove less generous than would a Bivens action does not render the state law inadequate, and state remedies and a potential Bivens remedy need not be perfectly congruent. Fourth, Pollard argues that there may be similar Eighth Amendment claims that state tort law does not cover, but he offers no supporting cases. The possibility of a future case, where an Eighth Amendment claim or state law differs significantly from those at issue, provides insufficient grounds for reaching a different conclusion here. Pp. 7−12.

607 F. 3d 583 and 629 F. 3d 843, reversed.

     Breyer, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Roberts, C. J., and Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Alito, Sotomayor, and Kagan, JJ., joined. Scalia, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which Thomas, J., joined. Ginsburg, J., filed a dissenting opinion.



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