Parratt v. Taylor
451 U.S. 527 (1981)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527 (1981)

Parratt v. Taylor

No. 79-1734

Argued March 2, 1981

Decided May 18, 1981

451 U.S. 527

Syllabus

Respondent, an inmate of a Nebraska prison, ordered by mail certain hobby materials. After being delivered to the prison, the packages containing the materials were lost when the normal procedure for receipt of mail packages was not followed. Respondent brought an action in Federal District Court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against petitioner prison officials to recover the value of the hobby materials, claiming that petitioners had negligently lost the materials, and thereby deprived respondent of property without due process of law in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. The District Court entered summary judgment for respondent, holding that negligent actions by state officials can be a basis for an action under § 1983, that petitioners were not immune from liability, and that the deprivation of the hobby materials implicated due process rights. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: Respondent has not stated a claim for relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Pp. 451 U. S. 531-544.

(a) In any § 1983 action, the initial inquiry must focus on whether the two essential elements to a § 1983 action are present: (1) whether the conduct complained of was committed by a person acting under color of state law; and (2) whether this conduct deprived a person of rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States. Pp. 451 U. S. 531-535.

(b) Although respondent has been deprived of property under color of state law, he has not sufficiently alleged a violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The deprivation did not occur as the result of some established state procedure, but as the result of the unauthorized failure of state agents to follow established state procedure. Moreover, Nebraska has a tort claims procedure which provides a remedy to persons who have suffered a tortious loss at the hands of the State, but which respondent did not use. Such procedure could have fully compensated respondent for his property loss, and was sufficient to satisfy the requirements of due process. Pp. 451 U. S. 535-544.

620 F.2d 307, reversed.

REHNQUIST, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BRENNAN, STEWART, WHITE, BLACKMUN, and STEVENS, JJ.,

Page 451 U. S. 528

joined. STEWART, J., post, p. 451 U. S. 544, WHITE, J., post, p. 451 U. S. 545, and BLACKMUN, J., post, p. 451 U. S. 545, filed concurring opinions. POWELL, J., filed an opinion concurring in the result, post, p. 451 U. S. 546. MARSHALL, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part., post p. 451 U. S. 554.

Page 451 U. S. 529

Primary Holding
Taking property from an individual under color of state law constitutes a Fourteenth Amendment violation only if an established state procedure was used.
Facts
Prison officials carelessly lost hobby materials that had been ordered by Parratt, an inmate in Nebraska. The materials were worth about $23.50. He brought a claim in federal court under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983, arguing that his due process rights had been violated by the negligence of the authorities in losing the materials. He received summary judgment in the lower courts.

Opinions

Majority

  • William Hubbs Rehnquist (Author)
  • Warren Earl Burger
  • William Joseph Brennan, Jr.
  • Potter Stewart
  • Byron Raymond White
  • Harry Andrew Blackmun
  • John Paul Stevens

The Fourteenth Amendment does not provide blanket protections against all deprivations of life, liberty, and property, but only those that occur without due process of law. The state had offered post-deprivation remedies for this situation that satisfied the requirements of due process. A taking that occurs without pre-deprivation procedures does not create a constitutional violation in a situation in which a random and unauthorized action by a government employee results in the loss of a prisoner's property through negligence. No established state procedure was responsible for the loss, and the state could not have anticipated that the negligent action would occur. It thus could not have provided a meaningful hearing before the deprivation, especially since the deprivation resulted not from procedures but from the failure to follow them. The plaintiff did not argue that the procedures themselves were inadequate.

Concurrence

  • Potter Stewart (Author)

The state provided a reparations remedy to the inmate, which meets the requirements of due process.

Concurrence

  • Harry Andrew Blackmun (Author)

Some due process concerns may arise if the remedy provided by the state consists of a review before the same authority that deliberately inflicted the deprivation through its employees.

Concurrence

  • Lewis Franklin Powell, Jr. (Author)

Due process rights are triggered only if there is an intent to deprive an individual of something or not provide an individual with something. They do not arise in circumstances involving negligence.

Concurrence/Dissent In Part

  • Thurgood Marshall (Author)

The state did not provide the prisoner with an adequate remedy, nor was he ever informed by the prison authorities about his rights under state law.

Concurrence

  • Byron Raymond White (Author)

Case Commentary

Even if a state does not provide remedies of a comparable scope to the remedies under federal law, due process may be satisfied by the state remedies.

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