The respondent is an inmate at the Nebraska Penal and Correctional Complex who ordered by mail certain hobby materials valued at $23.50. The hobby materials were lost and respondent brought suit under 42 U. S. C. § 1983 to recover their value. At first blush one might well inquire why respondent brought an action in federal court to recover damages of such a small amount for negligent loss of property, but because 28 U. S. C. § 1343, the predicate for the jurisdiction of the United States District Court, contains no minimum dollar limitation, he was authorized by Congress to bring his action under that section if he met its requirements and if he stated a claim for relief under 42 U. S. C. § 1983. Respondent claimed that his property was negligently lost by prison officials in violation of his rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. More specifically, he claimed that he had been deprived of property without due process of law.
The United States District Court for the District of Nebraska entered summary judgment for respondent, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed
The facts underlying this dispute are not seriously contested. Respondent paid for the hobby materials he ordered with two drafts drawn on his inmate account by prison officials. The packages arrived at the complex and were signed for by two employees who worked in the prison hobby center. One of the employees was a civilian and the other was an inmate. Respondent was in segregation at the time and was not permitted to have the hobby materials. Normal prison procedures for the handling of mail packages is that upon arrival they are either delivered to the prisoner who signs a receipt for the package or the prisoner is notified to pick up the package and to sign a receipt. No inmate other than the one to whom the package is addressed is supposed to sign for a package. After being released from segregation, respondent contacted several prison officials regarding the whereabouts of his packages. The officials were never able to locate the packages or to determine what caused their disappearance.
In 1976, respondent commenced this action against the petitioners, the Warden and Hobby Manager of the prison, in the District Court seeking to recover the value of the hobby materials which he claimed had been lost as a result of the petitioners' negligence. Respondent alleged that petitioners' conduct deprived him of property without due process of law in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. Respondent chose to proceed in the United States District Court under 28 U. S. C. § 1343 and 42 U. S. C. § 1983, even though the State of Nebraska had a tort claims procedure which provided a remedy to persons who suffered tortious losses at the hands of the State.
On October 25, 1978, the District Court granted respondent's
In the best of all possible worlds, the District Court's above-quoted statement that respondent's loss should not go without redress would be an admirable provision to be contained in a code which governed the administration of justice in a civil-law jurisdiction. For better or for worse, however, our traditions arise from the common law of case-by-case reasoning and the establishment of precedent. In 49 of the 50 States the common-law system, as modified by statute, constitutional amendment, or judicial decision governs. Coexisting with the 50 States which make it up, and supreme over them to the extent of its authority under Art. IV of the Constitution, is the National Government. At an early period in the history of this Nation, it was held that there was no federal common law of crimes, United States v. Hudson & Goodwin, 7 Cranch 32 (1812), and since Erie R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64 (1938), there has been no general common law applicable in federal courts merely by reason of diversity-of-citizenship jurisdiction. Therefore, in order properly to decide this case we must deal not simply with a single, general principle, however just that principle may be in the abstract, but with the complex interplay of the Constitution,
Because federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, we must first look to the Act of Congress which confers jurisdiction over claims such as respondent's on a United States district court. Such enactment is found in 28 U. S. C. § 1343, which provides in pertinent part:
The statute conferring jurisdiction is in turn closely related to 42 U. S. C. § 1983, under which respondent brought this action. Section 1983 provided in the year in question:
While we have twice granted certiorari in cases to decide whether mere negligence will support a claim for relief under § 1983, see Procunier v. Navarette, 434 U.S. 555 (1978), and Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137 (1979), we have in each of those cases found it unnecessary to decide the issue. In Procunier, Supra, we held that regardless of whether the
Nothing in the language of § 1983 or its legislative history limits the statute solely to intentional deprivations of constitutional rights. In Baker v. McCollan, supra, we suggested that simply because a wrong was negligently as opposed to intentionally committed did not foreclose the possibility that such action could be brought under § 1983. We explained:
Section 1983, unlike its criminal counterpart, 18 U. S. C. § 242, has never been found by this Court to contain a state-of-mind requirement.
In distinguishing the criminal counterpart which had earlier been at issue in Screws v. United States, 325 U.S. 91 (1945), the Monroe Court stated:
Both Baker v. McCollan and Monroe v. Pape suggest that § 1983 affords a "civil remedy" for deprivations of federally protected rights caused by persons acting under color of state law without any express requirement of a particular state of mind. Accordingly, 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.
Since this Court's decision in Monroe v. Pape, supra, it can no longer be questioned that the alleged conduct by the petitioners in this case satisfies the "under color of state law" requirement. Petitioners were, after all, state employees in
The only deprivation respondent alleges in his complaint is that "his rights under the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States were violated. That he was deprived of his property and Due Process of Law." App. 8. As such, respondent's claims differ from the claims which were before us in Monroe v. Pape, supra, which involved violations of the Fourth Amendment, and the claims presented in Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97 (1976), which involved alleged violations of the Eighth Amendment. Both of these Amendments have been held applicable to the States by virtue of the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment. See Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643 (1961); Robinson v. California, 370 U.S. 660 (1962). Respondent here refers to no other right, privilege, or immunity secured by the Constitution or federal laws other than the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment simpliciter. The pertinent text of the Fourteenth Amendment provides:
Unquestionably, respondent's claim satisfies three prerequisites of a valid due process claim: the petitioners acted under color of state law; the hobby kit falls within the definition of property; and the alleged loss, even though negligently
This Court has never directly addressed the question of what process is due a person when an employee of a State negligently takes his property. In some cases this Court has held that due process requires a predeprivation hearing before the State interferes with any liberty or property interest enjoyed by its citizens. In most of these cases, however, the deprivation of property was pursuant to some established state procedure and "process" could be offered before any actual deprivation took place. For example, in Mullane v.
We have, however, recognized that postdeprivation remedies made available by the State can satisfy the Due Process Clause. In such cases, the normal predeprivation notice and opportunity to be heard is pretermitted if the State provides a postdeprivation remedy. In North American Cold Storage Co. v. Chicago, 211 U.S. 306 (1908), we upheld the right of a State to seize and destroy unwholesome food without a preseizure hearing. The possibility of erroneous destruction of property was outweighed by the fact that the public health
Our past cases mandate that some kind of hearing is required at some time before a State finally deprives a person of his property interests. The fundamental requirement of due process is the opportunity to be heard and it is an "opportunity which must be granted at a meaningful time and in a meaningful manner." Armstrong v. Manzo, 380 U.S. 545, 552 (1965). However, as many of the above cases recognize, we have rejected the proposition that "at a meaningful time and in a meaningful manner" always requires the State to provide a hearing prior to the initial deprivation of property.
The justifications which we have found sufficient to uphold takings of property without any predeprivation process are applicable to a situation such as the present one involving a tortious loss of a prisoner's property as a result of a random and unauthorized act by a state employee. In such a case, the loss is not a result of some established state procedure and the State cannot predict precisely when the loss will occur. It is difficult to conceive of how the State could provide a meaningful hearing before the deprivation takes place. The loss of property, although attributable to the State as action under "color of law," is in almost all cases beyond the control of the State. Indeed, in most cases it is not only impracticable, but impossible, to provide a meaningful hearing before the deprivation. That does not mean, of course, that the State can take property without providing a meaningful postdeprivation hearing. The prior cases which have excused the prior-hearing requirement have rested in part on the availability of some meaningful opportunity subsequent to the initial taking for a determination of rights and liabilities.
A case remarkably similar to the present one is Bonner v. Coughlin, 517 F.2d 1311 (CA7 1975), modified en banc, 545 F.2d 565 (1976), cert. denied, 435 U.S. 932 (1978). There, a prisoner alleged that prison officials "made it possible by leaving the door of Plaintiff's cell open, for others without authority to remove Plaintiff's trial transcript from the cell." 517 F. 2d, at 1318. The question presented was whether negligence may support a recovery under § 1983. Then Judge Stevens, writing for a panel of the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, recognized that the question that had to be
We believe that the analysis recited above in Bonner is the proper manner in which to approach a case such as this. This analysis is also quite consistent with the approach taken by this Court in Ingraham v. Wright, 430 U.S. 651 (1977), where the Court was confronted with the claim that corporal punishment in public schools violated due process. Arguably, the facts presented to the Court in Ingraham were more egregious than those presented here inasmuch as the Court was faced with both an intentional act (as opposed to negligent conduct) and a deprivation of liberty. However, we reasoned:
Application of the principles recited above to this case leads us to conclude the respondent has not alleged a violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Although he has been deprived of property under color of state law, the deprivation did not occur as a result of some established state procedure. Indeed, the deprivation occurred as a result of the unauthorized failure of agents of the State to follow established state procedure. There is no contention that the procedures themselves are inadequate nor is there any contention that it was practicable for the State to provide a predeprivation hearing. Moreover, the State of Nebraska has provided respondent with the means by which he can receive redress for the deprivation. The State provides a remedy to persons who believe they have suffered a tortious loss at the hands of the State. See Neb. Rev. Stat. § 81-8,209 et seq. (1976). Through this tort claims procedure the State hears and pays claims of prisoners housed in its penal institutions. This procedure was in existence at the time of the loss here in question but respondent did not use it. It is argued that the State does not adequately protect the respondent's interests because it provides only for an action against the State as opposed to its individual employees,
Our decision today is fully consistent with our prior cases. To accept respondent's argument that the conduct of the state officials in this case constituted a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment would almost necessarily result in turning every alleged injury which may have been inflicted by a state official acting under "color of law" into a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment cognizable under § 1983. It is hard to perceive any logical stopping place to such a line of reasoning. Presumably, under this rationale any party who is involved in nothing more than an automobile accident with a state official could allege a constitutional violation under § 1983. Such reasoning "would make of the Fourteenth Amendment a font of tort law to be superimposed upon whatever systems may already be administered by the States." Paul v. Davis, 424 U.S. 693, 701 (1976). We do not think that the drafters of the Fourteenth Amendment intended the Amendment to play such a role in our society.
Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Appeals is
JUSTICE STEWART, concurring.
It seems to me extremely doubtful that the property loss here, even though presumably caused by the negligence of state agents, is the kind of deprivation of property to which the Fourteenth Amendment is addressed. If it is, then so too would be damages to a person's automobile resulting from
But even if Nebraska has deprived the respondent of his property in the constitutional sense, it has not deprived him of it without due process of law. By making available to the respondent a reparations remedy, Nebraska has done all that the Fourteenth Amendment requires in this context.
On this understanding, I join the opinion of the Court.
JUSTICE WHITE, concurring.
I join the opinion of the Court but with the reservations stated by my Brother BLACKMUN in his concurring opinion.
JUSTICE BLACKMUN, concurring.
While I join the Court's opinion in this case, I write separately to emphasize my understanding of its narrow reach. This suit concerns the deprivation only of property and was brought only against supervisory personnel, whose simple "negligence" was assumed but, on this record, not actually proved. I do not read the Court's opinion as applicable to a case concerning deprivation of life or of liberty. Cf. Moore v. East Cleveland, 431 U.S. 494 (1977). I also do not understand the Court to intimate that the sole content of the Due Process Clause is procedural regularity. I continue to believe that there are certain governmental actions that, even if undertaken with a full panoply of procedural protection, are, in and of themselves, antithetical to fundamental notions of due process. See, e. g., Boddie v. Connecticut, 401 U.S. 371 (1971); Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973).
Most importantly, I do not understand the Court to suggest that the provision of "postdeprivation remedies," ante, at 538, within a state system would cure the unconstitutional
JUSTICE POWELL, concurring in the result.
This case presents the question whether a state prisoner may sue to recover damages under 42 U. S. C. § 1983, alleging that a violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment occurred when two shipments mailed to him were lost due to the negligence of the prison's warden and "hobby manager." Unlike the Court, I do not believe that such negligent acts by state officials constitute a deprivation of property within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment, regardless of whatever subsequent procedure a State may or may not provide. I therefore concur only in the result.
The Court's approach begins with three "unquestionable" facts concerning respondent's due process claim: "the petitioners acted under color of state law; the hobby kit falls within the definition of property; and the alleged loss, even though negligently caused, amounted to a deprivation."
The central question in this case is whether unintentional but negligent acts by state officials, causing respondent's loss of property, are actionable under the Due Process Clause. In my view, this question requires the Court to determine whether intent is an essential element of a due process claim, just as we have done in cases applying the Equal Protection Clause
In the due process area, the question is whether intent is required before there can be a "deprivation" of life, liberty, or property. In this case, for example, the negligence of the prison officials caused respondent to lose his property. Nevertheless, I would not hold that such a negligent act, causing unintended loss of or injury to property, works a deprivation in the constitutional sense. Thus, no procedure for compensation is constitutionally required.
A "deprivation" connotes an intentional act denying something to someone, or, at the very least, a deliberate decision not to act to prevent a loss.
Rather than reject this reasoning, I would adopt the view that negligent official acts do not provide any basis for inquiries
Such an approach has another advantage; it avoids a somewhat disturbing implication in the Court's opinion concerning the scope of due process guarantees. The Court analyzes this case solely in terms of the procedural rights created by the Due Process Clause. Finding state procedures adequate, it suggests that no further analysis is required of more substantive limitations on state action located in this Clause. Cf. Paul v. Davis, supra, at 712-714 (assessing the claim presented in terms of the "substantive aspects of the Fourteenth Amendment"); Ingraham v. Wright, 430 U.S. 651, 679, n. 47 (1977) (leaving open the question whether "corporal punishment of a public school child may give rise to an independent federal cause of action to vindicate substantive rights under the Due Process Clause").
The Due Process Clause imposes substantive limitations on state action, and under proper circumstances
In sum, it seems evident that the reasoning and decision of the Court today, even if viewed as compatible with our precedents, create new uncertainties as well as invitations to
JUSTICE MARSHALL, concurring in part and dissenting in part.
I join the opinion of the Court insofar as it holds that negligent conduct by persons acting under color of state law
It is significant, in my view, that respondent is a state prisoner whose access to information about his legal rights is necessarily limited by his confinement. Furthermore, there is no claim that either petitioners or any other officials informed respondent that he could seek redress for the alleged deprivation of his property by filing an action under the Nebraska tort claims procedure. This apparent failure takes
Thus, although I agree with much of the majority's reasoning, I would affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals.
"Whoever, under color of any law, statute, ordinance, regulation, or custom, willfully subjects any inhabitant of any State, Territory, or District to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States . . . shall be fined not more than $1,000 or imprisoned not more than one year, or both; and if death results shall be subject to imprisonment for any term of years or for life." (Emphasis supplied.)
"While these cases indicate that the particular interests involved might not have demanded a hearing immediately, they also reaffirm the principle that property may not be taken without a hearing at some time." Id., at 179 (concurring in part and dissenting in part).
"In recent years this Court increasingly has had occasion to consider the extent to which due process requires an evidentiary hearing prior to the deprivation of some type of property interest even if such a hearing is provided thereafter. In only one case, Goldberg v. Kelly, 397 U. S., at 266-271, has the Court held that a hearing closely approximating a judicial trial is necessary. In other cases requiring some type of pretermination hearing as a matter of constitutional right the Court has spoken sparingly about the requisite procedures." Id., at 333.
Similarly, in Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137 (1979), the Court reviewed a claimed violation of due process occurring when a sheriff arrested the individual named in an arrest warrant and failed for a time to realize that the warrant itself had named the wrong person. The Court there noted that "the state of mind of the defendant may be relevant on the issue of whether a constitutional violation has occurred in the first place," id., at 140, n. 1, and went on to hold that there had been no deprivation of liberty without due process of law. The Court reasoned that there is no duty to investigate "every claim of innocence," id., at 146, and no constitutional requirement of an "error-free investigation of such a claim," ibid. It relied on the fact that the sheriff had acted reasonably in relying on a facially valid arrest warrant, thus implicitly distinguishing a case involving an intentional deprivation of liberty without cause.
To be sure, even where there has been an intentional deprivation of property, due process claims also must satisfy the requirement that the act be sufficiently linked to an official's state-created duties or powers to constitute "state action." See n. 10, infra.
There is no occasion here to express any view as to the possibility of negligent violations of other, more particular constitutional guarantees.
Attention to the "guarantees" provided by state law is at least as appropriate in a case involving an alleged deprivation of "property." It is clear that the hobby kit was respondent's "property." But it also is clear that under state law no remedy other than tort law protects property from interferences caused by the negligence of others. The reasoning of Paul v. Davis would suggest, therefore, that the enjoyment of property free of negligent interference is not sufficiently "guaranteed" by state law to justify a due process claim based on official negligence.
A State perhaps could constitutionalize certain negligent actions by state officials by criminalizing negligence, thus extending its guarantee to this kind of interference. Instead, the States merely have created systems for civil compensation of tort victims. In this sense, state law draws a clear distinction between negligently caused injuries and intentional thefts or assaults.
Professor Christina Whitman recently has addressed this expansion of § 1983 with a comprehensive assessment of arguable pluses and minuses. See Whitman, Constitutional Torts, 79 Mich. L. Rev. 5 (1980). There will be no pluses, however, if the striking escalation of suits under § 1983 against state and local officials is augmented by suits based on negligent conduct. Professor Whitman noted, for example, that civil rights petitions by state prisoners in federal court increased from 218 cases in 1966 to 11,195 in 1979. Id., at 6. See also the Annual Report of the Director of the Administrative Office of the U. S. Courts 62 (1980), reporting a further increase in this number to 12,397 in 1980. The societal costs of using this statute for a purpose never contemplated are high indeed:
"First, the existence of the statutory cause of action means that every expansion of constitutional rights [through § 1983] will increase the caseload of already overburdened federal courts. This increase dilutes the ability of federal courts to defend our most significant rights. Second, every [such] expansion . . . displaces state lawmaking authority by diverting decision-making to the federal courts." Whitman, supra, at 25.
The present case, involving a $23 loss, illustrates the extent to which constitutional law has been trivialized, and federal courts often have been converted into small-claims tribunals. There is little justification for making such a claim a federal case, requiring a decision by a district court, an appeal as a matter of right to a court of appeals, and potentially, consideration of a petition for certiorari in this Court. It is not in the interest of claimants or of society for disputes of this kind to be resolved by litigation that may take years, particularly in an over-burdened federal system that never was designed to be utilized in this way. Congress, recognizing the problem with respect to prisoner petitions, enacted last year the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act, Pub. L. 96-247, 94 Stat. 349, authorizing federal courts to continue § 1983 prisoner cases for up to 90 days to allow recourse to administrative remedies. The grievance procedures, however, must be certified by the Attorney General or determined by the court to be in compliance with not insubstantial procedural requirements. Id., § 7, 42 U. S. C. § 1997e (1976 ed., Supp. IV). As a result, the Act continues to allow resort to the federal courts in many cases of this kind. In view of increasing damages-suit litigation under § 1983, and the inability of courts to identify principles that can be applied consistently, perhaps the time has come for a revision of this century-old statute—a revision that would clarify its scope while preserving its historical function of protecting individual rights from unlawful state action.