Parratt v. Taylor
Decided on May 18, 1981; 451 US 527

Prisoner sues correctional facility for losing his mail order valued at $23.50


A. Issues Discussed: Criminal Justice (prison), 14th Amendment, due process 

B. Legal Questions Presented:

 Was respondent deprived of any right, privilege, or immunity secured by the Constitution?  Did the tort remedies which the State of Nebraska provides as a means of redress for property deprivations satisfy the requirements of procedural due process?

A. Background:

Respondent, inmate at the Nebraska Penal and Correctional Complex, mail ordered hobby materials valued at $23.50. The hobby materials were lost and respondent brought suit under 42 USC § 1983 to recover their value. The suit was brought to the United States District Court for the District of Nebraska against prison officials. 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 district court entered summary judgment for respondent and held that negligent actions by state officials can be a basis for an action under 1983. The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari to review the case.
B. Counsel of Record:
Opposing Side
J. Kirk Brown, Assistant Attorney General of Nebraska, argued the cause for petitioners. With him on the brief was Paul L. Douglas, Attorney General.
Kevin Colleran, by appointment of the Court, argued the cause and filed a brief for respondent.
C. The Arguments:
Opposing Side
"A §1983 claim is made out if plaintiff proves that some person deprived him of a federal right, and that the person who has deprived him of a federal right acted under color of law. As we have previously urged in briefs relied upon by this Court, although particular violations of federal rights may themselves require proof of particular states of mind… §1983 itself contains no independent state of mind requirement.

Gomez v. Toledo makes clear that the question presented here, 'whether simple negligence... may form the basis of a judgment under 42 U.S.C. §1983,' is the wrong question. The legislative history conclusively demonstrates that Congress did not require proof of a state of mind in making out all prima facie §1983 cases. Considerations of policy do not convincingly argue for imparting a state of mind requirement into the §1983 prima facie case beyond its current role in the good faith defense, and §1983 will not become a generalized tort law in the absence of a state of mind element… the writ should be dismissed as improvidently granted… the Court should hold that §1983 does not itself impose on plaintiffs the burden of proving that defendants acted with any particular state-of-mind..” – ACLU Brief in Parratt v. Taylor 


Opposing Side
Bruce J. Ennis, Jr., filed a brief for the American Civil Liberties Union as amicus curiae.

Briefs of amici curiae urging reversal were filed for the State of Arizona et al. by Robert K. Corbin, Attorney General of Arizona, J. D. McFarlane, Attorney General of Colorado, Carl R. Ajello, Attorney General of Connecticut, David H. Leroy, Attorney General of Idaho, Tyrone C. Fahner, Attorney General of Illinois, Theodore L. Sendak, Attorney General of Indiana, Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General of Iowa, Robert T. Stephan, Attorney General of Kansas, Frank J. Kelley, Attorney General of Michigan, Warren R. Spannaus, Attorney General of Minnesota, William A. Allain, Attorney General of Mississippi, John Ashcroft, Attorney General of Missouri, and Paul Robert Otto and John M. Morris, Assistant Attorneys General, Gregory H. Smith, Acting Attorney General of New Hampshire, Robert Abrams, Attorney General of New York, Rufus L. Edmisten, Attorney General of North Carolina, Allen I. Olson, Attorney General of North Dakota, William J. Brown, Attorney General of Ohio, James M. Brown, Attorney General of Oregon, Harvey Bartle III, Attorney General of Pennsylvania, Daniel R. McLeod, Attorney General of South Carolina, Mark V. Mierhenry, Attorney General of South Dakota, William M. Leech, Jr., Attorney General of Tennessee, Robert B. Hansen, Attorney General of Utah, Chancey H. Browning, Attorney General of West Virginia, and John D. Troughton, Attorney General of Wyoming; for the State of Hawaii by Wayne Minami, Attorney General, and James H. Dannenberg, Deputy Attorney General; for Americans for Effective Law Enforcement, Inc., et al. by Fred E. Inbau, Wayne W. Schmidt, Frank G. Carrington, Jr., James P. Manak, and Theodore L. Sendak, Attorney General of Indiana; for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts by Francis X. Bellotti, Attorney General, and Roberta Thomas Brown, Assistant Attorney General; for the State of Texas by Mark White, Attorney General, John W. Fainter, Jr., First Assistant Attorney General, Richard E. Gray III, Executive Assistant Attorney General, and Barbara C. Marquardt, Assistant Attorney General; and for the State of New Jersey by John J. Degnan, Attorney General, Stephen Skillman, Assistant Attorney General, and Joseph T. Maloney and George W. Fisher, Jr., Deputy Attorneys General.
Gary H. Palm filed a brief for the Edwin F. Mandel Legal Aid Clinic as amicus curiae urging affirmance.

"We have... 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…

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 tortuous loss at the hands of the State. 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, it contains no provisions for punitive damages, and there is no right to a trial by jury. Although the state remedies may not provide the respondent with all the relief which may have been available if he could have proceeded under §1983, that does not mean that the state remedies are not adequate to satisfy the requirements of due process. The remedies provided could have fully compensated the respondent for the property loss he suffered, and we hold that they are sufficient to satisfy the requirements of due process….

Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed."

Held: the judgment is reversed.
Justice Vote: 8 Pro vs. 1 Con

  • Rehnquist, W. Pro (Wrote majority opinion)
  • Burger, W. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Brennan, W. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Stevens, J. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Stewart, P. Pro (Wrote concurring opinion)
  • White, B. Pro (Wrote concurring opinion)
  • Blackmun, H. Pro (Wrote concurring opinion)
  • Powell, L. Pro (Wrote concurring opinion)
  • Marshall, T. Con (Wrote dissenting opinion concurring in part)

The ACLU filed as amicus arguing dismissal; the US Supreme Court reversed the ruling of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in an 8-1 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent win.