LOCATION: York County Court
DOCKET NO.: 00-860
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
CITATION: 534 US 61 (2001)
ARGUED: Oct 01, 2001
DECIDED: Nov 27, 2001
Carter G. Phillips - Argued the cause for the petitioner
Jeffrey A. Lamken - Argued the cause for the United States, as amicus curiae, by special leave of court, supporting the petitioner
Steven Pasternak - Argued the cause for the respondent
Facts of the case
In 1993, John E. Malesko was assigned to a bedroom on the fifth floor of the Le Marquis Community Correctional Center, a facility that houses federal inmates run by the Correctional Services Corporation (CSC) under contract with the Bureau of Prisons. After CSC instituted a policy requiring inmates residing below the sixth floor to use the stairs rather than the elevator, Malesko, who was afflicted with a heart condition limiting his ability to climb stairs, was exempted form the policy. When a CSC employee did not let Malesko use the elevator, he climbed the stairs, suffered a heart attack, and fell. Subsequently, Malesko filed a suit, alleging that CSC was negligence in refusing him the use of the elevator. Under Bivens v. Six Unknown Fed. Narcotics Agents, 403 U.S. 388, in which the U.S. Supreme Court recognized for the first time an implied private action for damages against federal officers alleged to have violated a citizen's constitutional rights, the District Court dismissed the suit, finding that such an action may only be maintained against individuals. In reversing, the Court of Appeals reasoned that such private entities should be held liable under Bivens to accomplish Bivens' goal of providing a remedy for constitutional violations.
Should the implied private action for damages against federal officers alleged to have violated a citizen's constitutional rights, first recognized in Bivens v. Six Unknown Fed. Narcotics Agents, 403 U.S. 388, be extended to allow recovery against a private corporation operating a halfway house under contract with the Bureau of Prisons?
Media for Correctional Services Corporation v. MaleskoAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 01, 2001 in Correctional Services Corporation v. Malesko
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - November 27, 2001 in Correctional Services Corporation v. Malesko
William H. Rehnquist:
I have the opinion of the Court to announce in two cases.
The first is No. 00-860 Correctional Services Corporation against Malesko.
Correctional Services Corporation has a contract with the Bureau of Prisons to operate a facility in New York city that houses federal inmates.
The respondent is a former federal inmate afflicted with a heart condition limiting his ability to climb stairs.
In the course of serving a prison sentence for federal security’s fraud, respondent was transferred to Le Marquis which is the name of this facility where he was assigned a bedroom on the fifth floor.
Shortly, after his arrival there, the company instituted a policy requiring inmates residing below the sixth floor to use the stairs rather than the elevator.
Our respondent was exempted from this policy on account of his heart condition, but when a CSC employee forbade respondent to use the elevator to reach his bedroom, he had to climb the stairs, he suffered a heart attack and fell.
And he then filed an action for money damages against CSC the corporation which the district court dismissed.
The Court of Appeals reversed the district court and allowed the respondent’s suit to proceed under our 1971 decision Bivens versus Six Unknown Federal Narcotics Agents.
In an opinion filed with the Clerk of the Court today, we reversed that decision.
In Bivens, we recognized for the first time an implied private action for money damages against federal officers who commit unconstitutional acts.
We have extended this holding only twice.
Both times to provide a cause of action against individual officers for plaintiffs who lacked an alternative remedy.
This is clearly not the situation here.
The respondent is suing an entity, not an individual and makes this case quite similar to our recent decision in FDIC versus Meyer in which we held that Bivens does not provide a cause of action against a federal agency that is otherwise amenable to sue.
We confirmed in Meyer that the purpose of Bivens is to deter unconstitutional acts of individual federal officers and reasoned that the deterrent effects of the Bivens remedy would be lost if we were to provide a parallel action against the individual’s employer.
On the logic of Meyer, inferring a constitutional tort remedy here against the company that is running the facility in New York it seems foreclosed.
Second, the claimant’s in respondent’s shoes do not lack alternative remedies.
The respondent admits that alternative remedies such as a tort remedy under state law administrative remedies adopted by the Bureau of Prisons are at least as great in many respects greater than anything that Bivens might provide.
Finally, no federal prisoner whether housed in a private or public facility enjoys respondent’s contemplated remedy.
Inmates housed in BOP facilities may sue an offending individual officer for money damages under Bivens, but no right of action lies against the officer’s employer, the BOP or the United States.
Whether it makes sense to impose asymmetrical liability cost on private facilities alone is a question thus lasts for Congress to decide.
Justice Scalia has filed a concurring opinion in which Justice Thomas joins; Justice Stevens has filed a dissenting opinion in which Justices Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer join.