Daniels v. Williams

LOCATION: Nassau County School Board

DOCKET NO.: 84-5872
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

CITATION: 474 US 327 (1986)
ARGUED: Nov 06, 1985
DECIDED: Jan 21, 1986

James Walter Hopper - on behalf of the Respondent
Stephen Allan Saltzburg - on behalf of the petitioner -- rebuttal
Stephen Allan Saltzbug - on behalf of the Petitioner

Facts of the case


Media for Daniels v. Williams

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 06, 1985 in Daniels v. Williams

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments next in Daniels against Williams.

Mr. Saltzburg, you may proceed whenever you are ready.

Stephen Allan Saltzburg:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

I must begin by confessing that the facts of this case are much less exciting than the two cases previously heard by the Court.

Indeed, the facts are quite simple.

A state prisoner in Virginia, a prisoner in the Richmond City Jail to be exact, filed a suit in Federal District Court alleging that he was injured while he was incarcerated in the Richmond City Jail.

And, he alleged specifically that he slipped on a pillow which was on some newspapers on the stairs in the jail.

Warren E. Burger:

So, it is a negligence case, is it?

Stephen Allan Saltzburg:

Mr. Chief Justice, it sounds like a negligence case and both parties have treated it as such.

The facts hardly look like facts that would support a federal action or a case that this Court should spend its time on, but, in fact, this case and these facts really are a messenger of major issue and how the Court decides that issue will be of great importance to everyone incarcerated in any jail or prison in any state in this country.

And, that issue, simply put, is whether or not persons who are incarcerated have a right to be cared for, have their persons protected by those who have been entrusted with their safety.

Byron R. White:

So, you think you are talking just about prisons?

Stephen Allan Saltzburg:

Justice White, yes.

Byron R. White:

All right.

Stephen Allan Saltzburg:

Not only yes, but a very important part of our argument will be that the reason why we urge that there was a duty upon the state to provide some kind of compensation for a prisoner who can prove that he was, in fact, injured while in custody is that is part of the due process of law the person is entitled to when he is incarcerated as a person may be under the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments.

The Court of Appeals sitting en banc decided three questions, all adverse to the Petitioner.

It decided by a five to four vote that this Court's decision in Parratt v. Taylor which had held that a prisoner could bring a suit seeking compensation for a negligent deprivation of property, as long as there was no meaningful state remedy, that Parratt did not apply to liberty interest, did not apply to injuries to the person, and that a prisoner had no right to sue in federal court for injuries to his person even if no state remedy were available.

An unanimous Court of Appeals, nine-zero, held that Parratt... another holding, that the Parratt case ought to apply to liberty and property interests, meaning that even if it were wrong concerning protection of the person, that if a meaningful remedy were available in state court that for this kind of injury a prisoner could not sue in federal court under 1983.

Finally, a six to three split on the court held that there was a meaningful remedy in state court.

This afternoon I would like to concede at the outset one of the major points decided by the Court of Appeals.

We do not quarrel with the holding of the Court of Appeals, the nine to nothing holding, which is Parratt applies in cases in which a prisoner is claiming that he was injured as a result of the tortious conduct of a safety officer while in custody and whether that tort is negligence or an intentional tort, not an independent violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.

But, we concede that the Parratt reasoning ought to apply, if, indeed, a meaningful remedy were available in state court for this Petitioner, this Petitioner ought not to be able to proceed with the Section 1983 action.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Mr. Saltzburg, can you explain why you think the drafters of the Fourteenth Amendment were concerned with possible state law negligence actions by state officers?

Stephen Allan Saltzburg:

Yes, Justice O'Connor.

Perhaps I can explain or answer that best this way.

The drafters of the Fourteenth Amendment and of the 1866 and 1871 Civil Rights statutes which enforced the Fourteenth Amendment plainly had in mind, as this Court has noted several times in the legislative history cited in Monroe v. Pape and Mitchum versus Foster, that one of the evils that gave rise to the Fourteenth Amendment and the Civil Rights statutes was the problem of law enforcement officers, sheriffs as well as courts, failing to do what was necessary to protect people in their--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Well, failing to act consciously by reference to the word "deprive", don't we have to look at that word in the clause and inquire whether the ordinary meaning of the word "deprive" means an intentional rather than a unintentional kind of an act or discrimination?

Stephen Allan Saltzburg:

--Justice O'Connor, there are two answers that I would like to give you to that.

One is the Court has looked at the meaning of the word v. Taylor and the majority of the Court, in Justice Rehnquist's opinion, said that in the context of a $23.50 hobby kit which had been lost that the prisoner was deprived of liberty within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Harry A. Blackmun:

By a negligent act?