Davidson v. Cannon

LOCATION: Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare

DOCKET NO.: 84-6470
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

CITATION: 474 US 344 (1986)
ARGUED: Nov 06, 1985
DECIDED: Jan 21, 1986

Charles Fried - as amicus curiae, in support of Respondents
James Douglas Crawford - on behalf of the Petitioner
Madeleine W. Mansier - on behalf of Respondents

Facts of the case


Media for Davidson v. Cannon

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 06, 1985 in Davidson v. Cannon

Warren E. Burger:

Mr. Crawford, I think you may proceed when you are ready.

James Douglas Crawford:

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

I filed a reply brief in support of the petition of certiorari for Robert Davidson because I anticipated two questions that this Court might address in the Daniels case.

I asked that the cases be set down together.

The Court saw fit to do so.

Those two questions were the question of damages which might happen in some non-prison context, damages common to the non-prison context, and the question of whether the immunity was clear.

What makes the Davidson case a good solution or a good vehicle for the Court to solve those questions is that Robert Davidson was injured when prison officials negligently failed to look into his suggestion that another prisoner was going to attack him.

The prisoner did, indeed, attack him and injured him seriously, plainly a prison negligent situation not otherwise common.

It is also clear that in New Jersey there is simply no liability whatever when... to either a public entity or an official for an injury caused to one prisoner by another.

That would also be true, one inmate of a psychiatric institution to another, that sort of situation.

Accordingly, although I think that the Daniels case and the argument which you have heard in it solves the problems that face me and that perhaps this argument was unnecessary, I do want to address those issues and some other related issues which make this case a clear case in which the rules which this Court announced, I thought with unquestioned clarity in Parratt versus Taylor and in Palmer versus Hudson, apply here.

Indeed, I am intrigued with the theory that somehow losing a hobby kit or stealing a couple of papers from a prisoner's cell plainly implicates the Fourteenth Amendment.

There is a deprivation of property there, but when a prisoner's face is repeatedly gouged with a fork so that the prisoner suffers damages which Judge Brotman thought could be compensated at $2,000 and which I am sure that is minimal compensation, that that is not a deprivation of liberty interest.

I am intrigued particularly by Justice Stevens' question as to whether we are talking about substantive or procedural due process.

And, I believe we are talking procedural due process but in a peculiar sense.

I think that prisoners, because of their circumstance, perhaps have a substantive right to procedural due process that is meaningful.

And, I say that because you work from a situation in which the prisoner has a right, not just from South v. Maryland, but from English and American cases stretching back well before the Constitution and coming forth in cases like Youngberg versus Romeo, where you recognize that people in custody simply are dependent upon their custodians, and because a prisoner at least, probably someone in a sheriff's care or in a psychiatric or institution for the retarded, can't do the things the rest of us do to protect ourselves from attacks by other prisoners.

I assume... The first thing I do is I run.

Maybe before I run I went out and I bought insurance to protect me from various things that might threaten me.

If I felt it was wise to do so, I might buy a weapon.

I suppose I could hire a guard.

I could certainly fight back and nobody is going to say to me you are one of two prisoners who is going to be put in solitary confinement for fighting.

So, there are a lot of things that I do or you do or anyone in this courtroom does to protect against threats of attack from others.

They are not open to prisoners.

And, for that reason, it is clear that, just as the state must make some kind of a meaningful remedy available for lost hobby kits that come through the mail, that the state certainly must have some sort of a procedure that says when prison authorities are warned that one prisoner is going to attack another prisoner and they forget to do anything about it, the prisoner can look to relief from the court system.

Normally what you do, and I think the civilized... That is unfair to New Jersey.

What you would do in those states which do not have extreme sovereign immunity doctrines, states which haven't done what New Jersey did, and Judge Gibbons, an opinion that is full of learned language and obscure ideas, says what is peculiar to the New Jersey sovereign immunity statute is that it is introduced with a clause that says you can't give the state a duty to do everything.

Sovereign immunity isn't here because we are going to absolve the state from liability.

In New Jersey peculiarly we actually absolve the state from duties.

And, it seems to me that if the Fourteenth Amendment did nothing else, it gave the state a duty to protect life, liberty, and property and says that a state cannot deprive anyone of those without due process of law.