Minneci v. Pollard

PETITIONER: Margaret Minneci, et al.
RESPONDENT: Richard Lee Pollard, et al.
LOCATION: Taft Correctional Institution

DOCKET NO.: 10-1104
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2010-2016)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 565 US (2012)
GRANTED: May 16, 2011
ARGUED: Nov 01, 2011
DECIDED: Jan 10, 2012

Jonathan S. Franklin - for the petitioners
John F. Preis - for the respondents
Pratik A. Shah - Assistant to the Solicitor Gen­ eral, Department of Justice, for United States, as amicus curiae, supporting the petitioner

Facts of the case

Richard Lee Pollard, an inmate at a federal prison run by the private company GEO Group, slipped on a cart left in a doorway and injured both elbows. As GEO employees were preparing to transport him to an outside orthopedic clinic, he said they made him wear a jumpsuit and a "black box" wrist restraint, despite his claim that both would cause him excruciating pain. Pollard sued GEO and its employees for allegedly violating his Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment.

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California dismissed Pollard's suit. On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed, concluding that the Supreme Court recognized an implied cause of action for injury caused by "a federal agent acting under his authority."


Can employees of private prison operators be sued for violating the constitutional rights of inmates?

Media for Minneci v. Pollard

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 01, 2011 in Minneci v. Pollard

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - January 10, 2012 in Minneci v. Pollard

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

Justice Breyer has our opinion this morning in Case 10-1104, Minneci versus Pollard.

Stephen G. Breyer:

A famous case called Bivens versus Six Unknown Fed. Narcotics Agents, this Court held that a federal agent’s violation of the Fourth Amendment gives rise to a cause of action for damages against a federal government employee, namely, the one who violated the Fourth Amendment and caused some harm.

Subsequently, this Court held that a government employee's violation of the Eighth Amendment and sometimes the Fifth Amendment can also give rise to a cause of action for damages against the government employee.

But the Court has also held in various other circumstances, the Eighth Amendment, the Fifth Amendment, the First Amendment do not give rise to a Bivens type action for damages.

Well, the question before us is whether a prisoner can bring a Bivens action for damages when the prisoner seeks to bring an Eighth Amendment claim based upon prison officials' deliberate indifference to the harm caused by their improper medical care, he says that violates the Eighth Amendment, and when the prisoner brings that claim not against a government employee but against a private employee of a private company that manages a federal prison.

We conclude that in these circumstances, he cannot, not.

We cannot read the Constitution as providing a Bivens remedy in those circumstances.

Our basic reason is that in this kind of case, the prisoner does not really need this kind of federal remedy for a state tort law provides the prisoner with an adequate remedy.

In an earlier case, Wilkie v. Robbins, we said that we would decide whether to imply a Bivens action from the Constitution through a two-step test.

The first step, we said, consists of asking whether any alternative existing process for protecting a constitutional interest amounts to a convincing reason for the Judicial Branch to refrain from providing a new and freestanding damage remedy, i.e., the Bivens action.

In this instance, we stop at that first step.

State tort law provides this prisoner with a damage remedy for the kinds of injury that he claims he suffered.

The existence of that remedy in the circumstance should deter constitutional violation.

It should also provide adequate compensation to the victim and we are aware of no special reasons to imply the existence of an additional Bivens remedy and so, we don’t do so.

We explain our reasons in greater detail in our opinion.

We discuss the contrary arguments and we leave for a future day, the determination of whether we should imply a Bivens remedy should there arise other First -- Eighth Amendment cases which unlike the cases of the kind before us, state tort law does not provide so adequate a remedy.

We reverse the contrary determination by the Ninth Circuit.

Justice Scalia has filed a concurring opinion joined by Justice Thomas, and Justice Ginsburg has filed a dissenting opinion.