Tuesday, June 20, 2017
Yesterday the Supreme Court issued its decision in Ziglar v. Abbasi, covered earlier here and here. By a 4-2 vote, the Court reversed the Second Circuit and ordered the dismissal of most of the plaintiffs’ claims that they were subjected to discriminatory and punitive treatment during their confinement following the 9/11 attacks. Justice Kennedy wrote the Opinion of the Court, joined (though not in its entirety) by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Thomas and Alito. Justice Breyer wrote a dissenting opinion, joined by Justice Ginsburg. Justices Sotomayor, Kagan, and Gorsuch took no part (Justices Sotomayor and Kagan recused themselves, and Justice Gorsuch was not on the Court at the time of oral argument). Although the cert. petitions presented three issues—Bivens, qualified immunity, and pleading standards—the bulk of the majority’s reasoning and analysis focused on Bivens.
Here are the concluding paragraphs from Justice Kennedy’s opinion:
If the facts alleged in the complaint are true, then what happened to respondents in the days following September 11 was tragic. Nothing in this opinion should be read to condone the treatment to which they contend they were subjected. The question before the Court, however, is not whether petitioners’ alleged conduct was proper, nor whether it gave decent respect to respondents’ dignity and well-being, nor whether it was in keeping with the idea of the rule of law that must inspire us even in times of crisis.
Instead, the question with respect to the Bivens claims is whether to allow an action for money damages in the absence of congressional authorization. For the reasons given above, the Court answers that question in the negative as to the detention policy claims. As to the prisoner abuse claim, because the briefs have not concentrated on that issue, the Court remands to allow the Court of Appeals to consider the claim in light of the Bivens analysis set forth above.
The question with respect to the §1985(3) claim is whether a reasonable officer in petitioners’ position would have known the alleged conduct was an unlawful conspiracy. For the reasons given above, the Court answers that question, too, in the negative.
The judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed as to all of the claims except the prisoner abuse claim against Warden Hasty. The judgment of the Court of Appeals with respect to that claim is vacated, and that case is remanded for further proceedings.
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