Wednesday, February 7, 2018
The D.C. and Ninth Circuits this week ruled in two very different cases that plaintiffs lacked claims against federal officers or agents for violations of their constitutional rights. The two rulings both rely on a well established Bivens rule, that a plaintiff lacks a Bivens remedy if alternative statutory remedies are available. As such, the rulings don't restrict Bivens because of the Supreme Court's restrictive reading of Bivens last Term in Abbasi. Still, they underscore the limited reach of Bivens.
In the D.C. case, Liff v. Office of Inspector General, a former government contractor sued the Labor Department OIG and the Office of Personnel Management for violating his due process rights after those offices published reports that allegedly caused harm to him and his business. The court held that as a government contractor he had other statutory remedies, including the Tucker Act, the Contract Disputes Act, and the agency procurement protest process under the Federal Acquisition Regulation. As to his privacy claim, the court said the Privacy Act provided relief. The court was untroubled that these remedies wouldn't make him whole: "The question is whether alternative remedies exist, not whether they cover the full breadth of harm that a would-be Bivens plaintiff alleges."
In the Ninth Circuit case, Vega v. U.S., a federal inmate sued halfway-house operators for violating his First Amendment right to access to the courts and procedural due process after they filed a disciplinary report, without evidence, that resulted in his return to federal prison. (He eventually was returned to the halfway house.) The court held that he lacked a Bivens remedy, because the Administrative Remedy Program, the Unit Discipline Committee, or state-law claims could have provided relief.