retrieve prisoner property, Britton's action was unauthorized, unpredictable, and random (although not unique, since she is alleged to have done the same thing with other prisoners' property). Because of that, there is no conceivable way that the District could fashion a hearing to prevent her from doing what she did.
When the District cannot reasonably anticipate due process violations, post-deprivation remedies -- such as recourse to an adequate local law claim -- are sufficient. In this case, an entirely adequate District of Columbia post-deprivation procedure was available to Crawford-El for the recovery of his loss. He could have brought an action for damages in the District of Columbia courts alleging that the city or its officers did negligent or intentional harm to his property.
The pleadings in this case do not reflect that he brought such an action in the District of Columbia courts.
Because the District of Columbia courts afforded him an adequate proceeding in which he could have recovered his loss, and because Britton's random and unauthorized diversion of his property could not have been prevented with a pre-deprivation hearing, this half of Crawford-El's procedural due process claim shall be dismissed.
The other half of Crawford-El's procedural due process claim challenges the District's practice of withholding prisoners' possessions -- including their legal materials -- for lengthy periods of time during prisoner transfers. This half of the claim shall also be dismissed, but for a different reason.
Parratt does not dispose of this withholding claim as it disposed of the diversion claim. Instead of challenging one random and unauthorized act, Crawford-El's withholding claim alleges a general failure to provide procedural safeguards to prevent foreseeable avoidable harms authorized by the District. Crawford-El alleges (and the District does not dispute) that when he was transferred, there was a foreseeable risk that he would be separated from his legal materials while one of his cases was pending or contemplated. He also alleges that this risk could have been avoided by a pre-deprivation hearing, and that when Britton withheld his property, she was exercising power delegated to her from the District to do so.
In such a case, the mere existence of adequate post-deprivation remedies is not sufficient to dismiss the claim. See Zinermon, 494 U.S. at 136, 136-38 (permitting procedural due process claim to go forward, despite existence of adequate state remedies, where deprivation was alleged to have been predictable, avoidable through pre-deprivation procedures, and authorized).
Since the withholding claim cannot be easily dismissed under Parratt, the task becomes determining whether any process is due, and how much. Procedural due process "is a flexible concept that varies with the particular situation." Zinermon, 494 U.S. 113 at 127. The particularized inquiry of determining how much process is due in a given situation is governed by three factors:
First, the private interest that will be affected by the official action; second, the risk of an erroneous deprivation of such interest through the procedures used, and the probable value, if any, of additional or substitute procedural safeguards; and finally, the Government's interest, including the function involved and the fiscal and administrative burdens that the additional or substitute procedural requirement would entail.
Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 335, 47 L. Ed. 2d 18, 96 S. Ct. 893 (1976). A weighing of the three factors in this case shows that the District's interest in securing a safe and efficient system of prisoner transfers far outweighs prisoners' interest in possessing their property, given the very slight added value that a pre-deprivation hearing would provide.
Prisoners like Crawford-El, of course, have an interest in their possessions, and in some possessions they have a stronger interest than others. They have an especially high interest in their legal materials that are necessary to pursue pending or contemplated litigation. To deprive prisoners of legal materials entirely might frustrate their ability to pursue litigation, jeopardizing their constitutional right to court access. It would be just as unconstitutional as unjustifiedly requiring Jewish inmates to surrender every yarmulke or other head covering during transfers frustrating the "First Amendment right to fulfill one of the traditional obligations of a male Orthodox Jew -- to cover his head before an omnipresent God."
By contrast, prisoners have a much lesser interest in their possessions that have nothing to do with the exercise of constitutional rights. Crawford-El may have a strong interest in possessing his legal materials, but he has a far weaker interest in possessing the underwear and tennis shoes that were packaged in his shipped boxes.
The second prong of the Mathews analysis requires examining the degree to which a pre-withholding hearing would prevent wrongful deprivations of prisoner property. A pre-withholding hearing would not add much to the redress already available to prisoners like Crawford-El. He is already free to alert the courts in which his cases are pending to the delay. He can move those courts for an extension of time until the legal materials were returned, or if necessary, he can move for an injunction ordering the District to return necessary legal materials. Such measures minimize, if not eradicate, any risk that his court access rights would actually be injured when the District withholds his legal materials.
Thirdly, the Mathews analysis requires weighing the District's need for efficiency and security in prisoner transfers. The District has a great interest in ensuring safe and efficient prisoner transfers by transferring prisoners' property separately from the prisoners themselves.
In sum, the Constitution does not require burdening the District with expensive pre-withholding hearings which would not add much to the relief prisoners already have available. Crawford-El's strong interest in possessing his legal materials is already sufficiently safeguarded by his ability to appeal to the courts handling his jeopardized cases; his negligible interest in his sneakers deserves no additional procedural safeguards.
Because the District's interests outweigh the prisoners' interests and the risk of error in this Mathews balancing test, no pre-deprivation hearing is constitutionally required before the District withholds property from prisoners. Because the District's failure to provide such a pre-withholding hearing does not amount to a constitutional violation, this half of Crawford-El's procedural due process claim shall be dismissed.
C. Substantive Due Process Claim
Crawford-El also alleges that Britton's withholding and diversion of his property violated his Fifth Amendment substantive due process "protecting property possession."
The due process clause of the Fifth Amendment, however, affords property only procedural protection, forbidding the District of Columbia from depriving any person of property without due process of law. There is no absolute, substantive right not to be alienated from one's property. See, e.g., Gilles, 676 F. Supp. at 344 (Fifth Amendment's due process clause "protects against deprivation of property without due process of law") (emphasis in original). Cf. Parratt, 451 U.S. at 537 ("Nothing in [the Fourteenth] Amendment protects against all deprivations of life, liberty, or property by the State. The Fourteenth Amendment protects only against deprivations 'without due process of law.'") (citations omitted). Crawford-El received due process before being deprived of his property (see supra (IV)(B)), and he is entitled to nothing more under the Fifth Amendment. Accordingly, his substantive due process claim shall be dismissed.
D. Common Law Claim of Conversion
Lastly, Crawford-El claims that Britton's diversion of his property outside government control to an unauthorized person constitutes conversion, and that the District of Columbia is jointly and severally liable for her act of conversion under the doctrine of respondeat superior. (Fourth Amended Complaint, at PP 46, 47.) See Fotos v. Firemen's Ins. Co., 533 A.2d 1264, 1267 (D.C. App. 1987).
Without considering the merits of this contention, this court must dismiss the claim for lack of jurisdiction. All of Crawford-El's federal claims are being dismissed, and a District law tail should not be allowed to wag the federal dog. See United Mine Workers of America v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715, 726, 16 L. Ed. 2d 218, 86 S. Ct. 1130 (1966).
Although defendants have prevailed on their motion to dismiss, this court expresses its appreciation to Crawford-El's court-appointed counsel, Daniel M. Schember, who handled this case since Britton's notice of appeal in an exemplary fashion. His pleadings before this court were well-researched and well-argued. He has performed in the highest traditions of the District of Columbia Bar.
All of Crawford-El's federal claims are dismissed, both as against Britton and as against the District of Columbia.
Crawford-El's common law claim is also dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. A separate order shall issue this date.
Royce C. Lamberth
United States District Judge
This case comes before this court on defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiff's fourth amended complaint. Having considered defendants' motion and plaintiff's opposition, defendants' motion is hereby GRANTED for the reasons set forth in an accompanying memorandum opinion. The court hereby dismisses the federal claims of plaintiff's fourth amended complaint, both as against defendant Patricia Britton and as against the District of Columbia. Crawford-El's District of Columbia law claim is also dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.
Royce C. Lamberth
United States District Judge