Parratt v. Taylor is among the most puzzling Supreme Court decisions of the last decade, and the lower federal courts have been thrown into considerable confusion in their efforts to implement it. In large part, this confusion stems from the fact that Parratt decided two independent points: first, the negligent loss or destruction of property by state officials could constitute a "deprivation" thereof for purposes of the due process clause of the fourteenth amendment; and second, the existence of an adequate state remedy to redress the wrong meant that the deprivation was not "without due process of law." In this Comment, I hope to show that this second, or "state action," holding contradicts long-embedded understandings of when a denial of due process occurs for fourteenth amendment purposes.
The state action issue remains important even after this term's decision in Daniels v. Williams. Daniels expressly overruled Parratt's first holding. In Daniels, the Court held that, ordinarily, negligently inflicted injuries to "liberty" and "property" are not the kind of "deprivations" with which the due process clause is concerned. But Daniels left undisturbed Parratt's state action theory. Indeed, the Daniels Court cited with approval Hudson v. Palmer, which had extended Parratt's state action holding to intentional deprivations of property by state officials.
Parratt's state action theory is best seen in a larger context. Parratt is one part of an ongoing effort by the Supreme Court, particularly Justice Rehnquist, to reorient fourteenth amendment jurisprudence. The goal is to keep the lower federal courts out of the business of monitoring the routine day-to-day administration of state government in areas that only marginally implicate constitutional values. Philosophically, this development embodies a belief that a clear distinction can be drawn between constitutional violations and state law wrongs. Linguistically, it stresses a close parsing of section 1983 and the due process clause. Analytically, it generates two decisional lines: cases like Board of Regents v. Roth and Paul v. Davis narrow the domain of constitutionally protected "liberty" and "property," while decisions like Daniels v. Williams and Parratt v. Taylor limit the state action that constitutes a "deprivation" or a "denial of due process" of interests admittedly entitled to constitutional protection.
Henry P. Monaghan,
State Law Wrongs, State Law Remedies, and the Fourteenth Amendment,
Colum. L. Rev.
Available at: https://scholarship.law.columbia.edu/faculty_scholarship/157