CHRISTOPHER v. HARBURY

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Case Basics
Docket No. 
01-394
Petitioner 
Christopher
Respondent 
Harbury
Advocates
(Argued the cause for the petitioners)
(Argued the cause for the respondent)
(Argued the cause for the United States, as amicus curiae, supporting the petitioners)
Tags
Term:
Facts of the Case 

Jennifer Harbury, a United States citizen, is the widow of Efrain Bamaca- Velasquez, a Guatemalan rebel leader. Harbury alleged that Government officials intentionally deceived her in concealing information that her husband had been executed by Guatemalan army officers paid by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Harbury also alleged that this deception denied her access to the courts by leaving her without information, or reason to seek information, with which she could have brought a lawsuit that might have saved her husband's life. Harbury filed suit, listing 28 causes of action, for the violation of her constitutional right of access to courts. With respect to the access-to-courts counts, the District Court held that Harbury had not stated a valid cause of action. Given that she had not filed a prior suit, the court reasoned that she could only guess how the alleged cover-up might have prejudiced her rights to bring a separate action and that the defendants would be entitled to qualified immunity. The Court of Appeals reversed only the dismissal of one of Harbury's claims for denial of access to courts.

Question 

Does the charge that an official deception denied a plaintiff access to the courts by leaving her without information or reason to seek information, with which she could have brought a lawsuit, state an actionable claim?

Conclusion 
Decision: 9 votes for Christopher, 0 vote(s) against
Legal provision:

No. In a 9-0 opinion delivered by Justice David H. Souter, the Court held that Harbury had not stated a claim for denial of judicial access. The Court reasoned that Harbury's complaint failed to identify the underlying cause of action for relief that she would have raised had it not been for the alleged deception. Moreover, the Court noted that Harbury's informal amendment accepted by the Court of Appeals failed to seek any relief presently available for denial of access to courts that would be unavailable otherwise. "It is true that [Harbury] cannot obtain in any present tort action the order she would have sought before her husband's death, the order that might have saved her husband's life. But neither can she obtain any such order on her access claim, which therefore cannot recompense Harbury for the unique loss she claims as a consequence of her inability to bring an intentional-infliction action earlier," wrote Justice Souter. Justice Clarence Thomas concurred in the judgment.

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CHRISTOPHER v. HARBURY. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 10 November 2014. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2001/2001_01_394>.
CHRISTOPHER v. HARBURY, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2001/2001_01_394 (last visited November 10, 2014).
"CHRISTOPHER v. HARBURY," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed November 10, 2014, http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2001/2001_01_394.