Christopher v. Harbury, 536 U.S. 403, 2 (2002)

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underlying claim is an element that must be described in the complaint as though it were being independently pursued; and that, when the access claim (like this one) looks backward, the complaint must identify a remedy that may be awarded as recompense but not otherwise available in some suit that may yet be brought. The underlying cause of action and its lost remedy must be addressed by allegations in the complaint sufficient to give the defendant fair notice. The facts of this case underscore the need for care in stating a tenable predicate cause of action. The alleged acts were apparently taken in the conduct of foreign relations by the National Government, and any judicial enquiry will raise concerns for the separation of powers in trenching on matters committed to the other branches. Since the need to resolve such constitutional issues should be avoided where possible, the trial court should be in a position as soon as possible to know whether a constitutional ruling may be obviated because the denied access allegations fail to state a claim. Pp. 412-418.

(b) Harbury's complaint did not come even close to stating a constitutional denial-of-access claim upon which relief could be granted. It did not identify the underlying cause of action that the alleged disruption had compromised, leaving the District Court and the defendants to guess as to the unstated action supposedly lost and at the remedy being sought independently of relief that might be available on the complaint's other counts. Harbury's position did not improve when the Court of Appeals gave her counsel an opportunity at oral argument to supply the missing allegations. He stated that she would have brought an action for intentional infliction of emotional distress as one wrong for which she could have sought the injunctive relief that might have saved her husband's life. But that does not satisfy the requirement that a backward-looking denial-of-access claim provide a remedy that could not be obtained on an existing claim, for the complaint's counts naming the CIA defendants, including the Guatemalan officer who allegedly tortured and killed her husband, are among the tort claims that survived the motion to dismiss in the District Court. Harbury can seek damages and possibly some sort of injunctive relief for the consequences of the infliction of emotional distress alleged in those counts, although she cannot obtain the order that might have saved her husband's life. But neither can she obtain such an order in her access claim, which therefore cannot recompense her for the unique loss she claims as a consequence of her inability to bring an intentional-infliction action earlier. Pp. 418-422.

233 F. 3d 596, reversed and remanded.

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