Christopher v. Harbury, 536 U.S. 403, 8 (2002)

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Opinion of the Court

to save her husband's life." Id., at 37 (¶ 98).3 Harbury alleged that she "was foreclosed from effectively seeking adequate legal redress." Ibid.


For failure to state a claim, the District Court dismissed all counts for declaratory and injunctive relief (counts 1-3, 6-9, 14, 16). It also dismissed all the Bivens counts: those on behalf of Bamaca's estate for his torture and execution said to have violated his Fifth Amendment due process rights (counts 4-5), and those brought on Harbury's own behalf based on the claimed violation of her constitutional rights of familial association (counts 10-13), access to courts (count 15), and free speech and access to Government (count 17). But the District Court denied the defendants' motion to dismiss the tort claims at common law (counts 18-27) and international law (count 28).

With respect to the access-to-courts claims (including Harbury's Bivens claim on this theory), the District Court acknowledged that five Courts of Appeals "have held that conspiracies to destroy or cover-up evidence of a crime that render a plaintiff's judicial remedies inadequate or ineffective violat[e] the right of access," App. to Pet. for Cert. 43a, but held that Harbury had not stated a valid cause of action for two reasons. First, the court held that Harbury's claim "would have to be dismissed" (without prejudice) because, having filed no prior suit, she had "nothing more than a guess" as to how the alleged coverup might "have prejudiced her rights to bring a separate action." Id., at 46a. Second, the District Court reasoned that the defendants in any event would be entitled to qualified immunity in their individual capacities because, unlike officials in coverup cases who destroyed, manufactured, or hid evidence, the de-3 Harbury did not allege that the State Department and NSC defendants had an affirmative duty to disclose or to provide information about her husband in response to her informal requests.

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