Christopher v. Harbury, 536 U.S. 403, 13 (2002)

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Cite as: 536 U. S. 403 (2002)

Opinion of the Court

fective vindication for a separate and distinct right to seek judicial relief for some wrong. However unsettled the basis of the constitutional right of access to courts,12 our cases rest on the recognition that the right is ancillary to the underlying claim, without which a plaintiff cannot have suffered injury by being shut out of court. We indicated as much in our most recent case on denial of access, Lewis v. Casey, supra, where we noted that even in forward-looking prisoner class actions to remove roadblocks to future litigation, the named plaintiff must identify a "nonfrivolous," "arguable" underlying claim, id., at 353, and n. 3, and we have been given no reason to treat backward-looking access claims any differently in this respect. It follows that the underlying cause of action, whether anticipated or lost, is an element that must be described in the complaint, just as much as allegations must describe the official acts frustrating the litigation. It follows, too, 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. There is, after all, no point in spending time and money to establish the facts constituting denial of access when a plaintiff would end up just as well off after litigating a simpler case without the denial-of-access element.

12 Decisions of this Court have grounded the right of access to courts in the Article IV Privileges and Immunities Clause, Chambers v. Baltimore & Ohio R. Co., 207 U. S. 142, 148 (1907); Blake v. McClung, 172 U. S. 239, 249 (1898); Slaughter-House Cases, 16 Wall. 36, 79 (1873), the First Amendment Petition Clause, Bill Johnson's Restaurants, Inc. v. NLRB, 461 U. S. 731, 741 (1983); California Motor Transport Co. v. Trucking Unlimited, 404 U. S. 508, 513 (1972), the Fifth Amendment Due Process Clause, Murray v. Giarratano, 492 U. S. 1, 11, n. 6 (1989) (plurality opinion); Walters v. National Assn. of Radiation Survivors, 473 U. S. 305, 335 (1985), and the Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection, Pennsylvania v. Finley, 481 U. S. 551, 557 (1987), and Due Process Clauses, Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U. S. 539, 576 (1974); Boddie v. Connecticut, 401 U. S. 371, 380-381 (1971).


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