Christopher v. Harbury, 536 U.S. 403, 16 (2002)

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Opinion of the Court

edy available under the access claim and presently unique to it.


Under these standards, Harbury's complaint did not come even close to stating a constitutional claim for denial of access upon which relief could be granted. While we cannot read the complaint without appreciating Harbury's anguish, neither can we read it without appreciating the position of the District Judge who described Harbury's various requests for relief as "nearly unintelligible." App. to Pet. for Cert. 32a. Although the counts stating the Bivens claim for denial of judicial access seemed to confirm that Harbury intended to state a backward-looking claim, the complaint failed to identify the underlying cause of action that the alleged deception had compromised, going no further than the protean allegation that the State Department and NSC defendants' "false and deceptive information and concealment foreclosed Plaintiff from effectively seeking adequate legal redress." App. 50 (¶ 175). The District Court and the defendants were left to guess at the unstated cause of action supposed to have been lost, and at the remedy being sought independently of relief that might be available on the 24 other counts set out in the complaint.

Nothing happened in the Court of Appeals to improve Harbury's position. That court, too, was frustrated by the failure to identify the predicate claim and the need for relief otherwise unattainable,16 but it gave Harbury's counsel an opportunity at oral argument to supply the missing allega-16 The court repeatedly pressed counsel to identify the underlying claim. See Lodging for United States as Amicus Curiae Supporting Petitioners 7, 19, 44, 47 (respectively, "Now what would that [predicate] lawsuit have looked like? . . . Can you explain what that lawsuit would look like? . . . [A]ccess to do what[?] . . . And what would that lawsuit have looked like?" (Tr. of Proceedings in Harbury v. Deutch, No. 99-5307 (Sept. 8, 2000))).

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