Hope v. Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730, 7 (2002)

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Opinion of the Court

qualified immunity issue, however, it answered the constitutional question that the District Court had bypassed. The court found that the use of the hitching post for punitive purposes violated the Eighth Amendment. Nevertheless, applying Circuit precedent concerning qualified immunity, the court stated that " 'the federal law by which the government official's conduct should be evaluated must be preexisting, obvious and mandatory,' " and established, not by " 'abstractions,' " but by cases that are " 'materially similar' " to the facts in the case in front of us." Id., at 981. The court then concluded that the facts in the two precedents on which Hope primarily relied—Ort v. White, 813 F. 2d 318 (CA11 1987), and Gates v. Collier, 501 F. 2d 1291 (CA5 1974)—"[t]hough analogous," were not " 'materially similar' to Hope's situation.' " 240 F. 3d, at 981. We granted certiorari to review the Eleventh Circuit's qualified immunity holding. 534 U. S. 1073 (2002).


The threshold inquiry a court must undertake in a qualified immunity analysis is whether plaintiff's allegations, if true, establish a constitutional violation. Saucier v. Katz, 533 U. S. 194, 201 (2001). The Court of Appeals held that "the policy and practice of cuffing an inmate to a hitching post or similar stationary object for a period of time that surpasses that necessary to quell a threat or restore order is a violation of the Eighth Amendment." 240 F. 3d, at 980- 981. The court rejected respondents' submission that Hope could have ended his shackling by offering to return to work, finding instead that the purpose of the practice was punitive,5 and that the circumstances of his confinement created

5 In reaching this conclusion, the Court of Appeals stated: "While the DOC claims that Hope would have been released from the hitching post had he asked to return to work, the evidence suggests this is not the case. First, Hope never refused to work. During the May incident, he was the victim in an altercation on the work site, but he never refused to do his

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