Hope v. Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730, 12 (2002)

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Cite as: 536 U. S. 730 (2002)

Opinion of the Court

earlier case expressly leaves open whether a general rule applies to the particular type of conduct at issue, a very high degree of prior factual particularity may be necessary. But general statements of the law are not inherently incapable of giving fair and clear warning, and in other instances a general constitutional rule already identified in the decisional law may apply with obvious clarity to the specific conduct in question, even though 'the very action in question has [not] previously been held unlawful,' Anderson, supra, at 640." Id., at 270-271 (citation omitted).

Our opinion in Lanier thus makes clear that officials can still be on notice that their conduct violates established law even in novel factual circumstances. Indeed, in Lanier, we expressly rejected a requirement that previous cases be "fundamentally similar." Although earlier cases involving "fundamentally similar" facts can provide especially strong support for a conclusion that the law is clearly established, they are not necessary to such a finding. The same is true of cases with "materially similar" facts. Accordingly, pursuant to Lanier, the salient question that the Court of Appeals ought to have asked is whether the state of the law in 1995 gave respondents fair warning that their alleged treatment of Hope was unconstitutional. It is to this question that we now turn.


The use of the hitching post as alleged by Hope "unnecessar[ily] and wanton[ly] inflicted pain," Whitley, 475 U. S., at 319 (internal quotation marks omitted), and thus was a clear violation of the Eighth Amendment. See Part II, supra. Arguably, the violation was so obvious that our own Eighth Amendment cases gave respondents fair warning that their conduct violated the Constitution. Regardless, in light of binding Eleventh Circuit precedent, an Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) regulation, and a DOJ report


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