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Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly

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On May 18, 1981, the United States Supreme Court decided Parratt v. Taylor, one of the most significant cases brought under 42 U.S.C. section 1983 of the last decade. The suit, brought by Bert Taylor, Jr., a prisoner in a Nebraska state institution, involved the grand total of $23.50-the cost of a hobby kit that Mr. Taylor had ordered through the mails but which had been lost after it reached the Nebraska prison. It was Taylor's theory that the warden of the prison, Robert Parratt, and the "hobby manager," Francis Lugenbill, were negligent in allowing the hobby kit to be signed for by, and delivered to, persons other than Taylor, contrary to prison regulations. The regulations specifically required that the hobby materials be delivered only to the prisoner ordering them and that the prisoner sign for them upon receipt. Because Taylor was in segregation at the time the hobby kit arrived, he was not permitted to receive it nor was he in a position to sign a receipt, but two other persons (one civilian and one inmate) signed for it. The regulations apparently did not cover this situation, and Taylor claimed that the two supervisors-who knew nothing about Taylor's kit themselves-"negligently" allowed the regulations to be violated by persons under their supervision. Rather than suing the two people who signed for the kit, Taylor named only the warden and hobby manager as defendants in a section 1983 suit.



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