Signing into Heaven: Zimeron v. Burch, Federal Rights, and State Remedies Thirty Years After Monroe v. Pape

76 Pages Posted: 2 Apr 2007

See all articles by Laura E. Oren

Laura E. Oren

University of Houston Law Center


In Zinermon v. Burch (1990) a bare majority of the Supreme Court rejected a broad ruling of the Parratt v. Taylor (1981) "adequate state remedy" procedural due process doctrine. In Parratt, the Court decided that whenever a procedural due process violation was "random and unauthorized," the state may rectify the problem with a post-deprivation state tort remedy. As long as it did so, procedural due process was satisfied. This is in contradistinction to the general insight of procedural due process that any required hearing must occur before the deprivation occurs. While the Parratt contention that it is impossible to afford a pre-deprivation hearing under certain circumstances is clearly correct, improperly understood the exception in that case could swallow the more important rule. The appropriate constitutional understanding of the guarantee of fair procedure was at stake in Zinermon. Luckily, the majority of the Court recognized (albeit too cautiously) this for a man who believed that he was "signing into Heaven" when he "voluntarily" committed himself to a state mental hospital. This article argues that whenever the gist of the constitutional challenge is about prior notice and an opportunity to be heard or other aspects of fair government procedure, any default in affording them constitutes a completed procedural due process violation regardless of the availability of post-deprivation remedies.

Keywords: Zinermon v. Burch, Procedural due process, Pre-deprivation hearing, Commitment to state mental hospital, Civil Rights

Suggested Citation

Oren, Laura E., Signing into Heaven: Zimeron v. Burch, Federal Rights, and State Remedies Thirty Years After Monroe v. Pape. Emory Law Journal, Vol. 40, No. 1, 1991, U of Houston Law Center No. 2007-A-14, Available at SSRN:

Laura E. Oren (Contact Author)

University of Houston Law Center ( email )

4604 Calhoun Road
Houston, TX 77204-6060
United States

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