The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jose A. Cabranes, Circuit Judge:
Before: CABRANES, RAGGI, and CARNEY, Circuit Judges.
Plaintiff-appellant Bryan Sousa, a former employee at the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, claims that he failed to prevail in a prior employment-related suit because of false statements and deliberate omissions in an investigative report issued by defendant-appellee Devin J. Marquez, a staff attorney at the Connecticut Department of Administrative Services. Sousa brings this "right of access" suit against Marquez on the theory that Marquez's actions "caused the loss . . . of [his] meritorious case." Christopher v. Harbury, 536 U.S. 403, 414 (2002).
We reject Sousa's argument on two grounds. First, even assuming that so-called "backward looking" right-of-access claims are viable in this Circuit, such claims cannot proceed if the plaintiff, asserting that the government concealed or manipulated relevant facts, was aware of the key facts at issue at the time of the earlier lawsuit. A plaintiff with knowledge of the crucial facts and an opportunity to rebut opposing evidence does have adequate access to a judicial remedy. Second, the District Court's opinion in the prior suit demonstrates that the Court did not rely on statements or omissions in Marquez's report, and therefore Sousa has not shown that Marquez's purported actions caused a violation of his rights.
The question presented is whether a suit based on a state governmental official's purported concealment or "manipulation" of relevant facts in the course of a prior civil suit can form the basis of a subsequent federal suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging a denial of access to court where the plaintiff was aware at the time of the earlier lawsuit of the facts giving rise to his claim. We hold that "backward-looking" access-to-court claims are not cognizable when the plaintiff had knowledge of the crucial facts and an opportunity to rebut opposing evidence, because such a plaintiff necessarily had adequate access to a judicial remedy.
Plaintiff-appellant Bryan Sousa worked at the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection ("DEP") from 1987 to 2005. During that time, Sousa alleged that he experienced threats of violence at work. His complaints led to four investigations. In August 2004, the Connecticut Department of Administrative Services ("DAS") assigned defendant-appellee Devin Marquez--a DAS staff attorney--to conduct one of these investigations. Marquez interviewed Sousa and other DEP employees and then issued reports concluding that workplace violence had not occurred at DEP.
Sousa then sued various DEP employees alleging retaliation under the First Amendment, violation of the Equal Protection Clause, and various state-law tort claims. The District Court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants in 2007, Sousa v. Roque, No. 3:05-cv-00822 (JCH), 2007 WL 1100318 (D. Conn. April 10, 2007), but we reversed with respect to Sousa's retaliation claim, explaining that our precedent was "at odds with the District Court's conclusion that Sousa's speech did not address a matter of public concern solely because he was motivated by employment grievances," Sousa v. Roque, 578 F.3d 164, 166 (2d Cir. 2009). On remand, the District Court adopted our suggestion that it "may wish to assume arguendo that Sousa's statements did touch on a matter of public concern, and proceed straight to Pickering balancing." Id. at 175 n.8 (internal quotation marks omitted). Applying the balancing test under Pickering v. Board of Education of Township High School District 205, Will County, Illinois, 391 U.S. 563 (1968), the District Court held that "there is no issue of material fact as to whether Sousa's 'interest in free comment is outweighed by the State's interest in the efficiency of its public services.'" Sousa v. Roque, 712 F. Supp. 2d 34, 46 (D. Conn. 2010) (quoting Sousa v. Roque, 578 F.3d at 175 n.8 (internal quotation marks omitted)). On appeal, we affirmed.*fn1 See Sousa v. Roque, 410 F. App'x 411 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 132 S. Ct. 104 (2011). In the present case--which is distinct from the previously mentioned suits--Sousa alleges that Marquez "discovered and concealed strong evidence in favor of [Sousa's] contention that workplace violence was a serious and ongoing problem at the DEP and had chosen not to interview other witnesses who would have testified to the same effect." Appellant's Br. 12. Sousa's claim relies in large part on information gleaned from Marquez's investigation notes, which Sousa obtained pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act. Based on the alleged intentional omissions in Marquez's reports, Sousa claims that Marquez violated his constitutional right of access to courts. In short, he argues that Marquez's skewed findings undercut his otherwise meritorious claims.
On January 4, 2012, the District Court granted Marquez's motion for summary judgment. The Court explained that Sousa could not demonstrate a violation of his right of access because its prior decisions had relied on "Sousa's deposition and affidavit" and "Roque's Rule 56 Statement of Facts"--not on Marquez's reports. Sousa v. Marquez, No. 3:07-cv-01787 (JCH), 2012 WL 3727618, at *3 (D. Conn. Jan. 4, 2012). The Court stated that it was "puzzled" by Sousa's allegation because "the court's Ruling does not reference either of Marquez's reports at all." *fn2 Id.
On appeal, Sousa argues that the District Court erred by considering only its 2010 decision without also considering its 2007 decision. In particular, Sousa asserts that "the second ruling [in 2010] quoted from and relied upon the parts of the first ruling [in 2007] which had been based on the defendant's fraudulent report." Appellant's Br. 18. Sousa further argues that the District Court should not have adjudicated the present dispute at all because the judge "inevitably was in the position of deciding upon her own state of mind in deciding Sousa v. Roque." Id. at 19. DISCUSSION
Summary judgment is appropriate "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). "We review de novo the district court's grant of summary judgment, drawing all factual inferences in favor of the non-moving party." ...