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WRIGHT v. MCMANN

August 31, 1966

Lawrence William WRIGHT, Plaintiff,
v.
Daniel McMANN, as Warden of Clinton State Prison, Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: BRENNAN

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

 BRENNAN, District Judge.

 Defendant moves to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. The ultimate question here requires the determination of the legal sufficiency of the use of the Civil Rights Act as the basis of this court's jurisdiction in an action at law by a state court prisoner, based upon alleged mistreatment in the execution of punishment for breaches of rules designed to maintain prison discipline.

 This is one of the continuous flood of applications by state prisoners which seek some form of relief, from the federal courts, apparently occasioned by the expanded concept of an individual's constitutional rights as delineated in recent authoritative decisions. That the vast majority of such applications are without merit does not relieve the court from the burden imposed. Rather it creates a situation which threatens to engulf especially small two-judge district courts within whose territorial jurisdiction a large number of state prisoners are confined. Either more rigid guide lines must be furnished to such courts or the practice of a denial without memo or explanation will follow if judicial business is to be performed within a reasonably expedient time period. It is sufficient to refer to the five page opinion of Judge Hall in Roberts v. Barbosa, D.C., 227 F. Supp. 20, as an example of the type of action which prompts the above statements. In that litigation, the state-confined plaintiff, in a fifty page complaint, sought a judgment of over $2,500,000. against forty-four defendants, including jailers, judges and jurors, basing his right of recovery upon alleged encroachments upon his civil rights.

 It is noted that plaintiffs in this district, similarly situated, are no longer content with a declaration of their rights but additionally seek large money judgments apparently invoking a jury trial with its attendant expense and delay. This strategy may well be designed to avoid the requirement that state administrative remedies must be exhausted as held in United States ex rel. Wakeley v. Commonwealth of Penn., D.C., 247 F. Supp. 7 even though the literal reading of Supreme Court decisions might otherwise indicate. Under such conditions, the appointment of counsel, the procurement of witnesses and the disruption of prison routine pose practical problems where, as here, such a trial must be held at a place two hundred or more miles from plaintiff's place of confinement. The attractiveness of suing one's jailer at the expense of the Government is apparent even if the chance of recovery is small.

 In justice to the plaintiff, it should be stated that his complaint, although rather lengthy, may be said generally to be well and neatly prepared and his supporting briefs or memos indicate an understanding of the legal problems presented, together with more than the ordinary legal research to be expected from a layman. This results without doubt from plaintiff's intelligence and experience together with the acknowledged aid of the "Legal Aid Clinic" of Cornell University. Correspondence with the plaintiff also shows a definite waiver of counsel in the matter of this motion similar to plaintiff's like waiver in the Appellate Division in his appeal cited below. The pertinent background of facts is set out below.

 Plaintiff is presently confined at Clinton State Prison, a maximum security penal institution located at Dannemora, New York under a sentence of from one day to life, imposed upon his conviction by a jury verdict of three counts of sodomy, two counts of assault and carnal abuse of a child. An eleven year old boy was apparently the complainant. People v. Wright, 16 N.Y.2d 736, 262 N.Y.S.2d 113, 209 N.E.2d 728. The judgment was affirmed October 29, 1964 with a short memo. People v. Wright, 22 A.D.2d 754, 253 N.Y.S.2d 653 and by the Court of Appeals on July 9, 1965. People v. Wright, supra. The Supreme Court denied certiorari June 6, 1966. Wright v. New York, 384 U.S. 972, 86 S. Ct. 1864, 16 L. Ed. 2d 683.

 The present lengthy complaint is summarized as follows. Jurisdiction is based solely upon the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1343, 42 U.S.C §§ 1981, 1983 and 1985. Two separate incidents furnish the background for plaintiff's claim for relief. On February 18, 1965, plaintiff was confined in "solitary confinement" upon the direction of the Deputy Warden because of a violation of a prison regulation. In the course of carrying out the order, two named officers of the institution assaulted plaintiff by "slapping, striking and kicking him". Profane language was used by the officers who threatened him with violence and he was placed in a barren, dirty and unsanitary detention cell without clothing "for several days". He was required to remain standing "each time an officer appeared" from 7:30 A.M. to 10:30 P.M. and was subject to cold temperature by reason of the opening of the windows in the area "throughout the evening and night hours". Plaintiff was denied the use of law books and legal documents for six and one-half days and use thereof was limited until March 26, 1965, thereby handicapping the prosecution of pending legal proceedings. His right to attend religious services was denied as was the use of his personal prayer books for an unstated period of time. Letter complaints were written on March 18 and April 5, 1965 to various state and local officers and courts, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The action produced no results except that after investigation and interview of the plaintiff, the F.B.I. found no violation of the federal criminal law. On March 18, 1965, a verified document was submitted to this court which requested principally that a warrant issue for the arrest of the Deputy Warden on account of the facts alleged above. The application was denied March 24, 1965. Plaintiff's final allegation as to the occurrence of February 18, 1965 is to the effect that in April 1965 the defendant, in conspiracy with his subordinate officers, caused plaintiff to be confined for three days in an observation cell and subjected to psychiatric examination which resulted in a finding of "no psychosis".

 The second incident bears a marked similarity to the above. On February 10, 1966, the plaintiff was again ordered by a Deputy Warden to be subjected to confinement because of an infraction of a prison rule. The physical assault upon his person was limited to his seizure by the collar and being forced against the wall of a building. The conditions of his confinement in the detention cell are alleged as similar to those referred to above. He was deprived of the use of his legal materials for two days and was denied the right to attend religious services.

 Injunctive relief and a money judgment in the amount of $10,000. summarize the prayer for relief.

 It may be stated at this point that this court is well aware, from previous applications, of the working of prison procedures in imposing and executing the punishment of solitary confinement and segregation upon prison inmates. The court is also aware of the fact that while summary judgment may be granted in this type of action, the allegations of the complaint are subject to factual dispute by the answer and submitted affidavits. It has been determined to reject all affidavits submitted here and limit the decision to the sufficiency of the complaint and thereby avoid the necessity of the repetition of known factual conditions in each of the increasing number of similar complaints.

 Interpreting the complaint broadly, as we must, plaintiff's right to recover here appears to rest upon the contentions that he has suffered at defendant's hands, a deprivation of his constitutional rights because of the nature of the punishment imposed and the absence of procedural due process in the determination that plaintiff had in fact violated prison rules or regulations.

 Before discussing the above contentions, the apparent invocation of the conspiracy section of the Civil Rights Act will be disposed of. In paragraphs 13 and 28 of the complaint, plaintiff alleges in a conclusive manner that defendant, in conspiracy with subordinate officers, maintains the "solitary confinement unit" at the prison, as a place of arbitrary punishment and that such a conspiracy existed in the matter of the confinement of plaintiff in an observation cell for psychiatric examination, all of which was intended to harass him in the enjoyment of his constitutional rights. The later claim for relief plainly lacks the factual allegations of overt acts for its support. Perhaps the above statement would apply to the claim as to the use of solitary confinement as a means of punishment. The use of such means is specially provided for by state law. New York Correction Law, McKinney's Consol.Laws, c. 43, Section 140. In any event, the claim does not legally invoke the provisions of 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3) since no discrimination against the plaintiff in the matter of the action taken is alleged. Birnbaum v. Trussell, 2 Cir., 347 F.2d 86.

 It is beyond argument that federal courts may not interfere by court decree with the internal management of state prisons. This general rule has its exceptions, especially as to the exercise of the rights of prisoners to the practice of their religion and to petition the courts for relief. Cooper v. Pate, 378 U.S. 546, 84 S. Ct. 1733, 12 L. Ed. 2d 1030; Pierce v. LaVallee, 2 Cir., 293 F.2d 233; Ex parte Hull, 312 U.S. 546, 61 S. Ct. 640, 85 L. Ed. 1034; Dowd v. United States ex rel. Cook, 340 U.S. 206, 71 S. Ct. 262, 95 L. Ed. 215. See Matter of Brabson v. Wilkins, 45 Misc.2d 286, 256 N.Y.S.2d 693 for discussion of prisoner's mailing privileges. No authoritative decision is found however ...


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