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Inmates of Attica Correctional Facility v. Rockefeller

decided: April 18, 1973.


Smith, Feinberg and Mansfield, Circuit Judges.

Author: Mansfield

MANSFIELD, Circuit Judge:

This appeal raises the question of whether the federal judiciary should, at the instance of victims, compel federal and state officials to investigate and prosecute persons who allegedly have violated certain federal and state criminal statutes. Plaintiffs in the purported class suit, which was commenced in the Southern District of New York against various state and federal officers, are certain present and former inmates of New York State's Attica Correctional Facility ("Attic"), the mother of an inmate who was killed when Attica was retaken after the inmate uprising in September 1971, and Arthur O. Eve, a New York State Assemblyman and member of the Subcommittee on Prisons. They appeal from an order of the district court, Lloyd F. MacMahon, Judge, dismissing their complaint. We affirm.

The complaint alleges that before, during, and after the prisoner revolt at and subsequent recapture of Attica in September 1971, which resulted in the killing of 32 inmates and the wounding of many others, the defendants, including the Governor of New York, the State Commissioner of Correctional Services, the Executive Deputy Commissioner of the State Department of Correctional Services, the Superintendent at Attica, and certain State Police, Corrections Officers, and other officials, either committed, conspired to commit, or aided and abetted in the commission of various crimes against the complaining inmates and members of the class they seek to represent. It is charged that the inmates were intentionally subjected to cruel and inhuman treatment prior to the inmate riot, that State Police, Troopers, and Correction Officers (one of whom is named) intentionally killed some of the inmate victims without provocation during the recovery of Attica, that state officers (several of whom are named and whom the inmates claim they can identify) assaulted and beat prisoners after the prison had been successfully retaken and the prisoners had surrendered, see Inmates of Attica Correctional Facility v. Rockefeller, 453 F.2d 12 (2d Cir. 1971), that personal property of the inmates was thereafter stolen or destroyed, and that medical assistance was maliciously denied to over 400 inmates wounded during the recovery of the prison.

The complaint further alleges that Robert E. Fischer, a Deputy State Attorney General specially appointed by the Governor to supersede the District Attorney of Wyoming County and, with a specially convened grand jury, to investigate crimes relating to the inmates' takeover of Attica and the resumption of control by the state authorities, see Inmates, supra at 16 and n. 3, "has not investigated, nor does he intend to investigate, any crimes committed by state officers." Plaintiffs claim, moreover, that because Fischer was appointed by the Governor he cannot neutrally investigate the responsibility of the Governor and other state officers said to have conspired to commit the crimes alleged. It is also asserted that since Fischer is the sole state official currently authorized under state law to prosecute the offenses allegedly committed by the state officers, no one in the State of New York is investigating or prosecuting them.*fn1

With respect to the sole federal defendant,*fn2 the United States Attorney for the Western District of New York, the complaint simply alleges that he has not arrested, investigated, or instituted prosecutions against any of the state officers accused of criminal violation of plaintiffs' federal civil rights, 18 U.S.C. §§ 241, 242, and he has thereby failed to carry out the duty placed upon him by 42 U.S.C. § 1987, discussed below.

As a remedy for the asserted failure of the defendants to prosecute violations of state and federal criminal laws, plaintiffs request relief in the nature of mandamus (1) against state officials, requiring the State of New York to submit a plan for the independent and impartial investigation and prosecution of the offenses charged against the named and unknown state officers, and insuring the appointment of an impartial state prosecutor and state judge to "prosecute the defendants forthwith," and (2) against the United States Attorney, requiring him to investigate, arrest and prosecute the same state officers for having committed the federal offenses defined by 18 U.S.C. §§ 241 and 242. The latter statutes punish, respectively, conspiracies against a citizen's free exercise or enjoyment of rights secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States, see United States v. Guest, 383 U.S. 745, 86 S. Ct. 1170, 16 L. Ed. 2d 239 (1966), and the willful subjection of any inhabitant, under color of law, to the deprivation of such rights or to different punishment or penalties on account of alienage, color, or race than are prescribed for the punishment of citizens, see Screws v. United States, 325 U.S. 91, 65 S. Ct. 1031, 89 L. Ed. 1495 (1945); United States v. Classic, 313 U.S. 299, 61 S. Ct. 1031, 85 L. Ed. 1368 (1941).*fn3

Federal jurisdiction over the claim against the state defendants was based on 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 28 U.S.C. § 1343(3) and over the claim against the United States Attorney on the mandamus statute. 28 U.S.C. § 1361. Venue in the Southern District of New York was predicated on 28 U.S.C. §§ 1391(b), 1392(a). The motions of the federal and state defendants to dismiss the complaint for failure to state claims upon which relief can be granted, Rule 12(b)(6), F.R.Civ.P., were granted by Judge MacMahon without opinion. We agree that the extraordinary relief sought cannot be granted in the situation here presented.


At the outset, we must note that the Supreme Court's recent decision in Linda R.S. v. Richard D., 410 U.S. 614, 93 S. Ct. 1146, 35 L. Ed. 2d 536 (1973), to which the attention of the parties in this case was not drawn prior to argument, raises the preliminary question of whether plaintiffs have a sufficient "personal stake in the outcome of the controversy," Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186, 204, 82 S. Ct. 691, 703, 7 L. Ed. 2d 663 (1962), to confer standing upon them to invoke the judicial process. In Linda R.S. the mother of an illegitimate child sought to attack as unconstitutionally discriminatory the application of a Texas criminal statute prohibiting the willful refusal of "any parent" to support his or her child on the ground that it was enforced by the state, as a result of state court interpretation of the statute, against married but not unmarried fathers. Holding that she lacked standing, the Supreme Court, in a majority opinion by Justice Marshall, observed:

"The Court's prior decisions consistently hold that a citizen lacks standing to contest the policies of the prosecuting authority when he himself is neither prosecuted nor threatened with prosecution. See Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 42, 91 S. Ct. 746, 27 L. Ed. 2d 669 (1971); Bailey v. Patterson, 369 U.S. 31, 33, 82 S. Ct. 549, 7 L. Ed. 2d 512 (1962); Poe v. Ullman, 367 U.S. 497, 501, 81 S. Ct. 1752, 6 L. Ed. 2d 989 (1961). Although these cases arose in a somewhat different context, they demonstrate that, in American jurisprudence at least, a private citizen lacks a judicially cognizable interest in the prosecution or nonprosecution of another." 410 U.S. at 619, 93 S. Ct. at 1149.

The broad reach of this language would, at first blush, appear to preclude the plaintiffs here from seeking to contest the nonprosecution of third parties they accuse of criminal conduct. However, the present case is in some respects distinguishable from Linda R.S. Unlike the mother there the inmates here might be said to have sustained or be immediately in danger of sustaining direct personal injury as the result of nonenforcement of the criminal laws against the accused state officers. See 410 U.S. at 619, 93 S. Ct. 1146, 35 L. Ed. 2d 536; Massachusetts v. Mellon, 262 U.S. 447, 488, 43 S. Ct. 597, 67 L. Ed. 1078 (1923). They allege that at least some of them suffered direct physical injury at the hands of those they seek to have prosecuted and that if the state officers accused of criminal conduct are not prosecuted, such conduct will continue.

Thus a more immediate and direct danger of injury resulting from nonenforcement is presented here than in Linda R.S., where the Court stressed that the only result of the relief sought by the illegitimate child's mother would be the jailing of the child's father, not the support of the child. Where a successful prosecution, however, would serve to deter the accused from harming the complainant rather than merely supply a penal inducement to perform a duty to provide assistance, the complaining person does show a more direct nexus between his personal interest in protection from harm and the prosecution. But in the present case this rationale in support of standing assumes that injunctive relief, which we conditionally authorized in Inmates of Attica Correctional Facility v. Rockefeller, supra, 453 F.2d at 22-25, restraining physical abuse, torture, beatings or other forms of brutality, or threats of such conduct, is ineffective to protect the plaintiffs from harm.

It may also be argued that since 37 inmates have been indicted for crimes relating to the events at Attica in September 1971, without any indictment having been filed against any of the accused state officials, the complaint alleges a sufficient threat of selective and discriminatory prosecution of the plaintiff inmates to meet the standing requirements discussed in Linda R.S. v. Richard D., supra. On the other hand, the challenge in the present case is not to any criminal statute, as ...

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