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United States v. Montanye

decided: October 4, 1974.


Appeal by Rodney Haymes from summary judgment by the United States District Court for the Western District of New York, John T. Curtin, Judge, dismissing his § 1983 complaint seeking damages for confiscation of a "legal petition," and for an alleged punitive transfer without hearing to the Clinton Correctional Facility.

Kaufman, Chief Judge, Smith and Timbers, Circuit Judges.

Author: Kaufman

KAUFMAN, Circuit Judge

It is clear beyond cavil that American prisons have failed dismally to fulfill the ambition of contemporary penologists that prisoners should be treated and rehabilitated. Although it is impossible to deny that many are sentenced to prison as punishment, however, we cannot condone the idea that the mere fact of incarceration permits a prisoner to be punished at the whim of those charged with his confinement. Rodney Haymes, formerly an inmate at New York's Attica Correctional Facility, initiated this § 1983 action seeking damages for the confiscation of a "legal petition" which he circulated while in custody there, and for his alleged summary punishment two days later by transfer without a hearing to the Clinton Correctional Facility. We reverse the summary judgment dismissing his complaint.

A brief recitation of the facts will aid in framing the issues we are called upon to decide. Haymes was discharged as inmate law clerk in Attica's law library on the morning of June 7, 1972. During the afternoon of that same day, prison authorities seized from Haymes a document which he was circulating among the inmates in the "A" block recreational yard. The writing, prepared by Haymes at the request of other prisoners and signed by 82 inmates, was addressed to Judge Curtin of the United States District Court for the Western District of New York. Although it requested no relief, the petition stated that the signatories were being deprived of legal assistance because of the removal of Haymes and John Washington, another inmate law clerk, from the library. The document charged that law library officer Edward Brady went "out of his way to circumvent inmates legal assistance." It also alleged this to be the reason for the removal of Haymes and Washington from their positions in the library.

Although no explanation for the confiscation was given at the time, Deputy Superintendent Harold Smith stated in an affidavit submitted in response to Haymes's complaint that the papers were seized because Haymes had not asked permission to circulate them, and none of the signors had requested legal assistance, despite the provision of Rule 21 of the Inmate's Rule Book:

21. Inmates are prohibited, except upon approval of the Warden, to assist other inmates in the preparation of legal papers.

While there is some question whether Rule 21 was in fact widely circulated,*fn1 Smith stated that Haymes had been cautioned on several occasions not to assist other inmates who had not requested and received approval. A notice from former Superintendent Montanye, posted on the cell block bulletin boards April 25, 1972, also stated:

In all instances where inmates desire assistance in the use of the Law Library, they are to present their problems to Correction Officer Brady, who will assist them to the extent necessary or will assign inmates on the Law Library staff to particular cases.

Under no circumstances are inmates to set themselves up as "legal counselors" and receive pay for their services.

Haymes protested the confiscation, asserting that the petition was protected as a special letter under Administrative Bulletin #20, which provides:

9. Special correspondence to public officials: You may write to the President of the United States, Members of Congress, . . . and to any Judge. . . . The letter will not be read or censored.*fn2

The real impact of the events leading to the seizure was felt when, two days later, on June 9, 1972, Haymes was transferred without a hearing from Attica to the Clinton Correctional Facility. Although both institutions are maximum security facilities, Clinton is several hundred miles farther away from Haymes's home in Buffalo. After his transfer, Haymes wrote twice to Superintendent Montanye protesting the confiscation of the papers and requesting their return. He received no response.

Haymes then began this § 1983 action,*fn3 alleging that his transfer without hearing to Clinton, in retaliation for his disobedience of Rule 21, deprived him of due process. His complaint also alleged that the petition being circulated was not "legal assistance" but "special correspondence" protected by Administrative Bulletin #20, and that its confiscation was therefore improper. He sought $1500 in compensatory damages for the time he was deprived of the document, and $1500 punitive damages "for the various acts of reprisals taken against" him. Haymes thereafter retained counsel. After considering affidavits and exhibits submitted to him, the judge, on Montanye's motion, "dismissed" Haymes's "application for relief under the Civil Rights Act." Since there is no indication that Judge Curtin found Haymes's claims to be frivolous, see 28 U.S.C. § 1915 (d), and because he considered matters outside the pleadings, see F.R.Civ.P. 12 (b), his disposition perforce was summary judgment. F.R.Civ.P. 56. Judge Curtin held that the seizure of the document, because it represented unauthorized legal assistance, was proper under Rule 21. He also found no violation of due process in Haymes's transfer. In effect, therefore, Judge Curtin decided ...

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