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GRIFFIN v. SMITH

July 10, 1980

JOHN GRIFFIN, OMAR KAYOU, FREDERICK CHRISCOE, LEROY FOLKES, AHMED HASSAN, TYRONE MARSHALL, PEDRO CANCEL, EFFRAIN RODRIGUEZ, OTELIO SERANO, and VINCE WARREN, Plaintiffs,
v.
SUPERINTENDENT HAROLD J. SMITH, DEPUTY SUPERINTENDENT C. JAMES, and COMMISSIONER THOMAS A. COUGHLIN III, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: CURTIN

Plaintiffs, all inmates at Attica Correctional Facility, have jointly submitted a civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and individual requests to proceed in forma pauperis. Plaintiffs also ask for permission to proceed as a class pursuant to Rule 23, Fed.R.Civ.P., on behalf of all prisoners confined in the West Gallery of the Special Housing Unit ("SHU").

The facts alleged by plaintiffs fall into two classes: specific actions taken against three of the named plaintiffs as individuals, and specific conditions of confinement which plaintiffs find deplorable. Each category of claims will be discussed separately.

 Plaintiffs Griffin, Serano, and Kayou contend that on three separate dates, each was brought to the Special Housing Unit and forced to remain naked in filthy cold cells for several hours. Griffin and Serano charge that they were also severely beaten, and Griffin and Kayou claim they were also handcuffed in their cells. These allegations set forth tenable constitutional claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Wright v. McMann, 460 F.2d 126, 129-30 (2d Cir. 1972); Moss v. Ward, 450 F. Supp. 591 (W.D.N.Y.1978). As such, Griffin, Serano, and Kayou are permitted to proceed in forma pauperis on these claims.

 Plaintiffs' claims of unconstitutional conditions of confinement at SHU are of a different nature. Some of the allegations raise colorable civil rights issues; others do not. Although prisoners retain many constitutional safeguards, their rights are nonetheless subject to restrictions and limitations.

 The Supreme Court has emphasized more than once that there must be a " "mutual accommodation between institutional needs and objectives and the provisions of the Constitution that are of general application.' " Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 546, 99 S. Ct. 1861, 60 L. Ed. 2d 447 (1979), citing Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 94 S. Ct. 2963, 41 L. Ed. 2d 935 (1974). "Maintaining institutional security and preserving internal order and discipline" are legitimate goals which justify restrictions on inmates' constitutional rights. Bell v. Wolfish, supra, at 546, 99 S. Ct. at 1778. To achieve such goals, prison administrators must be accorded broad leeway to implement and execute policies which they believe are necessary. Barring "substantial" evidence that prison officials have far overstepped their bounds, the courts must defer to their expertise and experience. Id., at 547-48, 99 S. Ct. at 1878-79. See also Sostre v. McGinnis, 442 F.2d 178, 190-94 (2d Cir. 1971), cert. denied, 404 U.S. 1049, 92 S. Ct. 719, 30 L. Ed. 2d 740 (1972). Finally, to the extent that the deprivations faced by the West Gallery inmates can be considered punishment, they would constitute eighth amendment violations only if the are "barbarous" or "shocking to the conscience." Sostre v. McGinnis, supra, at 191-92.

 In light of these principles, it cannot be said that all of the conditions listed by plaintiffs, even if discomforting or undesirable, amount to deprivations of constitutional dimensions. There is no dispute that prison life is rigid and often harsh. However, a federal court is not the proper forum for challenging or changing every aspect of the harsh realities of confinement unless the conditions cannot be tolerated under the Constitution.

 Some of plaintiffs' challenged prison conditions include the following:

 
1. Fungus-infested showers;
 
2. Lengthy delays in receiving requested law books;
 
3. One pair of socks, shorts, and T-shirt provided weekly;
 
4. No more than five personal books permitted during one's time at SHU;
 
5. A poorly stacked library and few, if any, non-English language books;
 
6. Proscription of radio earphones;
 
7. Prohibition of commissary ...

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