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LANE v. REID

February 17, 1983

REGINALD W. LANE, Plaintiff,
v.
THEODORE C. REID, PAUL KIMELMAN, NEAL BREEN, NICHALOS J. BRUNO, JOHN S. MAZZUCA, and JAMES FARRELL, Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: MOTLEY

MOTLEY, D.J.

 Pro se plaintiff Reginald Lane moves to amend his complaint pursuant to Rule 15 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure in this case involving claims allegedly arising under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (1976). Defendants, various officials of the Fishkill Correctional Facility, have moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c). For the reasons discussed below, plaintiff's motion is granted but his claims seeking declaratory and injunctive relief are dismissed as moot.

 Background

 Plaintiff entered Fishkill Correctional Facility ("Fishkill") on November 5, 1980. On November 18, 1980, plaintiff was assigned by the Fishkill program committee to work at the prison's law library as a full time law clerk (Complaint paras. 10, 13). On January 7, 1981, plaintiff enrolled in the in-house college program offered at Fishkill by Dutchess Community College (Complaint para. 12). Plaintiff was subsequently informed by Paul Kimelman, Deputy Superintendent of Program Services at Fishkill, that under institutional policy Lane could not maintain a full time position as a law clerk while enrolled as a full time student (Complaint para. 14; Plaintiff's Exhibit 4). As a result of this policy, Lane's job was reduced to a part time position (Complaint para. 18).

 Plaintiff then filed the instant action against the various defendant prison officials seeking 1) a declaratory judgment stating the prison policy is unconstitutional because it deprives plaintiff of a property interest in his law clerk position without due process of law; 2) an injunction enjoining any further implementation of this policy; 3) an injunction enjoining his transfer to another correctional facility pending this litigation; and 4) an injunction enjoining the prison officials from engaging in any retaliatory tactics against him.

 After plaintiff commenced this action, he was transferred to the Taconic Correctional Facility. The defendants now move for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c) on the theory that this case is moot. Lane has moved to amend his complaint in order to assert a claim for monetary damages.

 Discussion

 A. The Mootness Challenge

 The court notes at the outset that defendants have not properly raised the question of mootness. The Supreme Court has stated that "the inability of the federal judiciary 'to review moot cases derives from Article III of the Constitution under which the exercise of judicial power depends on the existence of a case or controversy.'" Defunis v. Odegaard, 416 U.S. 312, 316, 94 S. Ct. 1704, 40 L. Ed. 2d 164 (1974) (quoting Liner v. Jafco, Inc., 375 U.S. 301, 306, 11 L. Ed. 2d 347, 84 S. Ct. 391 n.3 (1964)); see also Richardson v. Ramirez, 418 U.S. 24, 36, 41 L. Ed. 2d 551, 94 S. Ct. 2655 (1974). Whether an Article III case or controversy exists goes to the question of the court's subject matter jurisdiction. A challenge to the court's subject matter jurisdiction is properly raised by a motion to dismiss under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) and not by a Rule 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings since it is elementary that a court cannot render a judgment in a case which it has no power to entertain.

 Although the question of subject matter jurisdiction was improperly raised, this court must still resolve this fundamental threshold question since the Supreme Court has urged its consideration even when neither party has raised the mootness issue at all. See North Carolina v. Rice, 404 U.S. 244, 246, 30 L. Ed. 2d 413, 92 S. Ct. 402 (1971) ("Although neither party has urged that this case is moot, resolution of the question is essential if federal courts are to function within their constitutional sphere of authority."); see also Defenders of Wildlife v. Endangered Species, Etc., 212 U.S. App. D.C. 122, 659 F.2d 168, 175 (D.C. Cir. 1981); H.K. Porter Co., Inc. v. Metropolitan Dade County, 650 F.2d 778, 782 n.5 (5th Cir. 1981); Locke v. Board of Public Instruction of Palm Beach City, 499 F.2d 359, 363 (5th Cir. 1974); 13 C. Wright, A. Miller & E. Cooper, Federal Practice and Procedure § 3533 (1975).

 As the Supreme Court noted in Steffel v. Thompson, 415 U.S. 452, 39 L. Ed. 2d 505, 94 S. Ct. 1209 (1974): "The rule in federal cases is that an actual controversy must be extant at all stages of review, not merely at the time the complaint is filed." Id. at 459 n.10. This is because the federal courts are without power "to decide questions that cannot affect the rights of the litigants in the case before them." Preiser v. Newkirk, 422 U.S. 395, 401, 45 L. Ed. 2d 272, 95 S. Ct. 2330 (quoting North Carolina v. Rice, 404 U.S. 244, 246, 30 L. Ed. 2d 413, 92 S. Ct. 402 (1971)). The court may exercise its power only where there is "a real and substantial controversy admitting of specific relief through a decree of a conclusive character as distinguished from a hypothetical state of facts." North Carolina v. Rice, 404 U.S. 244, 246, 30 L. Ed. 2d 413, 92 S. Ct. 402 (1971) (quoting Aetna Life Ins. Co. v. Haworth, 300 U.S. 227, 240-241, 81 L. Ed. 617, 57 S. Ct. 461 (1937)).

 In Brady v. Smith, 656 F.2d 466 (9th Cir. 1981), the appellants challenged the conditions of their confinement at McNeil Island Penitentiary and sought injunctive relief. While the lawsuit was pending, the prisoners were transferred from the McNeil Penitentiary and that institution was converted into a federal prison camp. The district court dismissed the prisoners' claims for injunctive relief as moot and the Ninth Circuit affirmed, id. at 468.

 In Winsett v. McGinnes, 617 F.2d 996 (3rd Cir. 1980), Winsett brought a civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 seeking damages as well as injunctive and declaratory relief against certain prison officials for violations of his constitutional rights in their administration of the prison's work release program. Winsett, serving a life sentence in a Delaware penitentiary for the felony murder of a state police officer, charged that he was denied work release for the sole reason that because his murder of a state police officer had aroused public outrage throughout the state, prison officials were fearful of public reaction to his return to the community under a work release program. The district court rejected all of Winsett's claims.

 During Winsett's appeal, he was granted parole on condition that he be transferred to a correctional institution in Alabama and serve four years prior to his release to parole supervision. After Winsett's transfer, the Third Circuit ...


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