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AKBAR SALAHUDDIN v. COUGHLIN

July 3, 1984

RICHARD AKBAR SALAHUDDIN, Plaintiff, against THOMAS A. COUGHLIN, III, et al., Defendants.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: SWEET

SWEET, D.J.

Defendants, who are present and former Commissioners of the New York State Department of Correctional Services ("Department") and officers of Green Haven ("Green Haven") and Ossining Correctional Facilities, have moved for summary judgment and vacation of the preliminary injunction issued by this court. Plaintiffs Richard Akbar Salahuddin ("Salahuddin"), Arthur (A-God) Blake ("Blake") and Gary (Zaid) Ashby ("Ashby") have moved to compel answers to interrogatories. For the reasons given below, defendants' motion is granted and the complaint is dismissed.

 The complaint, discussed in detail below, alleges constitutional violations arising from conditions at Green Haven, where all three plaintiffs were inmates. None of the plaintiffs remain at Green Haven, however, since Blake and Ashby have been paroled and Salahuddin has been transferred to another state prison.

 Background

 Salahuddin has been the lead plaintiff in this action, having signed most if not all of the plaintiffs' papers the court has received in this matter. Salahuddin is a prodigious pro se litigant. At his deposition in this matter, Salahuddin stated that he has initiated 17 federal court actions challenging the conditions of his confinement at various state prisons, ten of them involving Green Haven. He has brought 13 actions in the Southern District in the past four years. Four of these actions were assigned to this court, some having been accepted under a generous interpretation of the related case rule.

 Virtually every aspect of prison life has been the subject of complaint by Salahuddin. His pleading in the instant action alleges 87 causes of action and contains 208 paragraphs of factual allegations. Interrogatories directed to the defendants run 90 pages and pose some 4,400 questions covering such topics as Department Commissioner Thomas E. Coughlin III's ("Coughlin") past residences, rent, taxes, credit card and social security numbers, as well as information on "any unusual incidents" between defendants and inmates, inmates' right to own radios and an unidentified "free snack program." The complaints in the other three cases before this court are as lengthy and broad-ranging as is that in the case at hand. In Salahuddin v. Harris, 83 Civ. 1782, for example, Salahuddin alleges 18 causes of action regarding an altercation with a guard and the resulting misbehavior report and confinement to his cell. All but one of the causes of action were dismissed for failure to state a claim in an opinion dated October 4, 1983; the remaining claim is Salahuddin's allegation that he was denied the right to present witnesses on his behalf at the disciplinary proceeding. In Salahuddin v. Harris, 83 Civ. 1886, Salahuddin alleged 25 causes of action arising out of another disciplinary action against him. The court dismissed that action by order dated May 15, 1984 because of Salahuddin's refusal to continue his deposition. In the four actions, Salahuddin has filed hundreds of pages of affidavits, letters to the court, copies of letters to prison officials and other persons, memoranda and other materials.

 While Salahuddin's numerous complaints are not so patently "frivolous and vexatious" as to justify an injunction against further filings, Gordon v. United States Department of Justice, 558 F.2d 618 (1st Cir. 1977); see Kane v. City of New York, 468 F. Supp. 586, 590-91 (S.D.N.Y.), aff'd, 614 F.2d 1288 (2d Cir. 1979), they are indicative of the problems courts face in handling condition-of-confinement cases. The time spent by the courts and Attorney General's office on complaints such as Salahuddin's is time that may not be spent considering other matters, and should the pending actions be found to lack merit, an injunction of the sort referred to above will be considered.

 The Instant Action

 The history of the instant action was set forth in this court's opinion of June 29, 1983, and will only be summarized here. Although the complaint was filed in 1980 and the case was referred to a magistrate for supervision of discovery and hearing of pretrial motions, no depositions were taken until December 1983. Salahuddin filed a motion for a preliminary injunction in December 1982. Despite several extensions granted by the court, defendants failed to file opposition, and the motion was granted in part by opinion dated June 19, 1983. The instant motion is defendants' first dispositive motion in this matter.

 According to a letter from the Attorney General, defendants' motion papers were served on plaintiffs by mail on February 6, 1984, but one of the envelopes arrived in damaged condition, and the papers were returned, apparently because Salahuddin refused to accept them. The Attorney General mailed the papers once more on February 14, 1984. Because of these delays, the court posponed the full submission date until March 30, 1984. By affidavits dated March 30 and April 7, 1984, Salahuddin requested an extension of time to respond to the motion. The request was granted, and, by order dated April 13, 1984, this court ordered that Salahuddin file his response papers by April 27, 1984 and that the motion would be deemed fully submitted on May 4, 1984. On June 14 and June 15, 1984, this court received a memorandum of law from Salahuddin in response to the motion. Although this submission was received well after the full submission date, this court has considered it because of the policy of liberality in the treatment of pro se complaints.

 The Complaint

 The complaint contains 87 causes of action ("Causes") challenging numerous aspects of the conditions of confinement at Green Haven pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The Causes may be sorted into the following categories of legal claims.

 1. The "four-bag" rule (Causes 1-5. Department Directive 4913 ("Directive") provides that when an inmate is transferred between institutions, the state will ship for him without charge up to four state-issue duffel bags of property, as well as a musical instrument.Property beyond the four-bag limit must, at the inmate's choice, be shipped at the inmate's expense to the new institution or to an outside relative or friend, given to a charity or another inmate, or destroyed. Plaintiffs claim that the Directive discriminates against the poor (Cause 1), that the four-bag limit is "unconstitutional" (Cause 2), that the Department's alleged practice of placing legal materials in a separate bag violates the Fourth, Eighth, Ninth and Fourteenth Amendments (Cause 3), and that the Department's seizure or loss of bags is a taking and a violation of due process (Causes 4-5).

 2. Recognition of plaintiff's Muslim names (Causes 6-9, 20). Plaintiffs complain of the Deparment's policy of recognizing inmates by their "commitment names," rather than their Muslim names, for use on incoming and outgoing mail and in Department records.

 3. Ownership of electric typewriters (Causes 13-15). Plaintiffs allege that certain white inmates at Green Haven were allowed to own electric typewriters, while plaintiffs were not.

 4. Access to and quality of law library facilities (Causes 16, 18-19). Plaintiffs claim that the Green Haven law library hours and conditions were not up to constitutional standards.The complaint states that the library was ...


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