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Smith v. Coughlin

November 16, 1984

LEMUEL SMITH, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
THOMAS A. COUGHLIN, III, COMMISSIONER OF THE NEW YORK STATE DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONAL SERVICES, AND CHARLES J. SCULLY, SUPERINTENDENT OF GREEN HAVEN CORRECTIONAL FACILITY, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN THEIR OFFICIAL CAPACITIES, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES



Appeal from an order of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Edelstein, Judge) which (1) denied plaintiff condemned state prisoner's request that he be released from segregation, (2) granted his request that he be allowed non-contact visits with assistants in the employ of plaintiff's lawyers, and (3) denied all other requested relief. The order is affirmed, but the case is remanded for an award of nominal damages.

Author: Pierce

Before: OAKES, VAN GRAAFEILAND, and PIERCE, Circuit Judges.

PIERCE, Circuit Judge:

In this appeal, prisoner Lemuel Smith challenges his confinement to a special Unit of Condemned Persons in a New York State correctional facility and the various concurrent restrictions imposed on him as a result of this confinement. We agree with the district court (1) that restrictions on visits by non-lawyers in the employ of his attorney violated appellant's constitutional rights and (2) that appellant's confinement and the limitations imposed upon him pursuant to state law are not otherwise unconstitutional. We therefore affirm the order of the district court, but we remand to allow an award of nominal damages.

BACKGROUND

In May of 1981, Donna Payant, a Correction Officer, was murdered during her tour of duty at Green Haven Correctional Facility (hereinafter "Green Haven"), a state prison. At the time of Payant's murder, Lemuel Smith, the plaintiff-appellant herein, was confined at Green Haven serving two twenty-five year to life sentences for second degree murder. The State of New York charged Smith with Payant's murder. In April of 1983, after a jury trial, Smith was convicted of first degree murder.*fn1 In June of 1983, he was sentenced to death.*fn2 Following this sentencing, the state acting pursuant to N.Y. Correct. Law § 650 (McKinney Supp. 1983-84), transferred him to a special Unit of Condemned Persons ("UCP") at Green Haven where he was to remain until execution of his sentence. N.Y. Correct. Law § 650 provides in part:

From the time of such delivery to such superintendent [of the prison in which the condemned person will be held], until the infliction of the punishment of death upon him, unless he shall be lawfully discharged from such imprisonment, the defendant shall be kept in a segregation unit at such state institution and no person shall be allowed access to him without an order of the court, except the officers of the prison, his counsel, his physician, a priest or minister of religion, if he shall desire one, and the members of his family.

Smith was confined to a cell in the UCP which measured approximately six feet by ten feet.*fn3 By stipulation the parties have agreed that the cell's lighting and ventilation were adequate. Outside the cell were a color television and an AM/FM radio to which Smith had access twenty-four hours each day. By summoning the on-duty correction officer, Smith could obtain personal or legal materials of his choice. At the end of the officer's shift, he was required to return any personal items or legal materials, but he could reobtain them from the next officer on duty.

He was permitted to leave his cell each day for exercise in a yard measuring approximately 20 yards square. He could enter the exercise yard at any time after 8:30 a.m. and remain there until approximately 3:30 p.m.

He could receive various visitors daily. He was allowed contact visits with his attorney, a nurse or doctor (one of whom saw him each day) and a priest (who weekly ministered to him). He was allowed regular noncontact visits with a prison psychiatrist, members of his family, and four additional clergy. He was not allowed visits with lay religious advisors nor was he permitted visits with friends or others -- such as the press or persons employed by his attorney -- except by order of the court. In addition, he was not allowed to attend congregate religious services.

Shortly after his confinement to the UCP, Smith commenced this action in the federal district court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging violation of his first, fifth, sixth, eighth, and fourteenth amendment rights. Specifically, he contended that his confinement to the UCP and the various associated restrictions on his behavior (1) deprived him of a liberty interest without due process of law, (2) subjected him to cruel and unusual punishment, (3) denied him equal protection of the laws, (4) denied him freedom of speech and religion, and (5) deprived him of access to the courts. Smith moved for a preliminary injunction. The parties stipulated certain facts, and the district court ordered that a hearing be held on those that remained in dispute.

During a three day hearing, Smith testified that he was dissatisfied with conditions in the UCP and that he desired contact visits with his mother, friends, and paralegal personnel, interaciton with fellow inmates, the right to attend congregate religious services, and the right to keep legal papers in his cell. He also testified that he had suffered psychological damage as a result of his isolation. Two experts testified as to conditions on other death rows, as did one New York State prisoner who had previously been under sentence of death. Smith's psychiatrist testified that he was treating Smith for a minor "anxiety disorder" and that conditions in the UCP might aggravate this condition.

Defendants presented two witnesses: Arthur Leonardo, Deputy Commissioner for Facility Operations, New York State Department of Corrections, and defendant Charles Scully, Superintendent of Green Haven. They testified that the UCP had been established in accordance with the mandate of N.Y. Correct. Law § 650. They offered several explanations for the UCP's existence and the restrictions imposed on prisoners confined therein. First, they noted that because a person sentenced to death has little reason to fear ordinary disciplinary action, condemned prisoners pose a special danger to other inmates. Second, they testified that the condemned person was a likely target for attacks by inmates seeking to establish a reputation for dangerousness by harming notorious prisoners. Third, they testified that condemned persons pose a greater suicide risk.

Following this hearing, the district judge denied Smith's request for a preliminary injunction and reserved decision as to the granting of permanent relief. Both parties agreed that no further testimony was needed to resolve factual issues. Thereupon, in a thorough opinion, the district court made findings of fact and conclusions of law and ruled on Smith's request for a permanent injunction. The court denied the relief sought except that it ...


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