Appeal from a judgment of the District Court for the Northern District of New York (Howard G. Munson, Chief Judge), following a jury trial, holding defendants liable in damages, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (1982), for placing eleven inmates of the Auburn Correctional Facility in protective custody without due process of law.
Newman and Winter, Circuit Judges, and Coffrin, District Judge.*fn*
JON O. NEWMAN, Circuit Judge:
This appeal presents both a procedural issue concerning a jury's return of its verdict and substantive issues concerning the liability of prison officials for an alleged denial of due process rights. Two New York prison officials and the executrix of the estate of a third official*fn1 appeal from a judgment entered by the District Court for the Northern District of New York (Howard G. Munson, Chief Judge), following a jury trial, holding them liable in damages, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (1982), for placing eleven inmates of the Auburn Correctional Facility in protective custody without due process of law. Appellants claim that (1) the trial court erred in not entering judgment on an initial jury verdict in their favor, (2) New York law did not create a liberty interest entitling the inmates to due process, (3) they are entitled to prevail on their good faith immunity defense because they did not act contrary to clearly established law, and (4) the evidence was insufficient to support the verdict. Plaintiffs cross-appeal and claim that the damage award is inadequate. For reasons that follow, we reverse and direct entry of judgment for the appellants.
The eleven plaintiffs are former inmates of the Attica Correctional Facility, who were indicted in December 1972 for crimes related to the Attica riot of September 1971. To facilitate transportation to and from the Wyoming County courthouse, the indicted prisoners were transferred to the Auburn Correctional Facility in December 1972 or January 1973. Upon arrival at Auburn, the plaintiffs were placed in a Special Housing Unit, a more restrictive form of custody than general custody.*fn2 Appellants claim that these inmates were placed in protective custody for their own safety and the safety of other inmates. There was a danger that some of the Auburn guards who had previously served at Attica would seek reprisal against the indicted prisoners. There was also a danger that these prisoners would threaten or attack Auburn inmates scheduled to be witnesses at their trial. Plaintiffs claim they were placed in special custody as punishment for their activities at Attica.
Shortly after arrival at Auburn, each plaintiff was informed of the reasons for special custody and of his right to complain of such custody to the Commissioner of Corrections. Each plaintiff was also informed that he could voluntarily agree to protective custody. None did so. Two of the plaintiffs wrote to the Commissioner concerning their status.
On March 10, 1973, each plaintiff was furnished with a written statement of the reasons for protective custody. The defendants testified that, despite periodic review of the plaintiffs' status, the plaintiffs were continued in special housing because the circumstances surrounding the initial assignment had not changed. The plaintiffs were ultimately released into the general prison population at Auburn by order of the New York Supreme Court for Erie County (James O. Moore, Justice) dated September 3, 1974. The indictments against the plaintiffs were dismissed in March 1975.
After their release from protective custody, plaintiffs sought damages from five officials of the New York prison system under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming that their placement in protective custody violated their First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The jury exonerated two officials,*fn3 returned a verdict against the three appellants on the Fourteenth Amendment due process claim, and awarded ten plaintiffs $150 each for lost work time and one plaintiff $100.
1. The procedural issue arises out of circumstances that occurred when the jurors first reported the results of their deliberations. Responding to special interrogatories, the jury answered "no" to Question No. 1, which asked whether the defendants had denied the plaintiffs their due process rights. When the jury was polled, the following took place:
COURT CLERK: Juror No. 5, E.J. Minick, your answer to Question No. 1?
JUROR NO. 5: No, with misgivings.
COURT CLERK: Juror No. 6, Herman Eckelmann, would you please ...