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BENJAMIN v. MALCOLM

March 17, 1986

JAMES BENJAMIN, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
BENJAMIN J. MALCOLM, Commissioner of Corrections of the City of New York, et al., Defendants vs. MARIO CUOMO, et al., Third-Party Defendants; ERNESTO MALDONADO, et al., Plaintiffs, vs. BENJAMIN J. MALCOLM, Commissioner of Corrections of the City of New York, et al., Defendants; DETAINEES OF THE BROOKLYN HOUSE OF DETENTION FOR MEN, et al., Plaintiffs, vs. BENJAMIN J. MALCOLM, Commissioner of Corrections of the City of New York, et al., Defendants; DETAINEES OF THE QUEENS HOUSE OF DETENTION FOR MEN, et al., Plaintiffs, vs. BENJAMIN J. MALCOLM, Commissioner of Corrections of the City of New York, et al., Defendants; IOLA FORTS, et al., Plaintiffs, vs. BENJAMIN J. MALCOLM, Commissioner of Corrections of the City of New York, et al., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: LASKER

LASKER, D.J.

The history of this much litigated case involving the overcrowding of New York City jails is set forth in numerous prior decisions, see Benjamin v. Malcolm, 564 F. Supp. 668 (S.D.N.Y. 1983); Benjamin v. Malcolm, 528 F. Supp. 925 (S.D.N.Y. 1981); Benjamin v. Malcolm, 495 F. Supp. 1357 (S.D.N.Y. 1980); Benjamin v. Malcolm, 88 F.R.D. 333 (S.D.N.Y. 1980). On January 30, 1986, in the most recent decision in this action, we granted the motion of Governor Mario Cuomo and Thomas A. Coughlin III, Commissioner of the New York State Department of Correctional Services ("the State defendants") to vacate this court's August 20, 1981 order requiring the State defendants to accept "state ready" *fn1" inmates within forty-eight hours. In moving to vacate the order the State defendants asserted, and we concluded, that under Pennhurst State School and Hospital v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 104 S. Ct. 900, 79 L. Ed. 2d 67 (1984) ("Pennhurst II ") the Court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to order the relief against the State defendants because, as we found, the August 20, 1981 order clearly had been based upon state law. *fn2" See Benjamin v. Malcolm, No. 75-3073, slip op. at 12 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 30, 1986). However, because we also concluded that there might exist grounds for relief against the State defendants that would not be barred by the Eleventh Amendment we stayed the effect of the January 1986 decision for thirty days to permit the Commissioner of Correction of the City of New York and the various other City officials who are defendants (collectively "the City" or "the City defendants") to assert such grounds if the facts permitted. Id. at 14.

On February 24, 1986 the City moved by order to show cause to join the State defendants pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 19, 20 and 21. The order to show cause, signed by the court on that day, included a temporary restraining order requiring the State Commissioner "to accept custody of each person housed in correctional facilities of the City of New York who is sentenced to a term of imprisonment in a State facility within forty-eight hours after the necessary papers for transfer have been completed." Alternatively, the City moved for a preliminary injunction for the same relief in the event that its motion was not disposed of before the temporary restraining order became ineffective. The State Commissioner cross-moved to vacate the mandatory temporary restraining order because it "extends beyond the ten days allowed for in F.R.C.P. 65(b)...." *fn3"

 I. JURISDICTION

 The State defendants argue that the court does not have jurisdiction even to consider the motion to join them because, it is claimed (1) the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure do not provide a jurisdictional basis; (2) the City cannot assert a claim against the State defendants based upon the plaintiffs' constitutional rights; and (3) the obligations of the State defendants, if any, arise solely from state law.

 Citing Tate v. Frey, 735 F.2d 986 (6th Cir. 1984), the City defendants maintain that the "State officials' presence in the litigation is necessary because their absolute control over the State readies ... has a direct impact on the City's ability to manage its facilities ... to comply with this Court's prior orders," and that such relief is not barred by the Eleventh Amendment.

 Simply stated, the jurisdictional issue is whether Pennhurst II prohibits federal courts from ordering relief against state officials whose actions may be necessary to implement, or at least to avoid the frustration of, a judgment that rests on a determination of a constitutional violation. Without, for the moment, reaching the question whether such relief is justified, we conclude for the reasons set forth below that Pennhurst II does not prohibit granting relief in such cases.

 The important, but simple rule of Pennhurst II, is that a federal court may not order a state official to conform his conduct to state law. "A federal court," the Pennhurst II majority stated, "must examine each claim in a case to see if the court's jurisdiction over that claim is barred by the Eleventh Amendment." Pennhurst II, 104 S. Ct. at 919.

 The State defendants apparently interpret this language as requiring examination of each "cause of action" which is asserted. They maintain that since the only cause of action which the City may bring against the state officials is one based upon state law, the conclusion follows, according to the State's argument, that Pennhurst II bars the City from requesting any relief against them. However, the rationale is inapplicable because, unlike the facts in Pennhurst II, which concerned the liability stage of that litigation, the plaintiff-inmates in this action already have obtained a judgment securing their constitutional rights. Accordingly, the "claim" to be examined, in this case in its present posture, is the City's assertion that the State defendants must be joined in order to assure full compliance with the existing decree which assures the plaintiffs' protection of their constitutional rights. Moreover, in the case at hand the City is the party which would suffer contempt penalties for noncompliance with court orders limiting inmate population in the event those limits were exceeded. Thus, the City has standing to request relief from being held accountable for actions by the State defendants over which it has no control but which allegedly cause or contribute to violations of the Court's orders.

 Nor is the fact that the State defendants' responsibilities in the first instance are created by state law sufficient to defeat jurisdiction. Numerous situations are recognized by our federal legal structure in which obligations under state law may give rise to a federal claim. See, e.g., Board of Regents v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 577, 33 L. Ed. 2d 548, 92 S. Ct. 2701 (1972) (property interests cognizable under the Constitution "are created and their dimensions are defined by existing rules or understandings that stem from an independent source such as state law...."). *fn4"

 Furthermore, the United States Supreme Court "has repeatedly recognized the power of a federal court to issue such commands under the All Writs Act [28 U.S.C. § 1651(a)] as may be necessary or appropriate to effectuate and prevent the frustration of orders it has previously issued in its exercise of jurisdiction otherwise obtained...." United States v. New York Telephone Co., 434 U.S. 159, 172, 54 L. Ed. 2d 376, 98 S. Ct. 364 (1977).

 The power conferred by the Act extends, under appropriate circumstances, to persons who, though not parties to the original action or engaged in wrongdoing, are in a position to frustrate the implementation of a court order or the proper administration of justice, and encompasses even those who have not taken any affirmative action to hinder justice [citations omitted].

 Id. at 174. *fn5"

 Jurisdiction in this case was "obtained" in the first instance, as the result of plaintiffs' claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 et seq. Further, although no "basis of jurisdiction may override the Eleventh Amendment," Pennhurst II at 919, in this case reliance on the All Writs Act as a basis for further jurisdiction does not conflict with the Eleventh Amendment since the order at issue does not rest upon state law grounds. Of course, invoking the extraordinary basis for jurisdiction provided by the All Writs Act should not be a casual undertaking. Cf. General Building Contractors Association v. Pennsylvania, 458 U.S. 375, 401, 73 L. Ed. 2d 835, 102 S. Ct. 3141 (1982) ("There was no need for the District Court to treat petitioners as strangers to this lawsuit, and therefore to rely upon some extraordinary form of process or writ to bring them before the court.") However, if it is concluded that the presence of state officials is necessary for the full satisfaction of constitutional rights, joining them in the litigation is, in our view, not only consistent with the purpose of the All Writs Act, but also with the reasoning underlying the exception to the Eleventh Amendment which was created in Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123, 52 L. Ed. 714, 28 S. Ct. 441 (1908), namely, "to promote the vindication of federal rights" and "hold state officials responsible to 'the supreme authority of the United States.'" Pennhurst II, 104 S. Ct. at 910.

 Finally, we observe that in a case such as this, in which the defendant alleges that the third partys' actions prevent the defendants from fulfilling the plaintiffs' constitutional rights, a conclusion that Pennhurst II barred joining state officials for the purpose of assuring a remedy for a constitutional wrong would result in the anamolous situation in which the state ...


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