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BENJAMIN v. COUGHLIN

August 29, 1986

THOMAS BENJAMIN, ERROL DUNKLEY, FRANK FORREST, BARRINGTON GRAY, NEWTON HANNON and MARTIN SPENCE, on their own behalf and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
THOMAS A. COUGHLIN, Commissioner, New York State Department of Correctional Services; STEPHEN DALSHEIM, Superintendent, Ossinging Correctional Facility; EUGENE S. LeFEVRE, Superintendent, Clinton Correctional Facility; HAROLD SMITH, Superintendent, Attica Correctional Facility, Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: STANTON

LOUIS L. STANTON, U. S. D. J.

OPINION and ORDER

This action was brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by plaintiff class as members of the Rastafari faith against defendants Thomas A. Coughlin III, Commissioner of the New York State Department of Correctional Services ("DOCS") and the Superintendents of the facilities in which plaintiffs are now incarcerated. Plaintiffs seek a declaration that Rastafarianism is a religion, along with injunctive relief affording them the opportunity to meet as a religious group and follow certain practices of their religion within prison, such as wearing their hair long and eating a special diet. Because some of its members have recently been placed in restrictive confinement for their refusal to cut their hair, plaintiff class now moves for preliminary relief to enjoin defendants from (1) refusing to recognize Rastafarianism as a religion; (2) requiring plaintiffs pursuant to Departmental Directive No. 4914 to have their hair cut while in defendants' custody; and (3) placing plaintiffs in involuntary protective custody because of their refusal to cut their hair. *fn1" After reviewing the motion for a preliminary injunction, the court raised the question whether the doctrine of collateral estoppel bars defendants from litigating the issues raised here, see Williams v. Codd, 459 F. Supp 804 (S.D.N.Y. 1978); see also Hedger Trans. Corp. v. Bushey & Sons, Inc., 186 F.2d 236 (2d Cir. 1951); cf. LaRocca v. Gold, 662 F.2d 144, 148 (2d Cir. 1981), and the parties have fully briefed that issue.

 Background

 The present action was brought in January 1979. It was discontinued in April 1980 in contemplation of settlement, and reopened in March 1985.

 Since its commencement, two New York State court cases involving the issues raised by this motion have been decided against the Commissioner of the Department of Correctional Services and in favor of two Rastafarian inmates.

 The first, Lewis v. Commissioner of the Department of Correctional Services, No. 85-11167, slip op., (N.Y. S. Ct. August 1, 1985), aff'd sub nom. People v. Lewis, 115 A.D.2d 597, 496 N.Y.S.2d 258 (N.Y. App. Div. 1985), was brought by a Rastafarian inmate to challenge the validity of DOCS Directive No. 4914, which requires all male inmates to submit to a haircut and shave for the taking of an initial identification photograph when newly incarcerated. He asserted that cutting his hair or beard violated his religious convictions. The defendant Commissioner argued that the prison facilities need a photograph of each inmate after a haircut and shave, showing his "facial features and contours unobstructed by hair", to facilitate apprehension of escaped convicts who might try to change their appearance by cutting their long hair. Both the Supreme Court, Queens County and the Appellate Division held that the state's objective of prisoner identification and security could be achieved through less restrictive means, by "pulling [the inmate's] locks back tightly behind the head for a photograph". 496 N.Y.S.2d at 260, see People v. Lewis, No. 85-11167, slip op. at 5. Both courts held that Directive No. 4914, in requiring an initial haircut, was unconstitutional as applied to the plaintiff inmate.

 In the second case, Overton v. Dept. of Correctional Services and Thomas A. Coughlin, III., 131 Misc. 2d 295, 499 N.Y.S.2d 860 (N.Y. S. Ct. 1986), another Rastafarian inmate challenged DOCS Directive No. 4914. The defendants there argued both that Rastafarianism is not a religion and that the legitimate security needs of the prison system required initial photographs of newly received inmates in a "clean-shaven, close-haired state". Id. at 862. Both sides moved for summary judgment. The court held that Rastafarianism is a religion and that inmates sincerely holding its beliefs are to be afforded First Amendment protection. *fn2" It held, "[i]n accordance with the determination . . . in People v. Lewis", that DOCS Directive No. 4914 was unconstitutional as applied to the Rastafarian inmate and that the state's "legitimate [security] objectives can be achieved by means of tying back [the inmate's] hair so as to afford a full and unobstructed facial view". Id. at 865.

 Issue Preclusion Principles

 The doctrine of collateral estoppel is that "once a court has decided an issue of fact or law necessary to its judgment, that decision may preclude relitigation of the issue in a suit on a different cause of action involving a party to the first case." Allen v. McCurry, 449 U.S. 90, 94, 66 L. Ed. 2d 308, 101 S. Ct. 411 (1980); LaRocca v. Gold, 662 F.2d at 148; see Gramatan Home Investors Corp. v. Lopez, 46 N.Y.2d 481, 414 N.Y.S.2d 308, 386 N.E.2d 1328 (N.Y. 1979). Title 28 U.S.C. § 1738 *fn3" requires federal courts to give preclusive effect to state court judgments whenever the courts of that state would do so. See Allen v. McCurry, 449 U.S. at 96. "For the bar to apply: (1) the issues in both proceedings must be identical, (2) the issue in the prior proceeding must have been actually litigated and actually decided, (3) there must have been a full and fair opportunity for litigation in the prior proceeding, and (4) the issue previously litigated must have been necessary to support a valid and final judgment on the merits." Gelb v. Royal Globe Ins. Co., 798 F.2d 38 at 44 (2d Cir. 1986); Tri-Ex Enterprises, Inc. v. Morgan Guaranty Trust Co., 596 F. Supp. 1, 7 n.3 (S.D.N.Y. 1982); Schwartz v. Public Administrator of County of Bronx, 24 N.Y.2d 65, 298 N.Y.S.2d 955, 246 N.E.2d 725 (N.Y. 1969).

 "It is undisputed that a litigant who was not a party to the first action may assert collateral estoppel offensively in a subsequent proceeding against the party who lost the decided issue in the prior case." Tri-Ex Enterprises v. Morgan Guaranty Trust Co., 596 F. Supp. at 7; see Allen v. McCurry, 449 U.S. at 95; Parklane Hosiery Co., Inc. v. Shore, 439 U.S. 322, 326-27, 58 L. Ed. 2d 552, 99 S. Ct. 645 (1979). The trial court has broad discretion to determine when to permit the offensive use of collateral estoppel, see Parklane Hosiery Co., Inc. v. Shore, 439 U.S. at 331, and should not allow it if it would be unfair to a defendant to bind him to the prior finding. Ibid ; see Tole S.A. v. Miller, 530 F. Supp. 999, 1003 (S.D.N.Y. 1981) aff'd, 697 F.2d 298 (2d Cir. 1982) (former requirement of mutuality has been abandoned and "[i]n its place the courts have adopted a rule that non-mutual issue preclusion is permitted unless it would be unfair").

 Discussion

 (a) Identity of Issues

 The issues presented here are the ones litigated in Lewis and Overton. The New York Supreme Court in Overton squarely addressed and decided both that Rastafarianism is a religion and that DOCS Directive No. 4914 is unconstitutional in requiring a Rastafarian inmate to get an initial haircut. Both determinations were necessary for its decision. Earlier, Lewis held that these defendants could not constitutionally require a Rastafarian inmate to get an initial haircut upon commencement of his ...


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