The opinion of the court was delivered by: DENNY CHIN
Pro se plaintiff Richard Hodges commenced this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging violations of his constitutional rights in connection with a disciplinary proceeding held in March 1992 while he was incarcerated at Washington Correctional Facility (the "Facility"). Before the Court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment and certain of the defendants' motion to vacate the Clerk's entry of default. Plaintiff also moves for a writ of attachment pursuant to the entry of default.
Plaintiff is an inmate at the Facility where he was employed in the law library as a library assistant. On March 8, 1992, defendant William Weaver, the corrections officer in charge of the law library, orally ordered the inmate law library assistants to remove all legal work, including other inmates' legal materials, from their personal possession and to store them in the library. Plaintiff asserts that he was not present in the law library on the day that this order was issued.
After overhearing certain conversations between other inmates, Weaver concluded that plaintiff had violated his order and was engaging in unauthorized legal work. Consequently, plaintiff's cell was searched on March 13, 1992 and certain documents were seized, including approximately "500 blank legal forms and personal legal materials belonging to numerous inmates." (Pl. Motion for Summary Judgment, Exhibit J). The personal legal materials were later determined not to belong to any inmate incarcerated at the Facility at that time.
A "client list" in plaintiff's handwriting listing several inmates' names, numbers and cube locations was also confiscated. At this time, plaintiff was removed from the "honor dorm" where he was housed and placed in keeplock, or administrative confinement, pending the disciplinary hearing. He remained in keeplock from March 13 to March 25, 1992, suffering a loss of privileges.
On March 16, 1992, plaintiff was served with formal charges of disobeying a direct order, providing unauthorized legal assistance, and maintaining property in an unauthorized area. Plaintiff chose an assistant, Colin Thompson, to help him defend against the charges. Mr. Thompson met with plaintiff on March 17, 1992, and gathered information on plaintiff's behalf. Plaintiff also called for three witnesses to be examined at the disciplinary hearing.
The hearing was conducted on March 19, 20, 24, and 25, 1992 before defendant Lieutenant Kannegiser.
Plaintiff testified at the hearing, as did his three witnesses: corrections officer Cosey, who searched plaintiff's cell; defendant deputy Adler, in charge of programs at the Facility; and Weaver. Plaintiff also submitted various documents, including the contraband receipt tag dated March 13, 1992, a copy of Directive #4483 (the New York State Department of Corrections' policy concerning use of law libraries and legal assistance), an affidavit by a fellow inmate alleging that Weaver made defamatory statements about plaintiff, and copies of the misbehavior report. The hearing transcript reveals that plaintiff was not prevented from presenting any evidence he deemed necessary to his defense.
At the hearing, plaintiff did not deny having the offending documents in his possession. Rather, he claimed that he was not present when the order was issued and that he had no notice of any rule proscribing the possession of legal documents in his cell. In addition, plaintiff argued that the documents did not fall within the scope of the order, since the documents were blank legal forms and legal materials that did not belong to any inmate at the Facility.
Plaintiff was found guilty of disobeying a direct order and having property in an unauthorized area and not guilty of unauthorized legal work. The hearing officer imposed a penalty of 12 days keeplock and 15 days loss of privileges. Plaintiff received credit for the 12 days he had already spent in keeplock. Plaintiff was advised of his right to appeal and was provided with a written explanation of the disposition. Plaintiff's administrative appeal of the hearing officer's determination was denied.
On July 31, 1992, plaintiff filed a pro se complaint seeking compensatory damages, punitive damages against Weaver, and injunctive relief. Plaintiff alleged that defendants violated his constitutional rights by: 1) placing him in a Special Housing Unit and confiscating his documents based on false charges, in violation of his due process rights, 2) arbitrarily prohibiting him from providing legal assistance to other inmates without a legitimate penological interest, and 3) violating his privacy rights by disseminating information found in the confiscated documents. Plaintiff also complains that he was arbitrarily denied release from his pre-hearing confinement and that the hearing officer at the disciplinary hearing was not impartial.
Defendants' Motion to Vacate Default
On March 8, 1994, the Clerk of the Court entered a default, apparently pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 55(a), against all defendants except Weaver for their failure to plead, answer, or otherwise defend. Defendants now move to vacate the default. For the reasons stated below, the motion is granted.
Rule 55(a) provides that a clerk may enter a default upon being advised by affidavit that a party against whom judgment for affirmative relief is sought has failed to plead or otherwise defend. After entry of a default, the defaulting party may move to set it aside for "good cause" shown. Fed. R. Civ. P. 55(c). Three criteria must be assessed to determine whether "good cause" has been shown: 1) whether the default was willful, 2) whether setting aside the default would prejudice the opposing party, and 3) whether a meritorious defense is presented. Enron Oil Corp. v. Diakuhara, 10 F.3d 90, 96 (2d Cir. 1993) (citing cases). Each of these three factors must be considered. Commercial Bank of Kuwait v. Rafidain Bank, 15 F.3d 238, 243 (2d Cir. 1994). While resolution of the motion is left to the sound discretion of the district court, the defaulting party should be given the benefit of doubt and the "good cause" proffered should be generously interpreted, since defaults are generally disfavored. Enron Oil Corp. v. Diakuhara, 10 F.3d at 95-96.
Here, defendants' counsel states that the delay in responding to plaintiff's motion for summary judgment was due to congestion in his trial calendar and his difficulty in contacting a defendant. Counsel further maintains that all defendants eventually did appear, either by answer or by motion to dismiss. Although counsel's explanations are less than compelling, the motion to vacate the default entry is granted since defendants have meritorious defenses, they would be prejudiced by the entry of a default judgment, and the default was not willful. Consequently, plaintiff's motion for a writ of attachment is denied.
Standards for Summary Judgment
The standards applicable to motions for summary judgment are well-settled. A court may grant summary judgment only where there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is therefore entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). Accordingly, the court's task is not to "weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but [to] determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 2511, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986). Summary judgment is inappropriate if, resolving all ambiguities and drawing all inferences against the moving party, there exists a dispute about a material fact "such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." 477 U.S. at 248-49, 106 S. Ct. at 2510-11 (citing Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 159, 90 S. Ct. 1598-1609, 26 L. Ed. 2d 142 (1970)). To defeat a motion for summary judgment, however, the nonmoving party "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 106 S. Ct. 1348, 1356, 89 L. Ed. 2d 538 (1986). There is no issue for trial unless there exists sufficient evidence in the record favoring the party opposing summary judgment to support a jury verdict in that ...