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RUDOLPH v. CUOMO

February 21, 1996

LYNN RUDOLPH, JOEY ABNEY, THEODORE TOLER, CHARLES H. HAMILTON, KENNETH INISS, GARY VANN, JEFFREY DAVIS, ROBERT S. SHAHEER, RONALD GANTT, GEORGE LEWIS, and LeROY WILLIAMS on behalf of Themselves and a Class Consisting of All Similarly Situated Individuals, Plaintiffs, against MARIO CUOMO, Governor of New York State, PATRICK J. BULGARO, Director of the New York State Division of the Budget, THOMAS A. COUGHLIN III, Commissioner of New York State Department of Correctional Services, CHRISTOPHER ARTUZ, Acting Superintendent of Green Haven Correctional Facility, CYRIL COEFIELD, Acting Deputy Superintendent of Security of Green Haven Correctional Facility, Defendants. THOMAS BERRY, STANLEY PUNTER, and JOHN LOPEZ, Plaintiffs, -against- MARIO CUOMO, Governor of New York State, ROBERT ABRAMS, Attorney General of New York State, THOMAS A. COUGHLIN III, Commissioner of New York State Department of Correctional Services, CHARLES J. SCULLY, Superintendent of Green Haven Correctional Facility, and WALLACE OLDHAM, Deputy Superintendent of Green Haven Correctional Facility, Defendants.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: KRAM

 SHIRLEY WOHL KRAM, U.S.D.J.

 In these consolidated civil rights actions brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, plaintiffs, a class of inmates including all inmates incarcerated at New York State's Green Haven Correctional Facility ("Green Haven") from January 1, 1992 to the present, who were or are now subject to either of the two policies at issue in this case, challenge as unconstitutional two changes in the regulations of the New York Department of Correctional Services ("DOCS"): (1) a one-time, three-week pay lag of inmate wages; and (2) a mandatory five dollar disciplinary surcharge imposed when an inmate is found guilty of certain violations of prison misbehavior rules. On May 23, 1995, Magistrate Judge Theodore H. Katz issued a Report and Recommendation (the "Report") recommending that defendants' motion for summary judgment dismissing all of plaintiffs' claims be granted. Plaintiffs now seek an order rejecting the Report. For the reasons set forth below, plaintiffs' motion is denied and the Report is adopted in full.

 BACKGROUND *fn1"

 I. The Pay Lag Policy

 Green Haven is a correctional facility located in Stormville, New York housing state prisoners. According to prison regulations, all able-bodied Green Haven inmates must perform work assignments during their period of incarceration. See Green Haven Inmate Orientation Handbook ("Green Haven Handbook"), annexed to the Affidavit of Rodney W. Ott, dated Feb. 28, 1994 (the "Ott Aff."), as Exh. "11," at 41-42. While inmates may request a particular work assignment, prison officials do not guarantee that such requests will be granted in all instances. Id. The rate of pay ranges from sixty cents to two dollars per day, depending on the nature of the work. *fn2" See Complaint at P 49; Answer at P 17.

 Earnings accumulated in this way are not given directly to inmates, but rather are placed in a special account. Inmates are allowed to deduct earnings from their accounts by sending money home to family members, ordering from approved catalogs or making purchases at the facility commissary. See Defs.' Interrog. Resp. at No. 5. When inmates make a monetary transaction, they fill out a "withdrawal slip" and DOCS debits their accounts accordingly. Under this system, inmates never actually receive or handle cash payments for their work. See Deposition of Russell DiBello, taken on July 19, 1993, annexed to the Ott Aff. as Exh. "4" ("DiBello Dep."), at 111-13.

 II. The Disciplinary Surcharge Policy

 Under state law, DOCS' employees are authorized to issue a misbehavior report ("MR") to any inmate who violates prison rules. See N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. tit. 7, § 270.2. After an MR is entered, the charge is reviewed by an area supervisor and then forwarded to a reviewing officer. See Deposition of Cyril Coefield, taken on Nov. 3, 1993, annexed to the Ott Aff. as Exh. "10" (the "Coefield Dep."), at 18-19. The reviewing officer either dismisses the charge or designates it as a Tier I, Tier II or Tier III violation, depending on several factors, including the frequency of the inmate's violations and the severity of the conduct. See Green Haven Handbook at 14. Because many of the violations allow for hearings in a range of tiers, see N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. tit. 7, § 270.2, similar MRs are often designated to different tiers, see N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. tit. 7, §§ 270.1 and 270.2.

 After a violation has been assigned to a certain tier, the reviewing officer refers the MR to a hearing officer and a hearing is conducted. The level of due process accorded an inmate at the hearing corresponds to the tier to which the infraction has been assigned. See N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. tit. 7, § 270. Tier I violations, representing the least severe infractions, are subject to a violation hearing and are adjudicated by a prison sergeant. Tier II violations give rise to a disciplinary hearing and are adjudicated by a lieutenant. Tier III violations, the most severe penalty level, are adjudicated at a superintendent's hearing, presided over by a captain or other high level employee such as a deputy superintendent, senior counselor, steward or education director. See Coefield Dep. at 20-22. In no circumstance may a charging, investigating or reviewing officer serve in an adjudicative role at the hearing. Inmates found guilty of Tier II or Tier III offenses are entitled to an administrative appeal and subsequent judicial review in a state court Article 78 proceeding. See N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. tit. 7, §§ 253.8 and 254.8; N.Y. Civ. Prac. L. & R. §§ 7801, fl et seq.

 On December 18, 1991, the New York State Commissioner of Correctional Services issued a new order, effective January 1, 1992, requiring inmates convicted of misbehavior in a Tier II or Tier III disciplinary hearing to pay a five dollar mandatory disciplinary surcharge (the "Disciplinary Surcharge" or "Disciplinary Surcharge Policy"). See N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. tit. 7, §§ 253.7 and 254.7. Monies collected from the Disciplinary Surcharge are deposited in the state general fund and are not allocated specifically to the DOCS budget. See Affidavit of Donald Selsky, dated Apr. 28, 1994, at P 5.

 .III. The Present Proceedings

 On May 11, 1992, plaintiffs brought suit challenging the Pay Lag and Disciplinary Surcharge Policies. In their complaint, plaintiffs claim that the Pay Lag Policy is unconstitutional in that it (1) deprives them of property without due process of law because they possess a property right in the timely payment of their compensation; (2) violates the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment; and (3) impairs their rights under the Constitution's Contracts Clause.

 With respect to the Disciplinary Surcharge Policy, plaintiffs claim several constitutional violations: (1) violation of inmates' rights to procedural due process based on the introduction of bias into the disciplinary system; (2) infringement of inmates' substantive due process rights when state officials allow forfeitures and confiscations of property without explicit statutory authorization; and (3) violation of the Equal Protection Clause on the ground that the Disciplinary Surcharge does not expressly provide for a waiver in cases of indigence or unreasonable hardship, despite the fact that other mandatory surcharges do provide such a possibility.

 Second, the Magistrate Judge dismissed plaintiffs arguments with respect to the Disciplinary Surcharge Policy. Magistrate Judge Katz found that any interest on the part of adjudicating officers is far too remote to give rise to an inference of bias. Id. at 26-35. The Report also concludes that the Disciplinary Surcharge Policy does not involve a forfeiture without due process of law, and that even if such actions constitute a forfeiture, there is adequate statutory authority for the Disciplinary Surcharge Policy. Id. at 35-39. Finally, the Magistrate Judge found that the lack of an indigency waiver in the Disciplinary Surcharge Policy does not violate the Equal Protection Clause because plaintiffs were not similarly situated to those unincarcerated individuals who may obtain indigency waivers for other surcharges. Id. at 40-41. Furthermore, the Magistrate Judge found that the Disciplinary Surcharge is rationally related to a legitimate penological interest, and thus does not run afoul of equal protection guarantees. Id. at 42-44.

 On July 7, 1995, plaintiffs filed objections to the Report, arguing that the Magistrate Judge reached incorrect conclusions of law and fact on nearly every issue. With respect to the Pay Lag Policy, plaintiffs argue that the Magistrate Judge erred by: (1) resolving disputed factual issues relating to the significant hardship that the Pay Lag Policy imposes on inmates; (2) holding that DOCS could withhold inmate wages for years without violating the Due Process Clause; (3) finding that no taking occurred within the meaning of the Takings Clause even though inmates are not compensated in any way for their withheld wages; and (4) holding that DOCS' unilateral alteration of the terms of inmate employment is permissible under the Contracts Clause.

 As for the Magistrate Judge's findings vis-a-vis the Disciplinary Surcharge Policy, plaintiffs contend that he erred by: (1) resolving disputed factual issues relating to the significant discretion DOCS gives its employees in the operation of the DOCS disciplinary system; (2) holding that DOCS properly clarified the purpose of the Disciplinary Surcharge; (3) finding that DOCS' employment of improper incentives in the disciplinary process does not violate the Due Process Clause; (4) determining that the confiscation of inmate funds without express statutory authorization does not violate the Due Process Clause; and (5) holding that DOCS can deny inmates indigency waivers of the Disciplinary Surcharge without violating the Equal Protection Clause. The Court shall address these objections below.

 DISCUSSION

 I. Standard of Law

 Rule 72(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governs determinations by magistrate judges with respect to dispositive motions. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b). Specifically, Rule 72(b) provides that, where a magistrate judge issues a Report and Recommendation that is dispositive of a claim or defense, the court must review de novo those portions to which the parties object.

 Pursuant to Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is appropriate where "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The moving party must initially satisfy a burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, which can be done merely by pointing out that there is an absence of evidence in support of the nonmoving party's case. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-25, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986). The nonmoving party then must meet a burden of coming forward with "specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial," Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e), by "a showing sufficient to establish the existence of (every) element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. at 322.

 The court "must resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the party defending against the motion." Eastway Constr. Corp. v. New York, 762 F.2d 243, 249 (2d Cir. 1985); see also Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 158-59, 90 S. Ct. 1598, 26 L. Ed. 2d 142 (1970); Hathaway v. Coughlin, 841 F.2d 48, 50 (2d Cir. 1988); Knight v. United States Fire Ins. Co., 804 F.2d 9, 11 (2d Cir. 1986), cert. denied, 480 U.S. 932, 94 L. Ed. 2d 762, 107 S. Ct. 1570 (1987). But the court is to inquire whether "there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a jury to return a verdict for the party," Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986), and to grant summary judgment where the nonmovant's evidence is merely colorable, conclusory, speculative or not significantly probative. Id. at 249-50; Knight v. United States Fire Ins. Co., 804 F.2d... at 12, 15; Argus Inc. v. Eastman Kodak Co., 801 F.2d 38, 45 (2d Cir. 1986), cert. denied, 479 U.S. 1088, 94 L. Ed. 2d 151, 107 S. Ct. 1295 (1987). To determine whether the nonmoving party has met his or her burden, the court must focus on both the materiality and the genuineness of the factual issues raised by the nonmovant. As to materiality, "it is the substantive law's identification of which facts are critical and which facts are irrelevant that governs." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 248. A dispute over irrelevant or unnecessary facts will not preclude summary judgment, id., but the presence of unresolved factual issues that are material to the outcome of the litigation mandates a denial of the summary judgment motion. See, e.g., Knight v. United States Fire Ins. Co., 804 F.2d at 11-12.

 Once the nonmoving party has successfully met the burden of establishing the existence of a genuine dispute as to an issue of material fact, summary judgment must be denied unless the moving party comes forward with additional evidence sufficient to satisfy his or her ultimate burden under Rule 56. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. at 330 n.2 (Brennan, J., dissenting). In sum, if the court determines that "the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no 'genuine issue for trial'" Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S. Ct. 1348, 89 L. Ed. 2d 538 (1986) (quoting First Nat'l Bank of Arizona v. Cities Serv. Co., 391 U.S. 253, 289, 20 L. Ed. 2d 569, 88 S. Ct. 1575 (1969)).

 II. The Pay Lag policy

 A. Resolution of Disputed ...


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