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Pilgrim v. Luther

July 6, 2009

PRINCE PILGRIM, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
DAVID LUTHER, CORRECTIONS OFFICER, SING SING CORRECTIONAL FACILITY, EDWARD VAUGHN, SERGEANT, SING SING CORRECTIONAL FACILITY, AND JOSEPH T. SMITH, FIRST DEPUTY SUPERINTENDENT, SING SING CORRECTIONAL FACILITY, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.*FN1



SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

Plaintiff-appellant, an inmate in New York's correctional system who appears pro se, brought this suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that defendants-three prison officials-violated his constitutional rights to free speech and due process of law in the course of an investigation and disciplinary hearing. We write principally to address plaintiff's argument that defendants retaliated against him, in violation of the First Amendment, for writing a pamphlet that urged inmates to participate in "work stoppages." We hold that this claim fails as a matter of law.

Affirmed.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: JOSÉ A. Cabranes, Circuit Judge

Submitted: June 19, 2009

Before: MINER, CABRANES, Circuit Judges, and STEIN, District Judge.*fn2

We are asked to consider whether a prison inmate's First Amendment right to free speech is violated by enforcement of a state prison regulation that prohibits inmates from leading or organizing work stoppages at state penitentiaries. Plaintiff-appellant Prince Pilgrim ("plaintiff" or "Pilgrim"), an inmate in New York's correctional system, brought this suit, pro se, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that defendants violated his constitutional rights-principally, his rights to free speech and due process of law-in the course of an investigation and disciplinary hearing while plaintiff was an inmate at Sing Sing Correctional Facility in Ossining, New York. Plaintiff now appeals from a January 29, 2007 judgment of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Richard Conway Casey, Judge), granting a motion for summary judgment by defendants-appellees Edward J. Vaughn (the corrections officer assigned to assist plaintiff in preparing for a disciplinary hearing) and Joseph T. Smith (the hearing officer), pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and a motion to dismiss by defendant David Luther (a corrections officer who investigated and filed a disciplinary report against plaintiff) (collectively, "defendants"), pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

BACKGROUND

The following facts are not in dispute and are drawn principally from the District Court's January 24, 2007 Memorandum & Order granting summary judgment in favor of Vaughn and Smith. See Pilgrim v. Luther, No. 01 Civ. 8995, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 7410, at *2-7 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 24, 2007) ("Pilgrim II"). On September 14, 1999, defendant Luther filed an inmate misbehavior report against plaintiff after a search of plaintiff's cell yielded three typewritten copies of a pamphlet entitled "Wake Up!". The pamphlet encouraged inmates to engage in work stoppages and other disruptive conduct in direct violation of prison rule 104.12. Plaintiff, who was placed in administrative segregation pending*fn3 a disciplinary hearing concerning his actions, requested assistance in preparing a defense, and Vaughn was assigned to work with him. Plaintiff requested that Vaughn obtain multiple documents and interview several witnesses, including Luther. Vaughn's supervisor instructed him that the requested information could not be disclosed to plaintiff, and that plaintiff could make his requests for discovery, including access to witnesses, directly to the hearing officer, Smith. On the first day of the hearing, September 20, 1999, plaintiff admitted that he wrote "Wake Up!", the contents of which were read into the record. On the second day of the hearing, September 22, 1999, after accusing Smith of bias owing to a prior conversation with plaintiff-a charge which Smith denied-plaintiff informed Smith that he no longer wished to participate in the hearing and returned to his cell. On September 24, 1999, Luther testified regarding his investigation. Following the hearing, Smith found that plaintiff had violated prison rule 104.12, based on (a) plaintiff's admission that he wrote "Wake Up!", and (b) Luther's testimony regarding his investigation and the search of plaintiff's cell.

Following an unsuccessful administrative appeal, plaintiff brought this suit against Luther, Vaughn, and Smith. On January 20, 2004, the District Court adopted in its entirety a February 27, 2003 Report and Recommendation of Magistrate Judge Kevin N. Fox ("R&R"), which recommended that the claims against Vaughn and Smith proceed to discovery but that the claims against Luther be dismissed on the basis of the pleadings. For the purpose of this appeal, we highlight one aspect of the R&R. Plaintiff claimed that Luther's investigation was a form of retaliation in violation of the First Amendment because Luther disliked the contents of "Wake Up!". The District Court adopted the Magistrate Judge's conclusion that, "even though the search for and the seizure of [plaintiff's] documents . . . may have trampled upon plaintiff's First Amendment right to free speech, so long as the search and the seizure were conducted pursuant to prison regulations that are reasonably related to legitimate penological interests, no actionable constitutional violation exists." Pilgrim v. Luther, No. 01 Civ. 8995, 2003 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 2933, at *14-15 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 27, 2003) ("Pilgrim I") (citing Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 89 (1987) (holding that "when a prison regulation impinges on inmates' constitutional rights, the regulation is valid if it is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests")). The Magistrate Judge observed that the prison regulations that permitted the investigation-including prison rule 104.12-were "designed to safeguard the correctional facility from[ ] disorder or conduct that might lead to violence or to collective action on the part of the prisoners designed to enable them to take over the facility." Pilgrim I, 2003 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 2933, at *15. Because the Magistrate Judge determined that "Wake Up!" advocated significant disruptions of prison order, and that the rules prohibiting such materials served legitimate governmental interests, he concluded that plaintiff's First Amendment claim failed as a matter of law.

The claims against Vaughn and Smith proceeded to discovery and, on January 24, 2007, the District Court entered summary judgment for defendants. The District Court concluded, inter alia, that (1) any shortcomings in Vaughn's pre-hearing assistance were harmless because plaintiff's "culpability [rested] primarily on two things: the seized documents, which [plaintiff] admitted [to] writing, and the testimony of Luther, which Smith deemed credible," Pilgrim II, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 7410, at *13-14 (internal citations omitted), and (2) plaintiff "has failed to allege facts necessary to support the conclusion that Smith was not fair and impartial," id. at *15. This appeal followed.

Before this Court, plaintiff offers three main arguments why the judgment of the District Court in favor of defendants should be reversed. First, plaintiff contends that Luther violated his rights under the First Amendment by conducting an investigation of the "Wake Up!" pamphlet and filing an inmate misbehavior report in retaliation for his exercise of free speech. Second, plaintiff argues that Vaughn did not fulfill his obligation to assist him in preparing a defense for the September 1999 disciplinary hearing, in violation of his right to due process of law. Third, plaintiff argues that Smith deprived him of a fair and impartial hearing, in violation of his right to due process of law.

DISCUSSION

We review de novo a district court's grant of summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, construing all facts in favor of the non-moving party. See, e.g., Paneccasio v. Unisource Worldwide, Inc., 532 F.3d 101, 107 (2d Cir. 2008). Summary judgment is only warranted upon a showing "that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). We also review de novo a district court's dismissal of claims pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), "construing the complaint liberally, accepting all factual allegations in the complaint as true, and drawing all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor." Chambers v. Time Warner, Inc., 282 F.3d 147, 152 (2d Cir. 2002).

Plaintiff's first argument on appeal contests the dismissal of the claims against Luther who, plaintiff asserts, retaliated against him in violation of his First Amendment right to free speech because Luther did not like the content of "Wake Up!". The prison regulation at issue in this case-rule 104.12-has appeared with some frequency in decisions of our Court addressing constitutional claims brought by prisoners. See, e.g., Sira v. Morton, 380 F.3d 57, 62 (2d Cir. 2004) (plaintiff "planned [an] inmate demonstration . . . in which inmates would conduct a work/program stoppage," in violation of prison rule 104.12); Gayle v. Gonyea, 313 F.3d 677, 680 (2d Cir. 2002) (plaintiff "threatened inmate unrest"-including encouraging inmates to file law suits and grievances-in violation of prison rule 104.12); Gaston v. Coughlin, 249 F.3d 156, 159 (2d Cir. 2001) (plaintiff organized a "food strike," i.e., a boycott of the prison cafeteria, in violation of prison rule 104.12); Duamutef v. O'Keefe, 98 F.3d ...


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