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Gray v. Creamer

decided: August 14, 1972.


Seitz, Chief Judge, and Van Dusen and Adams, Circuit Judges.

Author: Van Dusen


VAN DUSEN, Circuit Judge.

On May 13, 1971, plaintiffs Gray, Harris, Moore, Holden and Sowers, prisoners or former prisoners at the State Correctional Institution at Pittsburgh (the "Western Penitentiary"), brought the instant civil rights action on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated to secure redress for various allegedly unconstitutional actions by the defendants. Jurisdiction was invoked pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1343, 2201 and 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985. Plaintiffs allege that they had been deprived of rights guaranteed to them by the First, Sixth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution and Article One, Section Seven, of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, P.S.; both injunctive and declaratory relief were requested. On May 25, 1971, at a "final pretrial hearing" the defendants presented a "Motion to Dismiss, Presenting Defenses of Failure to State a Claim and of Improperly Bringing a Class Action," and by order of June 21, 1971, the district court granted this Motion.*fn1 See Gray v. Creamer, 329 F. Supp. 418 (W.D.Pa.1971). For the reasons to be stated, we reverse and remand to the district court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.


We note at the outset that a motion to dismiss a complaint, including a prisoner's civil rights complaint, for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted is subject to a very strict standard. In Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 92 S. Ct. 594, 30 L. Ed. 2d 652 (1972), the Court reviewed a district court grant of such a motion, which grant had been affirmed by the Court of Appeals on the ground that prison officials are vested with "wide discretion" in disciplinary matters. The Court reversed:

"Whatever may be the limits on the scope of inquiry of courts into the internal administration of prisons, allegations such as those asserted by petitioner, however inartfully pleaded, are sufficient to call for the opportunity to offer supporting evidence. We cannot say with assurance that under the allegations of the pro se complaint, which we hold to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers, it appears 'beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief.' Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S. Ct. 99, 2 L. Ed. 2d 80 (1957)." 404 U.S. at 520, 92 S. Ct. at 595.

See 2A Moore's Federal Practice para. 12.08 at 2271-74 (1968):

"[A] complaint should not be dismissed for insufficiency unless it appears to a certainty that plaintiff is entitled to no relief under any state of facts which could be proved in support of the claim." (Emphasis in original.)

Thus, the district court's grant of defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted was proper only if, taking as true all the allegations in the complaint and drawing the inferences most favorable to the plaintiffs, it appeared beyond doubt that plaintiffs were entitled to no relief. See, e.g., Haines v. Kerner, supra ; Cooper v. Pate, 378 U.S. 546, 84 S. Ct. 1733, 12 L. Ed. 2d 1030 (1964); United States ex rel. Jones v. Rundle, 453 F.2d 147 (3d Cir. 1971); Rivers v. Royster, 360 F.2d 592 (4th Cir. 1966); cf. Long v. Parker, 390 F.2d 816, 821 (3d Cir. 1968). It is with this standard in mind that we turn to an examination of the facts alleged in the complaint.*fn2


The instant suit apparently arises from the publication of a prison news letter called Vibrations and the reaction of the prison authorities to this news letter and to the prisoners connected with it. According to the complaint, Vibrations was established in December 1970 by a group of 12 prisoners, including plaintiffs Gray, Harris, Moore and Sowers, with the encouragement of the then-acting Director of Treatment at Western Penitentiary. This news letter was intended to inform both the general public and the administration of Western Penitentiary, and to this end it contained a wide variety of information, including poems, astrology forecasts, informational articles or essays, religious expressions, lists of prisoners having illnesses, letters to the editors, statements of editorial policy, and requests for supplies needed by the news letter. Vibrations was published weekly beginning on Christmas Eve 1970, and by April 1971 at least 12,000 copies had been mailed outside of Western Penitentiary and numerous copies circulated within the prison.*fn3 Plaintiffs alleged that the publication of Vibrations was of great benefit to the prisoners themselves, the prison administration, and the citizens outside the prison. Plaintiffs further alleged that the Vibrations staff exercised stringent self-censorship with the result that no material was published that could be interpreted to be obscene, libelous, or dangerous to prison administration, discipline, and security.

In April 1971, relationships between the Vibrations staff and the prison administration deteriorated markedly. On April 19, 1971, after several meetings between individual defendants and members of the Vibrations staff, including plaintiff Gray, the Vibrations office at the Western Penitentiary was padlocked by order of defendants, and certain materials found in the office were confiscated and presumably destroyed. Since that time defendants have made it impossible for Vibrations to be published.

Further, according to the complaint, beginning on April 19, 1971, the plaintiffs and members of the class they represent were transferred to other prisons, placed in punitive and administrative segregation, suspended from jobs they has held and subjected to physical and verbal abuse from guards and the confiscation of their personal belongings. Specifically plaintiffs alleged that on or after April 19, 1971, defendants caused certain prisoners, including plaintiffs Moore and Holden, to be placed in either punitive segregation or segregation at the Western Penitentiary, and that the prisoners so isolated were neither charged with a violation of prison regulations nor given a hearing. Further, it was alleged that during a two-week period subsequent to April 19, 1971, defendants caused at least ten prisoners, including plaintiffs Gray, Moore and Harris, to be transferred to other penal institutions in the state without being given a hearing nor charged with any violation of prison regulations prior to the transfers. Plaintiffs alleged that ...

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