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Meyers v. Alldredge

decided: February 14, 1974.

JOEL MEYERS ET AL., APPELLANTS,
v.
NOAH ALLDREDGE, WARDEN, UNITED STATES PENITENTIARY AT LEWISBURG, PENNSYLVANIA, ET AL.



Van Dusen, Circuit Judge.

Author: Van Dusen

VAN DUSEN, Circuit Judge.

This is an appeal from a district court decision and order*fn1 dismissing a complaint filed by eleven inmates at Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary, challenging the actions of prison administrators during and after a work stoppage at Lewisburg in February 1972.*fn2 In their complaint, filed on behalf of themselves and all inmates at Lewisburg,*fn3 plaintiffs contended that (1) the disciplinary procedures afforded plaintiffs and their class were so inadequate that they failed to comply with procedural due process; (2) the actions of the administration were so fundamentally unfair and the charges against plaintiffs and their class so fundamentally untrue as to constitute a violation of substantive due process; and (3) the punishments inflicted upon plaintiffs and their class were so harsh and disproportionate to the alleged infractions as to constitute cruel and unusual punishment. Plaintiffs sought injunctive and declaratory relief.*fn4 After extensive hearings, the district court rejected the above contentions and dismissed the complaint.

I.

The facts surrounding the work stoppage and giving rise to the present case are as follows. On the morning of February 15, 1972, rumors of a work stoppage reached prison officials. After the noon meal, between 150 and 200 prisoners congregated in an open area near the prison warehouse. At the behest of Chief Correctional Supervisor Paul Dodd, who had come to investigate the situation, an inmate named Saunders ascended a loading platform to inquire what the men were doing. At this point, numerous other inmates climbed upon the platform, and some, including plaintiffs Phillips, Irwin, Jones and Mason, made brief speeches referring to inmate rights and grievances and expressing general dissatisfaction. Because of cold and snow, Captain Dodd suggested that the inmates move inside to the auditorium to continue their meeting and that they prepare a list of grievances which he would submit to his superior. He requested further that they remain non-violent and stated that there would be no reprisals as long as they remained non-violent and gave him grievances.

The inmates continued their meeting inside the auditorium until 3:30 p.m., during which time they formed a nine-man committee to represent the inmate body in meetings with prison officials. By late afternoon, virtually all inmates had left their job assignments, either in protest or pursuant to permission from the prison administration. A meeting with prison officials scheduled for 6:30 p.m. failed to materialize when many prisoners complained that the nine-man committee was not representative. Accordingly, the inmates reconvened after dinner and elected a 16-man committee (hereinafter referred to as the "first committee"), with plaintiff Irwin as chairman and plaintiffs Meyers, Phillips, Jones, Johnson, Mason, Tucker, Buyse and Alger as members. Irwin thereupon informed Associate Warden George L. Cansler that (1) because the committee desired to formulate grievances, it could not meet with administration officials until the next morning, and (2) they were shutting down all work activity, except in the hospital.

At the meeting the next morning, with the entire institution shut down as a result of the strike, the first committee presented to the prison officials a list of five demands which the committee specified would have to be met before they would proceed to anything else. These demands were: (1) a letter from the Warden recognizing the negotiating committee as such; (2) a letter confirming that there would be no reprisals against members of the committee; (3) reopening of the visiting room; (4) an attorney to represent the committee; and (5) the presence at their meetings of a member of the press.*fn5 After consideration of the demands, Warden Noah Alldredge, in the presence of the committee, informed its members that all five demands had been rejected, but he explained that his mere presence at the meeting indicated his recognition of the committee. He added that "there would be no reprisals so long as they functioned as a committee in good faith and did not commit an illegal act." Finally, he requested that they compile grievances, admonishing them that if they did not prepare and submit grievances by 3:00 p.m. that day, he would disband the committee. One of the committee members, Scully, refused to permit the Warden to read an official policy statement to the committee.*fn6 At 3:10 p.m., when no grievances were forthcoming, the first committee was disbanded.

Shortly thereafter, the general inmate population was called upon to elect a new committee, and a new committee was formed. The next day, Thursday, February 17, however, the second committee encountered resentment and distrust among the general population and was quickly forced to disband when a non-plaintiff member of the first committee (Scully) disrupted its meeting.*fn7 Later that afternoon, plaintiffs Irwin, Phillips, Alger, Mason, and other members of the first committee were placed in segregation. Misconduct reports were also filed, charging them with attempting to incite, and soliciting support for continuation of, a work stoppage because of their speeches on February 15 and conduct thereafter.*fn8

The work stoppage continued without any violence,*fn9 but also without any sign of resolution, through the week-end and into the next week.*fn10 Finally, on Wednesday, February 23, administration officials attempted to put the institution back to work, but they learned from normally pro-administration, honor inmates that the general population wanted the first committee reactivated, with observers attending its meetings so they could report to the general prison population on whether the committee was honestly interested in presenting grievances (348 F. Supp. at 812). In an endeavor to reach a prompt and mutually agreeable end to the strike, prison officials decided to let the first committee reconvene, with such observers present. At 11:30 a.m. on Thursday, February 24, the 11 first committee members in segregation were brought out and met with the five first committee members who had remained in the general population and with the four observers. After a hectic meeting which lasted several hours, the observers were ejected. The committee continued to meet until 10:00 p.m. that evening, but no progress on the preparation of grievances was made because the committee was bogged down by a dispute as to whether they should refuse to negotiate until the Warden formally recognized them in writing.

The next morning, the Warden presented the committee with a memorandum in which he criticized the members for failing to present grievances, stated that he was "almost convinced" that they did not intend to submit grievances, but advised them that they would be allowed to meet on a daily "round the clock" basis until they were "able to produce some grievances representing the general population." The committee was further told that the Warden would reply to the grievances in two weeks in the prison newspaper and that the grievances would be sent to an outside group chosen by the inmates. At 2:00 p.m., the committee decided, by a 13-2 vote, to consider the Warden's memo the equivalent of formal recognition and to set about the business of preparing grievances. The committee informed Associate Warden Cansler that the grievances would be ready by 3:00 p.m. In the meantime, the Warden and his staff had become convinced, because of information received from various sources,*fn11 that the committee was stalling and purposely refusing to submit grievances in order to prolong the strike. At 4:00 p.m., Cansler went to the committee room but was advised by a committee member that the grievances would be ready in 10 minutes. After waiting 10 minutes, Cansler returned and was told that the committee would be finished in "just a little while." The committee requested that they be able to meet that evening, but Cansler informed them that the Warden had to notify the Bureau of Prisons by 5:00 p.m. as to what action prison officials were taking to end the strike. When the committee apprised Cansler that the preparation of grievances would take at least two more hours, Cansler, convinced that this was merely another stalling tactic, terminated the meeting, disbanded the committee, and returned the committee members to segregation.*fn12

The next day, Saturday, February 26, the Warden circulated a questionnaire asking each inmate to indicate whether he would return to work and stating that a negative answer might result in disciplinary action. By Monday, February 28, all but two inmates, plaintiffs Moore and McAllister, had agreed to return to work, and the work stoppage came to an end.

Shortly thereafter, all committee members (including all plaintiffs except for Moore and McAllister) were brought before the Adjustment Committee and charged with "Conduct Prejudicial to the Good Order, Security, and Safety of the Community and Security of Inmate Population."*fn13 The basis of such charges was the failure to present grievances. In addition, all plaintiffs who had allegedly made speeches on February 15 (Phillips, Jones, Alger, Irwin, and Mason) had previously been brought before the Adjustment Committee on charges of "Attempting to Incite a Work Stoppage."*fn14 Finally, Moore and McAllister were brought before the Committee for refusal to sign the questionnaire circulated on February 26. The Adjustment Committee, of which Associate Warden Cansler was chairman, on the date of the hearings upheld all charges and referred them to the Good Time Forfeiture Board (hereinafter referred to as GTF Board) for action.

The cases of plaintiffs Phillips, Meyers, Jones, Alger, Mason and Irwin were thus referred to the GTF Board on March 1 and 6 on the charge of conduct prejudicial to the safety and security of the community for determination of the appropriate good time loss.*fn15 The Board found all men guilty on March 8 and 9 (except that it cleared Alger on the charge of attempting to incite a work stoppage), placed them in indefinite segregation, and recommended that their earned good time be forfeited.*fn16 The Warden forfeited only 30 days, however, and suspended the balance on the condition that the inmate not incur a major misconduct report for six months. Appeals were then taken to the General Counsel of the Bureau of Prisons. The General Counsel affirmed the disciplinary actions, but reduced the forfeiture to 15 days in the cases of Alger, Irwin and Mason.

The plaintiffs filed the instant suit on March 17, 1972, contending, inter alia, that (1) the disciplinary procedures afforded plaintiffs denied them procedural due process, and (2) the actions of the administration were so fundamentally unfair and the charges against the plaintiffs so fundamentally untrue as to constitute a violation of substantive due process.*fn17 After extensive hearings, including testimony by both plaintiffs and prison officials, the district court ruled that plaintiffs were not entitled to relief and dismissed the complaint. Plaintiffs have appealed from this dismissal.

II.

Plaintiffs' principal contention is that they were denied procedural due process in their prison disciplinary hearings. Plaintiffs contend that their disciplinary hearings did not comport with due process because they lacked four procedural safeguards essential to a fair hearing: (1) an impartial tribunal; (2) adequate notice; (3) the right to confront and cross-examine witnesses; and (4) the right to counsel. Before analyzing this contention, it is important to understand the exact nature of disciplinary proceedings in federal prisons.

The control and management of federal penal and correctional institutions is vested in the Attorney General, 18 U.S.C. § 4001, and responsibility for administration and supervision is delegated by statute to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, under the direction of the Attorney General, 18 U.S.C. § 4042. Disciplinary procedures at the Lewisburg Penitentiary follow the policies and standards of the Bureau of Prisons and occur at two levels, the Adjustment Committee and the GTF Board.

The Adjustment Committee hearings are low level disciplinary proceedings and lack a number of the procedural practices familiar in judicial proceedings. The normal procedure begins with the filing of a misconduct report by a correctional officer. This report is then investigated by another staff member, who may interview both the correctional officer who filed the report and the inmate charged with the misconduct. The inmate is then brought before the Adjustment Committee,*fn18 which is composed of at least three members of the prison administration. The Committee's procedure in the instant case*fn19 was to call the inmate before it, advise him orally of the charges against him, and ask for his statement. The inmate was not allowed the assistance of counsel or a counsel substitute and was not allowed to confront and cross-examine witnesses. The Committee made ...


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