ON APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA. (D.C. Civil No. 90-03286)
Before: Stapleton, Scirica and Alito, Circuit Judges
Two state corrections officials appeal from a judgment entered against them under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for allegedly violating a prisoner's due process rights in connection with a prison disciplinary proceeding. One of the offenses for which the prisoner was found guilty at the disciplinary proceeding was possession or consumption of intoxicating beverages. The district court held that the prisoner's due process rights were violated because the beverages found in his cell were not preserved until the time of the hearing but were instead discarded in accordance with standard prison practice. Applying Arizona v. Youngblood, 488 U.S. 51 (1988), we hold that the corrections officers did not violate due process because there was no evidence that they discarded the beverages in bad faith. We therefore reverse.
Eddie Griffin is a prisoner at the Pennsylvania State Correctional Institution at Graterford. In March 1990, John Spratt and another Graterford corrections officer searched the cell in which Griffin was housed alone. The officers found a quantity of beverages that they believed were fermented. Spratt ordered Griffin to flush the liquid down the toilet, and Griffin complied.
Spratt then filed a misconduct report charging Griffin with (1) "possession of contraband -- intoxicants, materials used for fermentation," (2) "making fermented beverages," and (3) "possession for consumption of intoxicating beverages." In the report, Spratt stated that the officers had discovered approximately 15 gallons of beverages in Griffin's cell. Spratt stated that ten gallons of fermented beverage had been found in a mop bucket behind Griffin's cell cabinet and that approximately five gallons of fermented beverage had been discovered in a plastic milk bag behind his bunk. In addition, the report stated that numerous plastic one-gallon containers with residue from fermented beverage inside had been found in the cell.
In a subsequently filed declaration, Spratt stated that he had received on-the-job training for the purpose of identifying fermented beverages. Spratt also declared that he had been able to identify the beverages in question as fermented based on his "experience as a guard responsible for multiple cell searches." He stated that the liquid in the bucket had been "foaming at the top" and that he had "recognized a strong stench of rotten fruit and smell of alcohol." He further declared that he had been able to see "particles of fruit" in the liquid in the plastic bag and that the bag was "bloated, bellowed out, and . . . felt warm." Spratt's declaration also explained that each week his search team at Graterford found about 40 to 60 gallons of contraband fermented beverage prepared by prisoners using fruit taken back to their cells after meals. Spratt stated that when he found contraband that he could identify as a fermented beverage he always asked the inmate to flush the beverage down the toilet.
A few days after the search, a disciplinary hearing was conducted by another corrections officer, J. Kevin Kane. The only two witnesses at the hearing were Griffin and Spratt. Griffin claimed that the beverages had not fermented at the time of confiscation, while Spratt testified that he believed, based on his experience and observations, that they had fermented. Griffin asked Spratt why he had not tested the beverages to determine if they had fermented and why he had not saved a sample of the beverages for analysis at a later date. Kane, however, ruled that those questions were irrelevant.
Kane found Griffin not guilty of making fermented beverages, but guilty of the other two violations -- possession of contraband and possession or consumption of intoxicating beverages. Kane imposed a sanction of 60 days in disciplinary custody.
Griffin then commenced this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging, among other things, that Spratt and Kane violated his due process rights because the beverages found in his cell had not been tested or preserved until the time of the disciplinary hearing. The district court granted partial summary judgment for Griffin, holding that the destruction of the beverages violated his due process rights. The district court relied primarily on Young v. Kann, 926 F.2d 1396 (3d Cir. 1991), which held that a prisoner's due process rights were violated at a disciplinary hearing because the hearing examiner refused to order production of an allegedly threatening letter that was written by the prisoner and seized by prison officials and that formed part of the basis for the disciplinary charge against the prisoner. The district court recognized (App. 153) that the facts in the present case are "somewhat different" from those in Young, but the district court stated that "the principles set forth in Young govern this case." The district court wrote (id.):
[Griffin's] ability to mount a defense to the charge of possessing a fermented beverage was severely restricted because the only physical evidence of his guilt was destroyed before it could be tested for fermentation or observed by a third party. The failure to produce this evidence at the disciplinary hearing, in the absence of a valid security concern, violated Griffin's due process right to "present documentary evidence," and "marshal the facts in his defense." Wolff [v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 566, 564 (1974)].
The district court also concluded (id., quoting Young, 926 at 1402) that hearing examiner Kane violated Griffin's due process rights by relying exclusively "'on a prison employee's oral summary of information implicating the prisoner.'" viz, Spratt's opinion that the beverages were ...