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Griffin v. Vaughn

May 5, 1997

JEROME GRIFFIN

APPELLANT

v.

DON VAUGHN; HUGH OWENS; B.K. SMITH; R. JOHNSON; JOSEPH CHESNEY; TIM HENRY; JOSEPH D. LEHMAN; GLENN D. HOPEY; MICHAEL BARONE; D. SEARFOSS; M. LUCAS; ARTHUR AUXER; JEFFREY BEARD; AND JOHN PALAKOVICH, DEFENDANTS, ARE ALL SUED IN THEIR INDIVIDUAL AND OFFICIAL CAPACITIES



On Appeal From the United States District Court For the Eastern District of Pennsylvania

(D.C. Civil Action No. 93-cv-03539)

BEFORE: STAPLETON and MANSMANN, Circuit Judges, RESTANI, *fn* Judge

STAPLETON, Circuit Judge

Filed May 5, 1997

Argued February 6, 1997

OPINION OF THE COURT

Jerome Griffin alleges that his constitutional rights were violated by the defendant prison officials when he was held in administrative custody for fifteen months. He claims violations of procedural due process, the eighth amendment, and equal protection. *fn1 For the reasons set forth below, we will affirm the judgment of the district court.

I. Background

In 1992, a female prison guard at State Correctional Institute (SCI) Graterford was beaten and raped by a male prisoner. Griffin was suspected of committing the rape and was placed in administrative custody without a hearing pending an investigation of the incident. He was given written notice of the reason for his transfer to administrative custody. The notice stated that he was under investigation for a violation of prison rules and regulations, and that there was a need for increased control pending disposition of the charge.

Subsequently, Griffin was transferred to prisons at Frackville and Camp Hill, where he remained in administrative custody. While at SCI Frackville, Griffin received monthly reviews, during which the Program Review Committee (PRC) discussed his confinement with him, reviewed his behavior, and attempted to answer his questions. Griffin remained in administrative custody for fifteen months.

After dismissing the complaint with respect to some of the defendants on the ground that Griffin failed to allege their participation or acquiescence in the alleged violation of Griffin's constitutional rights, the district court granted summary judgment in favor of the remaining defendants.

II. The Due Process Claim

A.

Like the district court, we conclude that Sandin v. Conner, 115 S.Ct. 2293 (1995), controls the disposition of Griffin's procedural due process claim. In that case, Conner, after an episode following a strip search, was found guilty of violating prison rules and was sentenced to 30 days' disciplinary segregation in the Special Holding Unit. At the disciplinary hearing, the Disciplinary Committee refused Conner's request to present witnesses because the witnesses were unavailable "due to move to medium facility and being short staffed on modules." 115 S.Ct. at 2296. Conner subsequently brought a civil rights action claiming that this refusal violated his right to procedural due process.

The Supreme Court began its analysis by explaining that the due process clause was applicable only if Conner had been deprived of a liberty or property interest. Since Conner maintained that he had been deprived of liberty created by state law, the Court then reviewed its case law concerning the circumstances under which state law can create a liberty interest in a prison context. It ultimately concluded that not every state law that confers a right upon an inmate in mandatory language creates a liberty interest for purposes of the due process clause. It held:

[W]e recognize that States may under certain circumstances create liberty interests which are protected by the Due Process Clause. . . . But these interests will be generally limited to freedom from restraint which, while not exceeding the sentence in such an unexpected manner as to give rise to protection by the Due Process Clause of its own force . . . nonetheless imposes atypical and significant hardship on the inmate in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life.

Sandin, 115 S.Ct. at 2300 (citations omitted).

Due process protection for a state created liberty interest is thus limited to those situations where deprivation of that interest "imposes atypical and significant hardship on the inmate in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life." Moreover, the baseline for determining what is "atypical and significant" -- the "ordinary incidents of prison life" -- is ascertained by what a sentenced inmate may reasonably expect to encounter as a result of his or her conviction in accordance with due process of law. Of particular importance in Conner's case, "[d]iscipline by prison officials in response to a wide range of misconduct falls within the expected parameters of the sentence imposed by a court of law." Id. at 2301. *fn2

The Court held that the conditions Conner experienced, while concededly imposed for punitive reasons, did not present "a dramatic departure from the basic conditions of [his] indeterminate sentence" because those conditions were virtually identical to the conditions imposed on inmates in administrative segregation and protective custody. Id. at 2301. As the Court explained:

We hold that Conner's discipline in segregated confinement did not present the type of atypical, significant deprivation in which a state might conceivably create a liberty interest. The record shows that, at the time of Conner's punishment, disciplinary segregation, with insignificant exceptions, mirrored those conditions imposed upon inmates in administrative segregation and protective custody. .. . Thus, Conner's confinement did not exceed similar, but totally discretionary confinement in either duration or degree of restriction. Indeed, the conditions at[the institution] involve significant amounts of "lockdown" time even for inmates in the general population. Id. at 2301 (footnote omitted).

Thus, based on a comparison of the circumstances of those inmates, like Conner, in disciplinary segregation and the circumstance of those inmates elsewhere in the system, including those in administrative segregation and protective custody, the Court concluded that Conner had not been subjected to "atypical and significant hardship." Accordingly, he had no state created liberty ...


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