184 F.3d 846 (D.C. Cir. 1999), 96-7247, Hatch v. Dist. of Columbia

Docket Nº:96-7247
Citation:184 F.3d 846
Party Name:Donald J. Hatch, Appellant v. District of Columbia, et al.,Appellees
Case Date:July 30, 1999
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
 
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Page 846

184 F.3d 846 (D.C. Cir. 1999)

Donald J. Hatch, Appellant

v.

District of Columbia, et al.,Appellees

No. 96-7247

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit

July 30, 1999

Argued May 6, 1999

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Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia(No. 94cv01393)

Donald J. Hatch was on the briefs for appellant.

J. Alexander Ward, appointed by the court, argued the cause and filed the briefs as amicus curiae on behalf of appellant.

Mary L. Wilson, Assistant Corporation Counsel, argued the cause for appellees. With her on the brief were John M. Ferren, Corporation Counsel, and Charles L. Reischel, Deputy Corporation Counsel.

Before: Silberman, Williams and Tatel, Circuit Judges.

Opinion for the Court filed by Circuit Judge Tatel.

Tatel, Circuit Judge:

Under Sandin v. Conner, segregative confinement in prison implicates a liberty interest protected by the Due Process Clause of the United States Constitution only if it "imposes atypical and significant hardship on the inmate in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life." 515 U.S. 472, 484 (1995). In this case brought by a Lorton inmate claiming a liberty interest in avoiding such confinement, we must define "the ordinary incidents of prison life"--the comparative baseline for determining whether appellant's segregation was an "atypical and significant hardship." Considering Sandin's language and objectives, we hold that due process is required when segregative confinement imposes an "atypical and significant hardship" on an inmate in relation to the most restrictive conditions that prison officials, exercising their administrative authority to ensure institutional safety and good order, routinely impose on inmates serving similar sentences. For appellant, these conditions include the usual conditions of administrative segregation at Lorton. They also include more restrictive conditions at other prisons if it is likely both that inmates serving sentences similar to appellant's will actually be transferred to such prisons and that once transferred they will actually face such conditions. Because the district court did not apply this standard, we reverse its grant of summary judgment for appellee and remand for further consideration of appellant's due process claim in light of this opinion.

I

Appellant Donald Hatch is a District of Columbia convict serving multiple sentences for armed robbery, kidnapping, sodomy, and rape. The events giving rise to

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this suit occurred while Hatch was an inmate at the Lorton Correctional Complex. Because the district court granted summary judgment for the District, we describe the facts in the light most favorable to Hatch. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); DeGraff v. District of Columbia, 120 F.3d 298, 299-300 (D.C. Cir. 1997).

On January 5, 1994, while working as head clerk at Lorton's law library, Hatch got into a fight with another prisoner over the use of a copy machine. Immediately after the incident, the prison Housing Board, which "determine[s] appropriate housing placement" to ensure prison safety and security, D.C. Mun. Regs. tit. 28, § 522.1 (1987), assigned Hatch to administrative segregation, a form of solitary confinement commonly used to separate disruptive prisoners. In addition, Hatch received a disciplinary report charging him with fighting, lack of cooperation, and creating a disturbance--all "Class II" offenses under Lorton regulations. See id. §§ 503.1, 503.4, 503.5, 503.11.

On January 11, Hatch appeared before the prison Adjustment Board, which adjudicates charged offenses and imposes disciplinary penalties. See id. §§ 508-515. Due to a mistake in the disciplinary report, the Adjustment Board dismissed all charges. The next day, the Housing Board met to consider Hatch's confinement. Finding that Hatch posed a threat to the orderly operation of the prison, the Housing Board recommended that he remain in administrative segregation. Hatch had no notice of the Housing Board meeting, did not attend the meeting, and had no opportunity to testify or present evidence.

On January 20, the Adjustment Board, which had previously dismissed the charges against Hatch, met again to consider the same charges. The Adjustment Board denied Hatch's requests to speak on his own behalf, to cross-examine adverse witnesses, and to call witnesses, including the writer of the disciplinary report. The Board acquitted him of creating a disturbance and lack of cooperation, but found him guilty of fighting. It sentenced him to fourteen days of adjustment segregation, another form of solitary confinement which, unlike administrative segregation, punishes individual inmates for specific, proven acts of misconduct.

On March 21, the Housing Board, as required by Lorton regulations, see id. § 527.1, conducted a sixty-day review of Hatch's status. Determining that Hatch no longer presented a "management problem," it recommended that he be returned to the prison's general population. Supervising officials approved this recommendation in early April, but Hatch remained in segregation until August 11--more than seven months after his initial placement in segregation. The District offers no explanation for this delay. Hatch claims that Lorton officials kept him in segregation because bed space was unavailable in the general population.

Although Hatch's confinement consisted of two weeks of adjustment segregation and twenty-nine weeks of administrative segregation, the conditions of his confinement remained basically the same throughout the seven months. Confined to his cell twenty-three and a half hours per day on weekdays and all forty-eight hours of the weekend, Hatch had no outdoor recreation and was not allowed to work or to visit the library, gym, health clinic, psychological services, mailroom, clothing and bedding exchange, or culinary unit. He had no access to a dentist despite four written requests to have a broken, decayed tooth extracted. He had no opportunity to wash his clothes or get a haircut. Whenever he left the cell block, he was transported in handcuffs and leg irons. Prison officials confiscated his legal papers and denied him access to legal telephone calls for ninety days.

On June 24, while still in administrative segregation, Hatch filed suit against the District of Columbia in the United States District Court, alleging that his confinement

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in adjustment and administrative segregation violated the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution as well as D.C. regulations governing Lorton. The District moved to dismiss or, alternatively, for summary judgment. After requesting additional briefing on the conditions of Hatch's confinement, the district court granted summary judgment for the District. See Hatch v. District of Columbia, No. 94-1393 (D.D.C. Oct. 11, 1996) ("Mem. Order"). Applying Sandin v. Conner and assuming Hatch's description of his confinement to be true, the court determined that he "did not suffer an 'atypical and significant hardship' " compared to "the typical restrictions imposed on prisoners in the general population." Mem. Order at 5. It thus concluded that under Sandin, Hatch had no liberty interest in avoiding either adjustment or administrative segregation. See id. at 5-6.

Hatch appeals pro se, aided by court-appointed counsel who filed briefs and argued the case as amicus curiae. Our review is de novo. See Tao v. Freeh, 27 F.3d 635, 638 (D.C. Cir. 1994).

II

Sandin v. Conner represents the culmination of a twentyyear effort by the Supreme Court to clarify when restrictions imposed by prison officials on lawfully incarcerated inmates constitute deprivations of "liberty" within the meaning of the Due Process Clause. Two basic principles have guided the Court's effort. The first is that prison officials need "broad administrative and discretionary authority over the institutions they manage." Hewitt v. Helms, 459 U.S. 460, 467 (1983). Recognizing the difficulty and complexity of operating safe and effective prisons, as well as the expertise of prison officials, the Supreme Court has repeatedly instructed federal courts "to afford appropriate deference and flexibility to state officials trying to manage a volatile environment."Sandin, 515 U.S. at 482 (citing cases); see also Hewitt, 459 U.S. at 470 ("[T]he safe and efficient operation of a prison on a day-to-day basis has traditionally been entrusted to the expertise of prison officials...."); Jones v. North Carolina Prisoners' Labor Union, Inc., 433 U.S. 119, 125 (1977) (requiring courts to "giv[e] appropriate deference to the decisions of prison administrators and appropriate recognition to the peculiar and restrictive circumstances of penal confinement"). Accordingly, the Supreme Court has refused to " 'subject to judicial review a wide spectrum of discretionary actions that traditionally have been the business of prison administrators rather than of the federal courts,' " Hewitt, 459 U.S. at 467 (quoting Meachum v. Fano, 427 U.S. 215, 225 (1976)), making clear that the " 'withdrawal or limitation of many privileges and rights' " of prisoners is " 'justified by the considerations underlying our penal system,' " id. (quoting Price v. Johnston, 334 U.S. 266, 285 (1948)).

While recognizing the need to protect prison administrators' discretion and flexibility, the Supreme Court has made equally clear a second, countervailing principle: "[T]hough his rights may be diminished by the needs and exigencies of the institutional environment, a prisoner is not wholly stripped of constitutional protections when he is imprisoned for crime."Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 555 (1974). "There is no iron curtain," Wolff said, "drawn between the Constitution and the prisons of this...

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