21 F.3d 496 (2nd Cir. 1994), 607, Wright v. Smith

Docket Nº:607, Docket 93-2415.
Citation:21 F.3d 496
Party Name:Huey B. WRIGHT, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Harold SMITH and Thomas A. Coughlin, III, Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:April 06, 1994
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

Page 496

21 F.3d 496 (2nd Cir. 1994)

Huey B. WRIGHT, Plaintiff-Appellant,


Harold SMITH and Thomas A. Coughlin, III, Defendants-Appellees.

No. 607, Docket 93-2415.

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

April 6, 1994

Submitted Dec. 7, 1993.

Page 497

William G. Bauer, Woods, Oviatt, Gilman, Sturman & Clarke, Rochester, NY, submitted a brief for plaintiff-appellant.

Robert Abrams, Atty. Gen., Peter H. Schiff, Deputy Sol. Gen., Nancy A. Spiegel and Martin A. Hotvet, Asst. Atty. Gens., Albany, NY, submitted a brief for defendants-appellees.

Before: NEWMAN, Chief Judge, OAKES and CARDAMONE, Circuit Judges.

JON O. NEWMAN, Chief Judge:

The primary question on this appeal is whether an inmate's extended confinement without a hearing in a correctional facility's Special Housing Unit (SHU) violates a Fourteenth Amendment liberty interest. Huey B. Wright, formerly an inmate at Attica Correctional Facility, appeals from the June 11, 1993, judgment of the District Court for the Western District of New York (Kenneth R. Fisher, Magistrate Judge) granting defendants' motion for summary judgment and dismissing with prejudice Wright's complaint under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 (1988) against defendants Harold Smith, the Superintendent of Attica Correctional Facility, and Thomas Coughlin, the Commissioner of the New York Department of Correctional Services. We conclude that Wright's complaint alleging involuntary confinement in an SHU for 67 days without a hearing stated a cause of action under section 1983 for violation of a protected liberty interest. We also conclude that the defendants are not shielded by qualified immunity because both the case law of this Circuit and New York regulations clearly prohibited the extended confinement of the plaintiff in the SHU without a hearing. Finally, while we agree with the District Court that Commissioner Coughlin was not personally involved in confining the plaintiff without a hearing, and thus cannot be held liable for damages, Superintendent Smith was personally responsible since he had received at least constructive notice of the violation. We therefore affirm as to Coughlin and reverse and remand as to Smith.


On July 17, 1983, Wright, while an inmate at Attica Correctional Facility, was assaulted by two other inmates in his own cell. After receiving numerous stitches for facial wounds at the prison hospital, he was moved to the SHU on the same day based on charges that he violated prison rules 100.10 (prohibiting inmates from assaulting other prisoners) and 100.11 (prohibiting inmates from engaging in fighting). See Docket Entry # 21, Exh. E. A disciplinary hearing held on July 20, 1983, resulted in both charges being dismissed because Wright was "allegedly assaulted [and] was defending himself." Id., Exh. D. Wright was nonetheless retained in the SHU. The Magistrate Judge found that "although plaintiff's admission to ... [the] SHU may have been dually motivated, his retention there was solely for protective reasons." Decision at 3.

Under New York regulations, Wright was entitled to a hearing on his protective confinement in the SHU within 14 days of his admission. In 1983, New York's regulations provided, in pertinent part:

Where an inmate does not consent to a protective admission to a special housing unit, or where the inmate requests reassignment and such reassignment is not made within two weeks of the date of request, a proceeding will be held within 14 days of the date of such admission or such request to determine if there is substantial evidence that protective custody is necessary.

7 N.Y.C.R.R. Sec. 304.3(c) (1986) (emphasis added). Although Wright was kept in the SHU for 67 days, he never received the required hearing on his protective confinement. The Magistrate Judge noted some

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mention in Wright's records of a Superintendent's Proceeding held July 17, 1983, but he concluded that no such proceeding actually occurred. See Decision at 6, 8.

On August 8, 1993, Wright, through Prison Legal Services, petitioned a New York state court for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to Article 70 of the New York Civil Practice Law and Rules. After receiving Wright's petition, alleging illegal detention and the deprivation of a myriad of rights connected with a hearing, defendant Smith took no action on his own to investigate the legality of Wright's detention in the SHU or whether Wright had received a hearing. Instead, Smith forwarded the writ to state counsel on August 26, 1983. A hearing on the writ in New York state court on September 14, 1983, was adjourned until October 19. Wright was released from the SHU on September 22, 1983, having spent 67 days there. On October 19 an order of stipulation was entered in New York state court. The stipulation restored Wright's good time credits, and "expunge[d] from [his] institutional files [ ] any reference to the Superintendent's Proceeding of July 17, 1983...." Docket Entry # 21, Exh. L., at 1-2. Thereafter, Wright brought this suit in the District Court, seeking damages for his SHU confinement.


  1. Liberty Interest in Not Being Placed in an SHU

    The initial issue is whether appellant has a liberty interest, protected by the Due Process Clause, in not being placed in an SHU. The Supreme Court has made clear that, with respect to a prisoner serving a sentence, not every aspect of restrictive confinement within a penal institution impairs a constitutionally protected liberty interest. See Hewitt v. Helms, 459 U.S. 460, 103 S.Ct. 864, 74 L.Ed.2d 675 (1983). Moreover, as the Court has pointed out, "administrative segregation," imposed for such purposes as protection of the prisoner's own safety, does not impair an interest "independently protected by the Due Process Clause." Id. at 468, 103 S.Ct. at 870; see also Russell v. Scully, 15 F.3d 219, 222 (2d Cir.1994) (suggesting that in absence of state law creating liberty interest, "strictly administrative"...

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