238 F.3d 188 (2nd Cir. 2001), 99-0280, Taylor v Rodriguez

Docket Nº:Docket No. 99-0280
Citation:238 F.3d 188
Party Name:DERRICK TAYLOR, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. A. RODRIGUEZ, I/O; REMI ACOSTA, I/O; SHIPMAN, Captain, I/O; MEYERS, I/O; SOTO, Lieutenant, I/O, Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:January 18, 2001
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
 
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Page 188

238 F.3d 188 (2nd Cir. 2001)

DERRICK TAYLOR, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

A. RODRIGUEZ, I/O; REMI ACOSTA, I/O; SHIPMAN, Captain, I/O; MEYERS, I/O; SOTO, Lieutenant, I/O, Defendants-Appellees.

Docket No. 99-0280

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

January 18, 2001

Submitted May 12, 2000

Plaintiff Derrick Taylor, pro se, appeals from a grant of summary judgment entered August 31, 1999 in the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut (Squatrito, J.) in favor of defendants.

Affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded.

Page 189

Derrick J. Taylor, Somers, Connecticut, submitted a brief as pro se Plaintiff-Appellant.

Antoria D. Howard, Assistant Attorney General, Hartford, Connecticut (Richard Blumenthal, Attorney General, Hartford Connecticut, of counsel), submitted a brief for Defendants-Appellees.

Before: WALKER, Chief Judge, KEARSE, and CARDAMONE, Circuit Judges.

CARDAMONE, Circuit Judge:

Derrick Taylor, currently an inmate within the Connecticut state prison system, appeals pro se and in forma pauperis from a grant of summary judgment by the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut (Squatrito, J.), dismissing his civil rights suit brought under 42 U.S.C. §1983. Defendants, in whose favor summary judgment was granted, are Captain A. Rodriguez, Office of the Deputy Commissioner, Remi Acosta, Warden of Garner Correctional Institution, Captain Shipman, Captain of Security of Garner Correctional Institution, Lieutenant Migdalia Soto, Disciplinary Hearing Officer, and Captain Meyers, Close Custody Unit Manager. Captain Meyers is not a party to this appeal.

Taylor alleges various prison officials deprived him of his rights by placing him in close custody, a housing status involving severely restricted privileges, for an indefinite period of time. When Taylor filed his appellate brief, he remained in close custody. Key among his claims is his contention that due process was denied him in an April 1997 hearing because the notice containing the charges against him and the procedures followed at the hearing were insufficient to protect his constitutional rights.

In denying plaintiff's motion for summary judgment, the district court found plaintiff's proffer of proof inadequate to determine whether he had a liberty interest in being free from close custody. The court further stated that plaintiff provided very little information regarding the conditions in the general prison population that would allow it to make a finding that close custody constituted an "atypical and significant hardship" within the meaning of Sandin

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V. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 484 (1995). In granting defendants' cross-motion for summary judgment, the district court also concluded that Taylor received all the process due him had a liberty interest existed. Because we disagree with some of these conclusions, we remand the case for further proceedings.

BACKGROUND

In April 1997 Taylor was incarcerated at the Garner Correctional Institution in Connecticut. On April 15 of that year, he was notified that a hearing would be held to determine whether he was a member of a security risk group that constituted an institutional safety threat. A safety threat member is an inmate whose association with a security risk group jeopardizes the safety of the institution. The notice served on Taylor stated that the reasons for the hearing were "past admission to outside law enforcement about involvement with Latin Kings/recent tension in B-Unit involving gang activity/statements by independent confidential informants."

Taylor filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request on April 16 seeking disclosure of statements and evidence provided by confidential informants to be used against him. Plaintiff's FOIA request was denied on April 21 because the information sought was exempt from disclosure. That same day, plaintiff was placed on Administrative Detention status pending the outcome of the hearing that was held on April 22.

Lt. Migdalia Soto presided at the hearing, during which Taylor again requested the identity of the confidential informants and insisted they testify. The hearing officer denied the request to protect the informants' safety. She also denied plaintiff's request for a continuance to obtain a private attorney. Although Taylor refused an advocate at the hearing, one had previously been appointed for him and was present.

Taylor testified and presented witness statements obtained by his advocate. The statements presented concerned an unrelated prison disciplinary incident. Lt. Soto ultimately determined that, based on the confidential information and an incident that occurred in July 1994 at Hartford Correctional Center, no doubt existed that plaintiff was still involved with the Latin Kings. As a result, Taylor was designated a safety threat member of a security risk group.

Such members at Garner are housed in the close custody unit, designed to segregate inmates identified as safety threats while providing programs and incentives to sever their ties to the security risk group, in this case the Latin Kings. The program begins with an inmate's assignment to Phase I, the most restrictive close custody status. Inmates are then evaluated for acceptance into Phases II and III, each involving additional privileges. Upon completion of Phase III, an inmate may be considered for release into the general population.

An important condition of advancement from Phase I to Phase II is that an inmate sign a "Letter of Intention" to sever ties with all security risk groups. Taylor refused to sign such a letter. As a result, he remained in Phase I close custody from April 1997 at least until he filed his appellate brief on January 24, 2000, even though Hearing Officer Soto recognized that he had formally renounced his membership in the Latin Kings on March 24, 1994. She further acknowledged Taylor's insistence at the April 1997 hearing that he no longer had any contact with that group.

Inmates who do not complete the close custody program within 12 months of entering the Unit may be transferred to Northern Correctional Institution, where their security level is increased. After less than five months, Taylor was in fact transferred to Northern in September 1997, and placed in more restrictive administrative segregation. He has since "graduated" from the program at Northern, been returned

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to Garner, and transferred yet again to Northern, although the reason for this last transfer is not clear from the record.

After unsuccessfully pursuing various appeals and grievances within the prison system, Taylor in September 1997 brought this suit pro se pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983. His complaint alleges (1) he should have been accorded full due process rights at the April 1997 hearing; (2) he should have been notified of the actual charges against him; (3) the hearing officer should hold a higher rank than lieutenant; (4) assignment to close custody should be for a definite period of time; (5) security risk group affiliation is too vague a charge to defend against; (6) all lost good time credit should be returned; and (7) forcing inmates to sign a renunciation as a condition of release from close custody violates their Fifth Amendment rights. Although not framed in the complaint as a separate cause of action, plaintiff further asserts his First Amendment right to free exercise of his religion (Orthodox Judaism) was infringed by placement in close custody.

After the district court denied defendants' motion to dismiss on December 7, 1998, both sides moved for summary judgment. Taylor also moved in March 1999 for a temporary restraining order to require defendants to remove him immediately from close custody.

In a decision dated August 24, 1999 and entered the following day, the district court denied Taylor's motion for summary judgment on the due process claims...

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