321 F.Supp. 127 (N.D.N.Y. 1970), Civ. 66-CV-77, Wright v. McMann

Docket Nº:Civ. 66-CV-77
Citation:321 F.Supp. 127
Party Name:Wright v. McMann
Case Date:July 31, 1970
Court:United States District Courts, 2nd Circuit, Northern District of New York

Page 127

321 F.Supp. 127 (N.D.N.Y. 1970)

Lawrence William WRIGHT, Plaintiff,


Hon. Daniel McMANN, Warden of Clinton Prison, Dannemora, New York, Defendant.

UNITED STATES of America ex rel. Robert MOSHER, Plaintiff,


Hon. J. Edwin LaVALLEE, Warden of Clinton Prison, Dannemora, New York, Defendant.

Civ. Nos. 66-CV-77, 67-CV-174.

United States District Court, N.D. New York.

July 31, 1970

Page 128

Betty D. Friedlander, Waverly, N.Y., for plaintiff Lawrence William wright.

William Bennett Turner, New York City, for plaintiff Robert Mosher.

Louis J. Lefkowitz, Tty. Gen., State of N.Y., for defendant Wardens; Timothy F. O'Brien, Asst. Atty. Gen., Manuel T. Murcia, Counsel, Department of Correction, Albany, N.Y., of counsel.


JAMES T. FOLEY, Chief Judge.

Justice Homes, dissenting many years ago in Northern Securities Co. v. United States (1903) 193 U.S. 197, at pp. 400-401, 24 S.Ct. 436, 48 L.Ed. 679, while noting that great cases, like hard cases, make bad law also commented that at times judges need for their work the training of economists and statesmen.

Page 129

The Justice did not include, and it is doubtful that he foresaw with all his wisdom of foresight, that the training for a federal judge might some day encompass courses in the administrative and disciplinary procedures used to handle problems with inmates that arise daily in the large maximum security State prisons spread throughout the nation. This two-judge district court has had a steady contact with State prisoner problems for many years; mainly consisting previously of federal habeas corpus applications. (See United States ex rel. Walker v. LaVallee (NDNY) 224 F.Supp. 661). In this District Court are located two such large New York State prisons, Auburn Prison, Auburn, N.Y., and Clinton Prison, Dannemora, N.Y., wherein are confined prisoners convicted of the most serious crimes, many serving very long sentences. The increase in recent years in this District of filings by State prisoners has shifted somewhat from habeas corpus to civil rights claims under the United States Civil Rights Statutes. (United States ex rel. Hancock v. Pate (NDIll.ED) 223 F.Supp. 202 (1963); Jordan v. Fitzharris (NDCal.SD) 257 F.Supp. 674 (1966); Hancock v. Avery (MDTenn.) 301 F.Supp. 786 (1969).

The Wright case started in this District Court inasmuch as Wright was confined in Clinton Prison, Dannemora, N.Y., by the filing of a complaint March 11, 1966. Wright is serving a sentence of one day to life under jury conviction of three counts charging sodomy, two counts charging assault and carnal abuse of a child. The late Judge Brennan of this Court dismissed the Wright complaint in a substantial opinion, reasoning there was not sufficient evidence to him from the complaint to warrant intrusion into the internal management of state prisons, particularly so without application first to and exhaustion of remedies in the State courts of New York. Judge Brennan expressed in his opinion full confidence the New York Courts would fashion conscientiously a remedy even if none were precisely present in the New York Statutes to entertain and correct the horrible wrongs, if true, claimed by plaintiff Wright during his confinement in the punitive segregation section at Clinton Prison for violations of prison rules and regulations. (Wright v. McMann (NDNY) 257 F.Supp. 739 (Aug. 31, 1966).

This ruling of dismissal by Judge Brennan was reversed by the Court of Appeals, Second Circuit, in an opinion that attracted nationwide attention in the news media. The appellate opinion is referred to often in text and judicial writings as an important one confirming the jurisdiction and obligation of federal courts to entertain and decide such claims. (Wright v. McMann, 2 Cir., 387 F.2d 519 (Dec. 19, 1967)). Judge Kaufman in the majority opinion established the proposition that State prisoners have the right to seek federal relief ab initio if there is substance to the claimed deprivation and violation of constitutional rights under the Civil Rights Act during the prisoner's confinement. Judge Kaufman quoted verbatim a substantial portion from Wright's handwritten complaint describing in stirring and vivid prose disturbing conditions of his confinement in a so-called 'strip cell' in the segregation unit of Clinton Prison. Giving the credit that must be accorded such allegations at the pleading stage, it was held there was enough substance to warrant reversal and remand for hearing of the issues. Judge Kaufman reviewed New York's remedies that might be applicable to this kind of claim and decide such were inadequate for full relief, and further decided a case of this kind was the least likely candidate for abstention. (Wright, supra, at pp. 524-525; Zwickler v. Koota, 389 U.S. 241, 88 S.Ct. 391, 19 L.Ed.2d 444; McNeese v. Bd. of Education, etc., 373 U.S. 668, 673-674, 83 S.Ct. 1433, 10 L.Ed.2d 622). Chief Judge Lumbard concurred in a separate opinion 'albeit reluctantly' with a statement appealing to me as a judge in a two-judge United States District Court in which substantial State prisoner business is never ending. (See Fay v. Noia, 372 U.S. 391, 83 S.Ct. 822, 9 L.Ed.2d 837).

Page 130

Such free-wheeling filings by State prisoners are time consuming and uncontrollable as other litigation may be. Judge Lumbard stated unequivocally in Wright that he would hold if New York made provision for injunctive relief as well as the legal relief seemingly available that the federal courts should abstain for a reasonable period of time to allow the state courts to hear the complaint and take appropriate action. Judge Lumbard decried the fact that the majority court ruling, in which he reluctantly joined, would require a District Court to write some of the rules regarding State prison administration for the treatment of recalcitrant prisoners. He observed it was far better that the states should formulate, supervise and enforce their own rules regarding their State prisons. I agree wholeheartedly. Disciplinary proceedings and their use inside prison walls it should be obvious are matters of the utmost importance. I have found in more than twenty-one years of experience with prison grievances that in New York there is responsible attitude when attention is directed to unfairness that might exist for lack of appropriate and definite legal remedy to correct.

In regard to Clinton Prison inmates the acme of judicial service is furnished. By order of Judges, Appellate Division, Third Department, a regularly scheduled motion Session is held once a month for ten months of the year at the Prison by designated New York judges. The direction is to hear applications for writs of habeas corpus or other proceedings regarding detention or confinement. (Se Court Ex. 1). By Chapter 658 of the Laws of 1969, New York, effective May 21, 1969, Section 79-c of the Civil Rights Law (McKinney's Consol.Laws of N.Y. c. 6), was amended to confer upon an imprisoned convict the right to injunctive relief for improper treatment where such treatment constitutes a violation of constitutional rights. The void and gap in New York remedies noted by Judge Lumbard was thereby filled by this New York legislation, and later New York Court ruling decided that the amendment was to be given liberal construction and retroactive application. (In re Marcelin v. Scott (App.Div., 3rd Dept. Oct. 20, 1969) 33 A.D.2d 588, 304 N.Y.S.2d 299). However, the stages of the two cases herein have advanced too far along the federal route. The doctrine of abstention, unfortunately, I believe, seems more precarious today to apply than ever, even though common sense and good judgment indicate reliable and clear State remedies are now available that in the interests of federal-state comity should I think be accorded the first opportunity to rule upon claims of this kind charging cruel punishment and constitutional deprivations. (Holmes v. New York City Housing Authority, 2 Cir., 398 F.2d 262, 265-266; see also Houghton v. Shafer, 392 U.S. 639, 88 S.Ct. 2119, 20 L.Ed.2d 1319). However, federal jurisdiction of these actions, based upon provisions of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983, 1985(3), in my judgment, can no longer be questioned under the precise appellate ruling of the Second Circuit in Wright. (See also Rodriguez v. McGinnis (NDNY) 307 F.Supp. 627; Cooper v. Pate, 378 U.S. 546, 84 S.Ct. 1733, 12 L. L.Ed.2d 1030; Brown v. Brown, 9 Cir. 368 F.2d 992; Wiltsie v. Calif., Dept. of Correction, 9 Cir., 406 F.2d 515.

Plaintiff Mosher is serving a 40-60 year sentence that he commenced in 1964 on his plea of guilty to Robbery charges. I permitted the filing of his pro se complaint by memorandum-decision and order dated May 19, 1967. The claim involved similar assertions as those of Wright, in that he was being confined in the segregation unit at Clinton enduring cruel living conditions pursuant to administrative procedures and under reasons for such confinement that he claims were violative of constitutional rights. Paragraph 2 of the Mosher complaint alleges that punitive segregation for his refusal, that he admits, to sign a 'safety sheet', used in the institutional shops of the prison resulted in punishment out of proportion to the offense. Paragraph

Page 131

4 refers to observation cell confinements. This cell and its purposes shall be described herein later. Mosher claims the cell was used fraudulently by segregation guards without any formalities being followed and proper reason present when the segregation guards became displeased with segregation inmates conduct and wanted to make living conditions more unpleasant and unbearable than those said to exist in disciplinary segregation. A series of letters to me followed from Mosher after I permitted the filing of his complaint, and in...

To continue reading