328 F.Supp. 767 (N.D.Cal. 1971), C-70 2497, Clutchette v. Procunier

Docket Nº:C-70 2497.
Citation:328 F.Supp. 767
Party Name:John Wesley CLUTCHETTE et al., Plaintiffs, v. Raymond J. PROCUNIER et al., Defendants.
Case Date:June 21, 1971
Court:United States District Courts, 9th Circuit, Northern District of California

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328 F.Supp. 767 (N.D.Cal. 1971)

John Wesley CLUTCHETTE et al., Plaintiffs,


Raymond J. PROCUNIER et al., Defendants.

No. C-70 2497.

United States District Court, N.D. California.

June 21, 1971

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Floyd Silliman, Salinas, Cal., William Bennett Turner, Alice Daniel, San Francisco, Cal., Fay Stender, Berkeley, Cal., John Thorne, San Jose, Cal., for plaintiffs.

Evelle J. Younger, Atty. Gen. of California, William D. Stein, Deputy Atty. Gen., San Francisco, Cal., for defendants.


ZIRPOLI, District Judge.

This civil action is brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 to seek relief for state prisoners from alleged deprivation of their constitutional rights secured by the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th amendment by state prison officials in prison disciplinary hearings. More specifically, they allege that the procedures by which charges of violations of prison rules are adjudicated do not contain sufficient due process safeguards, consistent with the nature of the potential punishment, to meet the standards of the 14th amendment. Plaintiffs seek a declaratory judgment, preliminary and permanent injunctive relief and damages for plaintiff Clutchette.

The complaint was filed on November 20, 1970. On the same day, the court issued an order to defendants requiring them to show cause why a preliminary injunction should not be granted enjoining certain disciplinary proceedings and punishments.

On December 3, 1970, plaintiffs filed an amended complaint. Plaintiffs bring this action on their own behalf and, pursuant to Rule 23(b) (1) and Rule 23(b) (2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, on behalf of all other inmates

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of San Quentin State Prison affected by the disciplinary practices and punishments challenged in this case.

On December 4, 1970, a hearing was conducted on plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction. At the hearing plaintiffs called Mr. John Apostol, a program administrator employed by defendants at San Quentin Prison. In addition, certain documentary evidence was introduced and the court requested that the parties file briefs on the issues.


At the heart of this case lies the serious question of the extent to which federal courts should intervene in the administration of state prisons generally, and the procedures for maintenance of discipline more specifically. Traditionally, this area has been relatively free from court intervention, absent unusual circumstances. See, e.g., Snow v. Gladden, 338 F.2d 999 (9th Cir. 1964). However, it is well settled that 'a prisoner of the state does not lose all his civil rights during and because of his incarceration. In particular, he continues to be protected by the due process and equal protection clause which follow him through the prison doors.' Jackson v. Bishop, 404 F.2d 571, 576 (8th Cir. 1968) (Blackmun, Cir. J.). Violations of these rights are cognizable in federal courts under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Cooper v. Pate, 378 U.S. 546, 84 S.Ct. 1733, 12 L.Ed.2d 1030 (1964).

Recently, federal courts have subjected state prisons to increasingly stricter scrutiny. In Jordan v. Fitzharris, 257 F.Supp. 674 (N.D.Cal.1966), Judge Harris of this court held that certain conditions in the California State Penitentiary at Soledad were in violation of the 'cruel and unusual punishment' clause of the eighth amendment. 1 A three-judge court of this district ruled that prison law libraries must meet certain minimum requirements so as to insure access to the courts. Gilmore v. Lynch, 319 F.Supp. 105 (N.D.Cal.1970). Regulations providing for opening and censoring of prisoners' mail are currently under attack, Jones v. Wittenberg, 323 F.Supp. 93 (N.D.Ohio 1971), and this court recently held that the first amendment requires prison officials to provide copies of the Holy Qu-ran and Black Muslim ministers at state expense for Black Muslim prisoners, and may not exclude copies of Muhammad Speaks. Northern v. Nelson, 315 F.Supp. 687 (N.D.Cal.1970).

In other districts, courts have applied traditional due process standards to prison disciplinary proceedings and found them seriously inadequate. See Nolan v. Scafati, 430 F.2d 548 (1st Cir. 1970); Sostre v. Rockefeller, 312 F.Supp. 863 (S.D.N.Y.1970); 2 Carothers v. Follette, 314 F.Supp. 1014 (S.D.N.Y.1970); Kritsky v. McGinnis, 313 F.Supp. 1247 (N.D.N.Y.1970); Rodriguez v. McGinnis, 307 F.Supp. 627 (N.D.N.Y.1969). In short, it is now well settled that federal courts have jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 to examine into conditions at state prisons when allegations of unconstitutional deprivations are made.


At the hearing, defendants argued that plaintiffs had not exhausted their state remedies and that this case is a proper case for convening a three-judge court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2281. In their post-hearing brief they have further argued that this court should abstain from deciding the issue. None of these contentions has any merit.

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A. Exhaustion of State Remedies

'We yet like to believe that wherever the Federal courts sit, human rights under the Federal Constitution are always a proper subject for adjudication, and that we have not the right to decline the exercise of that jurisdiction simply because the rights asserted may be adjudicated in some other forum.' McNeese v. Board of Education, 373 U.S. 668, 674, 83 S.Ct. 1433, 10 L.Ed.2d 622 (1963), quoting from Judge Murrah's decision in Stapleton v. Mitchell, 60 F.Supp. 51 (D.Kan.1945).

With these lines, the Supreme Court laid to rest any doubt that might have remained regarding the vitality of the exhaustion doctrine in actions brought under the Civil Rights Act. Monroe v. Pape, 365 U.S. 167, 81 S.Ct. 473, 5 L.Ed.2d 492 (1967), actually established this position two years prior, but it took McNeese to seal the lid on the coffin of exhaustion. Since that time, federal courts have leapt headlong into the adjudication of prisoners' rights in suits brought under the Civil Rights Act, as the cases cited throughout this opinion indicate. At this stage of the development of prisoners' rights under the Constitution, it would be unwise and inappropriate for this court to return to a doctrine designed to promote harmonious relations between sovereigns, at the expense of the timely adjudication of human rights.

B. No Three-Judge Court is Required in this Case

When a federal court is asked to enjoin the enforcement of a state statute or regulation of statewide application, 28 U.S.C. § 2281 requires the convening of a three-judge court. But when the practice challenged is not of statewide application, a three-judge court is not required. Thus, in Hatfield v. Bailleaux, 290 F.2d 632, 635 (9th Cir. 1961), the Ninth Circuit held that a three-judge court was not required in a case challenging an Oregon prison regulation, even though the challenged regulation had been promulgated pursuant to authority conferred by statute, and had subsequently been approved by the Oregon State Board of Control as required by that statute.

Similarly, in Gilmore v. Lynch, 400 F.2d 228 (9th Cir. 1968), the court held that a three-judge court should be convened to hear a challenge to a state regulation establishing rules to be followed in every prison in the state, but stated that a challenge to certain prison practices at San Quentin which were not statewide in application was not properly a subject of three-judge court jurisdiction.

Plaintiffs in the case at bar are not challenging the constitutionality of any rule or regulation of statewide application. The only state regulations which are even arguably relevant, the Director's Rules and Inmate Classification Manual, neither mandate the specific procedures challenged here nor prohibit the procedures requested by the plaintiffs. In short, no state regulations speak to the subject at all, and their validity is not an issue in this case.

At the hearing of this case the Attorney General argued that, once approved by he Director of Corrections, the San Quentin Institution Plan became equivalent to a state regulation. That precise theory was considered and rejected by the Court in Hatfield v. Bailleaux, supra. Moreover, it is contradicted by the language of Director's Rule 4502 which, by requiring each institution to prepare an inmate disciplinary plan, clearly contemplates diversity of practice among the several prisons of the state.

For these reasons, 28 U.S.C. § 2281 has no application to this case and is no bar to a single judge reaching the merits of plaintiffs' claims.

C. The Abstention Doctrine Does Not Apply

The doctrine of abstention-- that is, a decision by a federal court not to decide a case properly within its jurisdiction-- is limited to certain circumstances. Federal courts have abstained from deciding constitutional questions

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properly before them (1) to avoid decision of a federal constitutional question when the case may be disposed of on questions of state law; (2) to avoid needless entanglement in complex state regulatory schemes; and (3) to allow the state courts an opportunity to give constitutionally questionable statutes saving constructions, when an expeditious state remedy is available. None of these circumstances are present in this case.

Avoidance of a federal constitutional question: The Pullman Doctrine. Under this doctrine federal courts abstain from reaching constitutional questions if a case also contains a question of state law which, in itself, may dispose of the litigation. In the case after which the doctrine was named, Railroad Commission of Texas v. Pullman Co., 312 U.S. 496, 61 S.Ct. 643, 85 L.Ed. 971 (1941), plaintiffs, in a federal action, sought an injunction against the enforcement of an order of the State Railroad Commission on the grounds that it denied fourteenth amendment...

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