380 F.3d 57 (2nd Cir. 2004), 03-0156, Sira v. Morton

Docket Nº:03-0156.
Citation:380 F.3d 57
Party Name:Rubin SIRA, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. R. MORTON, C. Artuz, D. Selsky, and G. Goord, Defendants-Appellants.
Case Date:August 02, 2004
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

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380 F.3d 57 (2nd Cir. 2004)

Rubin SIRA, Plaintiff-Appellee,


R. MORTON, C. Artuz, D. Selsky, and G. Goord, Defendants-Appellants.

No. 03-0156.

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

August 2, 2004

Argued: March 18, 2004.

Amended: Aug. 17, 2004.

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John E. Knudsen, Assistant Attorney General (Marion R. Buchbinder, of counsel) for Eliot Spitzer, Attorney General of the State of New York, New York, New York, for Defendants-Appellants.

Joel Landau, Prisoners' Legal Services of New York (Tom Terrizzi, of counsel), Albany, New York, for Plaintiff-Appellee.

Before: SACK and RAGGI, Circuit Judges, and TRAGER, District Judge.[*]

RAGGI, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiff-Appellee Rubin Sira, who is presently incarcerated by the State of New York as a result of his 1995 conviction on narcotics, robbery, and weapon charges, see People v. Sira, 254 A.D.2d 311, 680 N.Y.S.2d 101 (2d Dep't 1998), sues Glenn S. Goord, the Commissioner of the New York State Department of Correctional Services; Donald Selsky, the Director of the Department's Special Housing/Inmate Disciplinary Program; Robert Morton, a Department Captain who serves as a Discipline Hearing Officer; and Christopher Artuz, the Superintendent of Green Haven Correctional Facility, in their individual capacities pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for depriving him of liberty without due process in connection with prison disciplinary action taken against him on February 8, 2000. Defendants-Appellants, who moved for judgment on the pleadings on the ground of qualified immunity, now appeal from an order of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Denise Cote, Judge) converting their motion to one for summary judgment and denying it. See Sira v. Morton, No. 02 Civ. 1567, 2003 WL 1900847 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 17, 2003). They submit that (1) the conversion of their motion was unwarranted and prejudicial and (2) qualified immunity bars Sira from suing them for disciplinary action purportedly taken without (a) adequate notice of the charges, (b) disclosure of the evidence relied upon, and (c) sufficient evidence of misconduct.1

We reject defendants' conversion challenge as without merit. With respect to their qualified immunity argument, we affirm the district court's denial of summary judgment on Sira's due process claims of inadequate notice and non-disclosure of evidence. We reverse the denial of summary judgment on Sira's sufficiency challenge because, although Sira presents a viable due process claim, defendants could reasonably have thought that their conduct conformed to established law with respect to assessing the reliability of evidence supplied by confidential informants. On remand, judgment should be entered in favor of defendants on this point.


I. The Misbehavior Charges

On January 19, 2000, Rubin Sira, then incarcerated at Green Haven Correctional Facility, was served with a written misbehavior report drafted by Lieutenant G. Schneider charging him with violations of prison disciplinary rules 102.10 and 104.12. Rule 102.10 states: "Inmates shall not, under any circumstances make any threat,

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spoken, in writing, or by gesture"; rule 104.12 provides: "Inmates shall not lead, organize, participate, or urge other inmates to participate, in work-stoppages, sit-ins, lock-ins, or other actions which may be detrimental to the order of facility." 7 N.Y.C.R.R. § 270.2(B).

The report described the incident giving rise to these charges as follows:

During the course of an investigation into a planned inmate demonstration at this facility in which inmates would conduct a work/program stoppage on or about January 1, 2000, Inmate Sira has been identified through confidential sources as having urged other inmates to participate, organized inmates to participate and threatened inmates to participate.

Sira Misbehavior Report at 1. In response to specific inquiries on the report form, Lt. Schneider indicated that (1) the date of the charged incident was January 19, 2000; (2) the incident time was 10:15 a.m.; (3) the incident location was Green Haven Correctional Facility; and (4) no persons other than Sira were involved in the incident.

The work stoppage described in Sira's misbehavior report was commonly referred to at Green Haven as the "Y2K strike," a reference to its scheduled New Year's 2000 date. To avert the strike, prison officials had ordered an inmate lockdown beginning on December 24, 1999, and lasting through January 6, 2000. In fact, once the lockdown ended, a prison strike did occur, with many inmates refusing to follow the schedules established by correction authorities.

II. The Disciplinary Hearing

A. Proceedings in Sira's Presence

To address Sira's charged role in the strike, a Tier III disciplinary hearing commenced on January 26, 2000, presided over by Captain Robert Morton. See N.Y.C.R.R. §§ 254.3, 270.3. At the hearing, Sira pleaded not guilty to the charged offenses and moved for their dismissal on the ground that the misbehavior report did not provide him with adequate notice of the conduct at issue. Specifically, he complained that the report failed (1) to identify any person whom he had threatened or organized; (2) to indicate where in Green Haven the alleged misconduct had occurred; and (3) to provide clear notice of the date of his alleged misconduct, since the incident date on the report was marked January 19, while the body of the report suggested that the strike had occurred sometime earlier, possibly before January 1. Sira denied urging or threatening anyone to participate in the Y2K strike and noted that he had no history of discipline problems in prison and had not missed his work assignments during the strike. Further, he cited prison records showing that he was in the Health Services unit on the morning of January 19.

Capt. Morton denied Sira's request to dismiss the charges. While acknowledging that the report was "very vague" with respect to the incident date--"that actually could mean that on January 19th you were identified or it could mean that the investigation was conducted on the 19th or it was concluded on the 19th," Hearing Tr., Jan. 26, 2000, at 13--and that Green Haven is a "large" facility housing approximately 2200 inmates, Morton nevertheless concluded that the report provided Sira with adequate notice of the date, time, and place of the charged conduct: "this misbehavior report indicates the date as January 19, 2000, [time of] incident, 10:15 a.m., and place of incident, Green Haven Correctional Facility," id. at 36. Morton stated that he would call complaining officer Schneider to testify in support of the charges and to answer approved questions posed by

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Sira. Morton further advised that at some point in the proceedings, he would hear evidence outside Sira's presence to "make a personal assessment of the credibility" of the confidential sources whose information supported the disciplinary charges. Id. at 10, 27.

On January 31, 2000, Lt. Schneider testified in Sira's presence that from shortly before the December 24, 1999 lock down through the month of January, prison officials had investigated the Y2K strike. From various confidential sources, the officers had learned that Sira had assumed leadership of a group of Dominican inmates, that he was the "Captain" of "C Block,"2 and that he had endeavored to enforce participation in the Y2K strike by threatening inmates. Hearing Tr., Jan. 31, 2000, at 4-6. Lt. Schneider stated that no source had indicated that Sira had threatened any particular inmate; rather, the sources disclosed that Sira had made "open threats to any one who would go against the strike." Id. at 15. She did not detail the nature of these threats, nor did she indicate any dates on or about when threats or other charged conduct occurred. Lt. Schneider did, however, clarify that the report's reference to January 19 at 10:15 a.m. alluded to the date and time she filed the disciplinary charges, not the date and time of any misconduct.

In light of Lt. Schneider's testimony, Sira reiterated his objection to the written notice, arguing that the January 19 incident date on the misbehavior report was plainly inaccurate, and the reported location, Green Haven Correctional Facility, was unnecessarily general. Capt. Morton again rejected Sira's challenge. He observed that Lt. Schneider had satisfactorily explained why January 19, 2000, at 10:15 a.m. was mistakenly noted in the report as the incident date and time. Morton further concluded that the report's reference to January 1, 2000, as the planned strike date provided Sira with sufficient notice of the approximate date and time of his alleged misconduct. He also concluded that the report's identification of Green Haven as the site of the misconduct was adequate.

B. Confidential Proceedings

Beginning on February 5, 2000, and continuing through February 8, Capt. Morton heard testimony out of Sira's presence from Lt. Schneider, Sgt. Kaiser, and Corrections Officer G. Williams about information received from five confidential sources (referred to herein as "Informants 1-5"), each of whom implicated Sira in the Y2K strike.3

1. Informant 1

Lt. Schneider identified Informant 1 by name as an inmate who had provided reliable information in the past that had helped prison authorities prevent the death of another inmate. Informant 1 told Lt. Schneider that sometime after prison officials lifted the first December 1999 lockdown, Informant 1 had attended a strike organization meeting in Building 12 run by an inmate named Codorel who discussed with those present the...

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