422 U.S. 395 (1975), 74-107, Preiser v. Newkirk

Docket Nº:No. 74-107
Citation:422 U.S. 395, 95 S.Ct. 2330, 45 L.Ed.2d 272
Party Name:Preiser v. Newkirk
Case Date:June 25, 1975
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 395

422 U.S. 395 (1975)

95 S.Ct. 2330, 45 L.Ed.2d 272




No. 74-107

United States Supreme Court

June 25, 1975

Argued January 20, 1975




After being transferred, without explanation or hearing, from a medium security to a maximum security prison in New York because of his involvement in a conflict among inmates concerning a petition for a prisoners' "union" at the former prison, respondent brought suit under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1343(3) and (4) and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against petitioner prison officials, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. The District Court, granting relief in part, ruled that the transfer violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, because it was made without any explanation to respondent or opportunity to be heard. The Court of Appeals affirmed with some modification, holding, inter alia, that the suit was not mooted by the fact that respondent was returned to the medium security prison prior to the District Court's ruling. Respondent was later transferred to a minimum security prison, and will soon be eligible for parole.

Held: In light of respondent's return to the medium security prison and later transfer to a minimum security prison, the suit does not present a case or controversy as required by Art. III of the Constitution, but is now moot, and must be dismissed, since, as to the original complaint, there is now no reasonable expectation that the wrong will be repeated, and the question presented does not fall within the category of harm capable of repetition, yet evading review. Pp. 401-403.

499 F.2d 1214, vacated and remanded.

BURGER, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, STEWART, WHITE, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. MARSHALL, J., filed a concurring statement, post, p. 404. DOUGLAS, J., filed a dissenting statement, post, p. 404.

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BURGER, J., lead opinion

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER delivered the opinion of the Court.

Respondent Newkirk has been an inmate of the New York prison system [95 S.Ct. 2332] since his conviction for murder in the second degree in 1962. He had initially been confined at the Ossining Correctional Facility and, subsequently, at the Attica Correctional Facility, the Green Haven Correctional Facility, and the Auburn Correctional Facility. These facilities were maximum security institutions1 at the time respondent was confined in them, and are located in different parts of New York. In April, 1971, nine years after his initial confinement, he was transferred to the Wallkill Correctional Facility, a medium security institution. The District Court and

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the Court of Appeals found, and it is not seriously disputed here, that the Wallkill facility is "unique," and has advantages over other correctional institutions in the New York system in that there are fewer restrictions and physical restraints, as well as a more comprehensive rehabilitation program.

Early in 1972, a petition aimed at the formation of a prisoners' "union" was circulated at Wallkill. This event produced some vociferous controversy among the prisoners. Tension among the inmates, according to the District Court, stemmed in part from the hostility of an existing prisoner representative committee toward the "union" movement. The prison administration, however, did not forbid or actively discourage the circulation of the petition. The administrators did, however, monitor the level of unrest within the prison brought on by the clash of opinions on the petition. On June 2, 1972, there was a general meeting of the inmates at which the petition was discussed loudly by the contending factions; the meeting dispersed peacefully, however, without incidents of violence. Respondent did not attend this meeting, but he had previously signed a proposed "union" constitution and, immediately prior to the meeting, had received a petition from a fellow inmate, signed it, and passed it along.

A report prepared by the assistant deputy superintendent identified Newkirk as one of the inmates who had been canvassing for the "union," but did not charge him with any violation of regulations or misconduct. This report -- including its naming of Newkirk -- was apparently based on information other officers had given the assistant deputy superintendent. Newkirk was not afforded an opportunity to give his account. The following day, on June 6, 1972, the superintendent called the central office of the Department of Corrections and

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arranged for transfer of several inmates, including Newkirk, to other facilities within the state corrections system. The transfer of Newkirk was effected on June 8. He was summoned to the infirmary and informed that he was being transferred.

Newkirk was transferred to the Clinton Correctional Facility, a maximum security institution. The conditions for the general prison population at Clinton were substantially different from those at Wallkill. At Clinton, the cells are locked, access to the library and recreational facilities is more limited, and the rehabilitation programs are less extensive. Newkirk requested a truckdriving assignment when he arrived at Clinton, and understood he was on a waiting list. He was then assigned to the residence of the superintendent of Clinton at the same wage he earned at Wallkill. Since Newkirk's family lived in New York City, 80 miles from Wallkill but 300 miles from Clinton, his transfer to [95 S.Ct. 2333] Clinton made visits by his family more difficult.

Newkirk and three of the other four prisoners transferred from Wallkill brought suit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1343(3) and (4), and 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against the superintendent of Wallkill and the State Commissioner of Correctional Services. They requested a declaratory judgment that the transfers were in violation of the Constitution and laws of the United States and an injunction ordering their return to Wallkill, expunging all record of their transfer, and prohibiting future transfers without a hearing. The District Court denied a preliminary injunction, but set the case for trial on an accelerated basis. Prior to the commencement of the trial, two of the plaintiffs were released and the complaint was dismissed insofar

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as it related to them. During the trial, another plaintiff was released, and the action was dismissed as to him as well; subsequently, Newkirk was returned to Wallkill. The superintendent of that institution also had a memorandum placed in respondent's file which explained the nature of the transfer, noted that the transfer was not for disciplinary reasons, and was not to have any bearing on eligibility for parole or the decisions of the time-allowance committee.

The District Court held that the transfer violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment since it had been made without any explanation to Newkirk or opportunity to be heard. The court entered a declaratory judgment which required that Newkirk be given such an explanation and an opportunity to be heard in connection with any future transfer, and further declared that no adverse parole action...

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