574 F.2d 1147 (4th Cir. 1978), 77-1137, Gordon v. Leeke

Docket Nº:77-1137, 77-1194.
Citation:574 F.2d 1147
Party Name:Walter GORDON, Appellant, v. William D. LEEKE, Commissioner; Joe Martin, Warden, Appellees. Wayne Stephen YOUNG, Appellant, v. George H. COLLINS, Warden, et al., Appellees.
Case Date:March 06, 1978
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

Page 1147

574 F.2d 1147 (4th Cir. 1978)

Walter GORDON, Appellant,


William D. LEEKE, Commissioner; Joe Martin, Warden, Appellees.

Wayne Stephen YOUNG, Appellant,


George H. COLLINS, Warden, et al., Appellees.

Nos. 77-1137, 77-1194.

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

March 6, 1978

Argued Nov. 10, 1977.

Rehearing and Rehearing En Banc Denied May 2, 1978.

Page 1148

George Wm. Warren, IV, Richmond, Va., for appellants in 77-1137 and 77-1194.

Emmet H. Clair, Senior Asst. Atty. Gen., Columbia, S. C. (Daniel R. McLeod, Atty. Gen. of South Carolina, Katherine W. Hill, Asst. Atty. Gen., Columbia, S. C., Francis B. Burch, Atty. Gen. of Maryland, and Kathleen M. Sweeney, Asst. Atty. Gen., Baltimore, Md., on brief), for appellees in 77-1137 and 77-1194.

Before WINTER, BUTZNER and HALL, Circuit Judges.

WINTER, Circuit Judge:

Because these appeals both concern the duty of a district court to assist a pro se prisoner-litigant in presenting a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, we consolidated them for briefing and argument, and we decide them together. In No. 77-1137 (the South Carolina case), the plaintiff sought injunctive relief and money damages for alleged mistreatment by fellow inmates, acquiesced in by prison guards. He sued the warden and a commissioner of the Department of Correction. The district court required the defendants to supplement their pleadings and permitted plaintiff to supplement his, in an effort to determine if plaintiff had a meritorious cause of action. On the expanded pleadings and affidavits, the district court granted summary judgment for the defendants. In No. 77-1194 (the Maryland case), plaintiff sued the warden for damages for the loss of a watch allegedly stolen during a shakedown search. The district court permitted the filing of plaintiff's pro

Page 1149

se complaint, but granted the defendants' motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), F.R.Civ.P. It denied a subsequent motion for leave to amend.

We reverse in both cases.


The South Carolina Case

Walter Gordon, convicted of a felony by a South Carolina state court, was placed under psychiatric observation in Cell Block Two at the Central Correctional Institution at Columbia, South Carolina, shortly after he began service of his sentence. On January 29, 1976, he was removed to Cell Block One, where he became part of the general population of the prison. On February 3, 1976, he was transferred to Kirkland Correctional Institution.

According to Gordon, he was subjected to a brutal beating, robbery and homosexual rape by four fellow inmates sometime between January 29 and February 3. He claims that the several attacks were witnessed by two correctional officers who did nothing to prevent or halt them. He further alleges that on February 1, 1976, he requested the Deputy Warden to provide him protection but that the Deputy Warden failed to act upon his request except to return him to the psychiatric cell block.

In addition, Gordon alleged that he was thereafter duped by another inmate, a certain Thomas Massey, into causing his family to send $50.00 to Massey who would prepare a writ that would "guarantee" Gordon's release.

Gordon's pro se complaint was filed against William D. Leeke, a commissioner of the South Carolina Department of Correction, and J. R. Martin, Warden of the Central Correctional Institution. As relief, Gordon sought an order that the administration at Central Correctional Institution be corrected, that defendants be fined, and that he be awarded money damages.

The complaint was hopelessly inadequate to allege a cause of action on which relief could be granted. Among other things, it failed to state either the date of the alleged attack, whether it occurred in Cell Block One or Two, and the identity of either the attacking inmates or the acquiescent guards. The defendants answered, denying knowledge of any alleged abuse of Gordon, but conceding that the records disclosed that Massey received $50.00 from "J. H. Gordon." They raised certain legal defenses, pleaded a lack of knowledge of many of the essential facts, and moved to dismiss the complaint under Rule 12(b)(6). In a reply to this answer, Gordon conceded that Massey had refunded the $50.00 and this phase of Gordon's claims was effectively eliminated from the case.

The district court ruled that, with respect to the alleged assault, it could not dismiss the complaint under Rule 12(b)(6), nor could it grant summary judgment for defendants. At the same time, it ruled that it would not set the case for trial until the pleadings had been amplified so that it could determine if Gordon had alleged at least a colorable claim. Accordingly, the district court required defendants to supply additional information and it afforded Gordon the opportunity to respond thereto.

As a result of defendant's supplemental answer, with affidavits and exhibits thereto, and Gordon's verified responses, including an affidavit from another inmate, some of the details of Gordon's alleged cause of action emerged. In another interim ruling, the district court recited (1) that Gordon's statements fixed the date on which the assault on him had occurred as January 29, 1976; (2) that the affidavit of another inmate, Joe Harris, stated that he saw ("(i) n January, 1976, I don't remember the exact date,") four black inmates pull Gordon into a cell and beat him while two black officers stood by and watched without intervening; and (3) that Gordon, whose face was badly beaten, said about an hour later that he had been raped and robbed but made no claim to the prison authorities that he had been assaulted until April 7, 1976, although he had conversed with at least one official after the alleged incident. The district court stated its belief that Gordon's case was "nebulous, at best," and that his claim

Page 1150

of rape was highly suspect because he did not inform the prison authorities of it until April 7, 1976. Nonetheless, the district court directed Gordon to submit an affidavit identifying any persons whom he claimed raped him and directed defendants to submit an affidavit from the officer in charge of the cell block in which Gordon was incarcerated on January 29, 1976 as to any incident of the type which Gordon alleged.

In response, Gordon filed three affidavits. In the first, which was made by him, he noted that he had previously declined to name his attackers because of fears for his life; he then stated that, while he did not know the names of three of them, the name of the fourth was Bernard Brown. The second affidavit was that of Joe Harris who said that one of the guards who had witnessed the attack was Officer Reilly (sic) and that Harris could identify him by reason of previous contacts between the two of them. The third affidavit was that of David Johnson, another inmate, who said that Gordon had told him on the day of the incident that Gordon refused medical treatment for his face because he feared that disclosure of the incident might endanger his life.

In response, defendants filed a second and third supplemental answer supported by affidavits and prison records. Succinctly stated, these pleadings asserted that Assistant Correctional Supervisor M. Woodward, Jr., was in charge of the cell block in which Gordon was confined on the date of the alleged incident, but that Woodward had no knowledge, nor did he receive any report, of any attack on Gordon. Neville Riley, the correctional officer named by Harris, made an affidavit that he was the only person of that name employed as a correctional officer at the Central Correctional Institution but that he was not on duty on January 29, 1976 and was never aware that Gordon had been assaulted or in any way physically abused. The attendance records of the institution showing that Riley did not work on January 29 were attached.

On the pleadings, expanded as recited above, the district court made a final ruling. On its analysis of the facts, it candidly disclosed that "the Court is not fully persuaded that some type of assault did not occur." Notwithstanding, the court dismissed the complaint on the grounds that, factually, Gordon had alleged no cause of action against Leeke and Martin and, legally, they could not be held liable in an action...

To continue reading