Adams v. Gunnell, No. 82-2550

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtBefore BROWN, REAVLEY and WILLIAMS; REAVLEY
Citation729 F.2d 362
PartiesWillie L. ADAMS and Roy Dancy, Petitioners-Appellants, v. Robert GUNNELL, Warden, Federal Correctional Institution, Texarkana, et al., Respondents-Appellees.
Docket NumberNo. 82-2550
Decision Date13 April 1984

Page 362

729 F.2d 362
Willie L. ADAMS and Roy Dancy, Petitioners-Appellants,
Robert GUNNELL, Warden, Federal Correctional Institution,
Texarkana, et al., Respondents-Appellees.
No. 82-2550.
United States Court of Appeals,
Fifth Circuit.
April 13, 1984.

Page 363

James C. Harrington, American Civil Liberties Foundation of Texas, Inc., Austin, Tex., for petitioners-appellants.

Janet Hellmich, Asst. U.S. Atty., Tyler, Tex., for respondents-appellees.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas.

Before BROWN, REAVLEY and WILLIAMS, Circuit Judges.

REAVLEY, Circuit Judge:

This civil rights action was brought against prison officials by two federal prisoners who had been disciplined for engaging in "conduct which disrupts the orderly running of the institution" by signing a petition complaining of discrimination against black inmates. The matter was referred to a United States magistrate, who conducted a day-long trial and recommended that relief be denied. The district court adopted the magistrate's report over the plaintiffs' objection and dismissed the action.

The inmates raise two alternative arguments that discipline was unconstitutionally imposed: first, that their participation in the petition was protected expression under the First Amendment; and second, that their right to due process was infringed because they were disciplined for conduct they could not have known was prohibited and because the procedure afforded them was infirm in several respects. We hold that the discipline imposed in this case did not unconstitutionally infringe the inmates' First Amendment freedoms, but that their right to due process was violated. We reverse and remand for further proceedings.

Page 364


On July 14, 1980, a petition signed by 36 black inmates at the Federal Correctional Institute in Texarkana, Texas was sent to the warden of the prison, the Texarkana Gazette, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The text of the petition was "gentle," 1 alleging that black inmates at Texarkana were not given the same opportunity as white inmates to participate in several programs and proposing that "avenues and strategies" be developed to solve the problem. The list of signatures corresponded either closely or exactly to the membership of a loosely organized but officially recognized group of black inmates known as the Black Awareness Club. Appellant Roy Dancy's name appeared at the top of the list; that of appellant Willie Adams was number ten.

Warden Gunnell responded to the petition immediately by ordering that the three inmates heading the list--including Dancy--be placed in administrative segregation pending an investigation. He assigned his staff to investigate those allegations that could quickly be checked; in particular, they determined that blacks were fairly represented among those holding desirable jobs in the prison industry. Prison officials questioned the three inmates and other signers of the petition, and Adams was placed in administrative segregation a few hours later. Administrative detention orders for both Dancy and Adams reflect as the reason for their detention that each "signed an illegal petition." Neither inmate was told the reason for his segregation at the time he was locked up, but each received an incident report about an hour later. Both reports charged violations of the Prison Rule 399, 2 prohibiting "conduct which disrupts the orderly running of the Institution," and both described that conduct as signing an "illegal petition." Adams was released later that afternoon, but Dancy remained in administrative segregation.

A second incident report, filed two days later, charged Adams with lying to a staff member and with disruptive conduct. On July 10, 1980, he had allegedly asked an employee in the prison's education complex, Robert Russell, to photocopy a list of names he said was the membership of the Black Awareness Club. Russell learned of the discrimination petition shortly after it was presented to the warden a few days later, and filed the second incident report against Adams on July 16, believing that the list Adams had submitted for photocopying was actually the first page of the petition. Adams was placed in administrative segregation.

The unit discipline committee (UDC) met that same day, July 16, to consider the first two reports--those charging Adams and Dancy with signing the petition. Noting that both inmates admitted signing the petition, the committee found that each had violated Prison Rule 399, "conduct which disrupts." The rules did not more specifically prohibit signing or circulating petitions. 3 Both violations were referred to the institution discipline committee (IDC), and both inmates remained in administrative segregation pending action by that committee. On July 18, the UDC considered the second report against Adams and found that he had violated Prison Rules 313, "lying or providing a false statement to a staff member," and 299, a higher

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severity provision identical in its terms to the disruptive conduct prohibition in Rule 399. The UDC referred this second report to the IDC with the recommendation that Adams forfeit statutory good time.

On July 17, the charge against Dancy was brought before a three-member panel of the IDC chaired by Captain Horace Minton and on which L.F. Worthy was a member. Dancy was the only witness that appeared at the hearing, but Minton testified before the magistrate that the IDC also "had inmate information ... that led [it] to believe that Mr. Adams was the author of the petition, and also that Mr. Dancy was the individual who circulated the petition and solicited additional signatures." Dancy admitted signing the petition but denied the charge that he had circulated it. The section of the IDC's report for "specific evidence relied upon" reads in full: "inmate's admission and supportive evidence (your signature on the petition)." The committee forfeited 30 days of Dancy's statutory good time, placed him in disciplinary segregation for 15 days, and recommended a disciplinary transfer. It explained the sanction in its report by saying that Dancy had been "party to an attempt to illegally organize a group protest;" Dancy was never charged with violating the Prison Rule against group protests. See note 3, supra.

All pending charges against Adams came before another IDC panel on July 22; Minton again was chairman and Worthy again a member. According to Adams, he objected to Worthy's participation on the ground that Worthy had denied his application for a job in the prison business office in March 1980 and that Adams had unsuccessfully pursued his administrative appeal from the denial, charging Worthy with race discrimination. Worthy testified that Adams never challenged his presence on the tribunal. The hearing proceeded, with Adams the only witness. According to the IDC's report, Adams admitted signing the petition, but denied any other involvement. He also stated that the list he submitted for photocopying was of the Black Awareness Club's membership and that Russell, the charging official, never actually saw the document--Russell declined to do the photocopying on July 10 because it was not his job, and another person ran the copies later that day.

The committee found that Adams had committed a high severity violation, and it gave the following as the "specific evidence" it "relied on to support [its] findings": "You admit to signing the petition and supporting the contents of the petition. Based upon Mr. Russell's account and subsequent investigation clearly supports (sic) that you lied and use (sic) equipment to duplicate a list of names to be attached to the petition." Officer Minton explained to the magistrate, however, that the committee had other evidence, not disclosed at the hearing, that Adams was guilty of the charges. Adams suffered the same punishment as Dancy; he was also "removed from mandatory goodtime." See 28 C.F.R. Sec. 541.13 (table 4, Sec. 1(F)).

Adams and Dancy filed this action just over a week later, on August 5, 1980. Plaintiffs alleged that Warden Gunnell, Associate Warden Charles Gaugler, and Captain Minton 4 violated their First Amendment rights by disciplining them for signing a petition. They also alleged a denial of due process in several respects, notably, that they had been charged under a "catch-all" disruptive-conduct rule for actions they could not have known to be prohibited. They sought by preliminary injunction to enjoin enforcement of the general disruptive conduct prohibitions against them and to be relieved of the sanctions imposed by the IDC. They also sought damages. The district court referred the matter to the magistrate on September 12, 1980.

Defendants answered the complaint a month later, denying that their conduct infringed constitutional rights and noting that Dancy and Adams had by then already

Page 366

been transferred. Their only substantial affirmative defense was that the plaintiffs had not exhausted available administrative remedies; nowhere did they allege that they were immune from financial liability because their actions had been taken in good faith.

The case was tried to the magistrate on March 16, 1981. In her opening statement, counsel for the defendants noted that defendants were sued in both their individual and official capacities and argued that the plaintiffs bore the burden of proving that the defendants "did something so far outside of their responsibilities, so far outside of the capacity of their job[s], that there was no reasonable belief [that] what they were doing was within the scope of their appointment." This is the first time the question of good faith immunity was even arguably raised.

The plaintiffs testified and presented as exhibits, among other documents, the Prison Rules and the various orders, notices, and reports surrounding their discipline. Both Adams and Dancy denied...

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