Blizzard v. Watson, 93-443-RRM.

Decision Date01 June 1995
Docket NumberNo. 93-443-RRM.,93-443-RRM.
Citation892 F. Supp. 587
PartiesGary E. BLIZZARD, Johnathan T. King, Mark Bishop, and Nelson Hoover, Plaintiffs, v. Robert J. WATSON, Hank Risley, Stanley Taylor, and George Truitt, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Delaware

Gary E. Blizzard, Johnathan T. King, Mark Bishop, and Nelson Hoover, pro se.

Susan P. Tussey, Delaware Dept. of Justice, Wilmington, DE, for defendants.

OPINION

McKELVIE, District Judge.

This is a civil rights case. During the period in which the activities in question occurred, plaintiffs were housed in the Sussex Correctional Institution ("SCI") in Georgetown, Delaware. The defendants are various prison officials within Delaware's Department of Corrections.

In their complaint, plaintiffs allege defendants have violated their right to due process in disciplinary hearings and subjected them to cruel and unusual punishment in housing them in the Administrative Segregation and Detention Area ("ASDA"). Defendants contend plaintiffs have received all the process they are due and that the ASDA facilities do not subject inmates to cruel and unusual punishment. Defendants have filed a motion for a summary judgment. This is the court's decision on defendants' motion.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs' complaint alleges three claims for relief. First, plaintiffs contend defendants violated their due process rights in a number of disciplinary hearings. Second, plaintiffs contend the conditions in the ASDA violate the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Finally, plaintiffs contend that the increase in potential time in ASDA from 15 to 90 days also violates the Eighth Amendment. Defendants deny the allegations in plaintiffs' complaint and contend plaintiffs received constitutionally adequate procedure in each case.

A. Procedural History of This Dispute

Plaintiffs are no strangers to this court. This is Gary E. Blizzard's fourteenth civil rights action and Nelson Hoover's eighteenth civil rights action before this court.

On September 8, 1993, the court granted plaintiffs' petition to proceed in forma pauperis and plaintiffs filed a complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Docket Items ("D.I.") 1 and 2. On September 15, 1993, the court referred this case to the Magistrate. D.I. 5. This reference has been withdrawn.

On September 30, 1993, Blizzard filed a motion to amend and supplement the complaint. D.I. 13. On October 1, 1993, plaintiffs filed a motion for class certification and for a temporary restraining order. D.I. 14 and 15. On November 3, 1993, Hoover filed a motion to amend and supplement the complaint. D.I. 22. On November 22, 1993, Hoover filed yet another motion to amend the complaint. D.I. 23.

On January 3, 1994, the Magistrate denied the September 30 motion to amend and the motion for class certification but allowed plaintiffs to supplement the complaint with an alleged violation of their civil rights occurring in August of 1993. D.I. 27. On January 4, 1994, the Magistrate granted plaintiffs' November 3 motion to amend and instructed plaintiffs to file their amended complaint no later than February 1, 1994. D.I. 28. The Magistrate also indicated that any plaintiffs who failed to sign the amended complaint would be dismissed under Fed.R.Civ.P. 41. Id. In a second order issued on January 4, the Magistrate denied the motion for a temporary restraining order. D.I. 29. In a third order issued that same day, the Magistrate denied Hoover's November 22 motion to amend. D.I. 30.

On January 20, 1994, Hoover filed an amended complaint pursuant to the Magistrate's January 4 Order. D.I. 35. In that amended complaint, Hoover indicated that plaintiffs King, Bishop, Scott and Cephas have been dropped from the suit. He also indicated that defendants Watson, Risley, and Taylor have been dropped from the suit. On February 9, 1994, Truitt filed an answer to the January 20 amended complaint. D.I. 39.

On February 7, 1994, Blizzard filed a motion to extend the time to file his complaint, which was granted on February 10, 1994. D.I. 38 and 41. On February 24, 1994, Blizzard filed his amended complaint, which includes claims against Risley and Watson. D.I. 43. Only Blizzard and Hoover signed their amended complaints. Consequently, the other plaintiffs will be dismissed pursuant to the Magistrate's January 4 Order. On March 17, 1994, defendants Watson, Risley, Taylor and Truitt filed an answer to Blizzard's amended complaint. On May 18, 1994, the Magistrate granted, in part, yet another motion to amend the complaint. D.I. 60. On June 10, 1994, defendants filed an answer to that amended complaint. D.I. 67.

On July 5, 1994, defendants filed a motion for a summary judgment. D.I. 76. On July 8, 1994, Blizzard filed an answer to defendants' motion. D.I. 78. On July 22, 1994, Hoover filed an answer to defendants' motion. D.I. 84. In their papers, defendants do not appear to challenge the factual allegations made by the plaintiffs in their complaint. Instead defendants contend even under the facts as alleged by plaintiffs they are entitled to a summary judgment.

B. Facts Relevant to Plaintiffs' Due Process Claim

Plaintiffs first contend defendants have repeatedly denied them certain procedures guaranteed by the Due Process Clause during the course of disciplinary hearings. In support of their claim, plaintiffs describe certain disciplinary hearings and the facts surrounding those hearings in sworn affidavits. The court will set forth the events as identified by each plaintiff.

1. The Metal Rod Incident — June/July 1993

Plaintiff Hoover alleges that on June 21, 1993, two correctional officers discovered and confiscated a metal rod protruding from a radiator in the pre-trial cell in which he was housed. The cell housed a number of other inmates as well. Lt. Cave held a preliminary hearing at the pre-trial officers' station. Hoover was charged with "Possession of Dangerous Contraband" in violation of prison rules.

Later Lt. George Truitt held a disciplinary hearing regarding this incident in the pretrial officers' building. During the course of that hearing, Truitt refused to permit Hoover to view the metal rod, call any witnesses in his defense, or cross-examine any witnesses, despite his requests. According to Hoover, Truitt's tone of voice during the hearing became "loud, provoking, disrespectful, and intentionally intimidating." Rather than perform an independent investigation into the factual basis for the allegation against Hoover, Truitt simply determined Hoover had committed the offense and sanctioned him to 10 days of isolation in ASDA.

Hoover appealed the finding of guilt by Truitt. The appeal was denied by letter dated April 22, 1994. The appeal decision indicated Hoover had presented no new material that would warrant reversal of the decision.

2. Tattooing Incident — August 1993

Hoover further alleges that on or about August 15, 1993, prison guards discovered and confiscated certain materials for use in tattooing. According to Hoover, on the day in question several other pre-trial detainees were congregating around his bed in Dorm # 2. A detainee named Thompson was apparently tattooing himself while Hoover simply sat on the bed talking with another individual. Correctional Officer Brittingham and Lt. Culkerson next "stormed into the area." As they came upon the inmates, Thompson threw a homemade tattoo needle "under Hoover's shoulder." Thompson allegedly admitted responsibility for the tattooing and explained to the correctional officers that Hoover had no involvement. However, Hoover was placed in pre-hearing detention for two weeks while Thompson was given only 24 hours detention.

On August 20, 1983, Lt. Truitt held a disciplinary hearing on this incident. Upon arriving at the hearing, Hoover informed Lt. Truitt that he had "joined a class action civil suit against" Truitt "because of the unconstitutional disciplinary hearings he conducts." Truitt's tone of voice became loud and authoritative in response. Hoover requested that he be given the opportunity to cross-examine any witnesses against him, view any evidence used to show guilt, and call witnesses on his behalf. Truitt denied each request and found that Hoover had committed the offense for which he was charged and sanctioned him to 90 days of isolation in the ASDA.

3. The Book of Matches — September 1993

Apparently, prior to September 1993, while Hoover was at "gym," an unknown correctional officer searched Hoover's cell area in the ASDA. Hoover's cell was accessible to seven other inmates at this time. The correctional officer apparently found a book of matches in Hoover's cell, and Hoover received a write-up for possession of dangerous contraband.

On September 22, 1993, Lt. Truitt held a disciplinary hearing for this offense. When Hoover arrived at the hearing, he showed Truitt a copy of the complaint filed in this action (Civil Action No. 93-443-RRM) in an effort to prove to Truitt that Hoover had joined in a lawsuit against him. Hoover then requested that Truitt recuse himself from the hearing alleging he could no longer be neutral. Truitt's tone of voice again apparently became loud and authoritative and he ordered Hoover to leave the room. Hoover was summarily given a notice of sanction imposing 10 days of isolation for this offense without the opportunity to call witnesses on his behalf, cross-examine witnesses against him, or see any evidence.

4. Write-Ups Lacking Evidence — October 1993

In October 1993, Hoover received several allegedly false write-ups from a prison employee in the medical area who accused Hoover of using abusive language. These alleged acts were apparently in violation of some form of probation that Hoover had been serving. As a result he was given 70 days isolation as a sanction. However, upon Hoover's appeal this conviction was reversed.

5. Threatening Behavior — November 1993

In November of 1993, prior to Hoover's Superior Court...

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