Cooper v. Morin

CourtNew York Court of Appeals
Writing for the CourtMEYER; COOKE; GABRIELLI; JONES, WACHTLER and FUCHSBERG, JJ., concur with MEYER; COOKE; GABRIELLI, J., dissents and votes to modify in a dissenting opinion in which JASEN
Citation424 N.Y.S.2d 168,49 N.Y.2d 69,399 N.E.2d 1188
Decision Date19 December 1979
Parties, 399 N.E.2d 1188 Regina COOPER et al., on Behalf of Themselves and All Others Similarly Situated, Appellants-Respondents, v. Lucien A. MORIN, Individually and in His Official Capacity as County Manager of the County of Monroe et al., Respondents-Appellants.

Page 168

424 N.Y.S.2d 168
49 N.Y.2d 69, 399 N.E.2d 1188
Regina COOPER et al., on Behalf of Themselves and All Others
Similarly Situated, Appellants-Respondents,
v.
Lucien A. MORIN, Individually and in His Official Capacity
as County Manager of the County of Monroe et al.,
Respondents-Appellants.
Court of Appeals of New York.
Dec. 19, 1979.

Page 170

David C. Leven, Rochester, and Ian C. De Waal, Bath, for appellants-respondents.

John D. Doyle, County Atty. (David Van Varick and Rae A. Clark, Jr., Rochester, of counsel), for respondents-appellants.

Robert Abrams, Atty. Gen. (Shirley Adelson Siegel and John J. Warner, Jr., Asst. Attys. Gen., of counsel), amicus curiae.

William E. Hellerstein, John Boston and Clay Hiles, New York City, for Legal Aid Society, Prisoners' Rights Project, amicus curiae.

OPINION OF THE COURT

MEYER, Judge.

This appeal requires that we pass upon the rights of persons incarcerated pending trial of criminal charges against them; specifically, whether a pretrial detainee has a right to contact visitation with her family; whether, if so, such a visit may be limited to 10 minutes; whether the penalties imposed for infraction of rules for behavior of jail inmates must be related to particular offenses. A subsidiary issue is whether plaintiffs are entitled to attorneys fees. We hold that pretrial detainees are entitled to contact visits of reasonable duration as a matter of State, though not of Federal,

Page 171

constitutional right, but are not entitled to a revision of the jail system of discipline under either the Federal or the State Constitution, their rights in that respect being adequately protected by available review procedures. On the subsidiary issue, we hold that neither under the Civil Rights Attorneys Fees Awards Act of 1976 (U.S.Code, tit. 42, § 1988) nor under CPLR 909 are plaintiffs entitled to attorneys fees.

The action has been granted class action status under CPLR article 9, the class being "all women inmates of the Monroe County Jail from February, 1974 until the resolution of this action". The complaint alleges six causes of action under the Civil Rights Act (U.S.Code, tit. 42, § 1983) for which are sought money judgments for the named individual plaintiffs as well as declaratory and injunctive relief for the class. Additionally it sets forth five other causes of action, based upon claimed violations of the Federal and State Constitutions, for injunctive and declaratory relief. The comprehensive and thoughtful opinion of Mr. Justice Edward O. Provenzano (91 Misc.2d 302, 398 N.Y.S.2d 36) lists and passes upon some 21 separate categories of claimed constitutional rights. On plaintiffs' appeal to the Appellate Division with respect to visitation, recreational opportunities, disciplinary proceedings and attorneys fees, that court modified to require adoption within a reasonable period of time of a program of contact visitation, but otherwise affirmed and remitted for further proceedings (64 A.D.2d 130, 409 N.Y.S.2d 30). On the appeal to this court the question of recreational opportunities has not been argued, and is deemed abandoned.

The facts so far as necessary to determination of the issues remaining before us are not in dispute. The named plaintiffs are three pretrial detainees and three convicted and sentenced inmates of the Monroe County jail, and they represent as a class all women inmates since February, 1974. The jail occupies 55% Of the space in the Monroe County Public Safety Building, which is a modern facility opened in 1971. It was originally intended that female inmates would occupy one half of the fourth floor of the new facility. However, subsequent events required the closing of the nearby county penitentiary, and in the fall of 1971, sentenced male prisoners transferred from that jail to the new facility occupied the fourth floor space.

Lacking room for the female inmates, the county contracted with the City of Rochester to convert and use existing "lockup facilities" on the third floor of the abutting city public safety building. Although the new female detention area did not meet the requirements of the regulations of the State Commission of Correction then in effect, the commission approved the use of the facility on a temporary basis. At the time of trial in 1976 that "temporary" operation had continued for over five years.

Of the women lodged in that facility, more than 90% Were pretrial detainees; the rest were serving sentences upon conviction. 1 Currently the women are limited to noncontact visits from family and friends. Visiting hours are between 1:00 and 4:30 p. m. on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. While it appears from the stipulation of the parties that visits can be limited to 10 minutes, the trial court found that women inmates are permitted 15-minute visits and that they frequently ran longer. The facility's three visiting booths separate the inmates from their visitors by a floor-to-ceiling steel barrier, in which there is a window about two feet by seven inches in size, through which the inmate and her visitor can see each other. Conversation can take place only by use of telephones. Thus, there is no physical contact whatsoever between the inmate and her loved ones or friends.

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Direct contact visits are permitted at the Monroe County jail between inmates and attorneys, clergymen, parole and probation officers, drug counselors and persons involved in community projects at the jail. The evidence established also that in another correctional facility, run by the State, convicted female felons are permitted longer visits in an informal setting which allows for direct contact between the inmate and her family or friends. Indeed, the Monroe County prison officials agree that contact visits would be desirable, but state that they have not been implemented because they require additional security measures which would increase costs.

The evidence with respect to the challenge to the system of punishment for violation of jail rules is that jail rules proscribe a variety of acts ranging from disrespectful behavior to cursing, for the infraction of which an inmate can lose the right to recreation or exercise, be confined to an isolation cell for up to 7 days, be confined to her locked cell for 23 hours each day for up to 14 days, or be subject to lesser penalties. Plaintiffs argue that the present system permits random imposition of disparate penalties for similar conduct and ask that the court require that a system which relates the penalty to the offense be established.

The Appellate Division, in a decision written some nine months prior to the decision of the United States Supreme Court in Bell v. Wolfish (441 U.S. 520, 99 S.Ct. 1861, 60 L.Ed.2d 447), held that the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Federal Constitution requires that a system of contact visitation be instituted, but that the manner and duration of the visits is a matter wholly within the discretion of the prison officials, and as such, beyond the reach of judicial supervision. It also held that since the imposition of specific sanctions was subject to judicial review, the claim that the system of discipline did not "make the punishment fit the crime" was not of constitutional dimension. Finally, it held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying an award of attorneys fees.

For the reasons hereafter set forth we conclude: (1) that (A) contact visitation is not required by either the due process or the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Federal Constitution but (B) contact visitation of reasonable duration is required by the due process clause of the State Constitution; (2) that Monroe County's system of jail discipline has not been shown to be constitutionally infirm, and (3) that plaintiffs are not entitled to attorneys fees under Federal statute because they have not prevailed on their Civil Rights Act claims nor are they so entitled under State law because in failing to award them attorneys fees the Trial Judge did not abuse the discretion granted him under CPLR 909.

I
A

In Wolfish v. Levi, 573 F.2d 118 the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment requires that pretrial detainees in Federal custody be allowed contact visitation, and proscribes certain other practices then in force at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York. Though the matter was appealed to the Supreme Court, the ruling as to contact visitation was not appealed, and that court noted (Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 559, n. 40, 99 S.Ct. 1861, 1885, n. 40, 60 L.Ed.2d 447, Supra ), that it expressed no opinion on that phase of the matter. Notwithstanding that it did not pass directly on contact visitation, it would seem from its analysis of the other issues in the case that its ruling will be that contact visitation between a pretrial detainee and his or her family or friends is not constitutionally required. In Bell the court considered challenges to: (1) the practice of

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double-bunking, 2 (2) the "publisher only" rule, 3 (3) body-cavity searches after contact visits, (4) the prohibition against receipt of packages, and (5) the practice of surprise searches of inmates' cells. The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit had held that since pretrial detainees had not been convicted, and therefore were presumed to be innocent, due process required that they be subjected only to those restrictions and privations which inhere in their confinement itself or which are justified by compelling necessities of jail administration.

Rejecting what it considered an intrusive standard of review, the Supreme Court focused instead on the various constitutional limitations on punishment in the criminal judicial process. The court agreed that the Eighth Amendment proscription against cruel and unusual punishment had no application to pretrial detainees, for...

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92 practice notes
  • Rivers v. Katz
    • United States
    • New York Court of Appeals
    • June 10, 1986
    ...is coextensive with the patient's liberty interest protected by the due process clause of our State Constitution (cf. Cooper v. Morin, 49 N.Y.2d 69, 80, 424 N.Y.S.2d 168, 399 N.E.2d In our system of a free government, where notions of individual autonomy and free choice are cherished, it is......
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    • December 15, 1980
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    • United States
    • New York Supreme Court Appellate Division
    • February 4, 1985
    ...of their constitutions, statutes and rule-making power (People v. Adams, supra, p. 250, 440 N.Y.S.2d 902, 423 N.E.2d 379; Cooper v. Morin, 49 N.Y.2d 69, 79, 424 N.Y.S.2d 168, 399 N.E.2d 1188, cert. den. sub nom. Lombard v. Cooper, 446 U.S. 984, 100 S.Ct. 2965, 64 L.Ed.2d 840; Sharrock v. De......
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92 cases
  • Rivers v. Katz
    • United States
    • New York Court of Appeals
    • June 10, 1986
    ...is coextensive with the patient's liberty interest protected by the due process clause of our State Constitution (cf. Cooper v. Morin, 49 N.Y.2d 69, 80, 424 N.Y.S.2d 168, 399 N.E.2d In our system of a free government, where notions of individual autonomy and free choice are cherished, it is......
  • People v. Harris
    • United States
    • New York Court of Appeals
    • February 12, 1991
    ...States Constitution in the first instance (see, e.g., People v. Cintron, 75 N.Y.2d 249, 552 N.Y.S.2d 68, 551 N.E.2d 561; Cooper v. Morin, 49 N.Y.2d 69, 424 N.Y.S.2d 168, 399 N.E.2d 1188) or on remand from the Supreme Court after it has decided the issue, as in this case (see, e.g., People v......
  • Friar v. Vanguard Holding Corp.
    • United States
    • New York Supreme Court Appellate Division
    • December 15, 1980
    ...91 Misc.2d 302, 398 N.Y.S.2d 36, appealed on other grounds and mod. 64 A.D.2d 130, 409 N.Y.S.2d 30, appealed on other grounds and mod. 49 N.Y.2d 69, 424 N.Y.S.2d 168, 399 N.E.2d 1188; Guadagno v. Diamond Tours & Travel, 89 Misc.2d 697, 392 N.Y.S.2d 783; Boulevard Gardens Tenants Action Comm......
  • Shad Alliance v. Smith Haven Mall
    • United States
    • New York Supreme Court Appellate Division
    • February 4, 1985
    ...of their constitutions, statutes and rule-making power (People v. Adams, supra, p. 250, 440 N.Y.S.2d 902, 423 N.E.2d 379; Cooper v. Morin, 49 N.Y.2d 69, 79, 424 N.Y.S.2d 168, 399 N.E.2d 1188, cert. den. sub nom. Lombard v. Cooper, 446 U.S. 984, 100 S.Ct. 2965, 64 L.Ed.2d 840; Sharrock v. De......
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