Laaman v. Helgemoe

Decision Date01 July 1977
Docket NumberCiv. A. No. 75-258.
Citation437 F. Supp. 269
PartiesJaan LAAMAN et al. v. Raymond A. HELGEMOE, Warden New Hampshire State Prison, et al.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of New Hampshire






Richard A. Cohen, and Bjorn R. Lange, New Hampshire Legal Assistance, Concord, N. H., Robert E. K. Morrill, Hall, Morse, Gallagher & Anderson, Concord, N. H., for plaintiffs.

James L. Kruse, Asst. Atty. Gen. and Richard B. McNamara, Concord, N. H., for defendants.


BOWNES, District Judge.

This civil rights action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 concerns the living conditions and programs available at the New Hampshire State Prison (NHSP). It is brought by twelve named inmates on behalf of all persons who are or will be incarcerated as duly convicted felons at the prison, including, but not limited to, inmates on work release, in quarantine, punitive segregation, protective custody and on trusty status. The original defendants, sued in both their individual and official capacities, were the Warden, Deputy Warden, Prison Physician, and members of the Board of Trustees of New Hampshire State Prison. The case is proceeding against the present Warden, Prison Physician, and incumbent members of the Board in their official capacities only due to the dismissal of the case against them in their individual capacities. Authority is conferred upon the Warden and the Board of Trustees by NH RSA 622:2 and 622:5 respectively. Jurisdiction is conferred by 28 U.S.C. §§ 1343(3) and (4), 2201 and 2202. This court's findings of fact and rulings of law are incorporated in this opinion as appropriate under F.R.Civ.P. 52.

The suit was originally brought by plaintiff Laaman on August 29, 1975, challenging defendants' emergency lockup of the prison. He claimed that the lockup and the subsequent prisonwide search or "shakedown" had been instituted without a basis in fact and in bad faith, that the search had been conducted in an illegal manner, that noncontraband personal property had been confiscated by defendants, and that he was being denied visits in violation of his rights under the First, Fourth, Fifth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.

The court appointed counsel, and the case mushroomed into a broad-based attack on the general living conditions at the prison. On June 15, 1976, plaintiffs' motions to consolidate and amend the complaint were granted, and this case was certified as a class action pursuant to F.R.Civ.P. 23(a) and (b)(2). Henceforth, the case concerned not only the lockup, but the medical care, work, education and rehabilitation opportunities, visitation and mail privileges, and a general attack on the conditions of confinement at NHSP. The complaint also alleged harassment of the named plaintiffs. On December 30, 1976, defendants' motion for dismissal and/or for summary judgment was granted in part, and the case went to trial February 22, 1977, on the remaining allegations.

In my ruling on defendants' motion for dismissal and/or for summary judgment, several of plaintiffs' contentions were dismissed under F.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). I ruled that the good faith or bad faith of prison officials in instituting a prisonwide lockup is outside the purview of the federal courts as the "discretion of prison authorities in what they deem to be an emergency" is "unreviewable," and I dismissed all claims concerning the institution of the lockup. Hoitt v. Vitek, 497 F.2d 598, 600 (1st Cir. 1974). Plaintiffs' allegations concerning the searches and seizures during the lockup survived defendants' motions; however, except as to the question of whether or not the search itself was conducted in such a wanton manner as to be unreasonable in violation of plaintiffs' rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, plaintiffs' claims are severed from the case to be referred to a master. United States v. Savage, 482 F.2d 1371 (9th Cir. 1973), cert. den., 415 U.S. 932, 94 S.Ct. 1446, 39 L.Ed.2d 491 (1974); Daughtery v. Harris, 476 F.2d 292 (10th Cir.), cert. den., 414 U.S. 872, 94 S.Ct. 112, 38 L.Ed.2d 91 (1973); United States ex rel. Wolfish v. United States, 428 F.Supp. 333, 341-42 (S.D.N.Y.1977); Hodges v. Klein, 412 F.Supp. 896 (D.N.J.1976); Bijeol v. Benson, 404 F.Supp. 595 (S.D.Ind.1975). See Giampetruzzi v. Malcolm, 406 F.Supp. 836, 844-45 (S.D.N.Y.1975). Plaintiffs' claim that a single visit per week constitutes a deprivation of their First Amendment right to freedom of association was dismissed for failure to state a cause of action. Craig v. Hocker, 405 F.Supp. 656, 674 (D.Nev.1975). See McCray v. Sullivan, 509 F.2d 1332, 1334 (5th Cir.), cert. den., 423 U.S. 859, 96 S.Ct. 114, 46 L.Ed.2d 86 (1975); Walker v. Pate, 356 F.2d 502 (7th Cir.), cert. den., 384 U.S. 966, 86 S.Ct. 1598, 16 L.Ed.2d 678 (1966); Pinkston v. Bensinger, 359 F.Supp. 95 (N.D.Ill.1973); Rowland v. Wolff, 336 F.Supp. 257 (D.Neb.1971). Finally, the court dismissed all plaintiffs' allegations concerning actual medical treatment received by individual inmates on the basis that they stated no constitutional deprivation but only possible torts. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 97 S.Ct. 285, 50 L.Ed.2d 251 (1976).


As a class, the NHSP inmates are a remarkably homogeneous prison population. The approximately 280 inmates are almost exclusively white; they are young, and most are first time felony offenders serving sentences significantly shorter than the national average. The percentage of them convicted of violent crimes is less than the national average. As a group, they have poor work records, few skills and little education. Many have or have had severe drug and/or alcohol problems, and between 10% and 35% suffer from serious psychological impairments which require some form of treatment.1 The experts testified that, because of the homogeneity of the population and its rather obvious needs, and the small size of the prison, it should be a relatively easy institution to run. It should be noted that the racial strife which engulfs so many of the nation's penitentiaries is simply not a factor here. Tes. Nagel, Fogel, Rundle, Brodsky; Ex. 13A at V-13 to V-15: Ex. 13B at V-6 to V-8; Ex. 15 at 65, 90, 98; Ex. 43 at 2, 24.


NHSP is located in the City of Concord, New Hampshire, thus making urban support services available. It is a typical 19th century, Auburn style institution: a walled, maximum security penitentiary dominated by a free standing, three-story block of back-to-back cells. It was built in 1878, and no major renovations were done until the 1940's when a modified Auburn cell block was added, increasing the prison's size from 248 to 314 single cell units. Ex. 13A at IV-2: Ex. 13B at IV-2.

The Central Control Building is the hub of the prison with the Main Cell Block, the South Wing, the West Wing, and the Administration Building jutting off it. It houses the inmate reception and processing services, part of the inmate dining and kitchen areas, some administration offices, the visiting room, and the gym-chapel.

The South Wing contains much of the inmate kitchen and dining area, classrooms, counselling rooms, and the Warden's office, with the mental health facilities secluded on the third floor.

The West Wing houses the medical care unit and the isolation cells. The ground level contains the water heating system for the prison, a nonfunctional boiler, and six isolation cells. A single rail catwalk around the perimeter of the boiler room is the major access route to the cells and is unsafe according to accepted minimum standards. Ex. 13A at IV-30: Ex. 13B at IV-28. Beyond the cells were the inmate showers which, since this litigation began, have been replaced with new facilities.2 On the second floor of the West Wing are the psychiatric isolation cells, a classroom, and storage space. The third floor houses the medical and dental facilities.

The North Wing is the Main Cell Block. The structure is three stories high and contains a cell block of four layers of cells, free from the outside walls of the building. The ground floor cells open to the first floor, while the second, third, and fourth layers are connected by wooden tiers edged with steel mesh security screens. The front wall of each cell has a barred door and window with a pass slit at the sill. As there is no central lock system in the Main Cell Block, each cell must be individually locked and unlocked by a correctional officer. Stip. 133.

Each cell measures 6' × 8' and contains a toilet bowl, sink, bed, and miscellaneous furniture. The lighting both inside and outside the cells is inadequate. The heat is uneven, and the inmates complain that some cells are excessively hot while others are too cold in both the winter and summer. The cell block is heated by wall radiation units located on the ground floor. An air circulation system has been installed since this litigation commenced, but the court noticed little improvement on its tour.

The cramped and dingy space, the plumbing, heating and lighting problems make the cell block a difficult place in which to live. The situation is aggravated by the continuous din, broken windows, and the lack of screening. Sanitation is a continuing problem, but the parties noted a distinct improvement in the cleanliness of the cell block between late last year and the time of trial.

The supplemental cell block, the Annex, is affixed to the Main Cell Block at the north. It houses the trusties, protective custody inmates, and those in quarantine and punitive segregation. Conditions in the Annex for protective custody inmates were litigated in Nadeau v. Helgemoe, 423 F.Supp. 1250 (D.N.H.1976), and will not be extensively covered here. The Annex has three levels of steel plate, back-to-back, single cells with each level separated by a concrete floor. The cells measure...

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