Landman v. Royster, Civ. A. No. 170-69-R.

Decision Date31 January 1973
Docket NumberCiv. A. No. 170-69-R.
Citation354 F. Supp. 1302
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Virginia
PartiesRobert Jewell LANDMAN et al. v. M. L. ROYSTER, etc.


Philip J. Hirschkop, Alexandria, Va., for plaintiffs.

Vann H. Lefcoe, Asst. Atty. Gen. of Va., Richmond, Va., for defendants.


MERHIGE, District Judge.

This matter presents the question of whether Virginia prisoners, who in violation of their constitutional rights were subjected to cruel and unusual punishment by Virginia prison authorities, may recover damages from their jailers. Five named plaintiffs in the above styled action seek damages, to-wit: Robert Landman, LeRoy Mason, Thomas Wansley, Calvin Arey and Roy Hood.

The history of this litigation is long and complex. Briefly, the named plaintiffs brought this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1343, 2201 and 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983, 1985, on behalf of themselves and the plaintiff class of Virginia prisoners to redress alleged unconstitutional practices by the Virginia prison authorities, specifically with respect to administrative sanctions. The named defendants in the original complaint were the Director of the Department of Welfare and Institutions (Otis Brown), Director of the Division of Corrections (W. K. Cunningham), the Superintendent of the State Farm (M. L. Royster, now deceased), and the Superintendent of the Virginia State Penitentiary (C. C. Peyton, now deceased). These defendants were named individually and in their representative capacities.

The trial of this action originally took several weeks and encompassed the testimony of numerous prisoners and prison officials. This Court concluded that "the evidence adduced has disclosed as to each of these points a disregard of constitutional guaranties of so grave a nature as to violate the most common notions of due process and humane treatment by certain of the defendants, their agents, servants and employees." Landman v. Royster, 333 F.Supp. 621, 626 (E.D.Va.1971). Based upon findings of widespread constitutional abuse, the Court entered an injunction prescribing administrative procedures which would hopefully safeguard the constitutional guaranties of the plaintiff class. The Court herein specifically incorporates by reference, except as discussed below, said findings of fact and conclusions of law as contained in its order and memorandum of October 30, 1971.

The named plaintiffs are now before the Court in an effort to procure damages for the treatment to which the Court has previously found they were subjected. Upon a hearing, additional evidence was adduced, specifically with regard to the question of damages. The parties have submitted numerous documents, memoranda and have additionally been heard on the legal issues raised. The Court has carefully studied all the evidence, and upon same finds this matter ready for disposition.

A. The Named Plaintiffs.
Robert Jewell Landman

In its memorandum of October 30, 1971, the Court made the following findings of fact with respect to Landman. Though given the opportunity to revise these findings, the evidence recently adduced does not prompt the Court to so alter them, and same are the basis upon which the Court will assess damages, infra.

Landman, a prisoner now released from the Virginia system after having served his full term on August 28, 1970, had been technically eligible for parole for six years prior to his release.
Commencing in 1964, Landman embarked upon a career, well known to this Court, as a writ-writer. The evidence before the Court is that between that time and the time of his release, on behalf of himself he filed a minimum of 20 suits, and it is estimated that in addition he assisted fellow inmates in approximately 2,000 petitions.
Landman's troubles with the prison authorities apparently commenced with his having written a letter to one of the local newspapers, for which he served 20 days in solitary confinement. This was followed with correspondence to the then Governor, and in 1964 he was sent to what is known as the "C" Building and placed in punitive segregation where he was held for a period of 150 days. He was removed from there and put in the general population until January 1965 when he was moved to a prison camp. His move from the penitentiary to the camp came the day before he was due to confer with a local attorney.
His reassignment to the penitentiary from the camp undoubtedly came about by reason of his having by then commenced his writ-writing endeavors, and in May 1965 it was recommended that he be placed in the "C" Building for his efforts in that regard. In "C" Building his life appears to have been a series of transfers to and from solitary confinement. In at least one instance he was put in solitary confinement for 58 days and never given any reason whatsoever for this confinement. In 1965 alone he spent 140 days in solitary confinement.
Apparently for assisting another prisoner in preparing a writ in 1966, he was once again put in solitary confinement.
This Court finds that up to November 1966, the man was punished 16 times and had good time taken from him once. He served a total of 266 days in solitary confinement and 743 days on padlock. The Court further finds: He was deprived of mattress and blankets for 13 days and his mattress for an additional 36 days. He was on bread and water diet for two of every three days in solitary confinement.
In August of 1968, this Court entered a consent injunction enjoining the prison officials from denying inmates of the Virginia State Penitentiary certain of their rights. The day following the injunction, Landman was once again put in solitary confinement for a period of 40 days, allegedly for conferring with another prisoner. Landman's attempts to contact his lawyer were to no avail. From March 15, 1969, to July, Landman was placed on what is known as "padlock," wherein a padlock is placed on a particular cell so that when all other cells are opened electronically, that particular cell remains closed.
In short, the Court finds that there was imposed upon Landman over 265 days of solitary confinement and in no instance did he receive even the rudimentary elements of a hearing or opportunity to defend any allegations made against him. The Court is satisfied that Landman's exercise of his right to file petitions with the courts, and his assisting other prisoners in so doing, were the primary reasons for the punishments put upon him.

Landman's testimony at the recent hearing is very much a recount of the above quoted findings. Plaintiff's counsel made, additionally, a concerted effort to draw from Landman his feelings and emotions as prompted by the series of incidents recited. Not unsurprisingly, Landman conveyed feelings of continual fear and frustration.

The indignities to which Landman was subjected can be illustrated in greater detail:

Fall of 1965:

1. He was placed in solitary by Guard Spann for pointing at him.

2. He was refused writing paper by the guards and subsequently had a pending suit dismissed for failure to make timely compliance with a Court order.

3. He was placed in solitary for "misuse" of writing paper.

December 1965:

4. Landman alleges, and the Court finds, that defendant Peyton threatened him with continued confinement to "C" Building although he never possessed weapons, never attempted or planned an escape.

5. His cell was searched by guards almost daily and legal papers were removed.

January 1966:

6. He addressed an envelope for an illiterate prisoner, which envelope was torn up by Guard Spann.

7. Landman lost weight from prolonged confinement in solitary but was not given a medical checkup.

February 1966:

8. He was put in solitary for some time without a mattress.

Spring 1966:

9. Guards removed legal pleadings from his files and he was told by guards, "someone should do something about you."

10. A suit was filed against Guard Spann for improper treatment. Landman was thereafter placed in solitary confinement for 17 days.

August 1966-March 1967

11. Landman was kept on padlock, confined to his cell, virtually isolated.

12. Repeated complaints to the penitentiary superintendent were allegedly answered with remarks to the effect that defendant Cunningham was personally directing his case and thus was out of the hands of the local prison officials.

September 23, 1968:

13. Landman was assaulted by another prisoner and beaten unconscious as guards "looked the other way."

In all, Landman was confined to solitary 11 different times, during which he was not afforded medical treatment nor given hearings prior to confinement.

Both counsel have adduced expert psychiatric testimony in an effort to show the adverse effects, or lack of them, that may have flowed from continual solitary or isolated confinement. The substance of the testimony is neither contradictory nor surprising: even a lay person could be expected to fairly deduce that the repetitious pattern of treatment to which Landman was subjected would have adverse psychological effects. Nevertheless, a discussion of that testimony is warranted.

Plaintiffs' expert, Dr. Abse, is a psychiatrist with extensive experience in treating released prisoners of war. Specifically, he did much work with British soldiers released after World War II from Japanese prisoner of war camps and has since studied effects of isolated confinement upon civilian prisoners. Based upon his experience, he was able to generalize several typical patterns of reactive behavior, which patterns he labeled as symptomatic of "Traumatic Neuroses." The underlying cause of said behavior, he stated, was repression of emotions caused by isolation, fear and frustration. Symptoms associated with this type of neurosis include anxiety, destructiveness, easy fatigueability, diminished sexual potency, as well as psychosomatic illness (including gastric disorders, choking, headaches and...

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