Paka v. Manson

Decision Date22 November 1974
Docket NumberCiv. No. H-241.
Citation387 F. Supp. 111
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Connecticut
PartiesWeusi PAKA a/k/a Edward McZeal et al. v. John R. MANSON, Commissioner, Department of Correction, State of Connecticut, et al.

Michael Avery, New Haven, Conn., Morton Cohn, West Hartford, Conn., for plaintiffs.

Robert K. Killian, Atty. Gen., Stephen J. O'Neill, Asst. Atty. Gen., Hartford, Conn., for defendants.

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION

BLUMENFELD, District Judge.

This is an action for declaratory and injunctive relief against certain named officials of the Department of Correction of the State of Connecticut for deprivation, under color of state law, of rights, privileges, and immunities secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States. The plaintiffs, who, with the exception of the plaintiff Paka,1 are presently incarcerated at the Connecticut Correctional Institution at Somers (hereafter, Somers), claim that the defendants and their agents and employees have refused to allow prisoners at Somers to meet for the purpose of forming a "prisoners' union" (hereafter, the union), to solicit membership in the union, or to receive legal mail related to the organization of the union. The plaintiffs also allege that they have been punished for attempting to engage in activities promoting the union and that materials in their possession relating to the union, and to prisoners' unions in general, have been confiscated. A cause of action is stated under 42 U. S.C. § 1983 (1970), and jurisdiction is proper under 28 U.S.C. § 1343(3) (1970).

The plaintiffs claim to represent the class of all prisoners at Somers who seek to organize and join the union. Since the questions of law common to the members of the class predominate over any questions affecting only individual members and the other requirements of rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure are met, this suit is properly maintainable as a class action.

The hearing on the merits required for permanent relief was consolidated with the hearing on the application for a preliminary injunction by agreement of counsel. Fed.R.Civ.P. 65(a)(2).

I. FACTS

Three basic areas of contention emerge from the pleadings and the evidence. The basic facts material to them were admitted by the defendants in their Answer or were undisputed at the hearing.

A. Efforts of Prisoners at Somers to Organize the Union

Early in 1973 several prisoners at Somers began efforts to organize a prisoners' union.2 The plaintiff Paka wrote to the defendant Robinson, the warden at Somers, asking his position on the proposed union. On July 11, 1973, Warden Robinson wrote in reply that the request was vague and that he needed more information in order to fully evaluate the proposal. During the spring and summer of 1973, when the plaintiffs and others were soliciting support for the union among prisoners at Somers, the defendants and their agents attempted to discourage and prevent the formation of the union. In July 1973 the plaintiff Paka was found in possession of a stencil dealing with the formation of the union. The stencil was confiscated as contraband, and Paka was placed in administrative segregation. Somers officials dealt in a similar manner with Jerry Lee Rosignol, another prisoner who was found in possession of a stencil relating to the union. Also during July 1973, the plaintiff Cofone was placed in the segregation unit for allegedly making statements to other prisoners concerning efforts to organize the union. In subsequent months, prison officials confiscated papers relating to the prisoners' union which were in the possession of other prisoners. In October 1973, Assistant Warden Cybulski told the plaintiff Cofone that permission would not be given for the formation of the union.

B. The Transfer of Plaintiff Paka

The testimony at the hearing indicated that in July 1973, when the plaintiff Paka was put in administrative segregation following confiscation of the contraband stencil, Somers personnel found in his cell a copy of a letter addressed to the local NAACP office. The letter purported to describe a fictional incident on July 4, 1973, in which black inmates at Somers "were attacked and locked up like caged animals for wearing their hair in braids and for reading black poetry." The copy of the letter was discovered on July 3, 1973. Warden Robinson, fearful that Paka would provoke the imagined incident, kept Paka in administrative segregation for several months. On October 19, 1973, following a hearing, Paka was transferred to the Community Correctional Institution at Montville, Connecticut. Paka individually seeks an injunctive order requiring the defendants to return him to the general prison population at Somers.

This separate additional claim of the plaintiff Paka that his transfer from Somers to Montville violated his constitutional rights may be dealt with summarily. The letter Paka wrote to the NAACP falsely describing a disturbance on July 4, 1973, and the fear of prison officials that Paka would attempt to provoke such a disturbance, provided ample justification for the transfer. "The knowingly false statement and the false statement made with reckless disregard of the truth, do not enjoy constitutional protection." Garrison v. Louisiana, 379 U.S. 64, 75, 85 S.Ct. 209, 216, 13 L.Ed.2d 125 (1964). The record indicates — and Paka does not claim otherwise — that at the time of the transfer Paka received the process which he was due under the Constitution. See Newkirk v. Butler, 499 F.2d 1214 (2d Cir. 1974); Sostre v. McGinnis, 442 F.2d 178, 198 (2d Cir. 1971), cert. denied, 404 U.S. 1049, 92 S.Ct. 719, 30 L.Ed.2d 740 (1972); Croom v. Manson, 367 F.Supp. 586, 592 (D.Conn.1973); cf. Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 94 S.Ct. 2963, 41 L.Ed.2d 935 (1974).

C. Interception and Censorship of Legal Mail

In August 1973 Anthony Saia, a prisoner at Somers, contacted Judith Mears, an attorney and at that time Legal Director of the Connecticut Civil Liberties Union, regarding the formation of the union. Saia sent Ms. Mears a proposed set of union goals and a membership form, asking that she make copies of the goals and the form and send them to him. She did so, but the correspondence was opened and read by prison officials. With the exception of one copy which was given to Saia, the materials were sent back to Attorney Mears with the explanation that they were contraband.

In September 1973 Attorney Igor I. Sikorsky, Jr. assisted several Somers prisoners with state habeas corpus proceedings involving the formation of the prisoners' union. On September 4, 1973, Mr. Sikorsky mailed a letter and two copies of The Outlaw, a national prisoners' union newspaper, to each of the prisoners. The correspondence was opened and read by prison officials, and the materials were returned to the attorney with the statement that they were considered contraband.

II. PLAINTIFFS' CLAIMS

The steps taken by the defendants during the course of events that gave rise to this action which are challenged as unconstitutional all stem from the unwillingness of the defendants to tolerate a prisoners' union. But the restraint on communications between the plaintiffs and their counsel, and upon the distribution within the prison of materials relating to a union, raise issues separate and distinct from the question whether the plaintiffs may organize a union and function as an organized group within the prison. This latter issue will be considered first.

A. The Union

The plaintiffs claim that they have a constitutional right to form, join, and conduct a prisoners' union. Their position presents a question novel in this Circuit.3 This claimed right is allegedly grounded on the first amendment "right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." U.S.Const. amend. I. The "freedom to engage in association for the advancement of beliefs and ideas," NAACP v. Alabama ex rel. Patterson, 357 U.S. 449, 460, 78 S.Ct. 1163, 1171, 2 L.Ed.2d 1488 (1958), and the "rights to assemble peaceably and to petition for a redress of grievances," UMW v. Illinois State Bar Ass'n, 389 U.S. 217, 222, 88 S.Ct. 353, 356, 19 L. Ed.2d 426 (1967), are secured against state action by the fourteenth amendment. See, e. g., Elfbrandt v. Russell, 384 U.S. 11, 86 S.Ct. 1238, 16 L.Ed.2d 321 (1966). The plaintiffs contend that since such associational rights constitute "preferred" constitutional freedoms, prison authorities may curtail their efforts to form and join the union only upon a demonstration of "`a compelling state interest centering about prison security, or a clear and present danger of a breach of prison security, * * * or some substantial interference with orderly institutional administration.' . . ." Goodwin v. Oswald, supra, 462 F. 2d at 1244, citing Fortune Soc'y v. McGinnis, 319 F.Supp. 901, 904 (S.D.N.Y. 1970).

The issue presented by the plaintiffs is an important one and deserves more than cursory analysis. For the sake of clarity it is worth repeating that the petitioners do not seek the right to organize a labor union. More accurately, what they want to form is an organized group of elected representatives of inmates within the prison to meet together, and to take their proposals, criticisms, suggestions and the like to the administration. The first amendment offers broad protection from state interference for persons seeking to associate together for the advancement of their shared interests. Healy v. James, 408 U.S. 169, 92 S.Ct. 2338, 33 L.Ed.2d 266 (1972); UMW v. Illinois State Bar Ass'n, supra; Brotherhood of R.R. Trainmen v. Virginia ex rel. Va. State Bar, 377 U.S. 1, 84 S.Ct. 1113, 12 L.Ed. 2d 89 (1964); NAACP v. Button, 371 U.S. 415, 83 S.Ct. 328, 9 L.Ed.2d 405 (1963); NAACP v. Alabama ex rel. Patterson, supra. However, it is firmly established that first amendment rights are not absolute and that their regulation as to time, manner, and place of exercise is...

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