Williams v. Lane, s. 86-2922

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
Citation851 F.2d 867
Docket Number87-2436,Nos. 86-2922,s. 86-2922
PartiesWillie WILLIAMS, on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs-Appellees, v. Michael P. LANE, Director of the Illinois Department of Corrections, et al., Defendants-Appellants.
Decision Date29 August 1988

Page 867

851 F.2d 867
11 Fed.R.Serv.3d 753
Willie WILLIAMS, on behalf of himself and all others
similarly situated, Plaintiffs-Appellees,
Michael P. LANE, Director of the Illinois Department of
Corrections, et al., Defendants-Appellants.
Nos. 86-2922, 87-2436.
United States Court of Appeals,
Seventh Circuit.
Argued Dec. 9, 1987.
Decided June 27, 1988.
Rehearing and Rehearing En Banc Denied Aug. 29, 1988.

Page 870

Ann Plunkett-Sheldon, Illinois Atty. Gen. Office, Chicago, Ill., for defendants-appellants.

Jack A. Rovner, Kirkland & Ellis, Chicago, Ill., for plaintiffs-appellees.

Page 871

Before CUMMINGS and FLAUM, Circuit Judges, and GRANT, Senior District Judge. *

CUMMINGS, Circuit Judge.

While lawful imprisonment does deprive convicted prisoners of many rights, Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 524, 104 S.Ct. 3194, 3199, 82 L.Ed.2d 393, inmates still retain limited constitutional protection including the First Amendment right to free exercise of religion, Cruz v. Beto, 405 U.S. 319, 322 n. 2, 92 S.Ct. 1079, 1081 n. 2, 31 L.Ed.2d 263, the right of access to courts, Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 821, 97 S.Ct. 1491, 1494, 52 L.Ed.2d 72, the right to due process restricted only by the nature of the penal system, Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 556, 94 S.Ct. 2963, 2974, 41 L.Ed.2d 935, and the right to equal protection under the laws. Lee v. Washington, 390 U.S. 333, 333-334, 88 S.Ct. 994, 994-995, 19 L.Ed.2d 1212. Federal courts, while most reluctant to interfere with the internal administration of state prisons, see, e.g., Block v. Rutherford, 468 U.S. 576, 584-585, 104 S.Ct. 3227, 3231-3232, 82 L.Ed.2d 438, nevertheless will intervene to remedy unjustified violations of those rights retained by prisoners, especially when faced with inadequate compliance by prison officials with prior court orders.

Recent decisions of the Supreme Court indicate a reevaluation of the role of federal courts in state prisoner cases. In Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 99 S.Ct. 1861, 60 L.Ed.2d 447, the Court described the change from a "hands-off" approach to a period when federal courts "waded into this complex arena" to a withdrawal of the federal courts from the "minutiae of prison operations":

There was a time not too long ago when the federal judiciary took a completely "hands-off" approach to the problem of prison administration. In recent years, however, these courts largely have discarded this "hands-off" attitude and have waded into this complex arena. The deplorable conditions and draconian restrictions of some of our Nation's prisons are too well known to require recounting here, and the federal courts rightly have condemned these sordid aspects of our prison systems. But many of these same courts have, in the name of the Constitution, become increasingly enmeshed in the minutiae of prison operations. Judges, after all, are human. They, no less than others in our society, have a natural tendency to believe that their individual solutions to often intractable problems are better and more workable than those of the persons who are actually charged with and trained in the running of the particular institution under examination. But under the Constitution, the first question to be answered is not whose plan is best, but in what branch of the Government is lodged the authority to initially devise the plan. This does not mean that constitutional rights are not to be scrupulously observed. It does mean, however, that the inquiry of federal courts into prison management must be limited to the issue of whether a particular system violates any prohibition of the Constitution, or in the case of a federal prison, a statute. The wide range of "judgment calls" that meet constitutional and statutory requirements are confined to officials outside of the Judicial Branch of Government.

Bell, 441 U.S. at 562, 99 S.Ct. at 1886; see also O'Lone v. Estate of Shabazz, --- U.S. ----, 107 S.Ct. 2400, 96 L.Ed.2d 282; Turner v. Safley, --- U.S. ----, 107 S.Ct. 2254, 96 L.Ed.2d 64; Walsh v. Mellas, 837 F.2d 789 (7th Cir.1988), certiorari denied, --- U.S. ----, 108 S.Ct. 2832, 100 L.Ed.2d 933. It is in this context that we review the relief granted by the district court to those inmates assigned to protective custody status 1 at the Stateville

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Correctional Center in Illinois. 2

Factual Background

Due to the comprehensive nature of the district court's decree, the extensive record in this case must be examined in detail. See Williams v. Lane, 646 F.Supp. 1379 (N.D.Ill.1986). In reviewing the case on appeal, we recognize the deference owed to the trial court's findings of fact. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52(a) provides that "[f]indings of fact shall not be set aside unless clearly erroneous, and due regard shall be given to the opportunity of the trial court to judge of the credibility of the witnesses." In Anderson v. City of Bessemer City, 470 U.S. 564, 105 S.Ct. 1504, 84 L.Ed.2d 518, the Supreme Court stated that " '[a] finding is "clearly erroneous" when although there is evidence to support it, the reviewing court on the entire evidence is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed.' " Id. at 573, 105 S.Ct. at 1511 (quoting United States v. United States Gypsum Co., 333 U.S. 364, 395, 68 S.Ct. 525, 542, 92 L.Ed. 746); In re: Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific R.R. Co., 840 F.2d 1308 (7th Cir.1988). A reviewing court may not reject a factual finding simply because it disagrees with the trier of fact. Id. Further, a reviewing court must show even greater deference to the trial court's findings that involve credibility of witnesses, "for only the trial judge can be aware of the variations in demeanor and tone of voice that bear so heavily on the listener's understanding of and belief in what is said." Id. at 575, 105 S.Ct. at 1512; see also Bullard v. Sercon Corp., 846 F.2d 463, 466 (7th Cir.1988).

This Court recently applied the rule to a prisoners' civil rights claim in Hadi v. Horn, 830 F.2d 779 (7th Cir.1987), where in the context of the prison officials' position on the interests of security, we held that "the district court's finding on this point is one of fact which we must accept unless it is clearly erroneous." Id. at 784.

The defendants in this case waited until their reply brief before articulating their view of the proper scope of review regarding the district court's factual findings. In their reply brief, defendants offer in a conclusory fashion various examples of what they consider clearly erroneous findings of facts on the security concerns of the prison officials. These unpersuasive arguments are really a thinly-guised attack on the credibility determinations of Judge Shadur, which "can virtually never be clear error." Anderson, 470 U.S. at 575, 105 S.Ct. at 1513. Based on both the demeanor of the witnesses and the substantial record evidence, the district court held that the defendants' security explanations were "not credible as a factual matter." Defendants now rely almost completely on the discredited testimony of defendants DeRobertis and O'Leary while also insisting that the court failed to allow them the deference they deserve as prison administrators.

As an initial matter, we reject these excuses. The district court quite properly refused to accept defendants' testimony because it conflicted with the objective factual record. The inconsistencies and contradictions in their statements were adjudged "frankly unworthy of belief." Moreover, a court's "deference to the administrative expertise and discretionary authority of correctional officials must be schooled, not absolute." Campbell v. Miller, 787 F.2d 217, 227 n. 17 (7th Cir.1986), certiorari denied, 479 U.S. 1019, 107 S.Ct. 673, 93 L.Ed.2d 724. In this case, in contrast to O'Lone and Turner, the defendants failed to establish a record which revealed the manner in which security considerations were seriously implicated by the unequal treatment afforded to protective custody status inmates. See Caldwell v. Miller, 790 F.2d 589, 597 (7th Cir.1986). Defendants have confused deference with credibility in their

Page 873

arguments here. The record of the proceedings below shows that the district court did not second-guess the administrator's determination. Rather, the court weighed the evidence and carefully considered what was argued before it by defendants.

Having discussed the relevant standard of review, it is now appropriate to turn to the history of plaintiffs' action. This case concerns a prisoner's civil rights class action suit for both injunctive relief and damages under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 and Illinois state law. The plaintiffs are inmates at Stateville Correctional Center near Joliet, Illinois, and the class representative is Willie Williams, who was incarcerated in the prison's protective custody unit from November 1977 to October 1983. The plaintiff class consists of all inmates assigned to protective custody at Stateville since April 30, 1982. The plaintiffs allege that their rights have been violated due in part to the living conditions and institutional programs assigned to them by the defendants.

The defendants are state prison officials sued in their individual capacities for acts taken under color of state law. Principal defendants include Michael Lane, director of the Illinois Department of Corrections (Department) since 1981; Richard DeRobertis, Stateville warden between July 1980 and November 1983; Michael O'Leary, Stateville warden after DeRobertis; Salvadore Goding, the assistant warden under both DeRobertis and O'Leary; Gayle Franzen, Department director from January 1979 to February 1981; Marvin Reed, warden from June 1979 to June 1980; and Lou Brewer, warden from September 1978 to June 1979.

The plaintiffs basically claimed that the defendants violated these protective custody prisoners' constitutional rights by failing to provide them with access to the same...

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