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Hohman v. Hogan

decided: April 5, 1979.

GEORGE J. HOHMAN, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
CORNELIUS HOGAN, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS CAPACITY AS COMMISSIONER OF CORRECTIONS FOR THE STATE OF VERMONT, GENE RILEY, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS CAPACITY AS ASSISTANT DIRECTOR OF ADULT FACILITIES, DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS FOR THE STATE OF VERMONT, MICHAEL CHATER, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS CAPACITY AS SUPERINTENDENT OF THE RUTLAND COMMUNITY CORRECTIONAL CENTER, DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS FOR THE STATE OF VERMONT, RICHARD BASHAW, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS CAPACITY AS SUPERINTENDENT OF THE ST. ALBANS DIAGNOSTIC AND TREATMENT FACILITY, DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS FOR THE STATE OF VERMONT, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from an order of the United States District Court for the District of Vermont (the Hon. James S. Holden, Chief Judge ), dismissing appellant's complaint, filed pro se and in forma pauperis, for failure to state a claim for which relief could be granted. The Court of Appeals held that the complaint sufficiently alleged issues of material fact concerning the motivation for appellant's transfer to segregated confinement during incarceration in Vermont state prisons, and that the allegations of punitive action, if proved, could state a claim for relief under 28 U.S.C. § 1983. Reversed and remanded for trial.

Before Kaufman, Chief Judge, Gurfein, Circuit Judge, and Mishler, District Judge.*fn*

Author: Per Curiam

Appellant, formerly an inmate in correctional facilities in the State of Vermont, commenced this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Commissioner of Corrections for Vermont and other state prison officials. Appellant's complaint, filed Pro se and In forma pauperis, alleges that he was deprived of his constitutional rights during incarceration in Segregated confinement in the maximum security wing of the St. Albans Diagnostic Treatment and Correctional Facility for a period of approximately two weeks in March 1978. It seeks, Inter alia, compensatory and punitive damages.

Defendants filed an answer to the complaint which included a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim on which relief could be granted. After both sides were given an opportunity to file papers, the motion to dismiss was granted by the United States District Court for the District of Vermont (the Hon. James S. Holden, Chief Judge) in a memorandum decision and order dated August 29, 1978. The central issue on this appeal is whether the District Court erred in dismissing appellant's Pro se complaint without a trial. Because we think there are material questions of fact, we reverse and remand for further proceedings.*fn1

Appellant was convicted of second degree murder in a Vermont district court on November 13, 1976. He was sentenced on December 3, 1976 to a prison term of from thirty years to life.*fn2 Appellant was first incarcerated in the Rutland Community Correctional Center (Rutland), where he was to await transfer to a federal prison. On February 19, 1977, he escaped.

Appellant turned himself in to federal authorities in Illinois on April 7, 1977. He waived extradition and was returned to Vermont, where he was convicted on escape charges, and sentenced to an additional two years in prison. Appellant was imprisoned, before this conviction, in St. Albans Correctional Diagnostic and Treatment Facility (St. Albans). There he was placed in the maximum security "D" wing but was not placed in segregated confinement. After sentencing for the escape, he was transferred to the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons apparently under a contract for prisoner custody which the State of Vermont has with the Federal Government.

On February 8, 1978, appellant was again returned to Vermont so that he could be available for the trial of a co-escapee. During the trial he was held at Rutland, but upon completion of the trial he was transferred, on March 3, 1978, to St. Albans where, according to the transfer order, "he (could) be more safely and securely housed . . . while . . . awaiting return to an out of state facility." He was again placed in the St. Albans maximum security wing, but this time he was segregated from other prisoners and locked into his cell for all but one hour a day. Appellant remained in such segregated confinement for about two weeks. On March 17, 1978 he was returned to the federal prison system. This action was filed on March 31, 1978.

Appellant's complaint alleges in some detail the events leading up to his segregated confinement. Assuming those allegations to be true, Cooper v. Pate, 378 U.S. 546, 84 S. Ct. 1733, 12 L. Ed. 2d 1030 (1964) (per curiam), the complaint shows the following:

1. In December, 1977 appellant had filed a civil rights action against Vermont prison authorities claiming that, while in Vermont prisons, he had been denied access to legal publications. The action was still pending when the events complained of in this case occurred.

2. On or about February 24, 1978, while at Rutland, appellant witnessed an altercation between an inmate and a Correctional Officer. Shortly thereafter, he was interviewed concerning the incident and gave a signed statement which was in part responsible for the officer's suspension.

The complaint also alleges that on February 28, 1978, he was told informally that he was going to be transferred, and on March 3, 1978 he was brought before the Superintendent of Rutland and other officers for a "transfer hearing". He was told at that meeting that he would be sent to St. Albans, and that the Superintendent there had been informed that he was "no problem". Appellant alleges that he "agreed" to the transfer on the understanding that he would be placed in the maximum security wing but would suffer no loss of the privileges that the "non-punitive" inmates of the wing normally have. Yet when he arrived at St. Albans he was told that he was an escapee and "trouble maker," and that accordingly he would be "locked-in." He was then placed in segregated confinement in a unit that is reserved for inmates who are guilty of "infractions of institutional rules and regulations," although appellant alleges that he had never been subject to any disciplinary action for such institutional violations.

Finally, the complaint alleges that there was space for him in the non-segregated unit of the maximum security wing, that two inmates who had also escaped were not placed in segregated confinement, and that another inmate who had been found guilty of participating in the same escape attempt as appellant's had been placed in a different unit of St. Albans that was not subject to maximum security restrictions.

The narrow question in this case is whether the appellant's allegations raise material factual issues that may not be summarily dismissed. Keeping in mind, as we must, that Pro se complaints are held "to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers," Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520, 92 S. Ct. 594, 596, 30 L. Ed. 2d 652 (1972) (per curiam), we conclude that factual issues have been presented which could, if proved, state a cause of action for deprivation of constitutional rights. As in Haines, supra, "(w)e cannot say with assurance that . . . it appears "beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief.' " Id. at 520-21, 92 S. Ct. at 596, Quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S. Ct. 99, 2 L. Ed. 2d 80 (1957).

We agree with the District Court's conclusion that, in view of the broad discretion over placement and transfer of prisoners which Vermont law vests in its prison authorities, See 28 Vt.Stat.Ann. §§ 701, 702 (Supp.1976), appellant's claim of a due process right to a hearing before transfer to lock-in status at St. Albans is without substance. See Meachum v. Fano, 427 U.S. 215, 96 S. Ct. 2532, 49 L. Ed. 2d 451 (1976); Montanye v. Haymes, 427 U.S. 236, 96 S. Ct. 2543, 49 L. Ed. 2d 466 (1976).*fn3 And, indeed, appellant concedes that he consented to the transfer, though he claims that he was promised non-segregated confinement as a condition to his consent. The complaint, drafted without the aid of a lawyer, cannot be read, however, as limited solely to the issue of whether a hearing was required. The facts pleaded can ...


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