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Satchell v. Dilworth

October 4, 1984


Appeal from a judgment of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Bartels, J., dismissing plaintiff's civil rights action, and from an order denying plaintiff's motion to vacate the judgment and to file an amended complaint. Reversed and remanded.

Author: Pratt


NEWMAN and PRATT, Circuit Judges, and ROBERT J. KELLEHER, District Judge of the Central District of California, sitting by designation.

PRATT, Circuit Judge:

In our day-to-day work federal judges are called upon to review a seemingly endless parade of complaints by federal and state prisoners. Most of these complaints, particularly those where the prisoner appears pro se, prove to be frivolous, and are summarily disposed of. Occasionally, a complaint is filed that presents sufficient merit to warrant more intensive examination. This is such a case.

From the record before us it appears that plaintiff Melvin Satchell was illegally arrested by Suffolk County officers based on misleading and incomplete, if not deliberately false, information supplied to them by officials of the New York State Department of Correctional Services. Although his state sentence had actually expired, Satchell was arrested, on the purported authority of a confinement order, held for thirty-one days, released on a parole that should not have been imposed, and subsequently rearrested for violation of that improper parole. Satchell claims that all of the officials involved "knew or should have known" that, at the time he was taken into custody, the maximum expiration date of his state sentence had passed. Under the circumstances presented to us by this record, the possibility of a meritorious claim is sufficiently strong to require reversal of the judgment below and remand for further proceedings to enable the district court to examine more fully the factual circumstances underlying this pro se prisoner's civil rights complaint.


By order signed on June 29, 1978 ("the basic commitment order") Satchell was sentenced to one and one-half to three years on his plea of guilty to possession of gambling records. On the same day, the sentencing judge signed another order ("the supplemental order") giving the defendant pretrial, jail-time credit on his gambling sentence "for time served from October 25, 1977". This supplemental order is the key to this appeal. Although a copy of it is reproduced in the appendix on appeal, nothing in the record indicates that the supplemental order was brought to the attention of Judge Bartels below. Nevertheless, because the defendants have not challenged the supplemental order, we assume that it is authentic and valid.

Satchell's state sentence of one and one-half to three years was to run concurrently with a pending federal sentence, and was to be served at a federal prison. By virtue of the supplemental order, the maximum expiration date of the state sentence was October 24, 1980. On November 22, 1979 Satchell was released from federal custody and placed on federal probation. While the record is not clear, an error seems to have been made at this point, and Satchell was actually released rather than turned over to state custody to serve the remainder of his state sentence.

On August 6, 1980 Satchell was arrested for bank robbery and held on $10,000 bail. On October 29, five days after his state sentence had expired, Satchell posted the bail and was released. The record reflects that at this point a number of communications occurred between Suffolk County authorities and individuals in the state Department of Correctional Services. As a result, the department sent to the Suffolk County police what was claimed to be authority to take Satchell into custody to serve the remainder of his state sentence. What the Department of Correctional Services sent, however, was the basic commitment order reflecting a maximum expiration date of June 28, 1981. They apparently did not send a copy of the supplemental order to the county officials, nor did they remind the county of the eight months credit for time served that Satchell had received in that order. Satchell claims that the omission was intentional and resulted from a conspiracy between county and state officials to take him off the street pending his trial on the bank robbery charge.

We cannot tell from this record whether Satchell's rearrest and confinement resulted from malicious conspiracy or whether it was simply an oversight. What is clear, however, is that both the state and county officials were wrong in their contention that, after October 24, 1980, Satchell's sentence still had time to run. When Satchell brought a state habeas corpus proceeding two days after his arrest, defendant Salvatore Romano, warden of the Suffolk County jail, testified about the gambling sentence in the basic commitment order, but did not mention the supplemental order. Even in the papers submitted to Judge Bartels below by the county attorney's office, there is neither a copy of nor reference to the supplemental order. Although we do not assume that the supplemental order was deliberately concealed from the district court, neither can we assume that we are dealing with mere inadvertency.

After Satchell's state court habeas corpus application was denied, partly in reliance upon testimony by defendant Salvatore Romano, Satchell was remanded to the state prison authorities. He protested to various offices, but received no relief until he was released on state parole on December 19, 1980. Because his sentence had expired, the state had no right to place the restrictions of parole on him. Later, however, in February 1981, he was arrested, at least in part, for a parole violation. Finally, on March 17, 1981, Satchell was convicted on the bank robbery charge and received a sentence of twelve and one-half to twenty-five years, which he is now serving.


By his pro se complaint under 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983, filed in February 1981, Satchell sought extensive damages from a long list of state and county officials. Judge Bartels, in denying Satchell's ...

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