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Benjamin v. Malcolm

decided: September 25, 1986.

JAMES BENJAMIN, MIGUEL GALINDEZ, BRUCE HAYES, JOSE SALDANA AND ROBERT ESCHERT, DETAINEES OF THE NEW YORK CITY HOUSE OF DETENTION FOR MEN, INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF ALL OTHER PERSONS SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES,
v.
BENJAMIN J. MALCOLM, COMMISSIONER OF CORRECTIONS OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK; ARTHUR RUBIN, WARDEN, NEW YORK CITY HOUSE OF DETENTION FOR MEN; GERARD BROWN, DEPUTY WARDEN, NEW YORK CITY HOUSE OF DETENTION FOR MEN; AND EDWARD I. KOCH, MAYOR OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN THEIR OFFICIAL CAPACITIES, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES, MARIO CUOMO, GOVERNOR OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK, AND THOMAS A. COUGHLIN III, COMMISSIONER, NEW YORK STATE DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONAL SERVICES, THIRD-PARTY DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS



Appeal by the Governor of New York and the Commissioner of the New York State Department of Correctional Services from an order of the Southern District of New York, Morris E. Lasker, Judge, joining them as third-party defendants in a civil rights action by pre-trial detainees in New York City's House of Detention for Men claiming that overcrowded conditions in the City's facilities violate their constitutional rights and directing the State to accept custody from the City of state prisoners within 48 hours after the prisoners' transfer papers have been processed. Appellants' principal contention is that the district court lacks jurisdiction in view of the Supreme Court's decision in Pennhurst State School & Hospital v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 79 L. Ed. 2d 67, 104 S. Ct. 900 (1984), holding that the Eleventh Amendment bars a federal court from directing state officials to comply with state law. Held that Pennhurst does not deprive a federal court of jurisdiction under the All Writs Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1651(a) (1982), to remedy conduct by the State that violates prisoners' constitutional rights. Affirmed.

Author: Mansfield

Before: MANSFIELD, PIERCE and PRATT, Circuit Judges.

MANSFIELD , Circuit Judge:

Governor Mario M. Cuomo and Thomas A. Coughlin III, Commissioner of the New York State Department of Correctional Services (DOCS), who are third-party defendants in this civil rights action by pre-trial detainees under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claiming that overcrowded prison conditions in the House of Detention for Men (HDM) operated by the City of New York on Rikers Island*fn1 violate their constitutional rights, appeal from an order of the Southern District of New York, Morris E. Lasker, J., joining them as defendants and directing them promptly to accept custody of each adult male inmate housed in such a City facility, who has been sentenced to a term of imprisonment in a State prison. The court ordered them to accept custody of each prisoner within 48 hours after papers for transfer of the prisoner to a State facility had been completed. The principal contention of the third-party defendants-appellants is that, in view of the Supreme Court's decision in Pennhurst State School & Hospital v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 79 L. Ed. 2d 67, 104 S. Ct. 900 (1984) (Pennhurst II), holding that the Eleventh Amendment is a jurisdictional bar to a federal court order directing state officials to comply with state law, the district court lacked jurisdiction to issue the preliminary injunction and therefore abused its discretion. We affirm.

The history of this lawsuit is long and tortuous, extending over a period of more than 11 years. It has placed extraordinary demands upon Judge Lasker, who has explored the complicated facts with thoroughness and demonstrated unusual skill and patience in evaluating the constitutionality of the substandard conditions of detention found to exist in the City's facilities and in developing with the parties practical methods of alleviating them. Judge Lasker's analyses of the evidence and legal issues are found in a series of published decisions, familiarity with which is assumed. Benjamin v. Malcolm, 495 F. Supp. 1357 (1980); 88 F.R.D. 333 (1980); 528 F. Supp. 925 (1981); 564 F. Supp. 668 (1983); 626 F. Supp. 1264 (1986); 629 F. Supp. 713 (1986). The complaint, which was filed in June 1975, alleges that in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 various officials of the City of New York (hereinafter sometimes referred to as the "City") are responsible for a broad range of conditions at the HDM, which violate the detainees' constitutional rights, including those under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, and seeks appropriate injunctive relief. By various orders entered during the period from July 1975 to July 1977 Judge Lasker enjoined the original defendants from continuing certain conditions found to violate the plaintiffs' constitutional rights, which dealt with contact visits, optional lock-ins, correspondence, discipline, receipt of books, and freedom from forced double-celling in cells built for one prisoner. After a plenary trial during 1976 and 1977, the parties in November 1978 reached a settlement with respect to complained of detention conditions at Rikers Island, Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens, including uncleanliness, excessive cell confinement, inadequate food service and insufficient access to legal materials. In the spring of 1979 Judge Lasker accordingly approved and entered a Partial Final Judgment By Consent.

In September 1979 the then parties entered into a further stipulation designed to assure that the plaintiffs would be housed under constitutional conditions, which provided that the trial record had established that "the housing blocks at HDM and the institution at large were overpopulated; such overpopulation resulted in an atmosphere of tension and hostility, a strain on all of the institution's facilities, and interference with supervision, protection and provision of services to members of the plaintiff class", Benjamin v. Malcolm, 495 F. Supp. 1357, 1359 (S.D.N.Y. 1980). Pursuant to the stipulation, which was approved, judgment was entered to the effect that the conditions at HDM were unconstitutional, with the parties being afforded the opportunity to litigate what would be the appropriate remedy. In an opinion dated August 27, 1980 , supra, 495 F. Supp. at 1364-65, Judge Lasker found, upon plaintiffs' motion to reduce the number of inmates at HDM, that "the record establishes that confinement of inmates at HDM has been conducted in such a manner over an extended period as to cause them to endure genuine privation and hardship; it is stipulated that such confinement was unconstitutional in September 1979, and we have found that the condition of unconstitutionality has not been removed." 495 F. Supp. at 1364-65. He further noted that various public and quasi-public bodies, after a long history of studies of HDM, had all concluded that "HDM [had] been dangerously overcrowded for years and [had] recommended that its population be stringently reduced." Id. at 1360. He thereupon ordered that the detainee population at HDM be reduced to 1200.*fn2 Id. at 1365.

Simultaneously the plaintiffs moved to join the Governor of New York and the Commissioner of DOCS (hereinafter sometimes referred to as the "State") as necessary third-party defendants on the ground that their refusal promptly to take off the City's hands so-called "state-ready" inmates at HDM (i.e., those who had been convicted of felonies in violation of New York State law and sentenced to more than one year in the custody of the State Department of Correctional Services) prevented the City from complying with Judge Lasker's "population cap" order. On November 19, 1980, the motion was denied without prejudice to renewal if the problem could not be resolved by cooperation on the part of the State. Benjamin v. Malcolm, 88 F.R.D. 333, 336.

In June 1981 the City renewed its motion to join the Governor and Commissioner of DOCS as third-party defendants because of the continued overcrowding of HDM attributed to the State's failure "forthwith" to accept "state-readies" from it as required by N.Y. Criminal Procedure Law § 430.20 (McKinney 1983).*fn3 On August 20, 1981, Judge Lasker issued an order granting the motion and directing the State to accept "state-readies" within 48 hours after their transfer processing had been completed, as required by § 430.20. On December 20, 1981, he denied the State's request for modification of his order, finding that the State's failure promptly to take these prisoners off the City's hands strained the latter's facilities beyond constitutionally tolerable limits so that the State was in effect simply seeking to spread the burden of impermissible overcrowding rather than eliminating it. Benjamin v. Malcolm, 528 F. Supp. 925, 930 . In granting the City's motion and denying the State's cross-motion, Judge Lasker, although accepting the original parties' stipulation that the conditions of HDM were unconstitutional, decided that adequate relief could be granted on the basis of N.Y. Crim. P. Law § 430.20 (McKinney 1983) and, accordingly, in reliance on established jurisprudential principles, concluded that it was unnecessary to base his decision on constitutional grounds. 528 F. Supp. at 929. Pennhurst II was not to be decided by the Supreme Court for another three years. Later, in May 1983, after a hearing and visit to the facility, the district judge independently made detailed findings to the effect that the overcrowded conditions of detention at HDM were unconstitutional and denied the City's motion to be relieved from certain portions of the court's earlier decree, ruling that compliance by the City defendants with the orders was essential to the restoration of constitutional conditions. 564 F. Supp. 668 . Thus the district court's 1983 finding of unconstitutionality of the conditions at HDM was made long after the State had been ordered to cooperate in alleviating these conditions by promptly accepting state-ready prisoners. Yet the State took no steps to contest that finding.

Following the district court's August 20, 1981, order containing the 48-hour requirement, the State complied with the order until the summer of 1984 when the City, because it was engaged in a large construction program expected to increase its own correctional capacity, agreed with the State to relax the 48-hour period to 96 hours on the understanding that the State would on January 1, 1985, return to the 48-hour requirement. However, in 1985 the State did not adhere to that requirement and in February 1985 it moved to vacate the August 20, 1981, order on the basis of the Supreme Court's recent decision in Pennhurst II holding that the Eleventh Amendment deprived a federal court of jurisdiction to order State officials to comply with state law. In a decision dated January 30, 1986, published at 626 F. Supp. 1264, Judge Lasker granted the motion on the ground that, although the State's conduct may have violated federal law, his "earlier decision explicitly relied on state law only", i.e., N.Y. Crim. P. § 430.20 (McKinney 1983). However, he deferred for 30 days a vacatur of his August 1981 order to enable the plaintiffs to decide whether to seek relief on federal constitutional grounds or from the State courts.

In February 1986, after the State continued to disregard the terms of the August 1981 order, the City again moved to join the Governor of New York and the Commissioner of DOCS pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 19, 20 and 21 and for a preliminary injunction ordering them to accept state-ready prisoners from the City within 48 hours after their transfer papers had been completed. This relief was sought on the ground that the City could not remedy the unconstitutional conditions of confinement at its correctional facilities, which were attributed largely to the State's unwillingness to accept custody of its state-ready prisoners from the facilities, unless the State was ordered to do so by the court. In detailed affidavits, City officials outlined the limitations on the City's detention capacity, despite construction of additional holding space, and furnished statistics indicating that over the previous years the number of state-ready prisoners in the City's facilities increased sharply whenever the State was not under a court order to accept state-ready prisoners promptly.*fn4

In an opinion dated March 17, 1986, Judge Lasker granted the City's motion to join the Governor and Commissioner as third-party defendants and for preliminary relief, ordering them to accept custody of each state-ready prisoner housed in City correctional facilities within 48 hours after the papers for transfer have been completed. Benjamin v. Malcolm, 629 F. Supp. 713 . Judge Lasker found that the presence of the State officials as parties in the case was essential to assure protection of the plaintiffs' adjudicated constitutional rights. He concluded that Pennhurst II does not prohibit federal courts from issuing relief against state officials when necessary to prevent frustration of a judgment resting on constitutional grounds, as distinguished from state law, and that the All Writs Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1651(a) empowered him to grant such relief as was necessary.

Discussion

The State's principal contention is that under the Supreme Court's decision in Pennhurst II the City's third-party claim against State officials must be dismissed as barred by the Eleventh Amendment because the court lacks jurisdiction to order them to comply with state law, i.e., to accept prisoners "forthwith", as the State is required to do by N.Y. Crim. P. Law § 430.20. This contention, however, ignores the district court's finding that the refusal of State officials promptly to accept state-ready prisoners also violates a federal interest in vindicating the already-adjudicated constitutional rights of prisoners housed at the City's HDM. It has long been settled that the Eleventh Amendment does not prohibit a federal court from granting injunctive relief against a state official acting contrary to the United States Constitution. Ex Parte Young, 209 U.S. 123, 52 L. Ed. 714, 28 S. Ct. 441 (1908). This was explicitly recognized by the Court in Pennhurst II, 465 U.S. at 105-06, 109 n.17, where the Third Circuit was held to have erred in basing its decision solely on the state officials' noncompliance with a state law, the Pennsylvania Mental Health and Mental Retardation Act of 1966, Pa. Stat. Ann., Title 50, §§ 4101-4704 (Purdon 1969 and Supp. 1983-84), and the federal constitutional issues were not reached. The Supreme Court, in remanding the case a second time for further proceedings, noted,

"The District Court also rested its decision on the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments and § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. See supra, at 93. On remand the Court of Appeals may consider to what extent, if any, the judgment may be sustained on ...


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