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Freeman v. Rideout

decided: December 30, 1986.

GARY WAYNE FREEMAN, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
RICHARD RIDEOUT, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



Defendant-appellant, Richard Rideout, appeals from a judgment of the United States District Court for the District of Vermont ( Holden, J.). Defendant-appellant contends that the district court erred when it held him liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

Author: RE

BEFORE PRATT and MINER, Circuit Judges, and RE, Chief Judge, United States Court of International Trade, sitting by designation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 293(a).

RE, Chief Judge:

The defendant, Richard Rideout, a prison correctional officer, appeals from a judgment entered against him by the District Court for the District of Vermont, which held him liable for damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (1982). The district court found that Rideout filed unfounded or false charges against plaintiff, Gary Wayne Freeman, a state prison inmate. The charges, which accused Freeman of having assaulted another inmate, were the basis for an prison disciplinary hearing, after which Freeman was found guilty, and sentenced to 30 days of "segregation."

Rideout contends that "the district court erred by improperly holding that Freeman's liberty interest was deprive without due process of law at the time the assault charges were filed."

Two questions are presented on this appeal: first, whether the filing of unfounded or false charges by a prison correctional office against a prison inmate constitutes a deprivation of a constitutional right which permits recovery under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; and, second, whether the prison disciplinary hearing provided the the plaintiff prison inmate with due process of law.

Since the Court holds that the filing of unfounded charges is not per se a constitutional violation under section 1983, and that the prison disciplinary hearing provided plaintiff with all due process rights to which he was entitled, the judgment of the district court is reversed.

Facts

On October 5, 1981, institutional disciplinary charges were presented against plaintiff-appellee, Gary Wayne Freeman, a prisoner at the Woodstock Correctional Facility. Freeman was accused of assaulting another prison inmate, Jeffrey Price. The charges were filed by defendant-appellant, Richard Rideout, a prison correctional officer at the Facility. As a result of the charges filed by Rideout, a prison disciplinary hearing was conducted on the institutional charges the following day. Freeman was not informed of the identity of his accuser, now was the alleged assault victim allowed to testify at the hearing. In part, because of the perceived need to protect Price from retaliation, Price was not permitted to testify at the disciplinary hearing.

After the prison disciplinary hearing, Freeman was found guilty, and was sentenced to 30 days of "segregation" from the general prison population. The evidence upon which the finding of guilty was based consisted of three documents; an incident report written by defendant-appellant, Richard Rideout; a report written by Correctional Officer John Honymar; and the unsworn statement of Douglas Pratt, another prison inmate.

Thereafter, on July 12, 1982, Freeman sued Rideout in the District Court for the District of Vermont for compensatory damages pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Freeman contended that the charges filed against him by Rideout were unfounded and false, and that the filing of false charges constituted a per se violation of the due process clause of the fourteenth amendment.

At the trial, Freeman introduced into evidence a deposition of the alleged assault victim, Jeffrey Price, which stated that he had not been assaulted by Freeman, and that he had not told Rideout that he had been assaulted by Freeman.

After trial, the district court found that the charges filed by Rideout against Freeman were unfounded, and concluded that "(t)he filing of unfounded charges against an inmate offends clearly established constitutional rights . . . " In addition, the district court found that "the reasons given by the chairman of the committee for refusing to allow (Freeman) to confront Price (were) not acceptable." Based on these findings and conclusions, the court awarded Freeman damages of $1500, plus ...


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