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New York Disciplinary Procedures Violate Due Process, Prisoner Awarded $750

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York held that
disciplinary procedures extending prisoners' time in punitive segregation
violated due process and that the prison's strip search policy violated the
Fourth Amendment.

Prisoners Zachary Morgan, Born-Allah, and Phillip Goggins brought 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983 action against prison officials challenging various aspects of their
confinement in punitive segregation at the Clinton Correctional Facility's
Security Housing Unit 14 (SHU). The prisoners alleged that disciplinary
procedures extending their time in SHU violated due process, that they were
forced to undergo unnecessary strip searches, and that they were subjected
to excessive use of force which included commonly being sprayed with tear
gas when such force was not warranted.

The district court conducted a non-jury trial of the claims and held:
1) Defendants were not entitled to sovereign immunity. Although plaintiff's
pleading did not specifically state that prison guards and officials were
being sued in their personal capacities, plaintiffs' request for monetary
damages and defendants' assertion of qualified immunity (a personal
immunity defense) was "evidence that defendants were aware that plaintiffs
sought to impose personal liability upon them...."

2) Prisoners' claims were not barred by the doctrines of res judicata or
collateral estoppel. Although plaintiffs were members of a class of SHU
prisoners in a prior action, they had not been notified that their
participation in that class "would foreclose subsequent individual actions
for damages"; moreover, the issues decided in the class lawsuit were not
identical to those in the instant case.

3) Prison policy of "routinely conducting visual body cavity searches of
inmates housed in [SHU] before and after leaving that unit," violated the
Fourth Amendment. However, prison officials were entitled to qualified
immunity on this issue.

4) Plaintiffs' excessive use of force claims were meritless.

5) Extending plaintiffs' time in punitive segregation through disciplinary
procedures which did not provide them with written notice of disciplinary
charges, did not provide them with written notice of the disciplinary
committee's findings extending punitive segregation, and did not inform
them of their right to call witnesses violated due process.

6) In light of Wolf V. McDonnell 418 U.S. 539, 94 S.Ct. 2963, 41 L.Ed.2d
935 (1974) and other cases the court determined that by January 24, 1975,
prison officials should have known that the disciplinary procedures did not
comport with due process; they were therefore not entitled to qualified
immunity after that date.

Regarding relief, the court held that prison officials were qualifiedly
immune as to Goggins claims because he left SHU before January 24, 1975.
Morgan suffered no actual injury from the due process violations; he was
therefore entitled to only nominal damages. Born-Allah suffered actual
injury and was therefore entitled to $750 in compensatory damages. Morgan
and Born-Allah were awarded attorney fees in an unspecified amount.
See index for other cites in this case. See: Morgan v. Ward, 699 F.Supp.
1025 (ND NY 1988).

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