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Saxner v. Benson

decided: February 13, 1984.


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Terre Haute Division. No. 75 C 47 -- Gene E. Brooks, Judge.

Wood and Cudahy, Circuit Judges, and Celebrezze, Senior Circuit Judge.*fn* Cudahy, Circuit Judge, concurring. Celebrezze, Senior Circuit Judge, dissenting.

Author: Wood

WOOD, Circuit Judge.*fn1

Originally the most important issue in this case was whether the members of the prison Institutional Disciplinary Committee were entitled to absolute immunity, not merely qualified immunity, from suits alleging the deprivation of a prisoner's constitutional rights. In the meantime, however, this court in Redding v. Fairman, 717 F.2d 1105, 1117 (7th Cir. 1983), has resolved the immunity issue by adhering to Chavis v. Rowe, 643 F.2d 1281, 1288 (7th Cir.), cert. denied, 454 U.S. 907, 102 S. Ct. 415, 70 L. Ed. 2d 225 (1981), and Mary and Crystal v. Ramsden, 635 F.2d 590 (7th Cir. 1980), in finding no basis or justification for absolute immunity.*fn2

The only remaining issues are whether or not the compensatory damages awarded by the jury and approved by the trial court are excessive, and whether the trial court erred in denying plaintiff's request for attorneys' fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act (28 U.S.C. § 2412).


The defendants are senior correctional officers at the federal correctional institution at Terre Haute, Indiana. The plaintiffs, David Saxner and Alfred Cain, Jr., are former inmates of the institution. In 1975, the Terre Haute prison had a staff of 350 people; it housed nearly 2,000 inmates in its main facility and approximately 300 in its farm camp. In January, 1975 a prisoner died in the prison hospital under circumstances which were not entirely clear; shortly thereafter the prisoners engaged in a two day work stoppage to protest the inmate's death. The plaintiffs apparently did not participate in the work stoppage. Instead, they endeavored to discover the circumstances surrounding the prisoner's death and to report their findings to interested members of the press and public. Their efforts were partly responsible for an investigation of the prison's hospital and the resignation of the prison's physician.

On February 14, 1975, the plaintiffs were each charged with encouraging others to engage in another work stoppage, and they were confined to a section of the hospital being used as an administrative segregation unit. Saxner was notified of his right to a hearing, to be represented by a staff member of his choice, and to present testimony and documentary evidence; the record does not indicate that Cain ever received a copy of a similar notice.

The plaintiffs, who had remained in segregation, appeared before the Institutional Disciplinary Committee (IDC) on February 21, 1975. On that day, the IDC was composed of Theodore Cleavinger, an associate warden, Marvin Marcadis, a correctional supervisor, and Tom Lockett, chief of case management.*fn3

At the hearing before the IDC, Saxner was represented by a staff counselor of his choice. After reading the charge against Saxner, the incident report was introduced, as well as three documents written by Saxner; no guards or inmates were called to testify,*fn4 but Saxner was permitted to introduce affidavits of several inmates, and to testify on his own behalf. At the close of evidence, the IDC found Saxner guilty of encouraging a work stoppage. The IDC also found Saxner guilty of two other offenses with which he had not been charged: possession of contraband and unauthorized use of the mail.*fn5 The IDC ordered that Saxner be confined in administrative segregation for an indefinite period, and that he forfeit 84 days of good time; it also recommended that he be transferred to another institution.

Cain's hearing was held on the same day, before the same three correctional officers. Cain denied that he had encouraged others not to work and demanded an opportunity to examine his accuser. The IDC produced an incident report, which contained the particulars of the work stoppage charge, and two other documents which had been seized in an administrative search of his cell; no other evidence was produced. Cain was found guilty of the original work stoppage charge and of an additional charge of possession of contraband (the materials which had been seized in the search of his cell). The IDC ordered that Cain be confined in administrative segregation indefinitely, and that he forfeit 96 days of good time; the IDC also recommended that Cain be transferred to another institution.

Each plaintiff was informed of his right to appeal the IDC's decision, and both plaintiffs appealed the IDC's decision to the warden of the prison. The warden granted part of the relief sought by the plaintiffs on appeal: he restored the forfeited good time and ordered the plaintiffs' release from administrative segregation; the warden refused, however, to expunge their records. Both plaintiffs appealed to the Regional Office of the Bureau of Prisons; based upon the Regional Office's recommendation, the records of both Cain and Saxner were expunged.

This action was commenced in March, 1975, while the plaintiffs were still in administrative segregation. The initial complaint was filed pro se. Subsequently, counsel was retained and the complaint was amended several times; the third amended complaint sought declaratory, injunctive, and monetary relief for alleged deprivations of the plaintiffs' first, fourth, fifth, sixth, and eighth amendment rights resulting from the hearings before the IDC in February, 1975.

Prior to trial, the defendants moved for judgment on the pleadings, asserting that they were entitled to absolute immunity from liability for actions taken in their capacity as IDC members. Although the district court granted the motion, it held, on reconsideration, that the defendants were entitled only to qualified immunity in light of this court's decision in Mary and Crystal v. Ramsden, 635 F.2d 590. The case was tried to a jury in April, 1981; the jury found, in response to special interrogatories, that all three of the IDC members had violated the plaintiffs' fifth amendment right to due process. The jury awarded each plaintiff $4,500 as compensatory damages.*fn6 In May, 1981 the defendants moved for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, arguing that the verdict was excessive; the motion was denied. The plaintiffs moved for an award of attorneys' fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2413; this motion was also denied. The defendants appeal, arguing that the IDC members are entitled to absolute immunity, an issue we have already addressed, and that the jury's verdict was excessive. The plaintiffs have cross-appealed, arguing that they are entitled to an award of attorneys' fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2413.


The jury award of compensable damages in the amount of $4,500 to each plaintiff was found by the trial court, in ruling on defendants' motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, to be supported by sufficient evidence. The defendants find no fault with the jury instructions based on Carey v. Piphus, 435 U.S. 247, 262-64, ...

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