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Smith v. Rowe

April 26, 1985

MAXINE SMITH, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
CHARLES ROWE, JOHN PLATT, FRANK DEERE, CHARLOTTE NESBITT, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois, 77 C 1029- Michael Mihm, Judge.

Eschbach and Coffey, Circuit Judges, and Jameson, Senior District Judge.*fn*

Author: Jameson

JAMESON, District Judge.

Defendants-appellants, Charles Rowe, John Platt, Frank Deere, and Charlotte Sutliff-Nesbitt have appealed from a judgment in favor of plaintiff-appellee, Maxine Smith, for $80,700 compensatory damages and $20,000 punative damages in a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action seeking injunctive relief and damages for her unconstitutional placement and continuation in segregation in Dwight Correctional Center while an inmate there. We affirm.

In October of 1976 Maxine Smith, a 47 year old black woman, had been incarcerated at Dwight Correctional Center for four years. She lived in an Honor Cottage and enjoyed minimum security status. She had been convicted of killing her boy friend who had physically abused her. She was serving a 20-60 year sentence. Prior to her conviction she had been a nurse.

During her stay at Dwight, Smith quickly emerged as an inmate leader, becoming a member of the Prisoners Advisory Committee and a Cottage Representative. Other women inmates came to her for help with their legal problems. Warden Robert Buchanan allowed a group of lawyers, law students and paralegals to teach a bimonthly law class to the prisoners at Dwight. Smith was their star pupil. Smith began to assume the role of a jailhouse lawyer.

In late 1974, John Platt replaced Buchanan as the warden. He instituted a more restrictive regime. More women were sent to segregation for minor offenses, the inmate counsel was disbanded, communication with the warden was curtailed, and the law class was monitored.

Smith responded to the new conditions by more actively pursuing her role as Dwight's only woman jailhouse lawyer. She filed numerous grievances, including one on behalf of 25 inmates against Warden Platt. She notified the Chief Investigator of the Department of Corrections of criminal activities of Dwight employees. Smith was also in contact with the Governor of Illinois, the Director of the Department of Corrections, and the press concerning the conditions at Dwight.

In early 1975 the civilian librarian requested that Smith take the law library position because of her knowledge of law. As the law librarian she was able to more effectively practice as a jailhouse lawyer. She visited the segregation unit once a week to deliver law books and to talk to the women segregated there about their problems. She translated legal documents for the women, wrote correspondence for them, taught them how to do legal research, and wrote a monthly legal column for the prison newspaper.

In late 1975 Smith was no longer permitted to talk to the prisoners she visited in segregation. Soon thereafter she was barred from the segregation unit altogether. In April, 1976, the law class was banned. Smith led an unsuccessful petition drive to get it reinstated.

On October 18, 1976, officer William Doherty was ordered by Warden Platt and Assistant Warden of Security, Frank Deere, to search Smith and her cottage. He found a Kodak camera with film, three cassette recorder microphones, a tape recorder, and four tape cassettes. Platt and Deere determined that Smith should be charged with "(p)assing or receiving contraband" as prohibited by Administrative Regulation 804(H)(1)(m) and Bulletin #44,*fn1 They also required that Smith's possession be treated as a serious offense and that she should be immediately locked into segregation.

Smith admitted possessing the items found during the search but insisted that she didn't know that they were contraband. The Adjustment Committee found her guilty. Smith was assigned to indefinite segregation. Upon review, Smith's classification was changed by the Assignment Committee from minimum to maximum security because her "violation was very serious in nature." About a month later Smith appeared before the Adjustment Review Committee requesting that she be returned to her law library position. She was later informed that she had been assigned to the laundry. Smith declined to accept the laundry assignment until she could appear before the Assignment Committee.

Smith was not brought before the Assignment Committee as required by Administrative Committee as required by Administrative Regulation 802,*fn2 but instead was given a disciplinary ticket for "refusing a direct order."*fn3 On December 1, 1976, she was found guilty of that charge and continued in punitive segregation.

On January 6, 1977, Smith appeared before the Assignment Committee. She told the committee that she wanted her law library position back and would, out of principle, accept no other. On February 10, 1977, she was assigned to the utility crew. She refused the assignment, was given a disciplinary ticket, and continued in punitive segregation. On December 12, 1977, she was assigned to the hospital. She refused the assignment, was given another disciplinary ticket and continued in segregation.

All of the defendants agreed that no prisoner at Dwight had ever before been charged with a disciplinary offense or placed in segregation for possession of a camera or microphones and that several inmates had on prior occasions openly possessed and used them.

Smith was held in segregation for 22 and one-half months. For the first few weeks in segregation she had nothing but a bed, a dresser, a toilet and a sink. After six weeks she was allowed a change of clothes. She later was given her T.V., but not her toilet articles, radio or lamp.

Because of the unusually cold winter she put one of her blankets over the drafty window, blocking out all the sunlight. She kept another blanket over her head trying to stay warm. Her quarters were plagued with rodents and insects. She was locked in her cell nearly 24 hours per day. She lost 30-40 pounds.

II. Proceedings in District Court

Smith filed this action on February 9, 1977, under section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act (42 U.S.C. § 1983), against the Director and other officers of the Dwight Correctional Center, seeking release from segregation, return of her law library position, restoration of her minimum security status, and compensatory and punitive damages. Defendants moved for summary judgment, which was granted by the district court. Smith appealed. On August 11, 1978, this court reversed the district court and held, in an unpublished order, that Smith had been unconstitutionally placed in segregation and that her punishment was illegal. It found that Bulletin #44 "failed to state a disciplinary offense" and that 804(H)(1)(m) "was so vague that no prison inmate of reasonable intelligence could be expected to understand that a camera, film, and microphones were included as contraband under its provision."

The court held that:

At the very least, it would seem that Smith should be released from segregation, reinstated to the security classification she held prior to her illegal segregation, and returned to her work assignment as an assistant prison librarian. In addition, it seems only equitable and just that the bad conduct report issued against her for violating 804(H)(1)(m) be expunged credits lost as a consequence of her segregation for violation of the regulation be restored.

After a hearing and a district court order, Smith, on September 15, 1978, was returned to minimum security status. On November 2, 1978, the Assignment Committee assigned her to the law library position and allowed her to return to a general population cell. Smith's good time was finally restored ...


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