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Akbar v. Fairman

April 22, 1986


Appeals from the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois, Danville Division. No. 79 C 2313--Harold A. Baker, Judge.

Author: Coffey

Before CUDAHY and COFFEY, Circuit Judges, and ESCHBACH, Senior Circuit Judge.

COFFEY, Circuit Judge

The plaintiffs, Jamal Ali Akbar ("Akbar") and Melvin Nalls ("Nalls") filed separate 1983 actions against the defendants (officials and employees of the Illinois Department of Corrections) challenging the disciplinary procedures employed by the Pontiac Correctional Center ("Pontiac") Adjustment Committee.*fn1 Akbar and Nalls appeal from a judgment of the district court awarding Akbar and Nalls nominal damages for the procedural due process violations committed by the defendants, but denying them compensatory damages on the grounds that the disciplinary sanctions imposed upon them by the Pontiac Adjustment Committee were justified under the circumstances notwithstanding the technical due process violations. The defendants cross-appeal from the district court's award of attorney's fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988, specifically challenging the awarding of the out-of-pocket expenses incurred by the plaintiffs in unsuccessfully petitioning the Supreme Court of the United States for writ of certiorari in a prior decision of this court. We affirm the district court's judgment denying the plaintiffs compensatory damages, but reverse the district court's award of expenses for the plaintiffs' unsuccessful petition for a writ of certiorari.


While incarcerated in Pontiac, Jamal Ali Akbar and Melvin Nalls were both charged with violations of prison regulations. A resident disciplinary report charged Akbar with the possession of gang related materials ("kites")*fn2 while performing his duties as a law clerk in the North Segregation Unit of Pontiac. Prison officials placed Akbar in segregation and three days later he appeared before the Adjustment Committee. The Committee found Akbar guilty of possessing gang related materials, returned him to segregation, and ordered a disciplinary job transfer. Upon further investigation, it was revealed that the materials found in Akbar's possession were religious in nature. Warden Fairman expunged the disciplinary report from Akbar's records and reinstated him in his position of law clerk. As a result of the disciplinary charge and the Adjustment Committee's action, Akbar spent a total of eight days in segregation.

Nalls received a resident disciplinary report charging him with assaulting another inmate, alleging that he stabbed a prisoner in the prison gymnasium shower. Following a hearing, the Adjustment Committee found Nalls guilty of the assault charge and sentenced him to one year in segregation, a one-year loss of good time credit, a one-year demotion to C-grade status,*fn3 and the loss of audio-visual privileges.

Akbar and Nalls, along with five other Pontiac inmates, filed separate pro se actions under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 challenging the Adjustment Committee's procedures in conducting disciplinary hearings for prisoners charged with violations of prison regulations. The district court consolidated the actions and appointed counsel on behalf of the inmates. The plaintiffs filed an amended complaint alleging, inter alia, that the defendants violated the plaintiffs' due process rights in failing to give a complete and adequate summary of the evidence relied upon and the reasons for the Adjustment Committee's findings of guilt and the punishment imposed on the plaintiffs.*fn4 The amended complaint also alleged that certain members of the Adjustment Committee were not neutral and detached decisionmakers as required by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution due to their status as defendants in prior unrelated lawsuits filed by the inmates.*fn5 After both parties filed motions for summary judgment, the district court granted the plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment in part, concluding that the inadequacy of the Adjustment Committee Summaries denied the plaintiffs their due process rights.*fn6 The court also ruled that the three plaintiffs (including Akbar) were denied due process of law in their individual hearings because certain defendants (those also named as defendants in prior inmates' unrelated lawsuits) failed to disqualify themselves from participating in the present Adjustment Committee hearings. A jury heard the remaining issues including the extent of actual injuries, if any, to the plaintiffs. The jury awarded Akbar $3,500 in damages for deprivation of due process resulting from the inadequate Adjustment Committee Summary and for the lack of an impartial decisionmaker as defendant Hosier failed to disqualify himself from Akbar's hearing. The jury awarded Nalls $1,000 in compensatory damages for the denial of due process resulting from the inadequate Adjustment Committee Summary. Both parties appealed.

On appeal, this court affirmed the district court's holding that the Adjustment Committee's Summaries failed to satisfy minimum constitutional standards, finding the summaries to be too conclusory in that they failed to disclose the reasons for the committee's actions in imposing punishment for rule infractions in the prison. Redding v. Fairman, 717 F.2d 1105, 1116 (7th Cir. 1983), cert. denied, 465 U.S. 1025, 79 L. Ed. 2d 685, 104 S. Ct. 1282 (1984).*fn7 This court reversed the district court awards of compensatory damages to Akbar and Nalls and two other plaintiffs on the grounds that the district court improperly denied the defendants an opportunity to present evidence beyond the administrative record (consisting solely of the Adjustment Committee Summaries and Disciplinary Reports) on the issue of damages. This court also reversed the district court's ruling requiring a disqualification of every Committee member who is a defendant in a prior suit filed by an inmate appearing before the Adjustment Committee ruling that the disqualification issue is to be decided on a case-by-case basis. Id. at 1113. The court remanded the case to the district court to give the defendants an opportunity to present evidence beyond the administrative record on the issue of damages and further to allow the court to analyze the circumstances surrounding the unrelated lawsuits against individual committee members to determine whether disqualification of the Committee members was mandated. Id. at 1120.

On remand, the parties waived trial before jury on the damages issue,*fn8 and the court took judicial notice of the report of the proceedings in the original jury trial. At the hearing on remand, Melvin Dillman, a member of the Pontiac staff, testified on behalf of the defendants that at approximately 10:00 a.m. on March 14, 1980, he observed Nalls enter the Pontiac gymnasium. Shortly thereafter Dillman approached the shower room of the gymnasium on a security check and saw Nalls exit the shower followed by inmate Richard Jones. Dillman observed that Jones was bleeding from his leg, and that Nalls was looking over his shoulder at Jones and heard Jones say, "I'm going to get for this." Nalls left the gym and Dillman took Jones to the hospital for medical attention. Thereafter, Dillman identified a picture of Nalls and prepared a "005 incident report" (a standard reporting form used by Pontiac officials to record rule infractions) detailing his observations and recollections of the incident. On cross-examination, Dillman related that he "did not include" the statement "I'm going to get you for this" in his report, but instead had recorded Jones' statement as "he would not forget what happened." Dillman maintained, however, that Jones made both statements.

The defendants also called Michael Dunning, a Pontiac staff member at the time of Akbar's alleged violation of prison rules in January 1980. Dunning testified that on January 10, 1980, Akbar was strip searched before he entered the North Segregation Unit to provide services as a law clerk to the inmates of the unit. Dunning related that when Akbar left the North Segregation Unit, Dunning again searched Akbar and the materials in his possession, and in the stack of papers Akbar was carrying, Dunning discovered "a couple of pieces of paper" that appeared to be gang related,*fn9 as well as two "kites" (unauthorized letter).

After hearing the testimony offered, the court found that the defendants were justified in taking disciplinary action against Nalls, concluding that a sufficient factual foundation existed beyond the administrative record for both the initiation of disciplinary action and the imposition of punishment against Nalls. The court did acknowledge that the Adjustment Committee violated Nalls' right to due process in failing to adequately summarize the evidence relied upon and the reasons for the action taken. The district court found that the defendants were justified in taking disciplinary action against Akbar, concluding that the evidence established that Akbar was found to be in possession of a kite. In view of the fact that Akbar spent only eight days in segregation, that he was reinstated as an inmate law clerk, and that the disciplinary report was expunged from his record, the court concluded that Akbar had suffered no injury as a result of any due process violations resulting from the Adjustment Committee's inadequate summary of the evidence and the reasons for its actions and thus was not entitled to an award of compensatory damages. Finding that neither plaintiff was damaged as a result of the Adjustment Committee's due process violations, the court entered judgment in favor of Nalls and Akbar, and awarded each of them nominal damages of $1.00. The court also granted the plaintiffs' petition for attorney's fees and costs pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988, including in the award $1,919.95 in expenses incurred in plaintiffs' unsuccessful petition for a writ of certiorari in the United States Supreme Court in Redding v. Fairman.

The plaintiffs subsequent motion to reconsider was denied and Akbar and Nalls appealed the district court's judgment, arguing that the defendants had not met their burden of proving that the Adjustment Committee's actions were justified. The defendants cross-appealed on the grounds that the district court improperly awarded the ...

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