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Williams v. Lane

decided: June 27, 1988.


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 81 C 355--Milton I. Shadur, Judge.

Cummings and Flaum, Circuit Judges, and Grant, Senior District Judge.*fn* Flaum, Circuit Judge, concurring in the result.

Author: Cummings

CUMMINGS, Circuit Judge.

While lawful imprisonment does deprive convicted prisoners of many rights, Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 524, 82 L. Ed. 2d 393, 104 S. Ct. 3194, inmates still retain limited constitutional protection including the First Amendment right to free exercise of religion, Cruz v. Beto, 405 U.S. 319, 322, 31 L. Ed. 2d 263, 92 S. Ct. 1079 n.2, the right of access to courts, Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 821, 52 L. Ed. 2d 72, 97 S. Ct. 1491, the right to due process restricted only by the nature of the penal system, Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 556, 41 L. Ed. 2d 935, 94 S. Ct. 2963, and the right to equal protection under the laws. Lee v. Washington, 390 U.S. 333, 333-334, 19 L. Ed. 2d 1212, 88 S. Ct. 994. Federal courts, while most reluctant to interfere with the internal administration of state prisons, see, e.g., Block v. Rutherford, 468 U.S. 576, 584-585, 82 L. Ed. 2d 438, 104 S. Ct. 3227, nevertheless will intervene to remedy unjustified violations of those rights retained by prisoners, especially when faced with inadequate compliance by prison officials with prior court orders.

Recent decisions of the Supreme Court indicate a reevaluation of the role of federal courts in state prisoner cases. In Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 60 L. Ed. 2d 447, 99 S. Ct. 1861, the Court described the change from a "hands-off" approach to a period when federal courts "waded into this complex arena" to a withdrawal of the federal courts from the "minutiae of prison operations":

There was a time not too long ago when the federal judiciary took a completely "hands-off" approach to the problem of prison administration. In recent years, however, these courts largely have discarded this "hands-off" attitude and have waded into this complex arena. The deplorable conditions and draconian restrictions of some of our Nation's prisons are too well known to require recounting here, and the federal courts rightly have condemned these sordid aspects of our prison systems. But many of these same courts have, in the name of the Constitution, become increasingly enmeshed in the minutiae of prison operations. Judges, after all, are human. They, no less than others in our society, have a natural tendency to believe that their individual solutions to often intractable problems are better and more workable than those of the persons who are actually charged with and trained in the running of the particular institution under examination. But under the Constitution, the first question to be answered is not whose plan is best, but in what branch of the Government is lodged the authority to initially devise the plan. This does not mean that constitutional rights are not to be scrupulously observed. It does mean, however, that the inquiry of federal courts into prison management must be limited to the issue of whether a particular system violates any prohibition of the Constitution, or in the case of a federal prison, a statute. The wide range of "judgment calls" that meet constitutional and statutory requirements are confined to officials outside of the Judicial Branch of Government.

Bell, 441 U.S. at 562; see also O'Lone v. Estate of Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 107 S. Ct. 2400, 96 L. Ed. 2d 282; Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 107 S. Ct. 2254, 96 L. Ed. 2d 64; Walsh v. Mellas, 837 F.2d 789 (7th Cir. 1988), certiorari denied, 486 U.S. 1061, 56 U.S.L.W. 3849, 108 S. Ct. 2832, 100 L. Ed. 2d 933 (1988). It is in this context that we review the relief granted by the district court to those inmates assigned to protective custody status*fn1 at the Stateville Correctional Center in Illinois.*fn2

Factual Background

Due to the comprehensive nature of the district court's decree, the extensive record in this case must be examined in detail. See Williams v. Lane, 646 F. Supp. 1379 (N.D. Ill. 1986). In reviewing the case on appeal, we recognize the deference owed to the trial court's findings of fact. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52(a) provides that "findings of fact shall not be set aside unless clearly erroneous, and due regard shall be given to the opportunity of the trial court to judge of the credibility of the witnesses." In Anderson v. City of Bessemer City, 470 U.S. 564, 84 L. Ed. 2d 518, 105 S. Ct. 1504, the Supreme Court stated that " '[a] finding is "clearly erroneous" when although there is evidence to support it, the reviewing court on the entire evidence is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed.'" Id. at 573 (quoting United States v. United States Gypsum Co., 333 U.S. 364, 395, 92 L. Ed. 746, 68 S. Ct. 525); In re: Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific R.R. Co., 840 F.2d 1308 (7th Cir. 1988). A reviewing court may not reject a factual finding simply because it disagrees with the trier of fact. Id. Further, a reviewing court must show even greater deference to the trial court's findings that involve credibility of witnesses, "for only the trial judge can be aware of the variations in demeanor and tone of voice that bear so heavily on the listener's understanding of and belief in what is said." Id. at 575; see also Bullard v. Sercon Corp., 846 F.2d 463, slip op. at 3 (7th Cir. 1988).

This Court recently applied the rule to a prisoners' civil rights claim in Hadi v. Horn, 830 F.2d 779 (7th Cir. 1987), where in the context of the prison officials' position on the interests of security, we held that "the district court's finding on this point is one of fact which we must accept unless it is clearly erroneous." Id. at 784.

The defendants in this case waited until their reply brief before articulating their view of the proper scope of review regarding the district court's factual findings. In their reply brief, defendants offer in a conclusory fashion various examples of what they consider clearly erroneous findings of facts on the security concerns of the prison officials. These unpersuasive arguments are really a thinly-guised attack on the credibility determinations of Judge Shadur, which "can virtually never be clear error." Anderson, 470 U.S. at 575. Based on both the demeanor of the witnesses and the substantial record evidence, the district court held that the defendants' security explanations were "not credible as a factual matter." Defendants now rely almost completely on the discredited testimony of defendants DeRobertis and O'Leary while also insisting that the court failed to allow them the deference they deserve as prison administrators.

As an initial matter, we reject these excuses. The district court quite properly refused to accept defendants' testimony because it conflicted with the objective factual record. The inconsistencies and contradictions in their statements were adjudged "frankly unworthy of belief." Moreover, a court's "deference to the administrative expertise and discretionary authority of correctional officials must be schooled, not absolute." Campbell v. Miller, 787 F.2d 217, 227 n.17 (7th Cir. 1986), certiorari denied, 479 U.S. 1019, 107 S. Ct. 673, 93 L. Ed. 2d 724. In this case, in contrast to O'Lone and Turner, the defendants failed to establish a record which revealed the manner in which security considerations were seriously implicated by the unequal treatment afforded to protective custody status inmates. See Caldwell v. Miller, 790 F.2d 589, 597 (7th Cir. 1986). Defendants have confused deference with credibility in their arguments here. The record of the proceedings below shows that the district court did not second-guess the administrator's determination. Rather, the court weighed the evidence and carefully considered what was argued before it by defendants.

Having discussed the relevant standard of review, it is now appropriate to turn to the history of plaintiffs' action. This case concerns a prisoner's civil rights class action suit for both injunctive relief and damages under 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 and Illinois state law. The plaintiffs are inmates at Stateville Correctional Center near Joliet, Illinois, and the class representative is Willie Williams, who was incarcerated in the prison's protective custody unit from November 1977 to October 1983. The plaintiff class consists of all inmates assigned to protective custody at Stateville since April 30, 1982. The plaintiffs allege that their rights have been violated due in part to the living conditions and institutional programs assigned to them by the defendants.

The defendants are state prison officials sued in their individual capacities for acts taken under color of state law. Principal defendants include Michael Lane, director of the Illinois Department of Corrections (Department) since 1981; Richard DeRobertis, Stateville warden between July 1980 and November 1983; Michael O'Leary, Stateville warden after DeRobertis; Salvadore Goding, the assistant warden under both DeRobertis and O'Leary; Gayle Franzen, Department director from January 1979 to February 1981; Marvin Reed, warden from June 1979 to June 1980; and Lou Brewer, warden from September 1978 to June 1979.

The plaintiffs basically claimed that the defendants violated these protective custody prisoners' constitutional rights by failing to provide them with access to the same programs and services offered the general population inmates at Stateville. Specifically, this included denial of (1) their free exercise of religion, (2) meaningful access to the courts, (3) freedom from cruel and unusual punishment, and (4) their rights to due process and equal protection by failing to provide comparable programming and living conditions. Plaintiffs also alleged that defendants violated state law by not following the requirements of Administrative Regulation 808 ("A.R. 808"), adopted by the Department in 1976, which, besides creating a protective custody unit in each maximum security prison, mandates that "housing and programmatic accommodations shall be comparable to those provided for the general population." A.R. 808 was revised in 1982 to allow for the implementation of the consent decree entered in Meeks v. Lane, 75 C 96 (three-judge district court, N.D. Ill. 1981), and reproduced in the plaintiffs' Appendix. This decree required, inter alia, that defendants provide inmates in protective custody "with the same opportunities as other inmates in other housing areas of the general population for . . . job assignments, vocational and educational assignments, recreation, access to prison libraries, access to religious services and to all other institutional programs."*fn3

To understand the nature of this case, it is first necessary to describe the protective custody status available in Stateville through the programs and living conditions which consist of religious counseling, library services, educational and occupational instruction, recreational opportunities, and food service. As seen, assignment to protective custody status (see n.1 supra) was initially provided for by A.R. 808. This status is not made for disciplinary reasons; rather inmates are placed in protective custody for their own safety. It is truly neither "voluntary" nor "temporary": the Department has to substantiate the identifiable threat and approve the placement, and for their own protection inmates may spend much of their sentence in protective custody.

Until January 1979, all protective custody inmates in Stateville were assigned to Cellhouse E. After the Department locked down Stateville in early 1979,*fn4 all residents with this status were moved to Cellhouse B-West and housed with the disciplinary segregation inmates who had been found guilty of violating prison rules. Both categories of inmates remained there until April 1982, when the Department separated them by moving the disciplinary segregation inmates to Cellhouse F. In January 1985, the Department moved all protective custody inmates to Cellhouse H, which had previously housed inmates of the general population.

Since May 1979, when the protective custody inmates were moved to be housed with the disciplinary segregation inmates, the programs and living conditions of plaintiffs have been substantially restricted. It is necessary to compare the services available to the general population inmates to understand this disparity of service allocation.

The Department provides Stateville's general population inmates the opportunity for free exercise of religion through communal worship services, classroom religious instructions, and private religious counseling. Chaplains meet regularly with all such inmates who request private meetings. Protective custody inmates, however, have received significantly inferior access to religious services since the move in May 1979. There are neither communal worship services nor classroom religious instructions. The only permitted religious programming was to allow the prison chaplains to counsel inmates through the cell bar doors.

After implementation of the 1981 Meeks consent decree, in January 1983 the Department agreed to provide protective custody inmates with one non-denominational communal worship service at the rear of Cellhouse B-West. These services, however, were eliminated in mid-1984 without explanation. After protective custody residents were moved to Cellhouse H in early 1985, this service was reinstated and held in the small area converted from garage use, permitting only 25 inmates to attend. The Department still does not allow these inmates to meet privately with clergy; the clerical staff is forced to counsel through the cell doors' "chuck hole." Visits by these clergymen average once a week.

A second area of programming, library services, is made available to the general population without burdensome restrictions. This library access includes legal materials, newspapers, magazines, audio-visual materials, legal counseling and assistance, and special programs on mental health, ethnic and cultural awareness, and paralegal training. As was the situation with religious services, after the lockdown protective custody prisoners received markedly inadequate and inferior access to the library. When an inmate of this status wants to go to the library, he must be locked alone in one of seven special security cages, except that cellmates, co-litigants, or co-defendants can share a cage. These inmates may not leave the cages, and they must depend on a library clerk to retrieve materials for them.

Access to the library also differs from that of the general population in the following respects: requests to go to the library are taken on a first-come, first-serve basis; the law clerks may not obtain general library materials for plaintiffs unless specially approved by a general library clerk; plaintiffs are never allowed to attend any special library programs; and to obtain legal counseling, plaintiffs have to discuss their cases with either the Chief Legal Advocate or law clerk, who must stand outside the bars of the library cage. Finally, with the move of protective custody inmates to Cellhouse H in January 1985, library carts were not permitted to come to the protective custody unit to provide any satellite services.

Various vocational and educational programs also are provided to general population inmates aimed at providing rehabilitation. These services are designed to encourage the attainment of higher education and to maintain professional instruction. Between May 1979 and November 1982, however, no vocational jobs were available for protective custody inmates. Only after entry of the Meeks decree have a limited number of such jobs been made available. Educational instruction for these inmates has not fared much better. Between May 1979 and January 1983, there were no classroom courses, with only basic education tutoring provided through the doors of the cells. Since implementation of the Meeks decree, a single college-level course and a limited General Education Development program were offered. The college course was discontinued in 1985 with the move to Cellhouse H. Demand for general instruction always exceeds the permitted number of registrants.

Finally, basic living conditions between those inmates of general population and protective custody status are simply not comparable. Protective custody inmates must eat all meals in their rooms, and these unpalatable meals were transported in unheated carts until November 1985. Recreational opportunities are poor for protective custody inmates. They are permitted no indoor recreation in gymnasium or social halls. They have solely 1 1/4 hours of dayroom or yard access on alternate days.

The Department attempted to explain this disparate treatment as "security-motivated" or "security-oriented," explanations found arbitrary, exaggerated, and pretextual by the district court. It was quick to acknowledge that "as a maximum security prison housing inmates drawn from among the worst offenders in Illinois, Stateville presents understandable security concerns." But in attempting to isolate protective custody inmates from the general population, the Department chose to treat these inmates with the same security procedures afforded those involuntarily assigned to disciplinary segregation.

The Department's articulated security concerns are belied by its inconsistent manner in treating protective custody inmates, its unused viable options to the restricted living conditions and lack of programming, its actions totally unrelated to security, and finally its lack of effort to provide comparable programming. We will highlight some of these matters which were extensively noted by the district court.

The Department's conduct demonstrates how its security reliance rationale is incomplete. This is first revealed in the inconsistent behavior afforded to protective custody inmates. While these inmates were permitted to take daily exercise together, they could not go to the library as a group. Inmates could exercise in the dayrooms together; yet they had to eat in their cells separately. Finally, the Department allowed groups to walk in the yard communally while prohibiting such recreation as watching movies together.

The district court, after of course realizing that it was not its function to assume responsibility for managing Stateville, named several available alternatives providing comparable conditions and programming to plaintiffs without jeopardizing any properly applied security concerns of the Department: (1) Stateville has many areas of usable space that could be converted to activity space; (2) light vocational training could be offered to inmates to be performed in their own cells; (3) a protective custody dining room could be added in Cellhouse H which would satisfy Meeks ; (4) revised library scheduling could allow greater access to inmates; and (5) night-shift work details could be implemented to allow protective custody inmates the opportunity to earn money.

These available alternatives were not pursued by the Department for reasons unrelated to security. Satellite law libraries, denominational worship services, vocational training in individual cells, and more Sunday recreation for protective custody inmates were all options found by the court to be without any significantly increased security burdens.

In summarizing, Judge Shadur found that this disparity in programs stemmed from the Department's lack of desire to make improvements, when opportunities to make such changes were long available to the defendants. Evidence adduced at the bench trial tended to show that the Department did have the ability to overcome security and operational concerns when it chose to do so.

After weighing this evidence, the court found for plaintiffs, denied defendants qualified immunity from damages, held that compensatory damages would be proper, and reserved ruling on punitive damages. 646 F. Supp. at 1409-1410. The court did not enter a remedial order with its opinion. Rather, in deference to the Department, it first directed the defendants to submit their views on the scope of a proper remedial plan. Finding their subsequent submissions inadequate, ...

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