Case: Avant v. Clifford

71-01883 | New Jersey state trial court

Filed Date: Dec. 15, 1971

Closed Date: June 23, 1975

Clearinghouse coding complete

Case Summary

A group of past and present state prison inmates brought federal suit, under § 1983 and the Declaratory Judgments Act, against the New Jersey Department of Institutions and Agencies in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, alleging violations of the federal constitution and state law. Specifically, plaintiffs alleged that defendant's prison disciplinary standards violated New Jersey's Administrative Procedure Act, as well as inmates' due process rights under the fede…

A group of past and present state prison inmates brought federal suit, under § 1983 and the Declaratory Judgments Act, against the New Jersey Department of Institutions and Agencies in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, alleging violations of the federal constitution and state law. Specifically, plaintiffs alleged that defendant's prison disciplinary standards violated New Jersey's Administrative Procedure Act, as well as inmates' due process rights under the federal constitution. Plaintiffs sought declaratory and injunctive relief. Eventually the question was certified to the N.J. Supreme Court; that is this case.

The events of this case began on November 25, 1971, with a violent prison riot in the New Jersey State Prison at Rahway. The riot resulted in extensive property damage and personal injuries, including those sustained by plaintiffs. After the state obtained order, the plaintiffs were transferred without a hearing to a minimum security facility, Yardville, where they were placed in administrative segregation.

Plaintiffs then brought suit in federal district court, alleging that the transfer violated due process. That case was captioned Avant v. Cahill, Docket No. 1883-71 (D.N.J. Nov. 3, 1972). The complaint and its filing date are unavailable to the Clearinghouse. Shortly after their arrival at Yardville, disciplinary charges were initiated against plaintiffs related to the Rahway riot, but the State voluntarily deferred holding administrative

disciplinary hearings during the pendency of the Federal action.

While the D.N.J. case was proceeding with evidentiary hearings, the Middlesex County Grand Jury indicted plaintiffs and others for various criminal offenses alleged to have occurred during the course of the Rahway riot. In addition, the State promulgated new policy with respect to prison disciplinary procedures effective January 24, 1972. The disciplinary rules were purportedly adopted pursuant to statutory authority and were to be of statewide application. Under the federal jurisdictional rules then in effect, that meant that plaintiffs' request for federal injunctive relief implicating the validity of the rules, had to be adjudicated not by a single District Judge, but by a three-judge panel. The single-judge district court hearings were accordingly suspended by consent and a federal three-judge court convened.

In the meantime, five of the Rahway transferees--including two plaintiffs in this matter--escaped from Yardville. The State revived its disciplinary proceedings, and all or most of the plaintiffs here were found guilty of disciplinary infractions, were removed from Yardville to maximum security prisons in the state, and placed in administrative segregation at such

institutions.

At the same time, different plaintiffs brought a separate suit in federal court, Austell v. Yeager, Civil Action No. 44-72, which was consolidated with Avant

v. Cahill. The Austell plaintiffs were four prisoners of the New Jersey State Prison, accused of instigating a work-stoppage; as a result they were placed in administrative segregation without a hearing. Those plaintiffs alleged unconstitutional imposition upon them of punitive discipline. After their case was consolidated with Avant v. Cahill, the State voluntarily returned them to the general prison population pending determination of the Federal litigation.

Because the federal Avant case challenged the State regulations on the basis of New Jersey law, including the alleged absence of sufficient statutory standards for delegation of authority to the Commissioner and other defects

suggested therein, the federal district court abstained until such matters could be passed upon by the New Jersey courts. The plaintiffs moved the matter forward by bringing an action by way of an appeal to the N.J. Appellate Division. That appeal is this matter.

On June 5, 1973, the N.J. Supreme Court ordered the appeal be certified directly to it. It was argued on September 25, 1973, and then reargued in November, after some membership changes to the Court. The N.J. Supreme Court asked for special briefing on the practices in other states, with respect to disciplinary hearing procedures. Soon thereafter, on June 26, 1974, the United States Supreme Court issued its opinion in Wolff v. McDonnell, 418

U.S. 539 (1974), enumerating the procedural due process rights of state prison inmates in prison disciplinary proceedings. This case was then argued, for the third time, before the N.J. Supreme Court, on January 6, 1975.

At the 1975 oral argument, the State informed the Court that it was working on improving its standards governing the inmate discipline programs and procedures. On March 20, 1975, it filed with the Court on appropriate notice to all parties, newly revised Standards effective March 24,

1975. Counsel for plaintiffs commended them, but the New Jersey

Association on Correction was 'distressed and dismayed.' The New Jersey Legislature also entered the picture when on April 21, 1975, it adopted Senate Bill 762 (signed by the Governor on May 15, 1975 and now L.1975, c. 95) to govern disciplinary procedures.

On June 23, 1975, the Court (Chief Justice Hughes) issued an opinion assessing both the constitutionality and the due process fairness of the updated standards. The Court affirmed that the standards met due process requirements with respect to notice, the imposition of adjustment committees (AC), and hearing procedures. The Court held that due process fairness would be better satisfied if no more than 1 member of the AC was selected from the correctional officers staff, and if the AC document the reasons for any denial of confrontation and cross-examination rights. The Court added that inmates were entitled to 'use' immunity in subsequent criminal prosecution and to be advised of such immunity, as well as their rights to remain silent and to make a statement. The Court also concluded that statutory delegation of authority to defendant to promulgate standards for disciplinary proceedings was properly limited.

Summary Authors

Timothy Shoffner (4/30/2013)

People


Judge(s)

Hughes, Richard J. (New Jersey)

Judge(s)

Hughes, Richard J. (New Jersey)

Documents in the Clearinghouse

Document

Opinion [N.J. Sup Ct]

New Jersey state supreme court

341 A.2d 629

June 23, 1975 Order/Opinion

Resources

Title Description External URL

Resolving Tensions between Constitutional Rights: Use Immunity in Concurrent or Related Proceedings

William R. Stein

Student Note in the Columbia Law Review that discusses Avant with fair detail under the umbrella of use immunity and its relevance in criminal proceedings Jan. 1, 1976 https://www.jstor.org/stable/1121797

The Rule of Law, Disciplinary Practices, and Rahway State Prison: A Case Study in Judicial Intervention and Social Control

Edward E. Rhine

Sept. 13, 1990

Docket

Last updated May 11, 2022, 8 p.m.

Docket sheet not available via the Clearinghouse.

State / Territory: New Jersey

Case Type(s):

Prison Conditions

Key Dates

Filing Date: Dec. 15, 1971

Closing Date: June 23, 1975

Case Ongoing: No

Plaintiffs

Plaintiff Description:

Past and present State Prison inmates and also a New Jersey resident, purporting to represent the public interest

Plaintiff Type(s):

Private Plaintiff

Attorney Organizations:

ACLU Affiliates (any)

Public Interest Lawyer: Yes

Filed Pro Se: No

Class Action Sought: No

Class Action Outcome: Not sought

Defendants

State of New Jersey, State

Defendant Type(s):

Jurisdiction-wide

Corrections

Case Details

Causes of Action:

42 U.S.C. § 1983

Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. §§ 551 et seq.

State law

Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201

Constitutional Clause(s):

Due Process

Availably Documents:

Any published opinion

Outcome

Prevailing Party: Plaintiff

Nature of Relief:

Declaratory Judgment

Source of Relief:

Litigation

Issues

General:

Access to lawyers or judicial system

Administrative segregation

Disciplinary procedures

Disciplinary segregation

Incident/accident reporting & investigations

Type of Facility:

Government-run