Filed Date: Oct. 26, 1971
Closed Date: Sept. 20, 1972
Clearinghouse coding complete
This case is part of the Clearinghouse's special collection on the Attica Uprising. In September of 1971, incarcerated people in New York's Attica Correctional Facility took control of the prison and took several staff members hostage. The uprising ended when state police violently stormed the prison, killing over 40 incarcerated people and staff members. Attica was one of the most significant events in the American prisoners' rights movement and drew public attention to poor conditions in prisons across the country. The uprising, retaking, and their aftermaths spawned numerous lawsuits, many of which are included in this special collection.
This case concerns suspected uprising leaders being placed in administrative segregation after the retaking.
Filing and Initial Litigation
This is a class action brought by people placed in administrative segregation after the retaking because they were suspected to be the leaders in the uprising. The class was initially comprised of 38 people, but later dropped to 14. On October 26, 1971, the plaintiffs filed their initial complaint against the Attica superintendent. An amended complaint, which changed the named plaintiffs, was filed November 29, 1971. The plaintiffs filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York. District Judge John Curtin was appointed to the case.
The plaintiffs filed suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of the Eighth Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment. They claimed their equal protection and due process rights were violated when they were placed in administrative segregation because they were not notified of the disciplinary charges against them and were not given the chance to appear before the disciplinary committee. They also argued the conditions in the unit amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. They sought declaratory, injunctive, and mandamus relief. More specifically, they wanted the court to order the defendant to release them from the segregation unit.
On October 28, 1971, the court ordered the defendant to show cause why the plaintiffs’ relief should not be granted. In response, the defendant submitted an affidavit which said the plaintiffs were in segregation because they were the suspected leaders of the uprising and needed to be isolated during the investigation into the uprising. After that response, the court held a hearing on December 1, 1971. The court heard testimony from an Attica official about the conditions in the segregation unit, but not about the procedures used to put the plaintiffs in the unit.
The District Court's Orders
On December 13, 1971, the court partially granted the plaintiffs' requests. 338 F.Supp. 311. First, the court granted the plaintiffs’ request for class certification. The class included all people being held in the segregation unit. Next, the court found that the conditions in the unit did not constitute cruel and unusual punishment. However, the procedures used to put the class members in the segregation unit did violate due process. Attica officials were required to confront the plaintiffs with the accusations and evidence against them and provide them an opportunity to respond, and they failed to do so.
Lastly, the court denied the plaintiffs’ request to issue an order requiring their release from the unit. However, the court did order the defendant to schedule appearances for all class members before the disciplinary committee within 72 hours. The defendant was also instructed to provide the court with weekly reports about the class members’ placement.
On December 16, 1971, the defendant moved the court to reconsider the December 13th order because they alleged it conflicted with another court order. As part of another Attica case, Nieves v. Oswald, Judge John Henderson ordered Attica officials to stop all disciplinary proceedings pertaining to the uprising. Arguments were held on the motion on December 17, 1971. At the hearing, the defendant also argued the plaintiffs were put in segregation to protect them and the security of Attica, not as punishment.
The court responded to the motion on December 21, 1971, finding its order did not conflict with Judge Henderson’s order. However, the court credited the defendant’s claim that the plaintiffs were put in segregation as protective custody, and not as punishment. So, the court modified the order such that the plaintiffs did not have to be brought before the disciplinary committee since they were not being disciplined. 338 F.Supp. 311. The court explained the plaintiffs could be held in protective custody in the unit 1) if they consented to do so for their safety, or 2) without their consent if there were adequate factual findings they threatened the security of the general population, and plaintiffs had an adequate chance to respond to that evidence. Also, the defendant was ordered to provide the court with forms for each plaintiff saying they consented to being in the unit or that there were sufficient findings against them.
After the new court order, each class member was informed of the evidence suggesting they needed to be in protective custody. They were then given a chance to consent to protective custody or respond to the evidence. Attica officials found there was good cause to keep all but four of the class members in segregation. Those four were returned to the general population.
Appeal to the Second Circuit
The plaintiffs appealed the denial of their request for release them from the segregation unit. On September 20, 1972, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the district court’s order. 467 F.2d 51. The panel included Circuit Judges Walter Mansfield and William Timbers and District Judge Murray Gurfein. Circuit Judge Mansfield wrote the opinion.
The court of appeals agreed the conditions in the segregation unit did not violate the Eighth Amendment. Next, the court denied the equal protection claim because the evidence showed the plaintiffs would be at risk or would threaten the security of Attica if they were returned to the general population. Finally, the court found the due process claim was meritless. Based on the submissions from the superintendent, there was good cause to keep the class members in segregation and the procedures to place them there were sufficient to comply with due process.
Based on available published opinions, there was no action in the case after the Second Circuit opinion. The case is now closed.
Sarah Marble (4/15/2022)
Last updated June 28, 2023, 3:14 a.m.Docket sheet not available via the Clearinghouse.
State / Territory: New York
Filing Date: Oct. 26, 1971
Closing Date: Sept. 20, 1972
Case Ongoing: No
All people placed in administrative segregation after the retaking of the Attica Correctional Facility in the wake of the 1971 Attica Uprising
Public Interest Lawyer: No
Filed Pro Se: Yes
Class Action Sought: Yes
Class Action Outcome: Granted
Causes of Action:
Prevailing Party: Mixed
Nature of Relief:
Source of Relief:
Order Duration: 1971 - 1972
Content of Injunction:
Affected Sex or Gender:
Type of Facility: