Case: Abdul Wali v. Coughlin

6:84-00379 | U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York

Filed Date: March 19, 1984

Clearinghouse coding complete

Case Summary

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 pris…

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 an injunction to allow the distribution of a report detailing conditions at Attica to people who were incarcerated in Attica.

Prisoners of several New York correctional facilities sought a preliminary injunction to stop the state prison system from prohibiting the delivery of a report containing criticisms and complaints about conditions at Attica. In the years following the Attica uprising, several reports were made by both private organizations and the state government regarding the conditions at the prison. The Commissioner of the New York State Department of Correctional Service (DOCS), Thomas A. Coughlin III, allowed delivery of these reports to members of the prison population. However, on November 22, 1983, a public interest law firm that represents prisoners, Prisoners' Legal Services of New York (PLSNY), published a report on the uprising that prison officials saw as antagonistic to their interests. PLSNY wrote to Commissioner Coughlin on December 1, 1983, seeking permission to send copies of their report into New York prisons. The Commissioner responded that he would not allow delivery of the PLSNY report to prisoners in the New York prison system, and no reasons for his refusal were given.

On March 19, 1984, prisoners from correctional facilities throughout the state brought suit under 42 U.S.C. §1983 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York alleging violations of their First Amendment rights and seeking to enjoin Commissioner Coughlin from interfering with the delivery of copies of the report into New York prisons. An evidentiary hearing was held before Magistrate Judge Ralph W. Smith, Jr., on August 14 and 15, 1984. The role of censorship guidelines contained in DOCS Directive No. 4572 was explored at length during Commissioner Coughlin's testimony at the hearing. That directive was originally issued in 1971 and set forth specific standards by which material sent to prisoners was to be reviewed and, if need be, censored. Commissioner Coughlin testified at the evidentiary hearing that he had not applied the standards set out in Directive 4572, and instead his decision to prohibit the PLSNY report was reached by reference to his personal professional judgment concerning the inherent danger in allowing the report to be read by prisoners.

Magistrate Smith subsequently filed a report-recommendation finding that Commissioner Coughlin had not applied Directive 4572 and, moreover, the PLSNY report did not violate the guidelines set forth in it. Magistrate Smith also found that the PLSNY report was not unlike the earlier reports which had been allowed into New York state prisons, and that those reports had been received by prisoners without demonstrable adverse effect on security interests. Magistrate Smith recommended that a preliminary injunction be granted because the prisoners had shown irreparable injury and had demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits. On November 8, 1984, the District Court (Senior District Judge James T. Foley) adopted the recommendation and enjoined Commissioner Coughlin from refusing to allow prisoners to receive upon request the PLSNY report. Abdul Wali v. Coughlin, 596 F.Supp. 1064 (N.D.N.Y. 1984).

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (Circuit Judge Irving R. Kaufman) affirmed the granted injunction and held that corrections officials failed to carry their burden of demonstrating that refusal to allow delivery of the PLSNY report regarding prison conditions was necessary to further important penological interests. Abdul Wali v. Coughlin, 754 F.2d 1015 (2nd Cir. 1985).

The docket in this case was not available on PACER, and accordingly, we do not have further information on the case. The case is now closed.

Summary Authors

Tom Madison (3/31/2006)

Jonah Hudson-Erdman (4/21/2022)

People


Judge(s)

Foley, James Thomas (New York)

Kaufman, Irving Robert (New York)

Rosenn, Max (Pennsylvania)

Timbers, William Homer (New York)

Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Kelemen, Joseph (New York)

Leven, David C. (New York)

Yacknin, Ellen M. (New York)

Attorneys(s) for Defendant

Abrams, Robert W. (New York)

Hermann, Robert (New York)

Hotvet, Martin A. (New York)

Judge(s)

Foley, James Thomas (New York)

Kaufman, Irving Robert (New York)

Rosenn, Max (Pennsylvania)

Timbers, William Homer (New York)

Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Kelemen, Joseph (New York)

Leven, David C. (New York)

Yacknin, Ellen M. (New York)

Attorneys(s) for Defendant

Abrams, Robert W. (New York)

Hermann, Robert (New York)

Hotvet, Martin A. (New York)

Roberts, David B. (New York)

Documents in the Clearinghouse

Document

6:84-00379

Memorandum-Decision and Order

596 F.Supp. 1064

Nov. 8, 1984

Nov. 8, 1984

Order/Opinion

84-02387

Reported Opinion

U. S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

754 F.2d 1015

Feb. 5, 1985

Feb. 5, 1985

Order/Opinion

Resources

Docket

Last updated July 20, 2022, 3:07 a.m.

Docket sheet not available via the Clearinghouse.

Case Details

State / Territory: New York

Case Type(s):

Prison Conditions

Special Collection(s):

Attica Uprising Litigation

Key Dates

Filing Date: March 19, 1984

Case Ongoing: No

Plaintiffs

Plaintiff Description:

Inmates of several New York correctional facilities seeking to prohibit prison officials from prohibiting inmates from receiving, on request, copies of report containing criticisms and complaints about conditions in Attica correctional facility

Plaintiff Type(s):

Private Plaintiff

Attorney Organizations:

Prisoners' Legal Services of New York (PLSNY)

Public Interest Lawyer: Yes

Filed Pro Se: Yes

Class Action Sought: Unknown

Class Action Outcome: Unknown

Defendants

Attica Correctional Facility (Attica), State

Case Details

Causes of Action:

42 U.S.C. § 1983

Constitutional Clause(s):

Freedom of speech/association

Cruel and Unusual Punishment

Availably Documents:

Any published opinion

Outcome

Prevailing Party: Plaintiff

Nature of Relief:

Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement

Preliminary injunction / Temp. restraining order

Source of Relief:

Litigation

Order Duration: 1984 - None

Content of Injunction:

Preliminary relief granted

Reporting

Issues

General:

Library (non-law) access

Sanitation / living conditions

Type of Facility:

Government-run

Immigration/Border:

Detention - conditions