Cleavinger v. Saxner

PETITIONER: Cleavinger
LOCATION: Circuit Court of Jefferson County

DOCKET NO.: 84-732
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

CITATION: 474 US 193 (1985)
ARGUED: Oct 16, 1985
DECIDED: Dec 10, 1985

G. Flint Taylor, Jr. - on behalf of the Respondents
Kenneth Steven Geller - on behalf of the Petitioners

Facts of the case


Media for Cleavinger v. Saxner

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 16, 1985 in Cleavinger v. Saxner

Warren E. Burger:

Cleavinger and others against Saxner.

Mr. Geller, you may proceed whenever you are ready.

Kenneth Steven Geller:

Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

The issue in this case is whether members of an institutional Disciplinary Committee who are responsible for adjudicating charges that federal inmates have committed violations of prison rules may be sued for damages by inmates who were dissatisfied with the results of these disciplinary hearings.

Now, this is a somewhat narrow legal issue in some respects but it is of extreme practical importance to the Bureau of Prisons and the operation of the federal prison system.

There are more than 30,000 of these IDC hearings held each year in the federal prison system, and this Court has noted on a number of occasions that the maintenance of good order within these institutions is central to the accomplishment of all other correctional goals.

Therefore, it is essential that the disciplinary process work correctly and that these IDC hearings reached the right results in the cases that are brought before them.

Any extraneous factor that threatens to skew the results of these hearings is therefore a very important and serious problem.

We believe, for reasons that we hope to explain, that the threat that disciplinary committee members might be sued for damages in their personal capacity on the basis of their service on these committees, to do just that would skew the results of these hearings and therefore would weaken prison discipline and security, and for that reason we have sought certiorari in this case.

The facts here can be briefly stated.

In January 1975 there was a two-day strike by inmates at the Terre Haute prison.

A few weeks later the respondents in this case, Saxner and Cain who were inmates at Terre Haute, were charged with encouraging prisoners to engage in another work stoppage.

These charges were heard before prison IDC on February 21, 1975.

Members of the IDC that day, unfortunately for them, were the three petitioners in this case, Cleavinger, Marcadis and Lockett.

After hearing testimony and looking at the documentary evidence, the IDC found respondents guilty of encouraging this work stoppage.

In addition, based on the evidence that had been introduced at the hearing, the IDC found the respondents had also committed another violation of prison rules, possession of contraband, on the basis of certain materials advocating the formation of a prisoners' labor union that had been found in their cells.

The Discipline Committee ordered that respondents be placed in administrative segregation and that they forfeit some of their good time.

Saxner and Cain appealed this decision to the prison warden, who gave them virtually all of the relief that they had requested.

He ordered their release from administrative segregation, and he ordered that the forfeited good time be restored to them.

The warder refused to expunge respondents' records, and so they therefore took the next step in the administrative appeals process by appealing to the Regional Director of the Bureau of Prisons who in April 1975 gave them the rest of the relief that they had requested.

He ordered that their records be expunged.

Respondents were still not satisfied, so they brought this Bivens action against the three members of their Discipline Committee, alleging that petitioners and other prison employees had violated their rights under the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Eighth Amendments to the Constitution.

The only charge that is relevant here is the Fifth Amendment claim because the jury found after trial that petitioners had violated respondents' due process rights at the IDC hearing by finding them guilty of a charge, the possession of contraband charge, of which they had not received 24 hours' advance notice.

The jury awarded $5,000 for this due process violation.

William H. Rehnquist:

Did the jury itself make the determination that due process had been denied because of finding their guilt on the charge that hadn't been made, or was that determination made by the judge?

Kenneth Steven Geller:

The jury found... there was a special verdict.

The jury found that the respondents had been deprived of due process because they had not given advance notice of the charge on which they had been convicted, the possession of contraband charge.

William H. Rehnquist:

So, it was a jury finding?

Kenneth Steven Geller:

Under special verdict.

Byron R. White:

And it's all procedural default?