actions against him were based on his membership in such a class. Summary judgment for defendants is granted as to the Count II cause of action to the extent it is based on § 1985.
Juan asserts a cause of action under §§ 1983 and 1985 for defendants Truchan, Mullen, Tartza and Caccavale's alleged intentional and malicious false statements in their reports and/or at the adjudication of the disciplinary charges. The claim based on § 1985 must again be dismissed.
Defendants' first attack is that Juan is improperly attempting to obtain de novo review of the disciplinary proceeding in federal court. This is not, as I read the complaint, Juan's purpose. Rather, Count III purports to state a cause of action under the civil rights statute for alleged perjury by corrections officers which resulted in a deprivation of liberty for Juan by his sentence to a year in administrative segregation.
Defendants contend that the corrections officers should enjoy absolute immunity for their function as witnesses in submitting evidence to the hearing officer. The United States Supreme Court recently held that a police officer enjoys absolute immunity in a § 1983 action alleging that he gave perjured testimony at the civil rights plaintiff's criminal trial in state court. Briscoe v. Lahue, 460 U.S. 325, 75 L. Ed. 2d 96, 103 S. Ct. 1108 (1983).
However, the rule that a police officer is absolutely immune from civil liability for his testimony in a state criminal trial does not mandate that a corrections officer giving testimony for a prison administrative proceeding is also absolutely free from civil liability. I believe that he is entitled only to qualified immunity. See infra. The motion for summary judgment on Count III is denied.
Count IV alleges a conspiracy by defendants Truchan, Tartza, Mullen and Caccavale to conform their reports and/or testimony regarding the mess hall incident. In Count IV Juan has successfully made out a conspiracy claim regarding the substantive claim asserted in Count III.
This count alleges that hearing officer Fannon violated Juan's rights under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by failing to comply with Department of Corrections standards.
Defendants claim that Fannon is protected by absolute judicial immunity, and must be granted summary judgment. They argue that a disciplinary hearing officer performs a quasi-judicial function as do parole boards, and is therefore entitled to absolute immunity as are these boards. See Franklin v. Shields, 569 F.2d 784, 798 (4th Cir. 1977), cert. denied, 435 U.S. 1003, 56 L. Ed. 2d 92, 98 S. Ct. 1659 (1978). What little law there is on the question of what level of immunity prison hearing officers are entitled to suggests a different result.
In Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547, 18 L. Ed. 2d 288, 87 S. Ct. 1213 (1967), the Supreme Court held that common law absolute judicial immunity extends to actions brought under § 1983. However, in Wood v. Strickland, 420 U.S. 308, 322, 43 L. Ed. 2d 214, 95 S. Ct. 992 (1975), the Court held that school board members and school administrators who had made the decision to expel student-plaintiffs were entitled only to qualified immunity. In so holding, the Court acknowledged that "school board members function at different times in the nature of legislators and adjudicators in the school disciplinary process." Id. at 319.
The Third Circuit has interpreted Wood to mean that there is not an absolute immunity covering non-judicial state government officials performing adjudicatory functions. Skehan v. Bd. of Trustees of Bloomsburg St. College, 538 F.2d 53, 60 (3d Cir. 1976); see also 290 Madison Corp. v. Capone, 485 F. Supp. 1348, 1354 (D.N.J. 1980). The assumption underlying Wood and Skehan seemed to be that because the defendant-officials performed other functions as well as adjudicatory functions there was less reason to think that they could function as a truly independent judicial body when acting in that capacity. Therefore, absolute immunity was neither required nor desirable.
Similarly a hearing officer in a prison disciplinary hearing should be entitled only to a qualified immunity. The hearing officer is an employee of the Department of Corrections and adjudicates disciplinary charges brought by the Department. He is usually, as in this case, weighing the credibility of inmates against the credibility of his fellow correctional officers. Given the close relationship of the adjudicator to the institution prosecuting the charges, it is apparent that the adjudicatory process in prison disciplinary hearings is not particularly independent. The rationale for granting absolute immunity -- to preserve the independence of the adjudicative process -- is therefore less relevant in this situation than in a court proceeding or even in a proceeding before an administrative law judge. It is significant that administrative law judges have been given an independence from the agencies whose actions they review -- an independence which disciplinary hearing officers in prisons do not have. See Butz v. Economou, 438 U.S. 478, 57 L. Ed. 2d 895, 98 S. Ct. 2894 (1978) (absolute immunity extended to federal ALJs); cf., Williams v. Red Bank Bd. of Ed., 662 F.2d 1008 (3d Cir. 1981) (proceedings before New Jersey administrative law judge sufficiently independent and otherwise judicial in nature to require Younger abstention).
I believe that granting these officers only qualified immunity will actually enhance their independence, by counteracting the understandable institutional pressures on them.
The Sixth Circuit, having considered the issue directly, has recognized only qualified immunity for prison disciplinary hearing officers. The court in Jihaad v. O'Brien, 645 F.2d 556, 561 (6th Cir. 1981), stated:
We do not believe that a prison official who conducts an informal disciplinary hearing [resulting in disciplinary segregation] is in one of "those exceptional situations where it is demonstrated that absolute immunity is essential for the conduct of the public business." Butz v. Economou. . . . Rather, such an official is covered by the general rule that "in a suit for damages arising from unconstitutional action, federal executive officials exercising discretion are entitled only to qualified immunity . . . ." Butz. . . .
I conclude that defendant Fannon is entitled only to a qualified immunity.
Whether Fannon violated the DOC standards in bad faith as Juan alleges is a question of fact which I cannot dispose of on this motion for summary judgment.
Counts VI -- IX
The remaining counts allege constitutional violations by higher officials in the corrections department either for failure to prevent the actions of the subordinate defendants or for improper processing of Juan's appeal from defendant Fannon's decision. Defendants have moved for summary judgment as to all of these counts. Juan has submitted no response regarding any of them. There is nothing in the record which would overcome the qualified immunity with which these defendants are cloaked. Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 102 S. Ct. 2727, 73 L. Ed. 2d 396 (1982). Summary judgment is granted in their favor on Counts VI to IX.
Defense counsel is requested to submit a form of order implementing this opinion.
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