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Cooper v. Tard

argued: May 5, 1988.

ANTHONY COOPER, ABDUR-RAHIM FARRAKHAN, CONRAD CORLEY, ROBERT STEVENS, RODNEY DANIELS, WILLIAM STOVALL, APPELLANTS
v.
ELIJAH TARD, JR., INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY; WILLIS MORTON, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY; MICHAEL VOIGH, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY; F. ZIMMER, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY; RICHARD BYRD, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY; AND, FRANK MARKWARD, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY. ANTHONY COOPER, ABDUR-RAHIM FARRAKHAN, CONRAD CORLEY, RODNEY DANIELS, WILLIAM STOVALL V. ELIJAH TARD, JR., SUPERINTENDENT, ALAN C. KOENIGSFEST, POLICY DEVELOPMENT ASST., WILLIS MORTON, CHAIRPERSON FOR (M.C.U.), GILDO DEPAOLIS, CHIEF DEPUTY, J. SWAL, GUARD, MICHAEL VOIGH, GUARD, F. ZIMMER, GUARD, RICHARD J. BYRD, GUARD, ANTHONY COOPER, ABDUR-RAHIM FARRAKHAN, CONRAD CORLEY, RODNEY DANIELS, ROBERT STEVENS, AND WILLIAM STOVALL, APPELLANTS; ANTHONY COOPER, # 63924, CONRAD CORLEY, # 63302, RODNEY DANIELS, # 64201, ABDUR RAHIM FARRAKHAN, # 63624 V. ELIJAH TARD, JR., AS AN INDIVIDUAL AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS THE WARDEN AT TRENTON STATE PRISON, ARTHUR JONES, AS AN INDIVIDUAL AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS HEARING OFFICER AT TRENTON STATE PRISON, AND SGT. FRANK MARKWARD, AS AN INDIVIDUAL AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS SUPERVISOR OF THE MANAGEMENT CONTROL UNIT, ROBERT BALICKI, AS AN INDIVIDUAL AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS HEARING OFFICER AT TRENTON STATE PRISON, AND OFFICER RICHARD J. BYRD, AS AN INDIVIDUAL AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS A CORRECTION OFFICER AT TRENTON STATE PRISON. ANTHONY COOPER, ABDUR-RAHIM FARRAKHAN, CONRAD CORLEY, RODNEY DANIELS, ROBERT STEVENS, AND WILLIAM STOVALL, APPELLANTS



On Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, D.C. Nos. 81-1959, 81-2199 & 81-2201.

Higginbotham, Stapleton and Greenberg, Circuit Judges.

Author: Greenberg

Opinion OF THE COURT

GREENBERG, Circuit Judge.

This matter presents First and Fourteenth Amendment challenges to a regulation effective at Trenton State Prison and is before the court on appeal from a final judgment entered in the district court following a nonjury trial. The parties state and we agree that the appeal involves application of the decision of the Supreme Court in O'Lone v. Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 107 S. Ct. 2400, 96 L. Ed. 2d 282 (1987), to essentially undisputed facts. Thus, we review the matter independently and may substitute our own judgment for that of the trial court. See D & G Equipment Co. v. First National Bank, 764 F.2d 950, 954 (3d Cir. 1985). To the extent, however, that the district judge made findings on disputed issues of fact our standard of review is whether there is sufficient evidence in the record to support those findings. Fed. R. Civ. P. 52(a); Leeper v. United States, 756 F.2d 300, 308 (3d Cir. 1985).

I.

A.

The facts are as follows. In 1981 plaintiffs Anthony Cooper, Abdur-Rahim Farrakhan, Conrad Corley, Rodney Daniels and Robert Stevens, members of the Nation of Islam, were prisoners sent to the Trenton State Prison from other penal institutions.*fn1 The type of inmate at Trenton State, the only fully maximum custodial institution of the New Jersey Prison System, is demonstrated by the percent serving sentences for murder, rape, assault or robbery in 1981 which was respectively 45, 7, 8 and 24. Plaintiffs were all confined to the management control unit (MCU), a close custody area where prisoners identified as threats to internal security were segregated from the general prison population. The MCU was established following a violent confrontation in 1975 between two rival groups of Muslim prisoners in which one inmate was killed and several were very seriously injured. Inasmuch as the MCU is designed to prevent problems, including violence and disorder, assigned to it is determined on the bases of prior criminal activity, institutional adjustment, psychological reports, staff observations and confidential sources. Thus, the inmates in the MCU represent a significant threat to the safety and orderly operation of the prison. Although inmates are not transferred to the MCU without a hearing, it is not a punitive unit and therefore its purpose differs from that of a disciplinary segregation facility.

Through tight control of the MCU, the prison authorities prevent problem inmates from becoming catalysts to violence, disorder and escape. Congregate activities including religious services are extremely limited in the MCU as they are inconsistent with the unit's objectives of containing and neutralizing the conspiratorial interests of inmates assigned there. Some inmates are assigned to the MCU even though their records are relatively good because the authorities view them as sophisticated operators who work through intermediaries and thus pose a significant threat to internal security. Significantly, none of the plaintiffs suggest that his assignments to the Trenton State Prison and the MCU were in any way inappropriate.

By any standard the inmates in the MCU are tightly controlled. They are confined to their cells for the entire day, including meal times, except for a one hour and ten minute exercise period in an enclosed yard measuring 20 feet by 80 feet. Inmates in the MCU receive double escort. Only 20 to 25 inmates are present in the yard when it is in use. At the times material to this case there were less than 30 inmates in the MCU.

B.

The Nation of Islam, to which plaintiffs belong, is based on the Koran as interpreted by Elijah Muhammad and ministers within the Nation. While the Nation recognizes the validity of individual prayer, it considers group prayer more significant as it reflects the cooperative nature of the religion. Plaintiff Cooper was recognized as an Imam or spiritual leader by the other plaintiffs. The prison authorities, however, do not recognize him in that capacity in the MCU. The Nation has a hierarchy with ranks such as captain, lieutenant and secretary.

In May 1981 plaintiffs were charged in a disciplinary proceeding with violating an administrative regulation barring group demonstrations when they engaged in a group prayer called a "Du'a," during which they stood in a circle for a few minutes. They were acquitted of these charges. Subsequently, the regulation was amended to provide that:

Inmates are forbidden in any area of the institution to engage in any unauthorized group activity such as an:

a. Educational activity conducted without Education Staff supervision;

b. Sports activity conducted without Recreation Department of Custody Staff Supervision;

c. Religious activity conducted without Chaplaincy Department supervision.

Thus, the amended regulation prohibited group inmate activity conducted without supervision of ...


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