The opinion of the court was delivered by: GARRETT E. BROWN, JR.
Before the Court is defendants' motion for summary judgment. The motion raises the question whether an inmate is precluded from litigating in federal court constitutional issues that were decided against him by the state court on appeal from a prison disciplinary hearing. For the reasons set forth in this Memorandum and Order, issued without oral argument pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78, the Court concludes that the inmate is precluded from relitigating his claims. Accordingly, the Court will grant the motion.
Plaintiff pro se Allen Rodziewicz, currently incarcerated at New Jersey State Prison ("NJSP"), claims that on May 21, 1990, he was found guilty at an NJSP disciplinary hearing of possession of gambling paraphernalia in violation of N.J. Admin. Code tit. 10A, § 4-4.1(a)(603). The disciplinary action was initiated after a strip search revealed betting slips on or near plaintiff's person. Plaintiff received sanctions of 15 days lockup, 60 days administrative segregation, and 60 days loss of commutation time.
In late May 1990, after his administrative appeal
was denied, he sought review of the disciplinary finding in the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division, pursuant to N.J. Ct. R. 2:2-3(a)(2).
Plaintiff named the New Jersey Department of Corrections ("DOC") as the respondent. He summarized his legal argument in the state court in the following manner:
Appellant has numerous substantial issues to present on this appeal. All implicate federally required due process guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. They include valid objections to the investigatory process, the failure to afford a timely hearing, the unconstitutional strip search absent a reasonable suspicion, the level of evidence relied on to enter a finding of guilt, and the failure to adhere to agency regulations in disposing of the administrative appeal.
Brief in Support of Motion for Leave to Proceed In Forma Pauperis and for an Emergent Stay 4 (Unnumbered Attachment to Halloran Certif. in Support of Defs.' Motion). On August 7, 1990, the Appellate Division (i) granted plaintiff's motion to proceed in forma pauperis, (ii) denied his motion for a stay, (iii) granted DOC's crossmotion for summary disposition of the appeal, and iv) affirmed the disciplinary order and sanctions. The New Jersey Supreme Court denied plaintiff's petition for certification and dismissed his notice or appeal pursuant to N.J. Ct. R. 2:12-9.
On March 23, 1992, plaintiff filed the present action in this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (1988), naming as defendants various individuals connected in some way to the disciplinary proceeding.
He sought a judgment declaring that the disciplinary proceedings violated his constitutional rights, an order enjoining random strap searches, compensatory damages for the time he spent in a more restrictive environment as a result of the sanctions, and punitive damages. Defendants now move for summary judgment, raising principles of preclusion.
A. Standards for Summary Judgment
Summary judgment may be granted only if there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56; Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265, 106 S. Ct. 2548(1986). It is appropriate for the Court to resolve a defense of claim or issue preclusion on motion for summary judgment, for the issues raised are purely legal in nature. See Delaware Valley Transplant Program v. Coye, 722 Supp. 1188, 1192 (D.N.J. 1989).
Plaintiff elected, as was his right, to appeal from the prison disciplinary proceeding to the state appellate court. He was not successful. This Court must give to the appellate court's judgment "the same preclusive effect as would be given that judgment under the law of the State in which the judgment was entered." Migra v. Warren City School Dist. Bd. of Educ., ...