The opinion of the court was delivered by: JOSEPH E. IRENAS
Defendants move for summary judgment under Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(b) dismissing plaintiff's § 1983 complaint. This motion will be granted, although not for the reasons urged by the defendants.
When plaintiff was a prisoner at Bayside State Prison ("Bayside"), he was charged and found guilty of possessing a knife in violation of applicable prison regulations. He was found guilty at a disciplinary hearing on January 15, 1992, and sanctioned with fifteen days detention, three hundred sixty-five days administrative segregation and three hundred thirty days loss of commutation time.
When this case started, there was some confusion as to whether New Jersey had restored the lost commutation time, but that issue now seems to be resolved in plaintiff's favor. Thus, the only issue in this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 is whether plaintiff is entitled to monetary damages against the defendants
because plaintiff spent five months in detention and administrative segregation as the result of disciplinary proceedings which are alleged to have violated his due process rights under the fourteenth amendment.
Because, as will hereafter be discussed, we cannot find at this stage in the proceedings that the original hearing comported with the minimal due process requirements of Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 41 L. Ed. 2d 935, 94 S. Ct. 2963 (1974) and its numerous progeny,
the only issue to be decided on this motion for summary judgment is whether the plaintiff's success at an administrative level in reversing the results of the disciplinary hearing forecloses a § 1983 damage action for events which occurred before this success.
Although there are literally hundreds of cases dealing with the constitutional requirements of prison disciplinary proceedings, these cases almost invariable are brought when plaintiff's appeals to higher levels within the prison administration to reverse the sanction imposed are unsuccessful. There appear to be very few in which a prisoner who was successful at the administrative level still sought damages for what happened to him between the leveling of the charge and its ultimate dismissal after administrative appeal.
Apparently motivated by concerns that contraband was illegally entering Bayside, its internal affairs department conducted an undercover operation to determine the source of the contraband. Defendant Lonergan was involved in this investigation during which he spoke on a confidential basis to two prisoners who identified plaintiff having possessed an 8 1/2 inch lock blade knife. Quite remarkably one of the informants actually turned over the knife in question to prison authorities.
Plaintiff was charged with violating N.J.A.C. 10A:4-4.1(a)(*.202) - possession or introduction of a gun, firearm, weapon, sharpened instrument, knife or unauthorized tool.
Prison officials invoked the disciplinary procedures set forth in N.J.A.C.:4-9.1 et seq., and, after several postponements, a hearing took place on January 15, 1992.
Lonergan prepared written reports of his conversations with the two informants, but neither the names of the informants nor these reports were ever turned over to the plaintiff. The hearing officer, defendant Joseph A. Knowles, did review the Lonergan reports,
but never actually spoke with the informants. Thus, the only "evidence" at plaintiff's disciplinary hearing was a photograph of the offending knife and Knowles' in camera evaluation of Lonergan's reports.
Without revealing anything which might identify the informants, it suffices to say that neither informant had a prior history of providing reliable information, and both informants had a substantial self-interest in being perceived helpful by the authorities. Although Knowles noted in his written evaluation that "the information provided cannot be verified with certainty," he found the informants to be credible because "the informants were developed independent from each other and are not believed to be associates of each other . . . [and] the focus of their information was not the same, while still being corroborative of each other."
After evaluating the confidential information Knowles concluded that plaintiff would have to "provide overwhelming evidence" to overcome the informants accusations. As is probably not surprising, the evidence was not forthcoming. Although plaintiff was provided with a "counsel substitute" and given the opportunity to present evidence or call witnesses, he did ...