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Biagiarelli v. Sielaff

July 26, 1973

PETER JOSEPH BIAGIARELLI
v.
ALLYN R. SIELAFF, COMMISSIONER OF CORRECTIONS AND JOSEPH R. BRIERLEY, SUPERINTENDENT, STATE CORRECTIONAL INSTITUTION AT PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA AND GILBERT WALTERS, ACTING SUPERINTENDENT OF THE STATE CORRECTIONAL INSTITUTION AT PITTSBURGH ALLYN R. SIELAFF AND JOSEPH R. BRIERLEY, APPELLANTS IN NO. 72-2138, PETER JOSEPH BIAGIARELLI, APPELLANT IN NO. 72-2139.



(D.C. Civil Action No. 71-1093) APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA

Author: Van Dusen

Before: VAN DUSEN, ALDISERT and ADAMS, Circuit Judges.

Opinion OF THE COURT

VAN DUSEN, Circuit Judge.

This is a civil rights action arising out of a complaint filed by a prisoner, Peter Biagiarelli, who is confined in the Western Pennsylvania Correctional Institution at Pittsburgh.*fn1 Jurisdiction was invoked pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1343 and 2201, and 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985. Biagiarelli alleges that he has been deprived of certain of his constitutional rights, in particular his Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, by having been placed in segregated confinement without a due process hearing.*fn2 After hearing argument and testimony, the district court directed a declaratory judgment be entered in favor of the plaintiff.*fn3 After careful consideration, the record requires that the district court order be vacated and the case remanded to the district court for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Plaintiff charged in his complaint that he was taken from his cell on October 19, 1971, without notice or warning, and placed in solitary confinement, where he remained until December 24, 1971.*fn4 The prison authorities defended their action on the basis that they had received information that Biagiarelli was involved in a conspiracy to escape from prison and that an emergency situation existed which required prompt action. The district court included this finding in its opinion (349 F. Supp. at 914):

"The prison authorities presented evidence that an emergency situation existed on October 19, 1971. They were unable to give him any hearing because they had received information of a conspiracy for a prison break in which plaintiff was involved from reliable sources, to wit: the Chief of Police of the City of Pittsburgh. In their judgment this emergency situation justified placing the plaintiff in solitary immediately for reasons of security."

The defendants assert in their appeal that since Biagiarelli was placed in "administrative" segregation, as opposed to "punitive" segregation, he was not entitled to the minimal due process requirements set out by the district court. These included: (1) a written notice of charges; (2) a statement of the general nature of evidence supporting the charges; and (3) a hearing before a designated official where the prisoner has an opportunity to respond to charges. See note 3, supra.

The plaintiff has filed a cross-appeal contending that the opinion and order of the district court did not provide sufficient safeguards for a prisoner subject to isolation from the general prison population.*fn5

In Gray v. Creamer, 465 F.2d 179 (3d Cir. 1972), we were presented with the claim that "the plaintiffs' Fourteenth Amendment right to due process of law was abridged by the circumstances of their transfers from the general prison population to 'segregation' or 'punitive segregation.'" 465 F.2d at 184. In Gray we held that:

"... the transfer of a prisoner from the general prison population to solitary confinement without either notice of the charges or a hearing*fn6 does not, absent unusual circumstances..., meet minimal due process requirements.

465 F.2d at 185.

The extent of the rights guaranteed to a state prisoner under the Fourteenth Amendment is not unlimited.*fn6a As Judge Aldisert explained in Gittlemacker v. Prasse, 428 F.2d 1, 4 (3d Cir. 1970):

"To determine, with precision, those rights which follow an inmate into prison involves a process of weighing and balancing conflicting interests. The desire that there be a maximum opportunity for the exercise of rights and privileges may often collide with the practical necessities of managing and administering a complicated penal community. The task of striking the proper balance between these conflicting interests is generally within the competence of the prison authorities. Thus, the federal courts have been understandably reluctant to intervene in matters of state prison administration, recognizing that a wide latitude for judgment and discretion must be extended to prison officials."

This case presents an example of the "unusual circumstances" referred to in Gray. Here the prison authorities, in order to maintain control and to insure the continued security of the institution, were entitled to postpone notice of the charges, or the holding of a hearing for a reasonable period of time. See Gray, supra at 185 n.6. This was not the ordinary case of a prisoner being placed in administrative or punitive segregation*fn6a for disciplinary purposes,*fn7 but the case of a prisoner alleged to have been involved in a conspiracy to escape from the prison.

We disagree with the district court's order establishing a per se rule that the placement of a prisoner in solitary confinement, whether punitive or administrative segregation according to the previous Pennsylvania terminology, without written notice of the charge, a statement of the general nature of the evidence, and a hearing, constitutes a constitutional deprivation. See United States ex rel. Arzonica v. Scheipe, et al., 474 F.2d 720 (3d Cir. 1973).

We are not prepared to hold that the due process clause requires the prison authorities to provide a prisoner with a statement of the evidence, which forms the basis for the removal of the prisoner from the general prison population.*fn8 Even where the question is raised at the time of a criminal trial in the federal courts, the defendant generally is not entitled to have the prosecution furnish him with a detailed statement of the evidence the prosecution plans to use.*fn9

Biagiarelli was only entitled to either written notice of the basis for his removal from the prison population and an opportunity to rebut the charge, or a hearing. When the notice reasonably should have been given, or the hearing held, depended on when the threat to the institution subsided, regardless of whether he was held in punitive or administrative segregation. It is not feasible for courts to adopt hard and fast rules that will apply to every institution, or to every situation that might arise within a particular institution. Emergency conditions may require prompt and decisive administrative actions, and what is reasonable must be measured against the urgency of the circumstance necessitating the action. See Arzonica, supra. This rule of reason ...


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