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Sourbeer v. Robinson

May 28, 1986


On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania (D.C. Civil No. 79-0748)

Author: Higginbotham

Before WEIS, HIGGINBOTHAM and BECKER, Circuit Judges.


This is an appeal from a final judgment of the district court in an action brought by a Pennsylvania prisoner, Gregory S. Sourbeer, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Ernest S. Patton, Ronald Marks, Harvey Bell, and William Harrison ("the appellant officers") were found liable for $1,970 in damages for violating Sourbeer's due process rights. Sourbeer cross-appeals from the denial of certain other claims. For the reasons that follow, we will affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand for further proceedings.


On October 4, 1976, Sourbeer was convicted, in the Court of Common Pleas of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, of murdering his mother. Though still unsentenced, he was transferred from the Lancaster County jail to the State Correctional Institution at Camp Hill ("SCI-Camp Hill") on October 13, 1976. At that time he was fifteen years old. The Lancaster County authorities asked to have Sourbeer transferred because they viewed him as a security risk due to his age and the nature of his offense, and because they felt he could receive proper supervision at SCI-Camp Hill.

Upon his arrival at SCI-Camp Hill, Sourbeer was classified as an H.V.A. ("Hold for Various Authorities") prisoner because of his unsentenced status. From October 13, 1976 until October 27, 1977, when he was returned to Lancaster County for sentencing, Sourbeer was housed in the Restricted Housing Unit ("R.H.U.") at SCI-Camp Hill in "administrative custody" status. The R.H.U. is a separate wing that houses inmates who are disciplined for misconduct or who are segregated from the general population for administrative reasons. It is the most secure housing area at SCI-Camp Hill.

During his confinement in administrative custody, Sourbeer was denied entertainment and recreational privileges, required to eat all his meals in his cell, permitted only one hour of exercise outside his cell per day, Monday through Friday, and denied regular visiting privileges (though, on eight separate occasions, Sourbeer had visits from relatives and attorneys). He was not permitted to attend religious services in the prison chapel, use the prison library, or participate in educational and vocational training programs. Sourbeer was permitted to designate a spiritual advisor who could make unlimited visits, but he did not do so. During his confinement in administrative custody. Sourbeer never received a complete psychological or psychiatric examination, nor was he ever charged with any misconduct.

After being sentenced in Lancaster County, Sourbeer was returned to SCI-Camp Hill and, on December 8, 1977, placed in general population. During 1978, while in general population, Sourbeer attended religious services five times.

Throughout the period of Sourbeer's confinement in administrative custody, regulations were in effect in Pennsylvania that established procedures and substantive standards governing the use of restrictive housing in state correctional institutions and regional correctional facilities. The Supreme Court of the United States had occasion to consider these regulations in Hewitt v. Helms, 459 U.S. 460, 74 L. Ed. 2d 675, 103 S. Ct. 864 (1983), and held that they created a liberty interest in general population status that was protected by the Due Process Clause of the fourteenth amendment. ("[W]e are persuaded that the repeated use of explicitly mandatory language in connection with requiring specific substantive predicates demands a conclusion that the State has created a protected liberty interest." 459 U.S. at 472.) For convenience, we shall refer to these regulations as Administrative Director 801.*fn1

Under the Directive, administrative custody was for prisoners requiring closer supervision or protection than is provided in general population, and for temporary assignment pending further classification. The Directive establishes, for each institution, a Program Review Committee ("P.R.C.") to oversee restrictive housing cases. Appellant officers Bell, Marks, and Harrison were, at only time or another, members of the P.R.C. that reviewed Sourbeer's case. The P.R.C. was required to conduct an in-person interview with each inmate in administrative custody at least once every thirty days. Appellant Patton, as Superintendent of SCI-Camp Hill, was responsible for reviewing the P.R.C.'s decisions.

Apart from the Directive, during the period relevant to this case, the Commissioner of Corrections promulgated administrative memoranda establishing policies for H.V.A. prisoners. The policy in effect when Sourbeer arrived at SCI-Camp Hill provided: "Although it may be desirable and necessary to segregate H.V.A. cases physically separated, when programmatic considerations warrant housing with sentenced inmates, this is permissible."

On January 7, 1977, the Commissioner issued a memorandum revising this policy. It stated:

Generally, H.V.A. cases shall be assigned to Administrative Custody. Exceptions are: 1) Medical cases requiring hospital or infirmary placement. 2) Disciplinary cases from the county or as a result of misconduct who require disciplinary custody. The institution shall determine the level of Administrative or Disciplinary custody (close or maximum) based on the individual circumstances on a case by case basis. . . . H.V.A. cases are excluded from program participation and work assignments. They are limited to a routine activities of the Administrative Custody Unit.

On April 7, 1977, a new memorandum on H.V.A. cases was issued. This one stated that such inmates should be initially placed in administrative custody, pending a hearing to be held in accordance with Administrative Directive 801.

The district court found that the P.R.C. reviewed Sourbeer's case on October 14, 1976, one day after his placement in the R.H.U. Sourbeer was not present on that occasion, and he was not afforded an in-person interview until November 17, 1976. At that time the P.R.C. gave the following as its reasons for continuing him in administrative custody:

Subject is here from the Lancaster County Prison for Administrative reasons. He is awaiting trial on a murder charge. We will continue subject in A.C. as we get to know him and he adjusts to the institution.

On December 15, 1976, Sourbeer was again seen by the P.R.C. and continued in administrative custody. The reason given was as follows:

Subject is here from Lancaster County & charged with murder. He is in need of close supervision & structure at this time. We will continue him in A.C. & work with him in the hopes he can be placed in general population.

Subsequent monthly reviews produced the following statements of reasons for keeping Sourbeer in administrative custody:

Subject is a transfer from Lancaster County for security reasons. He remains in A.C. for his own protection. [January 12, 1977]

H.V.A. case who has been charged with murder. Due to his status must remain in A.C. status. Currently under hospital care. [February 16, 1977]

Mr. Sourbeer was interviewed today. No progress has been made on the litigation or his bail status. [March 16, 1977]

Subject is 16 years old & from Lancaster County awaiting trial for murder. He was transferred here from the county for security reasons & his age. Continue in A.C. for his protection & the fact he is unsentenced. [April 13, 1977]

Subject is here from Lancaster County & is awaiting trial for murder. Subject is 16 years old & has special programs needs at this time that require an administrative custody setting. [June 8, 1977]

Subject is a transfer from Lancaster County for protective custody & is awaiting trial for murder. He will remain in A.C. for programmatic reasons. [July 6, 1977]

H.V.A. from Lancaster Co. Murder charge pending. Expects court action in September. Continue on present status due to nature of the case. No problems indicated. Remain in A.C. [August 10, 1977]

Subject is an H.V.A. from Lancaster County & awaiting trial for murder. In light of his H.V.A. status & the murder charge his program needs can best be suited in A.C. Other: Security. [September 13, 1977]

H.V.A. - from Lancaster County. Murder charge pending. Subject is an H.V.A. from Lancaster County. He has been found guilty of murder & not sentenced. He is awaiting disposition of his appeal. In light of his H.V.A. status & charge his programmatic needs can best be served in A.C. [October 12, 1977]

Sourbeer filed a § 1983 complaint on June 14, 1979, alleging, principally, that his confinement in administrative custody violated his rights to due process under the fourteenth amendment (both in the initial placement and the failure to provide meaningful periodic reviews) and to the free exercise of religion under the first amendment. Stipulations of undisputed facts and cross-motions for summary judgment were filed. On April 2, 1984, the district court denied the cross-motions for summary judgment, holding as a matter of law that defendants were not entitled to qualified immunity under Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 73 L. Ed. 2d 396, 102 S. Ct. 2727 (1982), and finding that further factual development was necessary to determine the actual basis for Sourbeer's confinement. A bench trial was held on January 22, 1985. Sourbeer testified on his own behalf, and presented an expert psychiatric witness. Appellant officers Marks and Patton testified for the defense, along with their own psychiatric expert.

The district court handed down its findings of fact and conclusions of law on March 20, 1985. The court held that Sourbeer's due process rights were not violated by his initial confinement in administrative custody for 35 days prior to any hearing, and that the reviews conducted in November and December of 1976 comported with the requirements of due process. It further held that his confinement between January 7 and April 7, 1977 could not be subject to due process scrutiny because the H.V.A. policy then in effect did not permit H.V.A. inmates to be placed in general population, thereby vitiating Sourbeer's liberty interest. The court did, however, hold that Sourbeer's due process rights were violated by his confinement during the period from the P.R.C. review on April 13, 1977 until his release from administrative custody on October 27, 1977, because "over time reasons which would have justified Sourbeer's early detention in administrative custody were applied in a rote fashion in later reviews when experience should have led officials to ...

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