A group of past and present state prison inmates brought federal suit, under §1983 and the Declaratory Judgments Act, against the New Jersey Department of Institutions and Agencies in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, alleging violations of the federal constitution and state law. Specifically, plaintiffs alleged that defendant's prison disciplinary standards violated New Jersey's Administrative Procedure Act, as well as inmates' due process rights under the federal constitution. Plaintiffs sought declaratory and injunctive relief. Eventually the question was certified to the N.J. Supreme Court; that is this case.
The events of this case began on November 25, 1971, with a violent prison riot in the New Jersey State Prison at Rahway. The riot resulted in extensive property damage and personal injuries, including those sustained by plaintiffs. After the state obtained order, the plaintiffs were transferred without a hearing to a minimum security facility, Yardville, where they were placed in administrative segregation.
Plaintiffs then brought suit in federal district court, alleging that the transfer violated due process. That case was captioned Avant v. Cahill, Docket No. 1883-71 (D.N.J. Nov. 3, 1972). Shortly after their arrival at Yardville, disciplinary charges were initiated against plaintiffs related to the Rahway riot, but the State voluntarily deferred holding administrative
disciplinary hearings during the pendency of the Federal action.
While the D.N.J. case was proceeding with evidentiary hearings, the Middlesex County Grand Jury indicted plaintiffs and others for various criminal offenses alleged to have occurred during the course of the Rahway riot. In addition, the State promulgated new policy with respect to prison disciplinary procedures effective January 24, 1972. The disciplinary rules were purportedly adopted pursuant to statutory authority and were to be of statewide application. Under the federal jurisdictional rules then in effect, that meant that plaintiffs' request for federal injunctive relief implicating the validity of the rules, had to be adjudicated not by a single District Judge, but by a three-judge panel. The single-judge district court hearings were accordingly suspended by consent and a federal three-judge court convened.
In the meantime, five of the Rahway transferees--including two plaintiffs in this matter--escaped from Yardville. The State revived its disciplinary proceedings, and all or most of the plaintiffs here were found guilty of disciplinary infractions, were removed from Yardville to maximum security prisons in the state, and placed in administrative segregation at such
At the same time, different plaintiffs brought a separate suit in federal court, Austell v. Yeager, Civil Action No. 44-72, which was consolidated with Avant
v. Cahill. The Austell plaintiffs were four prisoners of the New Jersey State Prison, accused of instigating a work-stoppage; as a result they were placed in administrative segregation without a hearing. Those plaintiffs alleged unconstitutional imposition upon them of punitive discipline. After their case was consolidated with Avant v. Cahill, the State voluntarily returned them to the general prison population pending determination of the Federal litigation.
Because the federal Avant case challenged the State regulations on the basis of New Jersey law, including the alleged absence of sufficient statutory standards for delegation of authority to the Commissioner and other defects
suggested therein, the federal district court abstained until such matters could be passed upon by the New Jersey courts. The plaintiffs moved the matter forward by bringing an action by way of an appeal to the N.J. Appellate Division. That appeal is this matter.
On June 5, 1973, the N.J. Supreme Court ordered the appeal be certified directly to it. It was argued on September 25, 1973, and then reargued in November, after some membership changes to the Court. The N.J. Supreme Court asked for special briefing on the practices in other states, with respect to disciplinary hearing procedures. Soon thereafter, on June 26, 1974, the United States Supreme Court issued its opinion in Wolff v. McDonnell, 418
U.S. 539 (1974), enumerating the procedural due process rights of state prison inmates in prison disciplinary proceedings. This case was then argued, for the third time, before the N.J. Supreme Court, on January 6, 1975.
At the 1975 oral argument, the State informed the Court that it was working on improving its standards governing the inmate discipline programs and procedures. On March 20, 1975, it filed with the Court on appropriate notice to all parties, newly revised Standards effective March 24,
1975. Counsel for plaintiffs commended them, but the New Jersey
Association on Correction was 'distressed and dismayed.' The New Jersey Legislature also entered the picture when on April 21, 1975, it adopted Senate Bill 762 (signed by the Governor on May 15, 1975 and now L.1975, c. 95) to govern disciplinary procedures.
On June 23, 1975, the Court (Chief Justice Hughes) issued an opinion assessing both the constitutionality and the due process fairness of the updated standards. The Court affirmed that the standards met due process requirements with respect to notice, the imposition of adjustment committees (AC), and hearing procedures. The Court held that due process fairness would be better satisfied if no more than 1 member of the AC was selected from the correctional officers staff, and if the AC document the reasons for any denial of confrontation and cross-examination rights. The Court added that inmates were entitled to 'use' immunity in subsequent criminal prosecution and to be advised of such immunity, as well as their rights to remain silent and to make a statement. The Court also concluded that statutory delegation of authority to defendant to promulgate standards for disciplinary proceedings was properly limited. Timothy Shoffner - 04/30/2013