Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

ROBINSON v. PALMER

February 4, 1986

ADA ROBINSON and ALBERT ROBINSON, Plaintiffs,
v.
JAMES F. PALMER, et. al., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: BARRINGTON PARKER

 Barrington D. Parker, District Judge:

 The underlying facts in this proceeding are reported in Robinson v. Palmer, 619 F. Supp. 344 (D.D.C. 1985). The original complaint was a broadbased challenge by Albert Robinson, a prisoner at Lorton Reformatory, and his wife Ada, to the decision of the Director of the D.C. Department of Corrections ("Department") to suspend permanently Ada Robinson's visitation privileges at correctional facilities in the District. The defendants are Department Director James Palmer, Assistant Director James Freeman, and Administrator Salanda Whitfield.

 In the earlier opinion, the Court dismissed the plaintiffs' First and Eighth amendment claims but held that a letter from the defendant Whitfield to Mrs. Robinson, advising her of a one-year suspension of visiting privileges, gave her a liberty interest in a temporary suspension. Therefore, due process considerations required that a hearing be held before the suspension could be made permanent under a new policy announced 29 days before the one-year suspension was to expire. The Court reserved judgment on the plaintiffs' claim that the new policy was adopted in violation of the D.C. Administrative Procedure Act ("D.C. APA"), D.C. Code ยง 1-1501 et seq. (1981).

 At the hearing required by the Court, Mrs. Robinson, her attorneys, and the defendants Palmer, Freeman and Whitfield were present. The Department was represented by Assistant D.C. Corporation Counsel Metcalfe King. After the hearing, Mrs. Robinson was informed by Director Palmer, in a letter dated September 3, 1985, that he had "determined that the suspension of [her] visitation at facilities operated by the . . . Department . . . will remain in effect." *fn1" Counsel for the Department submitted a report on the hearing and the parties filed post hearing memoranda and renewed motions for summary judgment on the remaining issues: the adequacy of the due process hearing and the D.C. APA claim. The Court has considered the pleadings and oral argument of counsel and grants the plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment; appropriate relief is provided in an accompanying order.

 Plaintiffs ask the Court to overturn the Director's decision following the hearing, arguing that the Department presented no justification for retroactively applying the permanent suspension policy, either at the hearing or in the subsequent September 3, 1985 letter of the Director. They claim that the hearing disregarded fundamental elements of procedural due process and that the ultimate decision was arbitrary and irrational. The plaintiffs also renew their claim that the permanent suspension policy was promulgated in violation of the D.C. APA and therefore cannot lawfully be applied to Mrs. Robinson.

 ANALYSIS

 The Supreme Court has refused to lay down a fixed set of procedures to be used in every case where due process is required, recognizing that the concept must be flexible enough to accommodate varying governmental and individual interests. See, e.g., Goss v. Lopez, 419 U.S. 565, 578, 42 L. Ed. 2d 725, 95 S. Ct. 729 (1975); Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 560, 41 L. Ed. 2d 935, 94 S. Ct. 2963 (1974); Cafeteria and Restaurant Workers Union v. McElroy, 367 U.S. 886, 895, 6 L. Ed. 2d 1230, 81 S. Ct. 1743 (1961). However, certain minimal safeguards are essential. These include adequate notice of the hearing, the opportunity to be heard and to present evidence, an impartial decision maker, and a reasoned decision based on evidence adduced at the hearing. Compliance with this last requirement must be provided in a written statement of reasons for the decision and the evidence relied upon. Goldberg v. Kelly, 397 U.S. 254, 270-71, 25 L. Ed. 2d 287, 90 S. Ct. 1011 (1970); see also Morrissey v. Brewer, 408 U.S. 471, 489, 33 L. Ed. 2d 484, 92 S. Ct. 2593 (1972). From the defendants' report on the hearing filed in this proceeding and the Director's September 3, 1985 letter, the Court concludes that the process provided was deficient in several important respects.

 A.

 The requirement of a written decision after a due process hearing "helps to ensure that administrators, faced with possible scrutiny by state officials and the public, and perhaps even the courts, where fundamental constitutional rights may have been abridged, will act fairly." Wolff, 418 U.S. at 565. Director Palmer's letter to Mrs. Robinson serves as the required written statement of the decision to permanently suspend her visitation privileges. A formal opinion was not necessary, Goldberg, 397 U.S. at 271. The letter, however, highlights the flaws and shortcomings of the decision-making process used by the Director.

 Director Palmer's letter presents several possible reasons for continuing the suspension: (1) that the safety of prisoners is the Director's utmost responsibility and that efforts at prisoner rehabilitation will be impaired if visitors are permitted to bring contraband into the prison; (2) that the contraband policy is clearly visible to all because it is posted at entrances to the institution; and (3) that Mrs. Robinson showed further disregard for Department procedures by attempting to enter Lorton after her suspension using an assumed name.

 The problems with this statement are immediately apparent. It fails to provide any specific justification for increasing Mrs. Robinson's penalty to a permanent suspension. Indeed, no discussion of the need for a permanent suspension policy or its retroactive application to Mrs. Robinson occurred at the hearing. The Department officials offered absolutely nothing to support their apparent position that the security of the prison and the rehabilitation of its prisoners would be compromised by allowing Mrs. Robinson to resume visiting her husband. Thus, even if there is a rational reason for the final decision, it is not based on evidence adduced and reported at the hearing.


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.