caused a number of other inmates (that is, inmates not parties to this lawsuit) to set the fire that injured these plaintiffs. The overcrowding, it is claimed, was a consequence of defendants' wanton and willful failure to act, and it follows that the defendants are responsible for the proximate and foreseeable consequence of their decision to maintain overcrowding at the jail -- the fire and the injuries from the fire. In addition, the complaint alleges that various acts and omissions of both the District's policymaking officials and the correctional officers during the hours immediately following the fire independently violated plaintiffs' constitutional rights, causing them further injury.
On June 4, 1986, this Court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants. On the independent activities claim, the Court held that the actions taken by the correctional officials during and after the fire were reasonable under the circumstances. With respect to the overcrowding issue, the Court held that, although the jail was illegally overcrowded, plaintiffs could not establish as a matter of law that their injuries were caused by that overcrowding. This was so, in the view of this Court, because those responsible for the overcrowding could not reasonably be charged with foreseeing the fire, inasmuch as a fire set by inmates to their own institution is a self-destructive intervening criminal act which could not be foreseen and which breaks the chain of causation between the original tort and the injuries.
On appeal, the Court of Appeals affirmed this Court's decision as to the acts of correctional officials during and after the fire. However, that court reversed and remanded on the question whether the injuries were proximately caused by the overcrowding. In this regard, the appellate court relied heavily upon the testimony of George Holland, Assistant Director of the Department of Corrections, who had stated during the Campbell contempt hearings supra note 1, that he expected rioting to occur at the jail because of the overcrowded conditions.
Reasoning that, since such rioting had actually been foreseen, it could certainly be concluded that it was foreseeable.
The significance of that appellate determination is plain: if the rioting was foreseeable, those in control of the institution should have taken steps to avoid that hazard, and the chain of causation between the original illegal overcrowding of the prison and the riot that ultimately occurred was not broken despite the activities of the inmates themselves.
With respect to the fire, the Court of Appeals contemplated an additional step: this Court is to determine whether the fire was part of the riot (as distinguished from being an isolated criminal act). If the answer to that question is found to be in the affirmative, then the fire would likewise have to be regarded as foreseeable.
Finally, the Court of Appeals decision requires this Court to determine whether the general disturbance, including both the riot and the fire, "was directly or indirectly caused by the illegal overcrowding at the Jail." 824 F.2d 1139.
Pursuant to the remand, the case is now once again before this Court on several potentially dispositive motions. Presently pending are (1) defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint as to Thomas Gaydos, Aaron Chambers, John Evans, Luther Cary, Zachary Lynch, and Amos Best; (2) defendants' motion for summary judgment as to the entire case; and (3) plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment on the issue of liability. The Court will consider first the simplest issue -- the motion to dismiss the complaint as to the individual correctional officers listed above.
Motion to Dismiss As To The Correctional Officers
Thomas Gaydos, Aaron Chambers, John Evans, Luther Cary, Zachary Lynch, and Amos Best are, or were at the time of the fire, correctional officers at the D.C. Jail. To the extent that the allegations against these defendants involve conduct during and after the fire, the complaint has already been dismissed. This Court previously held that the behavior of the correctional officers during and after the fire was fully reasonable in light of the circumstances. That decision applied both to prison officials and to "correction officers on the scene," and it was affirmed by the Court of Appeals. Hence that issue is settled. The only question, therefore, is whether notwithstanding that dismissal, any legitimate complaint remains against these officers.
Plaintiffs contend that significant allegations are still alive. However, almost every one of the allegations cited by plaintiffs involves conduct during and after the fire.
The Court will not permit a regurgitation of issues that have been decided.
The only remaining allegation that could even arguably involve the correctional officers is that in paragraph 90 of the complaint which states that the fire was a consequence of "the joint decision of all defendants to maintain the District of Columbia Jail in such a manner as to constitute a constant threat to plaintiffs' safety." Notwithstanding that broad and conclusory claim, plaintiffs now agree, as they must, that the correctional officers at the jail are not policymakers.
These officers, also known as guards, have no role in decisionmaking as to how the jail should be maintained. Indeed, the decision in which they are alleged to have participated -- to maintain the jail in such a manner as to constitute a threat to the inmates; i.e., to allow conditions conducive to the outbreak of a riot -- would have been manifestly contrary to their own interests. The claim in paragraph 90 is frivolous, and summary judgment is appropriate with respect to it as well.
Finally, plaintiffs contend that dismissal or summary judgment is not appropriate with respect to their section 1985 and 1986 claims against the correctional officers. These claims, however, are in turn based on the section 1983 claims, all of which have already been dismissed or are now being dismissed as to the officers. The section 1985 claim asserts that:
By acting together and in concert to formulate policies, whether official or informal, that caused plaintiffs' injuries as described above, defendants conspired to deprive plaintiffs, as members of a class of incarcerated persons, of equal privileges and immunities under the law, namely, their Fifth and Eighth Amendment rights, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3) (emphasis added).
As discussed above, the activities of the correctional officers during and after the fire not only have been held to be reasonable as a matter of law; the policies upon which their activities may have been based, including any policy of overcrowding -- the only policy still at issue in this case -- were not formulated by these officers but by others higher-up on the bureaucratic ladder. This claim must therefore also be dismissed as to these defendants.
Similarly, the section 1986 claim alleges that "by neglecting to prevent or to attempt to prevent the violations of plaintiffs' Fifth and Eighth Amendment rights as described above, defendants violated 42 U.S.C. § 1986." Again, no violations occurred during or after the fire, the times during which the correctional officers were involved. And as mere guards in the D.C. Jail, these defendants were indisputably powerless to take or to prevent the kinds of decisions at issue in this case. It is clear, then, as this Court stated in its first Opinion, that since no section 1983 claims remain, the section 1985 and 1986 claims must fail as well.
The Fire And Riot
Plaintiffs have moved for partial summary judgment on the issue of liability, claiming that there are no genuine factual disputes on the following propositions: the riot was foreseeable; the fire was part of that general riot and accordingly it was also foreseeable; and the riot and fire were both proximately caused by overcrowding at the jail. Thus they purport to answer precisely all the questions raised by the Court of Appeals in remanding this case. The Court will consider each of these questions separately.
The first issue is whether the riot was both foreseen and foreseeable. Based on the guidelines mandated by the Court of Appeals and the evidence in the record, the answer must clearly be in the affirmative.
According to section 1122(a) of Title 22 of the District of Columbia Code, a riot is a
public disturbance involving an assemblage of 5 or more persons which by tumultuous and violent conduct or the threat thereof creates grave danger of damage or injury to property or persons.
The uncontroverted evidence contained in defendants' own exhibits demonstrates that, at the time of the fire, a dangerous disturbance was in progress in the jail's Southwest Unit involving more than five persons. For example, defendants' Exhibit 1, a memorandum from correctional officer Aaron Chambers, states that after the inmates were informed that their canteens
would be a day late "the entire unit went into an uproar. . . ."
Approximately seven minutes later, an inmate named Gilbert Sylvester began throwing chairs at the guards' station. At that point, according to a report by Chambers to the Command Center, the inmates
were turning over beds and banging on the bubble with parts from the beds. Then [he] noticed inmate Kenneth Ward . . . running in the dining room with a pipe and also other residents, but because of the smoke and the confusion you really couldn't tell who was involved in the unit.