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Coates v. Elzie

March 15, 2001


Before Farrell, Ruiz, and Washington, Associate Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Farrell, Associate Judge

Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia Hon. A. Franklin Burgess, Jr., Trial Judge

Argued January 23, 2001

Plaintiff-appellant Coates, then a sentenced prisoner housed in the general population at the Central Facility in Lorton, Virginia, was transferred to the Maximum Facility in October of 1997, where he remained in administrative segregation until April 1998. He later sought relief in Superior Court, contending that the placement in segregation violated his rights under the Lorton Regulations Approval Act of 1982 (LRAA or the Act) and the underlying regulations. The Superior Court agreed, and the District of Columbia has not challenged that decision. Instead, the sole issue before us is whether the trial court correctly ruled that the LRAA and the regulations do not create an implied cause of action for damages resulting from unlawful administrative segregation. We agree with the trial court that the LRAA reveals no intention of the legislature to provide such a right of action, and we therefore uphold the dismissal of Coates's amended complaint for damages.


Coates's transfer to administrative segregation stemmed from an accusation that he had incited a work stoppage at Lorton. A Department of Corrections adjustment board held a housing hearing and determined that his alleged conduct did not provide grounds for removing him from the general prison population. Warden Michelle Elzie reviewed the decision and disagreed, ordering that Coates be housed in the Maximum Security Facility. While maintained there in administrative segregation status,*fn1 Coates lost income because he could not work, was denied rehabilitative programs, and suffered restraints on his liberty greater than those at the Central Facility. After requesting unsuccessfully that Warden Elzie and her successor reconsider the segregation order, Coates brought suit against Elzie and others in their official capacity, alleging federal and local statutory violations. Eventually the claim was narrowed to one alleging violation of the LRAA and underlying regulations. Construing the applicable regulations, Judge Burgess concluded that Elzie had violated Coates's rights by removing him from the Central Facility without a finding, required by 28 DCMR § 521.4 (1987), that he constituted a clear and present threat to the safety of himself or others or a definite escape risk. The judge asked Coates's counsel to submit a proposed order implementing the decision.

Instead of that order, Coates filed an amended complaint for money damages from Warden Elzie in her individual capacity and equitable relief from the District of Columbia. He subsequently dismissed the latter claim voluntarily. Conceding that the LRAA contains no express provision for a cause of action for damages, Coates asserted that under Cort v. Ash, 422 U.S. 66 (1975), Franklin v. Gwinnett County Public Schools, 503 U.S. 60 (1992), and related decisions of this court, the LRAA should be construed as providing a right of action for damages by implication to prisoners like Coates who have been injured by unlawful administrative segregation. In a careful written opinion, Judge Burgess rejected this contention and dismissed the amended complaint.


On repeated occasions, we have summarized the history, purpose, and legally binding character of the Lorton regulations governing discipline and placement of Lorton inmates in administrative segregation. See, e.g., Moore v. Gaither, No. 99-SP-277, slip op. at 4-5 (D.C. February 22, 2001); Smith v. Moore, 749 A.2d 132, 135 (D.C. 2000). The regulations were adopted by the Mayor of the District of Columbia in settlement of class-action law suits brought by Lorton inmates challenging, inter alia, the absence of notice and hearing procedures related to segregation. See generally, Wright v. Jackson, 505 F.2d 1229 (4th Cir. 1974). Pursuant to the authority of the Council of the District of Columbia over adoption of such regulations, see D.C. Code § 24-442 (1996), the Council enacted the Lorton Regulations Approval Act of 1982 (LRAA), 28 D.C. Reg. 3484 (1992), which provides in its entirety as follows:




To approve certain regulations issued by the District of Columbia Department of Corrections.

BE IT ENACTED BY THE COUNCIL OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, That this act may be cited as the "Lorton ...

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