Inmate Advocate Will|Get His Day in Court

     MANHATTAN (CN) – A prisoner allegedly put in solitary confinement because of his role in a jailhouse advocacy group is entitled to have his complaints heard in court, the Second Circuit ruled Thursday.
     The decision by the three-judge panel reversed a lower court’s decision to toss the inmate’s retaliation claims.
     Rory Dolan, the plaintiff in the case, was convicted in 1995 of rape, sexual abuse, and robbery, among other charges.
     HIs convictions stemmed from two incidents in 1988 and 1990 in which he allegedly broke into the homes of two women, then threatened, handcuffed, and raped them. He was sentenced to 20 to 40 years in prison, and sent to New York State’s Fishkill Correctional Facility.
     While there he became an advocate for better prison conditions, eventually serving two terms with the inmate liaison committee, a group that helped inmates file grievances and civil litigation.
     Dolan claims Prison Superintendent William Connolly temporarily banned him from seeking a third term with the committee, but after the ban was lifted, his fellow prisoners elected him chairman of the body.
     Fishkill’s administrative staff then allegedly retaliated against Dolan, seizing his law library computer, filing false misbehavior reports against him, and ultimately placing him in solitary confinement.
     He sued, by a federal judge in Manhattan dismissed his lawsuit, saying he failed to properly state a claim and that his position on the committee wasn’t enough to prove he was engaging in protected speech when he was taken out of the general inmate population.
     The Second Circuit disagreed, finding that Dolan’s role on the liaison committee was indeed protected under free speech, and that the prison may have unconstitutionally retaliated against him.
     “The district court erred in determining that Dolan’s complaint failed to allege protected conduct,” the ruling stated.
     However, the Second Circuit did agree the District Court in one respect — its finding that Dolan was not the victim of a conspiracy.
     Courts typically take a very light hand in addressing prison retaliation claims, often requiring specific factual evidence merely to proceed. As the Second Circuit explained, district courts have been instructed to “approach prisoner retaliation claims with skepticism and particular care, because virtually any adverse action taken against a prisoner by a prison official-even those otherwise not rising to the level of a constitutional violation-can be characterized as a constitutionally proscribed retaliatory act.”
     The panel remanded the case back to the district court for further consideration though Dolan first will have the opportunity to amend his complaint.

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