Law School Case Brief
Inmates of Attica Corr. Facility v. Rockefeller - 477 F.2d 375 (2d Cir. 1973)
Under 28 U.S.C.S. § 1361, federal mandamus is available only to compel an officer or employee of the United States to perform a duty owed to the plaintiff. And the legislative history of 28 U.S.C.S. § 1361 makes it clear that ordinarily the courts are not to direct or influence the exercise of discretion of the officer or agency in the making of the decision. More particularly, federal courts have traditionally and uniformly refrained from overturning, at the instance of a private person, discretionary decisions of federal prosecuting authorities not to prosecute persons regarding whom a complaint of criminal conduct is made.
Plaintiffs were a number of present and former inmates of New York State's Attica Correctional Facility ("Attica"), the mother of an inmate who was killed when Attica was retaken after the inmate uprising in Sept. 1971, and Arthur O. Eve, a New York State Assemblyman and member of the Subcommittee on Prisons. Plaintiffs filed a putative class action against defendants, Nelson A. Rockefeller, who was the Governor of New York; various state and federal officials were also named defendants. The complaint alleged that defendants failed in their prosecutorial duties to investigate and prosecute various officers and administrators for alleged wrongful conduct in the Attica prison uprising. Plaintiffs sought federal mandamus relief compelling state and federal officials to investigate and prosecute individuals who allegedly violated certain federal and state criminal statutes. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss the complaint for failure to state claims upon which relief could be granted. The district court granted the motion. Plaintiffs appealed.
Should the federal judiciary compel federal and state officials to investigate and prosecute persons who allegedly have violated certain federal and state criminal statutes?
The appellate court affirmed the order of the district court dismissing plaintiffs' complaint because the extraordinary relief sought by plaintiffs could not be granted in the situation presented. More specifically, New York law reposed in its prosecutors a discretion to decide whether or not to prosecute in a given case, which was not subject to review in the courts incident to the constitutional separation of powers. The court noted that, pursuant to 28 U.S.C.S. § 1361, federal mandamus was available only to compel an officer or employee of the United States to perform a duty owed to a plaintiff. The courts were not to direct the exercise of discretion of the officer or agency in the making of the decision. Courts were refrained from overturning, at the instance of a private person, discretionary decisions of federal prosecuting authorities not to prosecute persons regarding whom a complaint of criminal conduct was made. Prosecutorial discretion was not reviewable by the court under the separation of powers doctrine. Thus, the relief sought by plaintiffs could not be granted and their complaint was properly dismissed under Rule 12(b)(6).
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