100 F.3d 365 (4th Cir. 1996), 96-6884, Plyler v. Moore

Docket Nº:96-6884
Citation:100 F.3d 365
Party Name:HARRY PLYLER, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT, AND GARY WAYNE NELSON; LES WILLIAMS; GARY SLEZAK, PLAINTIFFS, v. MICHAEL MOORE, DIRECTOR, SOUTH CAROLINA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE, AND UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, INTERVENOR, AND WILLIAM D. LEEKE; BOARD OF CORRECTIONS OF THE STATE OF VIRGINIA, DEFENDANTS. THE LEGAL AID SOCIETY OF THE CITY OF NEW
Case Date:November 14, 1996
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
 
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Page 365

100 F.3d 365 (4th Cir. 1996)

HARRY PLYLER, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,

AND

GARY WAYNE NELSON; LES WILLIAMS; GARY SLEZAK, PLAINTIFFS,

v.

MICHAEL MOORE, DIRECTOR, SOUTH CAROLINA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE,

AND

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, INTERVENOR,

AND

WILLIAM D. LEEKE; BOARD OF CORRECTIONS OF THE STATE OF VIRGINIA, DEFENDANTS.

THE LEGAL AID SOCIETY OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK; THE YOUTH LAW CENTER; HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH; NATIONAL WOMEN'S LAW CENTER,

AMICI CURIAE.

No. 96-6884

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

November 14, 1996

Argued: Sept. 26, 1996

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina, at Columbia. C. Weston Houck, Chief District Judge. (CA-82-876-2).

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ARGUED: W. Gaston Fairey, FAIREY, PARISE & MILLS, P.A., Columbia, South Carolina, for Appellant. Kenneth Paul Woodington, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Columbia, South Carolina, for Appellee. Robert Mark Loeb, Appellate Staff, Civil Division, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Washington, D.C., for Intervenor. ON BRIEF: Rochelle Romosca McKim, FAIREY, PARISE & MILLS, P.A., Columbia, South Carolina, for Appellant.

Charles Molony Condon, Attorney General, Treva Ashworth, Deputy Attorney General, Reginald I. Lloyd, Assistant Attorney General, Columbia, South Carolina; Larry C. Batson, General Counsel, SOUTH CAROLINA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, Columbia, South Carolina, for Appellee. Frank W. Hunger, Assistant Attorney General, Margaret B. Seymour, United States Attorney, Barbara L. Herwig, Appellate Staff, Civil Division, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Washington, D.C., for Intervenor. Daniel L. Greenberg, John Boston, Sarah Kerr, Dori A. Lewis, Marta Nelson, Prisoners' Rights Project, THE LEGAL AID SOCIETY, New York, New York; Mark Soler, YOUTH LAW CENTER, Washington, D.C.; Kenneth Roth, Juan Mendez, Joanne Mariner, Regan Ralph, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH, New York, New York; Deborah Brake, Brenda V. Smith, Joanna Grossman, NATIONAL WOMEN'S LAW CENTER, Washington, D.C., for Amici Curiae.

Before WILKINS, WILLIAMS, and MOTZ, Circuit Judges.

Opinion

WILKINS, Circuit Judge:

A class of South Carolina prison inmates (the Inmates) appeals an order of the district court terminating, pursuant to 18 U.S.C.A. §§ 3626(b)(2) (West Supp. 1996), as amended by Prison Litigation Reform Act, Pub. L. No. 104-134, §§ 802(a), 110 Stat. 1321, 1321-68 (1996), a consent decree pertaining to conditions in South Carolina prisons. The Inmates principally maintain that to the extent the district court correctly interpreted §§ 3626(b)(2) to require termination of the consent decree, the provision is unconstitutional in that it violates the separation-of-powers doctrine, denies them equal protection of the laws, and deprives them of property without due process of law. Concluding that none of the Inmates' arguments have merit, we affirm.

I.

Because the lengthy history of this litigation is largely irrelevant to the questions we

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address today, we recount it only briefly. This action was initiated in 1982 pursuant to 42 U.S.C.A. §§ 1983 (West 1994), challenging various conditions of confinement in South Carolina prisons. The Director of the South Carolina Department of Corrections and the members of the South Carolina Board of Corrections (collectively, "the State") were named as defendants to the suit. The parties subsequently agreed to the terms of a consent decree, and the district court approved the settlement in March 1986. Although the consent decree is primarily concerned with measures to be taken to alleviate overcrowding, it also contains detailed provisions relating to, inter alia, health services, educational programs, vocational training, food service, and visitation. Additionally, the decree provides for continued supervision by the district court, stipulating that "the Court shall retain jurisdiction in this case to ensure that the Decree and all plans incorporated herein are fully implemented." J.A. 79. Since approval of the consent decree, the State has availed itself of the continuing supervisory jurisdiction of the district court on three occasions to request modification of the decree due to unanticipated increases in the prison population. See Plyler v. Evatt, 924 F.2d 1321, 1323 (4th Cir. 1991); Plyler v. Evatt, 846 F.2d 208, 211 (4th Cir.), cert. denied, 488 U.S. 897, 102 L.Ed. 2d 230, 109 S.Ct. 241 (1988); Plyler v. Leeke, 804 F.2d 1251 (4th Cir. 1986) (per curiam).

Shortly after enactment of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) on April 26, 1996, the State filed a motion to terminate the consent decree pursuant to 18 U.S.C.A. §§ 3626(b)(2). The Inmates opposed the motion, asserting that §§ 3626(b)(2) did not require termination of the consent decree and, alternatively, that if termination of the consent decree was required, the statutory provision was unconstitutional. The district court rejected these arguments and granted the motion to terminate, leading to this appeal.1

II.

The PLRA is intended to "provide reasonable limits on the remedies available in" lawsuits concerning prison conditions. See H.R. Rep. No. 21, 104th Cong., 1st Sess. 7 (1995). It accomplishes this goal, in part, by providing that "prospective relief in any civil action with respect to prison conditions shall extend no further than necessary to correct the violation of the Federal right of a particular plaintiff or plaintiffs." 18 U.S.C.A. §§ 3626(a)(1)(A); see also H.R. Rep. No. 21, at 24 n.2 (noting that this "provision stops Judges from imposing remedies intended to effect an overall modernization of local prison systems or provide an overall improvement in prison conditions" by "limiting remedies to those necessary to remedy the proven violation of federal rights"). The PLRA also provides an avenue for states to end their obligations under consent decrees providing for greater prospective relief than that required by federal law:

IMMEDIATE TERMINATION OF PROSPECTIVE RELIEF.--In any civil action with respect to prison conditions, a defendant or intervener shall be entitled to the immediate termination of any prospective relief if the relief was approved or granted in the absence of a finding by the court that the relief is narrowly drawn, extends no further than necessary to correct the violation of the Federal right, and is the least intrusive means necessary to correct the violation of the Federal right.

18 U.S.C.A. §§ 3626(b)(2). However, a court is prohibited from terminating prospective relief if it determines that "prospective relief remains necessary to correct a current or ongoing violation of the Federal right." 18 U.S.C.A. §§ 3626(b)(3). A state may seek termination of prospective relief under §§ 3626(b)(2) even if the relief was approved

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before enactment of the PLRA. Prison Litigation Reform Act, Pub. L. No. 104-134, §§ 802(b)(1), 110 Stat. 1321, 1321-70 (1996) (to be codified at 18 U.S.C.A. §§ 3626 (note)).

III.

The Inmates first maintain that the district court improperly construed §§ 3626(b)(2) to require termination of the consent decree to the extent that it provided for prospective relief greater than that necessary to correct a violation of a federal right. The Inmates urge us, instead, to construe the term "Federal right" to include rights conferred by consent decrees. See Gates v. Gomez, No. 9-87-1536 (E.D. Cal. July 22, 1996) (denying a motion for termination of an order entered pursuant to a previously approved consent decree on the basis that approval of the consent decree created a federal right, so that the subsequent order constituted a determination that the defendant had violated the plaintiffs' federal rights, thereby satisfying the requirements for prospective relief under §§ 3626(a)(1)(A)). The Inmates maintain that such a construction of §§ 3626(b)(2)...

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