102 F.Supp.2d 157 (S.D.N.Y. 2000), 75 CIV. 3073, Benjamin v. Kerik

Docket Nº:75 CIV. 3073(HB).
Citation:102 F.Supp.2d 157
Party Name:James BENJAMIN, et al., Plaintiffs, v. Bernard B. KERIK, et al., Defendants.
Case Date:June 06, 2000
Court:United States District Courts, 2nd Circuit, Southern District of New York
 
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102 F.Supp.2d 157 (S.D.N.Y. 2000)

James BENJAMIN, et al., Plaintiffs,

v.

Bernard B. KERIK, et al., Defendants.

No. 75 CIV. 3073(HB).

United States District Court, S.D. New York.

June 6, 2000

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Daniel L. Greenberg, John Boston, Madeline H. deLone, Lisa Freeman, Dale A. Wilker, The Legal Aid Society, New York City, for Plaintiffs.

Michael D. Hess, Corporation Counsel of the City of New York (Florence A. Hutner, Lorna B. Goodman, Daniel McCray, of Counsel), New York City, for Defendants.

Opinion and Order

BAER, District Judge.

I. Introduction

Defendants in this action, the City of New York and the Department of Corrections, et. al. (collectively the "Department") brought a motion to terminate the

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Consent Decrees and all supplemental orders entered in this action and the six related cases that are encompassed herein 1 based on the recently enacted Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 ("PLRA" or "the Act"), Pub.L. No. 104-134, 110 Stat. 1321, §§ 801-810 (Apr. 26, 1996).

By opinion and order date July 23, 1996, this Court held that the PLRA was constitutional and vacated the Consent Decrees. See Benjamin v. Jacobson, 935 F.Supp. 332 (1996) (" Benjamin I"). A unanimous panel of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part. See Benjamin v. Jacobson, 124 F.3d 162 (1997) (" Benjamin II"). Rehearing en banc was granted. On rehearing, the Court of Appeals, held that the plaintiffs were entitled to the opportunity to present evidence of current and ongoing violations of federal rights and of the need for continuation of the prospective relief provided in the Decrees. See Benjamin v. Jacobson, 172 F.3d 144 (1999) (" Benjamin III"). The PLRA provides that

Prospective relief shall not terminate if the court makes written findings based on the record that prospective relief remains necessary to correct a current and ongoing violation of the Federal right, extends no further than necessary to correct the violation of the Federal right, and that the prospective relief is narrowly drawn and the least intrusive means to correct the violation.

18 U.S.C. § 3626(b)(3).

By Memorandum and Order dated December 21, 1999, this Court decided that the "automatic termination" provisions of the PLRA can itself be "stayed" by court order. Benjamin v. Kerik, 1999 WL 1225264 (S.D.N.Y. Dec.21, 1999). 18 U.S.C. § 3626(e). The PLRA requires a district court to "rule promptly" on any motion to modify or terminate prospective relief in a prison litigation lawsuit. As I observed in my December 21 Memorandum and Order,

The Act's automatic stay provision operates to automatically suspend any prospective relief--beginning, for our purposes, thirty days after the motion's filing date, 18 U.S.C. § 3626(e)(2)(A)(i)--until the date the court enters a final order ruling on the motion. 18 U.S.C. § 3626(e)(2)(B). To be sure, Section 3626(e)(3) allows a court to postpone for a maximum of sixty days the effective date of an automatic stay for good cause. 18 U.S.C. § 3626(e)(3). On November 2, 1999, the parties to this litigation stipulated to--and this Court so ordered--an agreement which recognizes that good cause exists to extend by sixty days the automatic stay provision.

Benjamin, 1999 WL 1225264 at *1.

Citing the need for additional time to engage in a meaningful review of the defendants' motion, and this Court's "inherent power to stay judicial orders in order to achieve equity" I concluded that the automatic stay provision of the PLRA must be suspended until such time as this Court ruled on the defendant's motion. Id., 1999 WL 1225264 at *2 (citing Hadix v. Johnson, 144 F.3d 925, 938 (6th Cir.1998)). Now having had the benefit of hindsight, I am only beginning to appreciate the complexities which the defendants' motion poses for both the litigants and the Court. Indeed, the parties expended much time and effort to marshal the facts necessary to document the conditions in the Department's many prisons, prepare witnesses, and brief the issues in an expedited

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fashion. The hearing itself spanned five days; at times, testimony stretched well into the evening hours. Post-trial briefing consumed an additional five weeks. This Court has made every effort to decide this motion as expeditiously as the circumstances allow, but in the interests of thoroughness and fairness, and in light of the massive record and the complexity of the issues, it is not until today that this decision is rendered.

On February 7, 8, and 9, and again on February 14 and 15 of this year, hearings (the "February 7th Hearings") were held on the defendants' motion to terminate judicial supervision of the City's correctional facilities. The hearings were bifurcated, with the February 7th Hearings devoted to conditions affecting restrictive housing due process, attorney visitation, inmate correspondence, and law libraries in the defendants' prisons. Beginning on May 8, 2000, this Court held hearings with respect to environmental health conditions in the Department's prisons. This decision addresses the original Consent Decrees entered into between the plaintiffs and defendants in November 1978 with respect to the following provisions: (G) Correspondence; (O) Attorney Visiting; (R) Due Process and Programs for Detainees in High Security Categories; and (AA) Law Library. ( See Stipulation for Entry of Partial Final Judgment dated November 21, 1978).

In addition to the testimony, evidence, and pleadings presented by the parties, this Court considered the written findings of OCC, the Court's independent monitor in this case. OCC was created in 1982 to act as a neutral third party to assist the defendants in achieving compliance with the Consent Decrees and related orders and to assist the parties in resolving disputes as to compliance problems. OCC was at the outset and continues to be headed by Kenneth Schoen, an expert in the field of correction and formerly the President of the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation. OCC has provided valuable services in documenting the defendants' compliance and provided the Court and the parties with regular reports assessing compliance and compliance issues. OCC has also assisted the parties in developing work plans to help bring the defendants into compliance.

President Clinton signed the PLRA into law on April 26, 1996. The Act was intended to curtail what Congress perceived to be the over involvement of federal courts in managing state prison systems pursuant to remedial orders and consent decrees. It is interesting to note that for the most part, the federal courts have served as a last resort for prison inmates, the mentally disabled, and other powerless elements in our society after conditions at institutions festered for years without remedy from the legislative or executive branches of government. Be that as it may, the Act established, inter alia, new standards for the entry and termination of "prospective relief" in civil actions concerning conditions in prisons, jails, and juvenile detention facilities. Specifically, the PLRA provides that a district court may not grant prospective relief in a prison litigation case "unless the court finds that such 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. § 3626(a)(1)(A). "Prospective Relief" is defined as "all relief other than compensatory money damages." 18 U.S.C. § 3626(g)(7), and in the case at bar, pertains to certain provisions of the consent decrees entered into in the late 1970's between the City of New York and plaintiff class of pretrial detainees. Section 3626(b)(2) of the Act also provides that any prospective relief that was ordered before the enactment of the PLRA will be immediately terminated "if the relief was approved or granted in the absence of a finding by the court that the relief" satisfies the tripartite requirements of § 3626(a)(1)(A), unless the court makes

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new "written findings based on the record that prospective relief remains necessary" and meets the Act's requirements. 18 U.S.C. § 3626(b)(3).

As this Court has observed previously, the PLRA authorizes courts to "continue to define the scope of prisoners' constitutional rights, review the factual record, apply the judicially determined constitutional standards to the facts as they are found in the record and determine what relief is necessary to remedy the constitutional violations." Benjamin III, 172 F.3d at 151-52, quoting Benjamin I, 935 F.Supp. at 351. The February 7th Hearings were held to determine the need for prospective relief in this case.

II. The Lewis v. Casey "Actual Injury" Requirement

The Supreme Court's decision in Lewis v. Casey redefined the scope of the constitutional right of access to courts. 518 U.S. 343, 349, 116 S.Ct. 2174, 135 L.Ed.2d 606 (1996). The Lewis Court repudiated the expansive understanding of its prior decision in Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 828, 97 S.Ct. 1491, 52 L.Ed.2d 72 (1977), and held that prisoners do not have a freestanding right to law libraries or legal assistance. See Lewis at 353, n. 4, 116 S.Ct. 2174. The Court found that to establish a violation of their fundamental right of access to courts, inmates, whether individuals or members of a class, must show actual injury. Id. Moreover, inmates must show "that a nonfrivolous legal claim has been frustrated or was being impeded" due to the action or inaction of prison officials. Id. at 353, 116 S.Ct. 2174.

The PLRA was enacted in order to facilitate the reduction of the federal judiciary's longstanding involvement in prison management. The requirement of showing actual injury...

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