122 F.3d 1081 (8th Cir. 1997), 96-3746, Gavin v. Branstad

Docket Nº:96-3746, 96-3748.
Citation:122 F.3d 1081
Party Name:Michael Patrick GAVIN, in his own behalf and on behalf of all others similarly situated; Ed Clark, in his own behalf and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs-Appellees, v. Terry BRANSTAD; Charles Palmer; Walter Kautzky; Herb Maschner; John Emmett; Larry Moline; Charles Naugling; Steven Korb; Mike Foehring; John Fullenkamp; Eldon D
Case Date:August 05, 1997
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
 
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Page 1081

122 F.3d 1081 (8th Cir. 1997)

Michael Patrick GAVIN, in his own behalf and on behalf of

all others similarly situated; Ed Clark, in his

own behalf and on behalf of all others

similarly situated, Plaintiffs-Appellees,

v.

Terry BRANSTAD; Charles Palmer; Walter Kautzky; Herb

Maschner; John Emmett; Larry Moline; Charles Naugling;

Steven Korb; Mike Foehring; John Fullenkamp; Eldon

Degrange; Fred Cole; Ron Meyers; Charles Free; Randy

Martin, Defendants-Appellants,

United States of America, Intervenor Defendant.

Michael Patrick GAVIN, in his own behalf and on behalf of

all others similarly situated; Ed Clark, in his

own behalf and on behalf of all others

similarly situated, Plaintiffs-Appellees,

v.

Terry BRANSTAD; Charles Palmer; Walter Kautzky; Herb

Maschner; John Emmett; Larry Moline; Charles Naugling;

Steven Korb; Mike Foehring; John Fullenkamp; Eldon

Degrange; Fred Cole; Ron Meyers; Charles Free; Randy

Martin, Defendants,

United States of America, Intervenor Defendant-Appellant.

Nos. 96-3746, 96-3748.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

August 5, 1997

Submitted May 21, 1997.

Rehearing and Suggestion for Rehearing En Banc Denied Oct. 7, 1997.

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Gordon E. Allen, Deputy Attorney General for the State of Iowa, Des Moines, IA, argued, for appellant Terry Branstad, et al., in No. 96-3746.

John C. Hoyle, U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Division, Washington, DC, argued, for appellant in No. 96-3748.

Barbara A. Schwartz, Iowa City, IA, argued, for appellee.

Before BOWMAN, WOLLMAN and MORRIS SHEPPARD ARNOLD, Circuit Judges.

BOWMAN, Circuit Judge.

In this long-running prison lawsuit, the District Court declared the "immediate termination" provisions of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 18 U.S.C.A. § 3626(b)(2)-(3) (West Supp.1997), unconstitutional. After careful consideration, we conclude that these provisions do not exceed Congress's constitutional authority. Accordingly, we reverse the District Court's order and remand for further proceedings.

I.

In 1978, inmates in disciplinary segregation at the Iowa State Prison in Fort Madison, Iowa brought this class action to challenge the constitutionality of the conditions of their confinement. They named as defendants a number of Iowa state officials, 1 to whom we will refer collectively as "the

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State." After several years of discovery and negotiation, the parties reached a settlement agreement and presented it to the District Court for approval. In June 1984, the court approved the agreement, which contained detailed regulations governing a number of areas of prison life, and the court ordered the parties to comply with the terms of the agreement. The court retained jurisdiction to enforce the terms of the agreement. Four years later, the court approved a supplement to the settlement agreement; the supplement concerned primarily library facilities at the prison. The court ordered compliance with the terms of the supplement and retained jurisdiction to enforce those terms. The parties agree that the settlement agreement and its supplement together constitute a consent decree, and we will refer to it as such.

On April 26, 1996, the President signed into law the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), Pub.L. No. 104-134, tit. VIII, 110 Stat. 1321-66 to -77 (1996). Section 802(a) of the PLRA, codified at 18 U.S.C.A. § 3626 (West Supp.1997), governs remedies in civil actions with respect to prison conditions. The particular provisions at issue in this case read as follows:

(2) 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 [of a particular plaintiff or plaintiffs], and is the least intrusive means necessary to correct the violation of the Federal right.

(3) Limitation.--Prospective relief shall not terminate if the court makes written findings based on the record that prospective relief remains necessary to correct a current or 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.A. § 3626(b)(2)-(3). 2 "Prospective relief" is defined broadly to include all relief other than compensatory damages; it expressly includes consent decrees. See id. § 3626(g)(7), (9). Congress specifically provided that § 3626 applies to all prospective relief, whether granted before or after the enactment of the PLRA. See PLRA § 802(b)(1), 110 Stat. at 1321-70 (codified as note to 18 U.S.C.A. § 3626).

Three weeks after the PLRA was enacted, the State filed a motion to terminate prospective relief in this case. The prisoners responded by challenging the constitutionality of the PLRA, arguing that the immediate termination provisions violate principles of separation of powers, equal protection, and due process. The United States intervened, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2403(a) (1994), to defend the constitutionality of the statute. The District Court acknowledged that when it approved the consent decree in 1984, it did not find that the relief was narrowly drawn or the least intrusive means necessary to protect the prisoners' rights. Accordingly, if the statute is not unconstitutional, the District Court would be required to terminate prospective relief in this case unless the court were to find, pursuant to § 3626(b)(3), that the relief remains necessary and is narrowly drawn.

The District Court did not reach the question whether relief remains necessary to correct ongoing violations of federal rights and is narrowly drawn. Instead, the court denied the State's motion to terminate relief, holding that the immediate termination provisions of the PLRA violate the principle of separation of powers by requiring federal courts to reopen final judgments. See Gavin v. Ray, No. 4-78-CV70062, 1996 WL 622556, at * 4 (S.D.Iowa Sept. 18, 1996). 3 The court

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certified its order for interlocutory appeal pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b) (1994), and we granted the State and the United States permission to appeal.

II.

The prisoners ask us to strike down the immediate termination provisions of the PLRA on constitutional grounds only. 4 We turn first to the separation-of-powers arguments. The prisoners make the same two related arguments under the rubric of the separation of powers that have been considered by other courts in similar cases: (1) the PLRA represents a congressional effort to reopen final judgments of Article III courts, and (2) Congress has impermissibly attempted to prescribe a rule of decision in pending cases.

A.

The first of these arguments is definitely the meatier, and it is framed by two Supreme Court decisions from different centuries: Plaut v. Spendthrift Farm, Inc., 514 U.S. 211, 115 S.Ct. 1447, 131 L.Ed.2d 328 (1995), and Pennsylvania v. Wheeling & Belmont Bridge Co., 59 U.S. (18 How.) 421, 15 L.Ed. 435 (1856) (Wheeling II).

Plaut involved Congress's reaction to the Supreme Court's earlier decision in Lampf, Pleva, Lipkind, Prupis & Petigrow v. Gilbertson, 501 U.S. 350, 111 S.Ct. 2773, 115 L.Ed.2d 321 (1991), in which the Court adopted a uniform national limitations period for civil actions under § 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. After Lampf was decided, a number of § 10(b) actions were dismissed as untimely, and Plaut's case was among them. Plaut did not appeal the dismissal. Some months later, Congress enacted a complicated statute that rejected the Lampf holding for cases filed before Lampf was decided and effectively required a court to reinstate a § 10(b) action on the motion of the plaintiff if the action would have been considered timely under the applicable law as of the day before Lampf was decided. The Supreme Court distilled from prior cases the principle that Article III grants the federal courts "the power, not merely to rule on cases, but to decide them, subject to review only by superior courts in the Article III hierarchy." Plaut, 514 U.S. at 218-19, 115 S.Ct. at 1452-53. The Court concluded that "[b]y retroactively commanding the federal courts to reopen final judgments, Congress has violated this fundamental principle." Id. at 219, 115 S.Ct. at 1453. The Court was careful to distinguish the situation in which Congress enacts a law with retroactive effect while a case is still on appeal, recognizing that, in that instance, the appellate court must apply the new law.

Within that hierarchy [of Article III courts], the decision of an inferior court is not (unless the time for appeal has expired) the final word of the [judicial] department as a whole. It is the obligation of the last court in the hierarchy that rules on the case to give effect to Congress's latest enactment, even when that has the effect of overturning the judgment of an inferior court, since each court, at every level, must "decide according to existing laws." Having achieved finality, however, a judicial decision becomes the last word of the judicial department with regard to a particular case or controversy, and Congress

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may not declare by retroactive legislation that the law applicable to that very case was something other than what the courts said it was.

Id. at 227, 115 S.Ct. at 1457 (citation omitted).

Wheeling II was the second installment in an original action brought by...

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