144 F.3d 925 (6th Cir. 1998), 96-1851, Hadix v. Johnson

Docket Nº:Perry M. JOHNSON, et al., Defendants-Appellants (96-1851/1908/1943),
Citation:144 F.3d 925
Party Name:Everett HADIX, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellees, v.
Case Date:May 20, 1998
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
 
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Page 925

144 F.3d 925 (6th Cir. 1998)

Everett HADIX, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellees,

v.

Perry M. JOHNSON, et al., Defendants-Appellants (96-1851/1908/1943),

United States of America, Intervenor (96-1908/1943).

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,

v.

STATE OF MICHIGAN, et al., Defendants-Appellants (96-1907).

Nos. 96-1851, 96-1943, 96-1907 and 96-1908.

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

May 20, 1998

Argued Feb. 4, 1997.

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Susan Przekop-Shaw (argued and briefed), Michael A. Nickerson (briefed), Office of the Attorney General, Corrections Division, Lansing, MI, for Defendant-Appellant Perry Johnson in No. 96-1851.

Susan Przekop-Shaw (argued and briefed), Leo H. Friedman, Office of the Attorney General, Corrections Division, Lansing, MI, for Defendants-Appellants in Nos. 96-1907 and 96-1908.

Lisa C. Ward, Asst. Atty. Gen., Susan Przekop-Shaw (argued and briefed), Leo H. Friedman, Office of the Attorney General, Corrections Division, Lansing, MI, for Defendant-Appellant Perry Johnson in No. 96-1943.

Patricia A. Streeter (briefed), Detroit, MI, Deborah A. LaBelle (argued and briefed), Law Offices of Deborah LaBelle, Ann Arbor, MI, Michael Barnhart (briefed), Detroit, MI, for Plaintiff-Appellee Everett Hadix in No. 96-1851.

Lisa J Stark, Marie K. McElderry, (argued and briefed), Special Litigation Section, Steven H. Rosenbaum (briefed), U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Appellate Section, Washington, DC, for Plaintiff-Appellee.

Patricia A. Streeter (briefed), Detroit, MI, Elizabeth R. Alexander, Chief Staff Counsel (argued and briefed), National Prison Project, Washington, DC, Deborah A. LaBelle (argued and briefed), Law Offices of Deborah LaBelle, Ann Arbor, MI, Michael Barnhart (briefed), Detroit, MI, for Plaintiff-Appellee Everett Hadix in No. 96-1908.

Patricia A. Streeter (briefed), Detroit, MI, Deborah A. LaBelle (argued), Law Offices of Deborah LaBelle, Ann Arbor, MI, Michael Barnhart (briefed), Detroit, MI, for Plaintiff-Appellee Everett Hadix in No. 96-1943.

Marie K. McElderry (argued and briefed), U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Appellate Section, Washington, DC, for Intervenor.

Before: MARTIN, Chief Judge; NORRIS and MOORE, Circuit Judges.

MOORE, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which MARTIN, C. J., joined. NORRIS, J. (pp. 950-952), delivered a separate opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part.

OPINION

MOORE, Circuit Judge.

We are called upon in this appeal to perform the delicate task of determining whether Congress unconstitutionally encroached into matters reserved for the Judiciary in enacting the automatic stay provision of the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA" or "Act"), Pub.L. No. 104-134, 110 Stat. 1321-66 (1996), as amended by the Department of the Judiciary Appropriations Act of 1998, Pub.L. No. 105-119, § 123, 111 Stat. 2440, 2470 (1997). 18 U.S.C. § 3626(e) (as amended in 1997). Under the PLRA, the filing of a motion to terminate a prison conditions consent

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decree triggers an automatic stay of all prospective relief under the decree on the thirtieth day after the filing of the motion, or the ninetieth day after the filing should the court postpone the effective date of the automatic stay by sixty days for good cause. See 18 U.S.C. § 3626(e)(2)-(3) (as amended in 1997). The automatic stay remains effective until the court rules on the termination motion. See 18 U.S.C. § 3626(e)(2).

In these consolidated cases the Michigan Department of Corrections moved to terminate longstanding consent decrees and sought to have prospective relief under the decrees automatically stayed pending resolution of the motions. The district courts invalidated the PLRA automatic stay provision on separation-of-powers and due process grounds. During the pendency of this appeal, Congress enacted Pub.L. No. 105-119, § 123, 111 Stat. 2440, 2470 (1997), which amended the PLRA's automatic stay provision. The prisoners and the Department of Justice argue that under the amended statute Congress implicitly recognizes the inherent power of the courts to suspend the automatic stay in accordance with generally applicable equity standards, an interpretation with which the state officials disagree.

We believe the state officials' construction of the PLRA's automatic stay provision violates the separation-of-powers doctrine because under their interpretation, the automatic stay amounts to a direct legislative suspension of a judicial order and, alternatively, intrudes impermissibly into the effective functioning of the Judiciary under certain circumstances. In contrast, the reasonable construction espoused by the prisoners and the Department of Justice does not violate separation-of-powers principles. Accordingly, we hold that the PLRA automatic stay provision, as construed to permit the courts to exercise their inherent equitable powers, does not give rise to an unconstitutional incursion by Congress into the powers reserved for the Judiciary. The parties also raise several other issues that we address below, including whether the attorney fees provisions of the PLRA should apply retroactively to pre-enactment conduct.

I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

In 1980, Everett Hadix and other prisoners incarcerated at the State Prison of Southern Michigan, Central Complex ("SPSM-CC") brought a class action suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan against various state officials charged with the operation of SPSM-CC. The inmates asserted that their conditions of confinement violated their rights under the First, Eighth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments. Five years later, the parties entered into a comprehensive consent decree covering most aspects of prison life, including medical and mental health care; fire safety; sanitation; safety and hygiene; overcrowding and protection from harm; volunteers; food service; management; operations; access to courts; and mail. The Hadix consent decree specifically excluded from the decree issues concerning classification 1; due process; visitation; and access to courts as it relates to the provision of attorneys. See Joint Appendix (J.A.) # 96-1943 at 109-58. Though the state officials admitted no liability on the inmates' claims, the decree explicitly stated that it was "intended by the parties to assure the constitutionality of the conditions under which prisoners are incarcerated at SPSM-CC." J.A. # 96-1943 at 109. Under the decree's terms, the state officials could apply for termination of the decree when they were in compliance with all decree provisions. See J.A. # 96-1943 at 145. U.S. District Judge John Feikens approved the decree, ruling that it was both fair and reasonable. He has since issued several orders implementing the Hadix decree, several of which have been the subject of appeals to this court. 2

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In 1982, the United States Department of Justice 3 began an investigation of conditions in certain Michigan prisons pursuant to the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act of 1980 ("CRIPA"), 42 U.S.C. § 1997, et seq. Two years later, after extensive investigation and negotiation with Michigan officials, the Justice Department filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan against the State of Michigan and various Michigan officials alleging that conditions in five Michigan prisons (SPSM-CC, State Prison of Southern Michigan Trusty, Charles Egeler Facility, Marquette Branch Prison, and Michigan Reformatory) violated the constitutional rights of the prisoners confined therein. The issues were never adjudicated; simultaneously with the filing of the complaint, the United States tendered a proposed consent decree and a "State Plan for Compliance." The United States agreed that implementation of the State Plan for Compliance would be adequate to bring the defendants into full compliance with the consent decree. U.S. District Judge Richard A. Enslen approved a revised version of the tendered decree that covered medical and mental health care; fire safety; sanitation; safety and hygiene; crowding and protection from harm; access to courts; and legal mail. See United States v. Michigan, 680 F.Supp. 928, 955 (W.D.Mich.1987); J.A. # 96-1907 at 181-92.

In the interest of uniformity, the medical and mental health care components of the Hadix decree were transferred in 1992 and 1993 from Judge Feikens in the Eastern District to Judge Enslen in the Western District. Judge Enslen has entered several orders implementing the USA decree and his portion of the Hadix decree.

In April 1996, Congress enacted the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"), Pub.L. No. 104-134, 110 Stat. 1321-66 (1996), amending 18 U.S.C. § 3626. Enacted in part in response to criticisms that federal courts had overstepped their supervisory authority in prison conditions cases, the PLRA was specifically intended to limit the use of court-enforced consent decrees and to restrict "the ability of Federal judges to affect the capacity and conditions of prisons and jails beyond what is required by the Constitution and Federal law." See H.R.REP. NO. 104-21, at 21 (1995). Section 802(a)(1) of the Act directs that prospective relief in prison conditions cases "shall extend no further than necessary to correct the violation of the Federal right of a particular plaintiff or plaintiffs." 18 U.S.C. § 3626(a)(1). Correspondingly, § 802(b)(2) of the Act entitles the defendant "to the immediate termination of any prospective relief if the relief was approved or granted in the absence of a finding by the court...

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