172 F.3d 144 (2nd Cir. 1999), 96-7957, Benjamin v. Jacobson

Docket Nº:Docket No. 96-7957.
Citation:172 F.3d 144
Party Name:James BENJAMIN et al., Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. Michael JACOBSON, Commissioner of the Department of Correction of the City of New York, et al., Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:March 23, 1999
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

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172 F.3d 144 (2nd Cir. 1999)

James BENJAMIN et al., Plaintiffs-Appellants,


Michael JACOBSON, Commissioner of the Department of

Correction of the City of New York, et al.,


Docket No. 96-7957.

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

March 23, 1999

Argued en banc Feb. 25, 1998.

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John Boston, New York, New York (Daniel L. Greenberg, Sarah Kerr, Dori A. Lewis, Marta Nelson, The Legal Aid Society, Prisoners' Rights Project, New York, New York, on the brief), for Plaintiffs-Appellants.

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Lorna B. Goodman, Assistant Corporation Counsel, New York, New York (Jeffrey D. Friedlander, Acting Corporation Counsel of the City of New York, June R. Buch, Laura A. Chamberlain, Florence A. Hutner, Assistant Corporation Counsel, on the brief), for Defendants-Appellees.

Sara L. Shudofsky, Assistant United States Attorney, New York, New York (Mary Jo White, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, New York, New York, Frank W. Hunger, Assistant Attorney General, Robert M. Loeb, Attorney, Civil Division, Department of Justice, Washington, D.C., James L. Cott, Assistant United States Attorney, New York, New York, on the brief), for Intervenor United States of America.

Dennis C. Vacco, Attorney General of the State of New York, Albany, New York (Peter H. Schiff, Deputy Solicitor General, Martin A. Hotvet, Assistant Attorney General, Albany, New York; Bill Pryor, Attorney General, State of Alabama, Montgomery, Alabama; Grant Woods, Attorney General, State of Arizona, Phoenix, Arizona; Richard Blumenthal, Attorney General, State of Connecticut, Hartford, Connecticut; M. Jane Brady, Attorney General, State of Delaware, Wilmington, Delaware; Robert A. Butterworth, Attorney General, State of Florida, Tallahassee, Florida; Thurbert E. Baker, Attorney General, State of Georgia, Atlanta, Georgia; Gus F. Diaz, Acting Attorney General, Territory of Guam, Agana, Guam; Margery S. Bronster, Attorney General, State of Hawaii, Honolulu, Hawaii; James E. Ryan, Attorney General, State of Illinois, Chicago, Illinois; Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, State of Iowa, Des Moines, Iowa; Carla J. Stovall, Attorney General, State of Kansas, Topeka, Kansas; Richard P. Ieyoub, Attorney General, State of Louisiana, Baton Rouge, Louisiana; J. Joseph Curran, Jr., Attorney General, State of Maryland, Baltimore, Maryland; Scott Harshbarger, Attorney General, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Boston, Massachusetts; Frank J. Kelley, Attorney General, State of Michigan, Lansing, Michigan; Mike Moore, Attorney General, State of Mississippi, Jackson, Mississippi; Joseph P. Mazurek, Attorney General, State of Montana, Helena, Montana; Don Stenberg, Attorney General, State of Nebraska, Lincoln, Nebraska; Frankie Sue Del Papa, Attorney General, State of Nevada, Carson City, Nevada; Philip T. McLaughlin, Attorney General, State of New Hampshire, Concord, New Hampshire; Tom Udall, Attorney General, State of New Mexico, Santa Fe, New Mexico; Betty D. Montgomery, Attorney General, State of Ohio, Columbus, Ohio; D. Michael Fisher, Attorney General, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Jeffrey B. Pine, Attorney General, State of Rhode Island, Providence, Rhode Island; Jan Graham, Attorney General, State of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah; Mark F. Earley, Attorney General, Commonwealth of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia; and James E. Doyle, Attorney General, State of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin, of counsel), filed a brief for Amici Curiae States of New York, Alabama, Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Rhode Island, Utah, and Wisconsin, the Commonwealths of Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, and the Territory of Guam, in support of Defendants-Appellees.


Judge JACOBS concurs in the majority opinion, and files a separate opinion joined by Chief Judge WINTER and Judges KEARSE, JOHN M. WALKER, Jr., McLAUGHLIN, JOSEE CABRANES, and PARKER.

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Judge LEVAL concurs in all but Part II.A. of the majority opinion, and files a separate opinion joined by Judge OAKES and joined in part by Judge CALABRESI.

Judge CALABRESI concurs in the result, and files a separate opinion.

KEARSE, Circuit Judge, with whom Chief Judge WINTER, and Judges WALKER, McLAUGHLIN, JACOBS, CABRANES, and PARKER join, and with whom Judges OAKES and LEVAL join except for Part II.A.:

Plaintiffs James Benjamin et al., who are pretrial detainees, appealed from an order of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, Harold Baer, Jr., Judge, entered pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 ("PLRA" or the "Act"), Pub L. No. 104-134, 110 Stat. 1321-66 §§ 801-810 (1996), codified at 18 U.S.C. § 3626 (Supp. II 1996); see also 18 U.S.C.A. §§ 3626(b)(3), (e)(2), (e)(3) (West Supp.1998), vacating certain consent decrees entered in 1978 and 1979 (the "Consent Decrees" or the "Decrees") in actions brought by classes of pretrial detainees against defendant officials of the City of New York (collectively the "City") to challenge the conditions of confinement of persons held in City institutions awaiting trial or other disposition of criminal charges. The district court rejected plaintiffs' challenges to the constitutionality of the PLRA's provision requiring the termination of consent decrees not meeting criteria set by the Act, vacated the Consent Decrees, and dissolved the injunctions that had been entered pursuant to the Decrees. See Benjamin v. Jacobson, 935 F.Supp. 332 (1996) ("Benjamin I "). A unanimous panel of this Court upheld the district court's rejection of the constitutional challenges but reversed the vacatur of the Decrees, ruling that the Act does not call for the termination of consent decrees not meeting the requirements of the Act, but merely limits the power of federal courts to enforce those decrees and leaves the decrees intact and enforceable in state courts. See Benjamin v. Jacobson, 124 F.3d 162 (1997) ("Benjamin II "). On en banc reconsideration, we conclude that the PLRA requires the termination of consent decrees that do not meet the criteria established by the Act; that that provision does not violate the constitutional principle of separation of powers or infringe the due process, equal protection, and other constitutional rights invoked by plaintiffs; and that plaintiffs should be afforded an opportunity to show that, under the Act's criteria, the continuation of prospective relief is warranted. We therefore vacate the decision of the panel; we affirm in part and reverse in part the order of the district court and remand for further proceedings.


This action comprises seven related class actions brought during the mid-1970s by pretrial detainees in certain New York City jails, alleging that conditions of their confinement violated their constitutional rights. See Benjamin v. Malcolm, 75 Civ. 3073 (S.D.N.Y.) (Rikers Island House of Detention for Men, now called the James A. Thomas Center); Forts v. Malcolm, 76 Civ. 101 (S.D.N.Y.) (Rikers Island Correctional Institution for Women, now called the Rose M. Singer Center); Ambrose v. Malcolm, 76 Civ. 190 (S.D.N.Y.) (Bronx House of Detention for Men); Maldonado v. Ciuros, 76 Civ. 2854 (S.D.N.Y.) (Rikers Island Adolescent Reception and Detention Center); Detainees of the Brooklyn House of Detention for Men v. Malcolm, 79 Civ. 4913 (E.D.N.Y.); Detainees of the Queens House of Detention for Men v. Malcolm, 79 Civ. 4914 (E.D.N.Y.); Rosenthal v. Malcolm, 74 Civ. 4854 (S.D.N.Y.) (Rikers Island Adult Mental Health Unit). The Consent Decrees were designed "to ensure that prison conditions became and remained safe and humane." Benjamin I, 935 F.Supp. at 337. The Decrees, inter alia,

ensure that detainee mail and property are handled properly, and that procedures

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in concert with constitutional protections are followed during detainee cell and body searches. On an institutional level, the Consent Decrees seek to maintain the physical plant of the jails in a condition safe for human habitation. They mandate that attention be given to vermin and insect control, sanitation, maintenance and refuse removal. Other provisions govern food services to the detainees and ensure that the detainees are adequately fed while in custody, with food that is prepared and served in a sanitary environment.

Id. As noted in Benjamin II, "[t]hese decrees have generated a judicially administered structure comprising over ninety related court orders and extending to more than thirty discrete areas of prison administration." 124 F.3d at 165.

  1. The PLRA and the Proceedings in the District Court

    Effective April 26, 1996, Congress enacted the PLRA which, inter alia, provides that in civil actions arising under federal law challenging conditions in prisons (including pretrial detention facilities) "prospective relief" may not be granted in the absence of certain findings:

    [p]rospective 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. The court shall not grant or approve any prospective relief 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. The court shall give substantial weight to any adverse impact on public safety or the operation of a criminal justice system caused by the relief.

    18 U.S.C....

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