178 F.3d 437 (7th Cir. 1999), 97-3075, French v. Duckworth

Docket Nº:97-3075
Citation:178 F.3d 437
Opinion Judge:Diane P. Wood, Circuit Judge.
Party Name:RICHARD A. FRENCH, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellees, v. JACK R. DUCKWORTH, et al., Defendants-Appellants, and UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Intervenor-Appellant
Attorney:For RICHARD A. FRENCH, MORRIS E. DOZIER, MARTIN W. BRADBERRY, HENRY C. JENNINGS, Plaintiffs - Appellees: Hamid R. Kashani, Indianapolis, IN USA. Kenneth J. Falk, INDIANA CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION, Indianapolis, IN USA. For JACK R. DUCKWORTH, Defendant - Appellant: Jon B. Laramore, OFFICE OF THE ATTOR...
Judge Panel:Before FLAUM, ROVNER, and DIANE P. WOOD, Circuit Judges. EASTERBROOK, Circuit Judge, with whom POSNER, Chief Judge, and MANION, Circuit Judge, join, dissenting from the denial of rehearing en banc. Easterbrook, Circuit Judge, with whom Posner, Chief Judge, and Manion, Circuit Judge, join, dissent...
Case Date:May 06, 1999
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
 
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Page 437

178 F.3d 437 (7th Cir. 1999)

RICHARD A. FRENCH, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellees,

v.

JACK R. DUCKWORTH, et al., Defendants-Appellants, and UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Intervenor-Appellant

No. 97-3075

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

May 6, 1999 [*]

Argued April 6, 1998

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division. No. IP 75-677-C-S. Hugh Dillin, Judge.

For RICHARD A. FRENCH, MORRIS E. DOZIER, MARTIN W. BRADBERRY, HENRY C. JENNINGS, Plaintiffs - Appellees: Hamid R. Kashani, Indianapolis, IN USA. Kenneth J. Falk, INDIANA CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION, Indianapolis, IN USA.

For JACK R. DUCKWORTH, Defendant - Appellant: Jon B. Laramore, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL, Indianapolis, IN USA.

For BRUCE LEMMON, EDWARD L. COHN, Defendants - Appellants: David A. Arthur, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL, Indianapolis, IN USA.

For UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Intervenor: Margo Schlanger, DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Washington, DC.

Before FLAUM, ROVNER, and DIANE P. WOOD, Circuit Judges. EASTERBROOK, Circuit Judge, with whom POSNER, Chief Judge, and MANION, Circuit Judge, join, dissenting from the denial of rehearing en banc.

OPINION

Page 438

Diane P. Wood, Circuit Judge.

This case began almost three decades ago when inmates at what is now the Pendleton Correctional Facility in Indiana filed a class action against the state claiming that certain conditions at the prison violated their constitutional rights. They obtained some of the relief they sought in an injunction that was affirmed by this court in French v. Owens, 777 F.2d 1250, 1258 (7th Cir. 1985), and the prison has operated under that injunction, as modified from time to time, ever since. The present action arose when the State of Indiana decided to take advantage of the 1996 Prison Litigation Reform Act (" PLRA" ) and petition to terminate the injunction. The merits of that effort, however, are not before us at this time. Instead, we must decide whether the so-called " automatic stay" provision of the PLRA, codified at 18 U.S.C. § 3626(e)(2), applies, and if it does, whether it is constitutional.

I

A

In order to place this case in context, we begin with a brief description of the PLRA

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as it affects injunctions addressing prison conditions. The part of the statute with which we are concerned addresses the subject of " appropriate remedies with respect to prison conditions." 18 U.S.C. § 3626. Subpart (a)(1) provides that a federal court must limit prospective relief with respect to prison conditions in a variety of ways:

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.

18 U.S.C. § 3626(a)(1).

Recognizing that many institutions are already operating under existing injunctions, the statute also provides a way for the prison authorities to bring their federally imposed obligations into line with the limitations of § 3626(a)(1). Part (b) sets out a road map for the termination of prospective relief that has either outlived its usefulness, or that violates the (a)(1) conditions. Under the authority of § 3626(b)(1), prospective relief is terminable upon motion of any party or intervenor within two years after the court granted the relief (or two years after the date of enactment of the PLRA), or one year after the court denied a request to terminate relief. Subpart (b)(2), which has come to be known as the " immediate termination" provision of the statute, establishes the defendant's or intervenor's right to relief. Because this is the basis for the state's petition, we set it out in its entirety:

(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, and is the least intrusive means necessary to correct the violation of the Federal right.

18 U.S.C. § 3626(b)(2). Hard on the heels of this provision is another that sets forth an exception to the entitlement to " immediate" termination:

(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 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). Part (c) of the PLRA addresses settlements, basically saying that a court may not enter a settlement in the form of a consent decree unless the settlement conforms to the statutory limitations, but that the parties are free to conclude any private settlement agreement they wish, as long as that agreement is not directly enforceable by the court (other than by reinstatement of the case). Part (d) makes clear that the PLRA's limitations do not apply to relief entered by a state court based solely upon claims arising under state law.

Finally (for our purposes) is the automatic stay provision, part (e). It begins innocuously enough in subpart (e)(1), by calling for the court to rule promptly on any motion to modify or terminate prospective relief. The problems arise with subpart (e)(2), which provides as follows:

(2) Automatic stay.--Any motion to modify or terminate prospective relief made under subsection (b) shall operate as a stay during the period--

(A)(i) beginning on the 30th day after such motion is filed, in the case of a motion made under paragraph (1) or (2) of subsection (b); or (ii) beginning on the 180th day after such motion is filed in the case of a Page 440

motion made under any other law; and

(B) ending on the date the court enters a final order ruling on the motion.

18 U.S.C. § 3626(e)(2). Since 1997, it has been possible for the court to order a modest extension of time before the automatic stay goes into effect, if the court takes advantage of subpart (e)(3):

( 3) Postponement of automatic stay.--The court may postpone the effective date of an automatic stay specified in subsection (e)(2)(A) for not more than 60 days for good cause. No postponement shall be permissible because of general congestion of the court's calendar.

18 U.S.C. § 3626(e)(3). See Pub. L. No. 105-119, § 123, 11 Stat. 2440, 2470 (1997) (adding this language). Finally, under subpart (e)(4) the statute expressly provides that an order " staying, suspending, delaying, or barring the operation of the automatic stay described in paragraph (2)" other than the orders authorized by subpart (e)(3) may be appealed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1292(a)(1).

B

With that background in mind, we now turn to what happened in this case. On June 5, 1997, Warden Jack R. Duckworth of the Pendleton Correctional Facility, along with Indiana officials Bruce Lemmon and Edward L. Conn. (to whom we refer collectively as the state), filed a Motion to Terminate Decree, relying on § 3626(b)(1)(A) and (b)(2). In response, on June 30, 1997, the prisoner class (" the prisoners" ) filed a Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order or Preliminary Injunction, in which they asked the court to stay the automatic stay provision of § 3626(e)(2), which they described in paragraph 2 of their motion. They also filed a memorandum in support of the motion, in which they addressed the four standards that normally govern the issuance of a preliminary injunction: (a) likelihood of success on their argument that the automatic stay provision of § 3626(e)(2) would be found unconstitutional; (b) irreparable harm to the prisoners if the " automatic termination" took effect; (c) lack of harm to the defendants if the " automatic termination" was stayed; and (d) the public interest. The prisoners' memorandum concluded with a request that " the Court should enter a temporary restraining order or a preliminary injunction staying the operation of the automatic termination provision of the PLRA." On the same day, the prisoners also filed a separate Response to Defendants' Motion to Terminate Decree, in which they set forth their position that the termination provisions of § § 3626(b)(2) and (b)(3) are unconstitutional.

On July 3, 1997, the district court granted the temporary restraining order the prisoners had requested and scheduled a hearing on July 10 for fuller consideration of the preliminary injunction motion. On July 11, following the hearing, the district court entered an order converting the TRO into a preliminary injunction. The state has now appealed from that July 11 order.

Our review of the district court's actions is complicated by the fact that the court's orders granting the TRO and preliminary injunction can be read as confusing the § 3626(e)(2) automatic stay provision with the § 3626(b)(2) immediate termination provision. (This confusion seems to have originated with the parties themselves. We note that although the prisoners sought to stay the " automatic termination" provision, there is no such thing in the PLRA. There is one section providing for immediate termination, and another requiring an automatic stay.) Even though the prisoners had not asked for a TRO against the (b)(2) immediate termination provision, the July 3 order recites that it " enjoins and prohibits the automatic termination [sic] provision of the Prison Litigation...

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