220 F.3d 987 (9th Cir. 2000), 98-15160, Gilmore v. People of California

Docket Nº:98-15160 & 98-15198
Citation:220 F.3d 987
Party Name:ROBERT O. GILMORE, JR., and INMATES of San Quentin State Prison, Plaintiffs-Appellants, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Intervenor, v. PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA, Defendant-Appellee. No. 98-15198 MAURICE THOMPSON; CHARLES A. GREEN; JOHN GZIKOWSKI; KEITH D. WILLIAMS; RONALD E. LANPHEAR; CHOL SOO LEE; ANDREW E. ROBERTSON, individually and on behalf
Case Date:August 04, 2000
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
 
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Page 987

220 F.3d 987 (9th Cir. 2000)

ROBERT O. GILMORE, JR., and INMATES of San Quentin State Prison, Plaintiffs-Appellants,

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Intervenor,

v.

PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA, Defendant-Appellee.

No. 98-15198

MAURICE THOMPSON; CHARLES A. GREEN; JOHN GZIKOWSKI; KEITH D. WILLIAMS; RONALD E. LANPHEAR; CHOL SOO LEE; ANDREW E. ROBERTSON, individually and on behalf of others similarly situated, Plaintiffs-Appellants,

v.

JIRO J. ENOMOTO, (former Director, California Department of Corrections; current Director James Rowland); GEORGE W. SUMNER, Warden, California State Prison at San Quentin, Defendants-Appellees.

Nos. 98-15160 & 98-15198

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

August 4, 2000

Argued and Submitted November 4, 1999

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In Gilmore v. California: Donald Specter, Prison Law Office, San Quentin, California, for the plaintiffs-appellants.

Dianne de Kercor, Deputy Attorney General, San Francisco, California, for the defendants-appellees.

In Thompson v. Gomez: Donald Specter, Prison Law Office, San Quentin, California, for the plaintiffs-appellants.

Appeals from the United States District Court for the Northern District of California; Susan Illston and Charles A. Legge, District Judges, Presiding; D.C. No. CV-66-45878-SI, CV-79-01630-CAL

Before: Myron Bright1, Betty B. Fletcher and David R. Thompson, Circuit Judges.

Dianne de Kercor, Deputy Attorney General, San Francisco, California, for the defendants-appellees.

B. FLETCHER, Circuit Judge:

In these consolidated appeals, we are asked to determine the constitutionality of provisions of the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 ("PLRA"), Pub. L. 104-134, 110 Stat. 1321-66 (Apr. 26, 1996), that require termination of prospective relief in prison conditions cases. This is not the first occasion we have had to address the constitutionality of these provisions,2 nor are we the first circuit to be presented with this question.3 Although we follow our sister circuits in holding the termination provisions constitutional, we do so on grounds that are at once less sweeping a deviation from prior case law on the equitable discretion of courts in prison conditions litigation, and closer, we believe, to the text of the statute.

I. BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

A. The Hands-Off Doctrine

In order to understand how the PLRA operates, a sense of the context from which it emerged is helpful. Litigation over prison conditions is a relatively recent

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addition to the landscape of federal jurisdiction. As one commentator has observed, "The Constitution did not breach prison walls for over 170 years. Indeed, during most of the history of this country, there was some question as to whether prisoners had any constitutional rights at all." Michael Mushlin, RIGHTS OF PRISONERS S 1.02, at 7 (2d ed. 1993). According to a now renowned formulation, prisoners were mere "slaves of the state." Ruffin v. Commonwealth, 62 Va. (21 Gratt) 790, 796 (1871)4.

Although asked to intervene on behalf of prisoners, federal courts systematically declined under the so-called "hands-off doctrine," a rule of judicial quiescence derived from federalism and separation of powers concerns. As our court once held, "it is well settled that it is not the function of the courts to superintend the treatment and discipline of prisoners in penitentiaries, but only to deliver from imprisonment those who are illegally confined." Stroud v. Swope , 187 F.2d 850, 851-52 (9th Cir.), cert. denied, 342 U.S. 829 (1951); accord Sarshik v. Sanford, 142 F.2d 676 (5th Cir. 1944); Kelly v. Dowd, 140 F.2d 81, 82 (7th Cir. 1944). And as the Supreme Court summed up the doctrine:

Traditionally, federal courts have adopted a broad hands-off attitude toward problems of prison administration. In part this policy is the product of various limitations on the scope of federal review of conditions in the state penal institutions. More fundamentally, this attitude springs from complementary perceptions about the nature of the problems and the efficacy of judicial intervention. Prison administrators are responsible for maintaining internal order and discipline, for securing their institutions against unauthorized access or escape, and for rehabilitating, to the extent that human nature and inadequate resources allow, the inmates placed in their custody. The Herculean obstacles to effective discharge of these duties are too apparent to warrant explication. Suffice it to say that the problems of prisons in America are complex and intractable, and, more to the point, they are not readily susceptible of resolution by decree. Most require expertise, comprehensive planning, and the commitment of resources, all of which are peculiarly within the province of the legislative branches of government . . . . Moreover, where state penal institutions are involved, federal courts have a further reason for deference to the appropriate prison authorities.

Procunier v. Martinez, 416 U.S. 396, 404-05 (1974), overruled in part, Thornburgh v. Abbott, 490 U.S. 401, 413-14 (1989).

However, in landmark cases in the 1960's and 1970's the Supreme Court changed course, affirming the basic proposition that "[t]here is no iron curtain drawn between the Constitution and the prisons of this country," Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 555-56 (1974), and ratifying the availability of 42 U.S.C. S 1983 as a vehicle for vindicating prisoners' constitutional rights. See Cooper v. Pate, 378 U.S. 546 (1964) (reversing dismissal of S 1983 claim challenging discrimination on the basis of prisoner's religious beliefs). The concept of judicial restraint was not jettisoned, just relaxed enough to permit courts to intervene in the event that prison administrators abridge fundamental constitutional rights. As the Court observed in Procunier v. Martinez, "a policy of judicial restraint cannot encompass any failure to take cognizance of valid constitutional claims whether arising in a federal or state institution. When a

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prison regulation or practice offends a fundamental constitutional guarantee, federal courts will discharge their duty to protect constitutional rights. " 416 U.S. at 405-06 (citing Johnson v. Avery, 393 U.S. 483, 486 (1969))5.

In the litigation which gave rise to and followed these pronouncements on prisoners' rights,

[c]lass-action suits by prisoners . . . led the courts to the definition and enforcement of minimum standards of health care, to the establishment of minimum procedural due-process requirements for the imposition of disciplinary punishments, to the equal protection of the laws for different categories of inmates, and to the upholding of the Eighth Amendment guarantee against cruel and unusual punishments.

Norval Morris, The Contemporary Prison: 1865-Present, in THE OXFORD HISTORY OF THE PRISON 245 (Norval Morris & David J. Rothman eds., 1995); see also Wolff, 418 U.S. at 556 (citing decisions recognizing rights of religious freedom under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, right of access to the courts under the Due Process Clause, protection against racial discrimination under the Equal Protection Clause, and other due process rights). And prison conditions undoubtedly have improved as a result6

B. Gilmore

The Gilmore case is among the first generation of prison conditions cases in which the Supreme Court recognized and enforced minimum constitutional guarantees in the prison setting. The case began as a consolidation of numerous actions filed by prisoners in facilities administered by the California Department of Corrections ("CDC"). See Gilmore v. Lynch, 319 F.Supp. 105, n.* (N.D. Cal. 1970) (citing 25

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consolidated cases), on remand from, Gilmore v. Lynch, 400 F.2d 228, 231 (9th Cir. 1968) (reversing district court's determination that case did not present substantial question of constitutional law requiring consideration by three-judge court under 28 U.S.C. S 2281). Collectively, the prisoners challenged regulations of the CDC restricting access to law books, legal materials, and lay assistance in preparing filings. Against the state attorney general's assertion that "the provision of law books in prison libraries is a matter of governmental grace, i.e., a privilege to be withheld or conditioned as the State chooses," plaintiffs claimed that the regulations "den[ied] indigent prisoners, and their jailhouse lawyers, the legal expertise which is necessary if access to the courts by these persons is to be in any way meaningful." Gilmore, 319 F.Supp. at 108.

Observing that the due process right of reasonable access to the courts "encompasses all the means a defendant or petitioner might require to get a fair hearing from the judiciary on all charges brought against him or grievances alleged by him," the court found that the CDC regulations "offer meager fare to a criminal lawyer." Id. at 110. As the court elaborated:

There are no annotated codes, no United States Reports, no Federal Reports, no California Reports. There are unannotated versions of four of California's codes, but there is no copy of any part of the United States Code. There are copies of the rules of [sic] California and certain federal courts, but there is no edition of the Rules of the Federal District Courts which receive a great many of the habeas corpus petitions, and all of the civil rights petitions, filed by California prisoners. There is one copy of Witkin's treatise on California criminal procedure, but there are no other law books or journals . . . on the list.

Id.; see also id. at 107 n.2 (noting that the regulation ordered "all existing law books and references...

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