453 U.S. 928 (1981), A-72, Graddick v. Newman

Docket Nº:No. A-72.
Citation:453 U.S. 928, 102 S.Ct. 4, 69 L.Ed.2d 1025
Party Name:Charles A. GRADDICK, Attorney General of Alabama, Applicant, v. N. H. NEWMAN et al.
Case Date:September 02, 1981
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 928

453 U.S. 928 (1981)

102 S.Ct. 4, 69 L.Ed.2d 1025

Charles A. GRADDICK, Attorney General of Alabama, Applicant,


N. H. NEWMAN et al.

No. A-72.

United States Supreme Court.

Sept. 2, 1981


Page 929

[102 S.Ct. 5] Opinion of Justice POWELL.

This case, involving an application and "reapplication" for a stay, arises in a complex and unusual procedural posture. The applicant Charles Graddick is the Attorney General of Alabama. Late on the afternoon of July 23 he applied to me as Circuit [102 S.Ct. 6] Justice to stay an order of the District Court for the Middle District of Alabama. The order arose from protracted litigation, commenced in 1971, involving conditions in the Alabama prison system. It directed release of some 400 inmates at midnight on July 24. In order to consider the issues presented, I entered a temporary stay and requested responses. I subsequently denied the application on July 25.

In his application to me as Circuit Justice, Attorney General Graddick did not claim standing as a party to the underlying prison litigation. On the contrary, he came to this Court complaining of the District Court's refusal to grant his motion to intervene in that lawsuit. He sought a stay to permit him to appeal following resolution of his claimed right of intervention.

On July 25, the order of the District Court was given effect. More than 200 prisoners were released. Despite this change in the underlying circumstances--which a "stay" would ordinarily be entered to preserve--Graddick promptly filed a "reapplication" for stay with THE CHIEF JUSTICE. THE CHIEF JUSTICE referred this "reapplication," on which we act today, to the full Court.

The "reapplication" was in fact a new application. In it Graddick for the first time claimed standing as the successor Attorney General to a party defendant dating back to the original action in 1971. If he is such a party, his motion to intervene was wholly unnecessary.

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Crediting Graddick's claim to status as a party, the Court decides today that he is still not entitled to a stay.


In view of the change in Attorney General Graddick's position and the unusual history of this case, and its resulting present posture, I write to summarize the relevant facts and to restate my reasons for concluding that Graddick is not entitled to a stay. The current controversy represents the latest chapter in protracted litigation over conditions in the Alabama prisons. The litigation involves at least three cases, consolidated by the Fifth Circuit in Newman v. Alabama, 559 F.2d 283 (CA5 1977). See Newman v. Alabama, 349 F.Supp. 278 (MD Ala.1972); Pugh v. Locke, 406 F.Supp. 318 (MD Ala.1976); James v. Wallace, 406 F.Supp. 318 (MD Ala.1976). The original lawsuits in each of the cases sought redress of alleged constitutional violations in the Alabama prisons. On more than one occasion the District Court has held specifically that the conditions in the Alabama prison system, including overcrowding, violate the rights of inmates under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. See Newman v. Alabama, supra, 349 F.Supp. 278; Pugh v. Locke, supra; James v. Wallace, supra.

In Pugh and James, the court awarded far-reaching injunctive relief, and enjoined the defendants from failing fully to implement it. But the status of various defendants has proved a recurring problem in the lawsuits. In Pugh and James the defendants included the State of Alabama; the Governor of Alabama, George C. Wallace; the Commissioner of Corrections; the Deputy Commissioner of Corrections; the Members of the Alabama Board of Corrections; the State Board of Corrections; and Wardens at various State Institutions. In Newman, the original complaint also named the Attorney General of Alabama, William J. Baxley, among those from whom relief was sought. On consolidated appeal, the Fifth Circuit upheld most of the relief prescribed in various orders of the District Court, including

Page 931

those issued in Newman v. Alabama, supra; Pugh v. Locke, supra; and James v. Wallace, supra. See Newman v. Alabama, 559 F.2d 283, supra. But it also held that certain terms of the order in Pugh and James must be modified, and it ordered dissolution of the injunction entered against Governor Wallace. This Court then granted certiorari on the limited question whether suits against the State of Alabama and the Alabama Board of Corrections were barred by the Eleventh Amendment. We held that they were. [102 S.Ct. 7] Alabama v. Pugh, 438 U.S. 781, 98 S.Ct. 3057, 57 L.Ed.2d 1114 (1978).

As a result of the decisions by this Court and by the Court of Appeals, the State of Alabama, the Governor of Alabama, and the Alabama Board of Corrections were dismissed as parties. Nonetheless, the District Court retained jurisdiction, and it continued to enter orders and decrees affecting various areas of compliance. The active defendants appear to have been the officials responsible for the management of the State's prison system. In almost none of the litigation did the Attorney General appear as a party. An exception appears to have occurred in 1977, when the then Attorney General sought to "intervene" in the District Court. The District Court denied the motion as unnecessary, noting that the Attorney General had been named as a defendant in the original complaint in Newman. Even after this motion, however, the Attorney General did not continue to participate as a party. Nor does he appear to have been named in any subsequent order of the District Court. When Attorney General Graddick moved to intervene on July 16, it was his first attempt to participate as a party to the action.

The State's principal representative in the recent litigation has been Fob James. Fob James was elected Governor of Alabama in November 1978. In February 1979, the District Court entered an order naming him as Receiver of the Alabama Prison System. The order provided that all powers, duties, and authority of the Alabama Board of Corrections were transferred to the

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Receiver. After James' appointment as Receiver, the Alabama Legislature abolished the Alabama Board of Corrections and transferred its power, duties, and authority to the Governor. See Ala.Code §§ 14-1-15, 14-1-16 (Supp.1980). Thus, both by court order and by Alabama law, responsibility for the maintenance of Alabama prisons has now rested for more than two years in Fob James.

On October 9, 1980, the District Court found, based on the agreement of the parties, that the Alabama prison system had failed to achieve compliance with standards provided in prior judicial orders. By order of that date, the court established deadlines for the achievement of certain levels of compliance. At a hearing on May 18, 1981, it was stipulated that those deadlines had not been met. On the contrary, it was established that overcrowding had grown more severe. Although the District Court took no immediate remedial action, on May 20 it ordered the Alabama Department of Corrections and the Receiver to submit a list of prisoners "least deserving of further incarceration." Having received such a list, on July 15 it entered the order at issue here, granting a writ of habeas corpus directing the release of some 400 named inmates, all of whom normally were entitled to be released no later than January 8, 1982.

At this juncture the applicant Charles A. Graddick undertook to enter the litigation. On July 16, he filed papers in the District Court seeking to intervene as a party defendant. Purporting to represent the interests of the people of the State of Alabama, he sought a stay of the order granting the writ of habeas corpus. On July 17, Governor Fob James, in his capacity as Receiver, moved to dismiss all motions filed by Attorney General Graddick. The District Court set the Attorney General's motions for hearing on August 6. But it declined to stay its order directing release of the 400 inmates on July 24. On July 22, Attorney General Graddick filed a notice of appeal with the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

Page 933

He also requested a stay pending appeal. The Court of Appeals denied the stay on July 23. Following this denial, Attorney General Graddick filed his application for a stay with me as Circuit Justice.


Our cases establish that an applicant for a stay bears a heavy burden of persuasion. "The judgment of the court below is presumed to be valid, and absent unusual circumstances we defer to the decision [102 S.Ct. 8] of that court not to stay its judgment." Wise v. Lipscomb, 434 U.S. 1329, 1333-1334, 98 S.Ct. 15, 18-19, 54 L.Ed.2d 41 (1976) (POWELL, J., in chambers). The applicant's burden is especially heavy when, as in this case, both the District Court and the Court of Appeals have declined his petitions for stay without dissent. Beame v. Friends of the Earth, 434 U.S. 1310, 1312, 98 S.Ct. 4, 6, 54 L.Ed.2d 23 (1977) (MARSHALL, J., in chambers); Board of Education v. Taylor, 82 S.Ct. 10, 10-11 (1961) (BRENNAN, J., in chambers).

To prevail on an application for stay, an applicant must make a showing of a threat of irreparable injury to interests that he properly represents. See Bailey v. Patterson, 368 U.S. 346, 346-347, 82 S.Ct. 282, 282, 7 L.Ed.2d 332 (1961) (per curiam). This requirement has two dimensions. The first, embraced by the concept of "standing," looks to the status of the party to redress the injury of which he complains. The second aspect of the inquiry involves the nature and severity of the actual or threatened harm alleged by the applicant. In acting on an application for a stay, a Circuit Justice must " 'balance the equities' ... and determine on which side the risk of irreparable injury weighs most heavily." Holtzman v. Schlesinger, 414 U.S. 1304, 1308-1309, 94 S.Ct. 1, 4, 38 L.Ed.2d 18 (1973) (MARSHALL, J., in chambers); Beame v. Friends of the Earth, supra, 434 U.S., at 1312, 98 S.Ct., at 6.

Considering that the...

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