642 F.2d 1129 (9th Cir. 1981), 80-4534, Wright v. Rushen

Docket Nº:80-4534.
Citation:642 F.2d 1129
Party Name:James C. WRIGHT et al., Plaintiffs-Appellees, v. Ruth RUSHEN et al., Defendants-Appellants.
Case Date:March 13, 1981
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

Page 1129

642 F.2d 1129 (9th Cir. 1981)

James C. WRIGHT et al., Plaintiffs-Appellees,


Ruth RUSHEN et al., Defendants-Appellants.

No. 80-4534.

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

March 13, 1981

Argued and Submitted Feb. 12, 1981.

Page 1130

John T. Murphy, San Francisco, Cal., for defendants-appellants.

Sanford Jay Rosen, Rosen & Remcho, San Francisco, Cal., for plaintiffs-appellees; Gary P. Reynolds, Sacramento, Cal., on brief.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of California.

Before SNEED and KENNEDY, Circuit Judges, and HEMPHILL [*], District Judge.

SNEED, Circuit Judge:

The issue is whether the district court properly issued a preliminary injunction mandating extensive changes at three California state prisons. Because we conclude that the district court did not apply the proper legal standards assessing the plaintiffs' probability of ultimate success on the merits, the entire preliminary injunction

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must be set aside. We remand the case to the district court for further proceedings consistent with our opinion.


The plaintiffs are a class of approximately 2,000 prisoners confined in administrative segregation in four California state prisons, Deuel Vocational Institution, Folsom Prison, San Quentin Prison, and Soledad Correctional Training Facility. Segregated housing within the California prisons is of various types, depending in part upon whether the inmate is considered a threat to others or a likely target for violence by his fellow inmates. The defendants are the wardens of the prisons and the California Director of Corrections. The plaintiffs sought relief on two claims. In Wright v. Enomoto, 462 F.Supp. 397 (N.D.Cal.1976), aff'd, 434 U.S. 1052, 98 S.Ct. 1223, 55 L.Ed.2d 756 (1978), a three-judge panel convened pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2281, now repealed, granted relief on the first claim. The court concluded that the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment mandated various procedural requirements concerning placement in administrative segregation.

This case involves the second claim for relief, based on the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. The plaintiffs obtained a preliminary injunction on November 3, 1980, mandating changes in the conditions of confinement at three of the prisons, Deuel, San Quentin, and Soledad. The plaintiffs did not seek preliminary injunctive relief at Folsom. The district court based its decision on declarations of inmates, psychiatrists, and prison staff, depositions of the defendants, and photographs of the prisons. In its opinion, it reviewed the physical conditions, sanitary conditions, food services, educational practices, medical services, placement and retention procedures, and the psychological impact of confinement in the administrative segregation units of the prisons. The court did not conclude that any one condition amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. Instead, relying primarily on Laaman v. Helgemoe, 437 F.Supp. 269 (D.N.H.1977), the court concluded that the totality of conditions under which the plaintiffs are confined warranted the issuance of a preliminary injunction.

The preliminary injunction is appended to this opinion. It orders six types of relief. Examples of the mandates of each part of the preliminary injunction follow. Part I addresses the physical conditions of confinement. It prohibits involuntary double-celling of inmates, an issue under review by the Supreme Court in Rhodes v. Chapman, 49 U.S.L.W. 3322 (Nov. 4, 1980), and orders the provision of numerous supplies, such as a writing surface and a shelf in each cell. Part II addresses sanitary conditions and food services. It mandates daily cleaning of showers and requires what the parties appear to agree would amount to three hot meals each day for inmates in administrative segregation rather than two hot meals and a bagged lunch. Part III primarily addresses recreational and educational programs, and requires prison officials to provide college level education courses and facilities where inmates may sit down and play table games in the exercise yards. Part IV requires that an inmate in administrative segregation be permitted to have overnight visits with his spouse unless the inmate is given a detailed written statement explaining why he is denied this privilege and afforded a hearing to contest the denial. Part V requires that medical services be the same in an administrative segregation unit as in the rest of the prison. Part VI sets standards for retention in administrative segregation, requiring a hearing at which the prison officials must demonstrate that release from administrative segregation would endanger security.

A panel of this court stayed portions of the preliminary injunction on November 30, 1980, and ordered expedited consideration of this appeal. The plaintiffs request that we dissolve the partial stay, while the defendants urge us to vacate the preliminary injunction. On February 13, 1981, following briefing and oral argument, we continued the partial stay and ordered additional

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portions of the preliminary injunction stayed. We now vacate the entire preliminary injunction.


A. The Fundamental Error of the District Court

A court issuing a preliminary injunction must consider the probable outcome of the case and the balance of hardships to the parties. To obtain a preliminary injunction a party must show either a combination of probable success on the merits and the possibility of irreparable injury or that serious questions are raised and the balance of hardships tips sharply in its favor. Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Commission v. National Football League, 634 F.2d 1197, 1201 (9th Cir. 1980); Benda v. Grand Lodge of the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers, 584 F.2d 308, 314-15 (9th Cir. 1978); Wm. Inglis & Sons Baking Co. v. ITT Continental Baking Co., 526 F.2d 86, 88 (9th Cir. 1975). The district court concluded that a preliminary injunction was warranted under the second phrasing of the test. It concluded that the plaintiffs raised serious questions as to the constitutionality of their confinement and that the balance of hardships tips sharply in favor of the inmates. Our standard of review is whether the district court abused its discretion. Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Commission, supra, 634 F.2d at 1200. But a preliminary injunction will be set aside if the district court erred in the legal standards it applied in its review of the probability of success on the merits. Id. A court lacks discretion to apply the law improperly. Benda, supra, 584 F.2d at 314.

We hold that the district court erred in its use of the "totality of conditions" approach. This error led it to fashion a remedy embracing a broad range of prison reforms rather than tailoring its remedy to ensure that the requirements of the Eighth Amendment are satisfied. It used its perception of the "totality of conditions" as a key by which the door barring access to the operation of state prison by federal courts is opened widely to the plenary supervisorial power of these courts. Properly used that perception should permit access only to correct those conditions necessary to eliminate the type of treatment condemned by the Eighth Amendment. The Supreme Court's admonition in Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 562, 99 S.Ct. 1861, 1886, 60 L.Ed.2d 447 (1979), advising courts to avoid enmeshing themselves in the minutiae of prison operations in the name of the Constitution, is relevant. 1 The Court cited with approval the Second Circuit's statement that "(a)n institution's obligation under the eighth amendment is at an end if it furnishes sentenced prisoners with adequate food, clothing, shelter, sanitation, medical care,

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and personal safety." Wolfish v. Levi, 573 F.2d 118, 125 (2d Cir. 1978), cited in 441 U.S. at 529 n.11, 99 S.Ct. at 1869 n.11.

The teaching of Wolfish, which involved a federal facility, is even more appropriate here. The district court's preliminary injunction and opinion reflects little awareness of the admonition of Wolfish. The Supreme Court again recently displayed increasing sensitivity to federal court intrusion...

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