712 F.Supp. 550 (E.D.Mich. 1989), Civ. A. 80-73581, Hadix v. Johnson

Docket Nº:Civ. A. 80-73581
Citation:712 F.Supp. 550
Party Name:Hadix v. Johnson
Case Date:April 21, 1989
Court:United States District Courts, 6th Circuit

Page 550

712 F.Supp. 550 (E.D.Mich. 1989)

Everett HADIX, et al., Plaintiffs,


Perry JOHNSON, et al., Defendants.

Civ. A. No. 80-73581.

United States District Court, D. Michigan

April 21, 1989

Page 551

Patricia A. Streeter, Michael J. Barnhart, Detroit, Mich., for plaintiffs.

Thomas C. Nelson, Asst. Atty. Gen., Corrections Div., Lansing, Mich., for defendants.


FEIKENS, District Judge.

Before me is Plaintiff's Motion to Clarify Section VI, Paragraph 13, of the consent judgment entered in this case on May 13, 1985. The consent judgment settled the large portion of a class action brought against the Michigan Department of Corrections (Department). The plaintiff class consists of inmates who are now or in the future will be confined at the Central Complex of the State Prison of Southern Michigan. The consent judgment, some forty pages in length, has twelve sections covering various aspects of prison life including such areas as sanitation, fire safety, overcrowding and protection of inmates from harm, use of volunteers, prison management, inmate legal mail, compliance and inspection procedures and access to the courts. 1

Section VI, Paragraph 13 (paragraph 13), concerns class members' rights to possess and store legal papers and law books in their cells. It reads as follows:

Any property limitation imposed on prisoners shall not apply to legal papers and law books except that if the quantity thereof conflicts with important institutional goals such as security or fire safety, a limitation may be sought through the administrative hearing process. The standard for imposition of a limitation shall be whether the material in question is reasonably necessary to assist the prisoner with respect to his pending litigation.

Consent Judgment, Section VI, Paragraph 13.

Plaintiffs' motion challenges the Department's use of a blanket standard, the "one footlocker rule," to determine the existence of a security or fire safety hazard. 2 It also seeks clarification of the procedures and standards to be applied to the administrative hearings required by paragraph 13.

I conclude that the one footlocker rule is not inconsistent with the consent judgment and that the Department may seize excess

Page 552

legal material prior to completing an administrative hearing. I find, however, that the Department has not conducted the required administrative hearings in accordance with paragraph 13. Therefore, I establish procedures for conducting future hearings.

I. Legal Framework

Before addressing plaintiffs' contentions, I set forth the legal framework. A consent decree is considered to be a contract between the parties. Thus, it has been held that a consent decree, like a contract, must be construed within its four corners. United States v. Armour & Co., 402 U.S. 673, 681-82, 91 S.Ct. 1752, 1757-58, 29 L.Ed.2d 256 (1971). The words of a consent decree, like any writing, have meaning only in the context in which they are written. The court must look to the circumstances under which a contract was formed, and the purposes to be served by it, to determine its proper construction. See Corbin, Contracts, Section 542. Moreover, a consent judgment is a judgment of the court which the court has broad authority to enforce. United States v. City of Detroit, 476 F.Supp. 512, 520 (E.D.Mich.1979) (Feikens, J.) (court has broad range of equitable powers to enforce its judgments).

This is particularly true given the complex consent judgment here. Its execution is to occur over a period of years. Paragraph 5 of the introduction recites that I have retained jurisdiction to enforce the consent judgment. Several of its sections require periodic submissions to the court. Section XI, entitled "Compliance," sets forth detailed provisions establishing my role in monitoring compliance and in settling compliance disputes. The parties have established an expanded role for the court to fulfill the objectives of the consent judgment. Therefore, I must have "a degree of flexibility in enforcement of the judgment that does not result in a modification; the flexibility is within 'the four corners' rule of Armour because the consent judgment itself provides for it." N.Y.S. Ass'n For Retarded Children v. Carey, 596 F.2d 27, 37 (CA2 1979), cert. denied sub nom. Coughlin, Commissioner, New York State Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, et al. v. New York State Association for Retarded Children, Inc., et al., 444 U.S. 836, 100 S.Ct. 70, 62 L.Ed.2d 46 (1979).

II. One Footlocker Rule

Plaintiffs maintain that the Department may not apply a blanket rule when determining whether a prisoner's legal materials pose a threat to security or fire safety. I do not agree. The State of Michigan, through the Department, has the sole responsibility to determine what conditions within its prison system threaten security or fire safety. Hadix v. Johnson, No. 86-1701, slip op. at 14 (CA6 March 17, 1988) [842 F.2d 331 (table) ]. The Department has chosen to fulfill this responsibility by establishing a standard applicable to all prisoners, the "one footlocker rule." The Department's approach is neither unreasonable nor unduly burdensome to prisoners' right of access to the courts.

At the evidentiary hearing conducted on this motion, Dr. Richard Hinds, the Department's fire safety expert, testified that legal materials chiefly threaten fire safety. There are two necessary conditions to a fire: a source of ignition, and fuel. Paper, legal or otherwise, is fuel. One department-approved footlocker, fully loaded, can stow over a hundred pounds of paper. I cannot fault the Department's desire to limit prisoners to one...

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