870 F.2d 343 (6th Cir. 1989), 87-5196, Grubbs v. Norris

Docket Nº:87-5196.
Citation:870 F.2d 343
Party Name:Scotty GRUBBS, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellees, The Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, Proposed Intervenor/Appellant, v. Stephen H. NORRIS, et al., Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:March 17, 1989
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

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870 F.2d 343 (6th Cir. 1989)

Scotty GRUBBS, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellees,

The Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson

County, Proposed Intervenor/Appellant,


Stephen H. NORRIS, et al., Defendants-Appellees.

No. 87-5196.

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

March 17, 1989

Argued May 13, 1988.

James L. Charles (argued), Michael E. Moore, Mark C. Scruggs, Nashville, Tenn., for proposed appellant.

Gordon Bonnyman, W.J. Michael Cody, Ann Lacy Johns, Kimbra R. Spann (argued), Nashville, Tenn., David Kozlowski (argued), Legal Services of South Cent. Tennessee, Inc., Columbia, Tenn., for appellees.

Before ENGEL, Chief Judge, and KEITH and RYAN, Circuit Judges.

KEITH, Circuit Judge:

The Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County ("Metro") appeals the decision of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee

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denying its application to intervene by right as a plaintiff in this civil rights action involving conditions of confinement in Tennessee prisons. For the reasons set forth below, we REVERSE the decision below, and REMAND the case to the district court with instructions to grant the motion to intervene.


On August 11, 1980, Tennessee's prison inmates brought suit against state corrections defendants ("the state") pursuant to 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 to challenge conditions in Tennessee's prison system. The case originated in state court and made its way to federal court when the Tennessee Supreme Court abstained from deciding the case due to the presence of significant constitutional issues. After discovery and trial, the district court determined that conditions in the Tennessee prisons violated the federal Constitution. The court ordered appointment of a special master, ordered submission of a plan to rectify constitutional violations, and retained jurisdiction over the matter to insure compliance with its orders.

Dissatisfied with the state's efforts to comply with those orders, on June 27, 1985, the district court ordered the state to reduce its prisoner population level to 7,019 inmates by December 31, 1985. On October 2, 1985, plaintiff-prisoners moved for additional relief, requesting the release of inmates or, in the alternative, that admission of new inmates to state prison reception centers be restricted. The Sheriff of Davidson County then moved to intervene; that motion was denied as untimely. On October 25, 1985, the state prisoners' motion for further relief was granted, and admittance to the state reception centers was restricted (the "October 1985 Order").

Restricting admittance to state reception centers had the effect of increasing the number of prisoners in the local and county prisons, since certain state prisoners are temporarily detained in local and county facilities pursuant to the mandate of the Tennessee Comprehensive Correction Improvement Act, Tenn.Code Ann. Sec. 41-1-504 (1985). According to that statute, the Governor may direct courts and sheriffs to stay the process of committing felons to state facilities. This "delayed intake directive" therefore would increase the number of state felons in Metro's jails awaiting removal from Metro's jails to a state facility.

Since January 15, 1986, Metro's inmate population has exceeded its designated capacity. On the other hand, by June of 1986, the state's prison population was below its designated capacity. On June 13, 1986, the state filed a report with the district court which demonstrated its compliance with the court's earlier orders, and which asked that the court modify its October 1985 Order to increase the state's prisoner population cap to 7,249, up from the 7,019 limitation. On September 10, 1986, the Special Master filed a Report and Recommendation asking that the state's request to increase the overall prison population be granted. This Report and Recommendation was adopted by the district court on October 28, 1986.

Exceeding its designated capacity by approximately 300 inmates, one third of whom were convicted felons sentenced to the state penitentiary, Metro moved to intervene by right as a plaintiff, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 24(a)(2). The plaintiff-prisoners did not object to the intervention; however, the state did oppose the motion. On January 9, 1987, the district court denied Metro's motion to intervene on two grounds: that allowing intervention would prejudice the relief granted to the existing parties to the action; and that the factual basis for intervention did not establish a need for intervention by right under Rule 24(a)(2). This appeal followed.


The sole issue before this court is whether the district court erred in denying the Metropolitan Government's motion to intervene. 1 Fed.R.Civ.P. 24(a)(2) provides:

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(a) Intervention of Right. Upon timely application anyone shall be permitted to intervene in an action: ... (2) when the applicant claims an interest relating to the property or transaction which is the subject of the action and the applicant is so situated that the disposition of the action may as a practical matter impair or impede the applicant's ability to protect that interest, unless the applicant's interest is adequately represented by existing parties.

Thus, according to this court's opinion in Triax Co. v. TRW Inc., 724 F.2d 1224, 1227 (6th Cir.1984), the proposed intervenors must meet four criteria before intervention by right is permitted: (1) the application for intervention must be timely; (2) the applicant must have a substantial, legal interest in the subject matter of the pending litigation; (3) the applicant's ability to protect that interest must be impaired; and (4) the present parties do not adequately represent the applicant's interest. The proposed intervenor must prove each of the four factors; failure to meet one of the criteria will require that the motion to intervene be denied. Id.

This circuit has not expressly adopted a standard of review for the denial of a motion to intervene of right except for the...

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