908 F.2d 388 (8th Cir. 1990), 89-2152, McDonald v. Armontrout

Docket Nº:89-2152.
Citation:908 F.2d 388
Party Name:Samuel L. McDONALD; Gerald M. Smith; Rayfield Newlon; Thomas Henry Battle; Alan J. Bannister, Class certified 1/15/86 to consist of all persons presently confined under sentence of death in the Potosi Correctional Center and all persons who in the future will be confined under sentence of death by the Mo. Dept. of Correction, Appellants, v. Bill AR
Case Date:July 16, 1990
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
 
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Page 388

908 F.2d 388 (8th Cir. 1990)

Samuel L. McDONALD; Gerald M. Smith; Rayfield Newlon;

Thomas Henry Battle; Alan J. Bannister, Class certified

1/15/86 to consist of all persons presently confined under

sentence of death in the Potosi Correctional Center and all

persons who in the future will be confined under sentence of

death by the Mo. Dept. of Correction, Appellants,

v.

Bill ARMONTROUT; Lee Roy Black; Donald Wyrick; John

Ashcroft, Appellees.

No. 89-2152.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

July 16, 1990

Submitted April 12, 1990.

Page 389

Richard H. Sindel, Clayton, Mo., for appellants.

Deborah Neff, Jefferson City, Mo., for appellees.

Before JOHN R. GIBSON and BOWMAN, Circuit Judges, and HENLEY, Senior Circuit Judge.

BOWMAN, Circuit Judge.

This case concerns the constitutionality of certain modifications ordered by the District Court 1 in a consent agreement between appellees Bill Armontrout, warden of the Missouri penitentiary, Lee Roy Black, Director of the Department of Corrections of the state of Missouri, Donald Wyrick, Director of the Division of Adult Institutions of the Missouri Department of Corrections, and John Ashcroft, Governor of the State of Missouri, and appellants, a class consisting of all inmates presently or in the future under sentence of death confined in a Missouri penitentiary. The original complaint alleged that death row inmates at the Missouri State Penitentiary were subjected to conditions and practices in violation of their constitutional rights under the First, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments. Without an admission by appellees or a finding by the court that the conditions on death row were unconstitutional, the appellees entered into a consent agreement with the appellant class under which various improvements were to be made in the conditions and practices on death row at the Missouri State Penitentiary. Immediately after the settlement, and several months before the court entered a consent decree approving the settlement, appellees began complying with the agreement.

Approximately two years later, appellees filed a motion with the court to move the capital punishment unit from the Missouri State Penitentiary to the Potosi Correctional Center, which had been in the process of being built when the parties reached their initial settlement. The consent decree specifically anticipated a transfer of the capital punishment unit from the Missouri State Penitentiary to the Potosi Correctional Center when that facility was completed, Consent Decree at 19, and the new facility was built to accommodate a capital punishment unit. Order to Implement Consent Decree at Potosi at 3. The appellant class did not respond to appellees' motion to transfer the capital punishment unit and the District Court approved the motion in an order issued on March 13, 1989. It was not until after appellees had submitted

Page 390

their plan to implement the consent decree at Potosi and request for modifications in the decree consistent with that plan that appellants objected. Two weeks later the District Court entered an order approving appellees' request for modifications consistent with the implementation plan. In this appeal appellants challenge that order, arguing that the District Court was without authority to order any of the modifications or, in the alternative, was without authority to order modifications beyond those relating to the physical plant in which the death-sentenced inmates are housed.

The district court retains authority over a consent decree, including the power to modify the decree in light of changed circumstances, and is subject to only a limited check by the reviewing court. Pasadena City Bd. of Educ. v. Spangler, 427 U.S. 424, 437, 96 S.Ct. 2697, 2705, 49 L.Ed.2d 599 (1976); United States v. United Shoe Mach., 391 U.S. 244, 251, 88 S.Ct. 1496, 1500, 20 L.Ed.2d 562 (1968), United States v. Swift & Co., 286 U.S. 106, 114, 52 S.Ct. 460, 462, 76 L.Ed. 999 (1932). We will reverse a district court's modification of a consent decree only upon a showing of an abuse of discretion. See System Fed'n No. 91 v. Wright, 364 U.S. 642, 650, 81 S.Ct. 368, 372, 5 L.Ed.2d 349 (1961). Moreover, the Supreme Court has indicated that a district court's resolution of a motion to...

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