947 F.Supp. 1100 (E.D.Mich. 1996), 80-73581, Hadix v. Johnson

Docket Nº:80-73581.
Citation:947 F.Supp. 1100
Party Name:Everett HADIX, et al., Plaintiffs, v. Perry JOHNSON, et al., Defendants.
Case Date:November 01, 1996
Court:United States District Courts, 6th Circuit, Eastern District of Michigan
 
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Page 1100

947 F.Supp. 1100 (E.D.Mich. 1996)

Everett HADIX, et al., Plaintiffs,

v.

Perry JOHNSON, et al., Defendants.

No. 80-73581.

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division.

Nov. 1, 1996

Page 1101

Patricia A. Streeter, Detroit, MI, for Plaintiffs.

Susan Przekop-Shaw and Leo Friedman, Assistant Attorneys General, Lansing, MI, for Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER

FEIKENS, District Judge.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Issues

Defendants move to terminate relief ordered by a consent decree entered into and approved by me in 1985. Numerous remedial orders were triggered by the mandates of the consent decree. References to these matters are recorded in Hadix cases: 694 F.Supp. 259 (E.D.Mich.1988), 712 F.Supp. 550 (E.D.Mich.1989), 740 F.Supp. 433 (E.D.Mich.1990), 792 F.Supp. 527 (E.D.Mich.1992), and 896 F.Supp. 697 (E.D.Mich.1995).

Defendants' motion is based on the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA" or "the Act"), effective as of April 26, 1996. The specific section of the Act on which defendants rely is 18 U.S.C. § 3626(b)(2), which reads:

In any civil action with respect to prison conditions, a defendant or intervenor shall be entitled to the immediate termination of any prospective relief if the relief was approved or granted in the absence of a finding by the court that the relief is narrowly drawn, extends no further than necessary to correct the violation of the Federal right, and is the least intrusive means necessary to correct the violation of the Federal right.

Defendants contend that § 3626(b)(3) 1 does not apply to this case. Intervenor, 2 the U.S. Department of Justice, contends that § 3626(b)(3) is applicable and that, without it, the statute is unconstitutional.

Thus defendants and the intervenor raise two issues and both must be addressed. Defendants argue that the Act terminates the consent decree and orders stemming from the decree because the consent decree was not based on findings by the court that the relief afforded was narrowly drawn, extended no further than necessary to correct the violation of the Federal rights involved, and is not the least intrusive means to correct the violation of the Federal right.

Intervenor argues that what saves the termination provisions of the Act from being unconstitutional is § 3626(b)(3), which prohibits termination if the court makes findings of constitutional violations and then uses the

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requisite tests to determine whether such relief shall continue.

Plaintiffs argue that the PLRA violates separation of powers principles, as well as their due process and equal protection rights under the U.S. Constitution. I need only address one of these issues: Is the constitutional doctrine of separation of powers implicated in the PLRA as the defendants and the intervenor seek to apply it to this case?

Also pending before me on remand is defendants' motion to terminate the consent decree under Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b), on which I originally ruled in an opinion on March 14, 1995.

B. Hadix Consent Decree

In 1980 a complaint was filed by prisoners of the State Prison of Southern Michigan ("SPSM") against officials of the State of Michigan alleging that conditions of their confinement violated their constitutional rights. The plaintiffs were certified as a class in 1981, and ten other cases filed between 1979 and 1985 raising similar issues were consolidated with Hadix. In 1985, after numerous conferences between the parties, a comprehensive consent decree was entered into, filed, and approved by me.

A sampling of prison cases reveals that the constitutionality of the areas at the heart of this judgment continue to be extensively litigated in other jurisdictions throughout this nation. See, for example, the following cases raising constitutional issues obviated by the consent decree here:

Sanitation, Safety and Health: Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 114 S.Ct. 1970, 128 L.Ed.2d 811 (1994) (While the Constitution does not mandate comfortable prisons, "neither does it permit inhumane ones." Since inmates are forced to be there, and are stripped "of virtually every means of self-protection and foreclosed their access to outside aid" prison officials "are not free to let the state of nature take its course.");

Health Care: Madrid v. Gomez, 889 F.Supp. 1146 (N.D.Cal.1995) (Where prison official hired a visiting psychiatrist for periodic visits and then substituted a psychiatrist who resigned after one month, further substitution of nine on-call psychiatrists still did not meet the mental health needs of prisoners in a population of 1,000 to 1,500 in the Security Housing Unit alone.);

Fire Safety: Masonoff v. DuBois, 899 F.Supp. 782, 789 (D.Massachusetts1995) ("There is no question that fire safety is a legitmate concern under the Eighth Amendment....");

Overcrowding and Protection from Harm: LaMarca v. Turner, 995 F.2d 1526 (11th Cir. 1993) (Pervasive risk of harm was found where prisoners were exposed to constant violence in dark, overcrowded cells.); Smith v. Norris, 877 F.Supp. 1296 (E.D.Ark.1995) (Prison must take reasonable measures to protect inmates, including regular spot checks of open barracks.); Choate v. Lockhart, 7 F.3d 1370 (8th Cir. 1993) (Work assignments are considered conditions of confinement subject to scrutiny under the Eighth Amendment.);

Access to Courts: McMaster v. Minnesota, 819 F.Supp. 1429 (D.Minn.1993), aff'd, 30 F.3d 976 (8th Cir. 1994) (Where plaintiffs allege specific actions, such as ransacking the cells of plaintiffs and layoffs in prisoner-staffed jobs, taken by prison officials to deter their lawsuit, a claim has been stated upon which relief may be granted.); Hodges v. Jones, 873 F.Supp. 737 (N.D.N.Y.1995) (While jailhouse lawyers do not have a constitutional right to that status, they may challenge any official action which impedes them from aiding other prisoners);

Food Service: Williams v. Coughlin, 875 F.Supp. 1004 (W.D.N.Y.1995) (Where prisoner alleged that he was denied food for two consecutive days, an Eighth Amendment challenge may be mounted.);

Management: Smith v. Norris, 877 F.Supp. 1296 (E.D.Ark.1995) (Where 92 prison guard positions were needed for adequate supervision of open barracks, an Eighth Amendment violation existed.);

Mail: Muhammad v. Pitcher, 35 F.3d 1081 (6th Cir. 1994) (Prison's policy of treating mail to inmate from state Attorney General as ordinary mail and opening

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it was invalid, as it burdened inmate's First Amendment rights.); and Bieregu v. Reno, 59 F.3d 1445 (3d. Cir. 1995) ("The pattern and practice of opening plaintiff's properly marked incoming mail outside his presence ... violates the Constitution.") 3

The parties themselves found the purpose of the decree so important that they spelled it out in Paragraph 3 of the introduction to the decree: "The provisions contained herein are intended by the parties to assure the constitutionality of the conditions under which prisoners are incarcerated at SPSM-CC."

The significance of this consent decree 4 can not be overstated. The plaintiff class and the defendant, Michigan Department of Corrections, with this court's involvement, labored between 1981 and 1985 to reach an agreement which recognized the existence of constitutional violations in prison conditions and spelled out terms in intricate detail as to how these conditions would be remedied. Under Fed.R.Civ.P. 52(a) such a consent decree or judgment does not require court findings. U.S. v. Scholnick, 606 F.2d 160 (6th Cir. 1979). The consent judgment's terms provide for the judgment without the necessity of making constitutional findings. Such a judgment has the same res judicata effect as a judgment after trial unless there is a reservation of issues discerned from the four corners of the decree. Epic Metals Corp. v. H.H. Robertson Co., 870 F.2d 1574 (Fed.Cir. 1989), cert. denied, 493 U.S. 855, 110 S.Ct. 160, 107 L.Ed.2d 117 (1989).

It would therefore be improper to conclude from this settlement that no constitutional violations exist. The strength of a consent decree is that it allows parties to save the exhausting time, money, and resources involved in making this finding of past violations in order to concentrate on present conditions. 5 By now requiring termination of this judgment unless those constitutional findings are made, the PLRA imperiously transforms a consent decree's strength into a nullity.

If violations no longer exist at SPSM, the consent decree can be terminated according to its own terms. The judgment provides that "[a]fter Defendants have complied with all of the provisions of this Consent Judgment, Defendants may apply to terminate the jurisdiction of the Court." Consent Decree, § XI, 33. Consistent with this possibility, I have repeatedly sought to secure finality. In a March 14, 1995 opinion, I ruled that I would consider defendants' motion for termination of this judgment upon a review of their substantial compliance with the terms of this decree within 60 days of December 31, 1996.

C. Defendants' Rule 60(b) Motion for Modification

In 1994 defendants filed a motion under Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b) for modification of the consent decree. Based on the testimony of the Director of the Department of Corrections and the Warden of SPSM that they could no longer comply with certain elements of the Out-of-Cell Activity Plan, I held that

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modification was required and relieved defendants of certain requirements altogether. Specifically, I eliminated the requirement for a capacity of prisoners in the Hadix facilities as well as the requirement for a specific proportion of capacity for levels of segregation. Modification also included adjusting percentage requirements for compliance, substituting comparable...

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