958 F.Supp. 397 (N.D.Ind. 1997), H-74-230, Jensen v. County of Lake

Docket Nº:H-74-230
Citation:958 F.Supp. 397
Party Name:Jensen v. County of Lake
Case Date:March 05, 1997
Court:United States District Courts, 7th Circuit, Northern District of Indiana

Page 397

958 F.Supp. 397 (N.D.Ind. 1997)

Randy JENSEN, et al., Plaintiffs,


COUNTY OF LAKE, et al., Defendants.

No. H-74-230.

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division.

March 5, 1997

Page 398

Ivan Bodensteiner, Valparaiso, IN, for Plaintiffs.

John Dull, Crown Point, IN, Gerald M. Bishop, Merrillville, IN, John P. Bushemi, Merrillville, IN, for Defendants.

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LOZANO, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on the Motion to Terminate Consent Decree and Judgment Order filed by Defendants, Lake County Council and Lake County Board of Commissioners, on December 4, 1996. For the reasons set forth below, the Court takes the motion UNDER ADVISEMENT.


This lawsuit was filed in 1974 on behalf of the inmates of the Lake County Jail. The suit challenged the policies and procedures at the Lake County Jail and alleged several Eighth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment violations. Specifically, Count One of the amended complaint claimed that Defendants had violated Plaintiffs' rights by denying them necessary medical treatment; Count Two claimed that the Plaintiffs had been subjected to violence, beatings, and recurrent threats from Defendants' agents and employees; and Count Three alleged that Plaintiffs had been subjected to violence, beatings, and recurrent threats from other inmates without protection from the Defendants. Count Three also alleged the existence of physical conditions at the Lake County Jail which were dangerous to prisoners.

On October 21, 1980, the parties avoided trial by agreeing to a consent decree entered by this Court. Two years later the Plaintiffs charged that Defendants were in contempt of court because they had not complied with the consent decree. Defendants admitted that they had not complied. The parties then entered into a broader and more detailed agreement regarding jail improvements. Such agreement is encompassed in the judgment order of June 28, 1982. That judgment order has been modified by the Court on several occasions upon request.

Throughout the years this Court has maintained continuing supervision over the operation of the Lake County Jail in order to enforce the consent decree of 1980 and the judgment order of 1982. Pending before the Court in addition to this motion to terminate are several motions, including Plaintiffs' Motion to Show Cause and Appointment of Other Monitor, filed on May 31, 1994, and Defendants' motion to declare the consent decree and the judgment order satisfied filed on October 17, 1994.

In April 1996, Congress enacted the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"), Pub.L. No. 104-134, 110 Stat. 1321-66(1996). The Act was enacted in part in response to criticisms that the federal courts had overstepped their authority in prison condition cases. See Benjamin v. Jacobson, 935 F.Supp. 332, 340 (S.D.N.Y.1996). The Act aims at maintaining the supervision and control of state prisons in the hands of municipal and state governments. Id. In order to do this, the Act includes provisions that make it easier for those running state and local prisons to seek termination of federal court orders relating to prison conditions. See Small v. Hunt, 98 F.3d 789, 794 (4th Cir. 1996). In light of the new Act, Defendants, Lake County Council and Lake County Board of Commissioners, have filed a motion to terminate the consent decree and judgment order. Because of the effect of the Act in the outcome of prison reform cases, and because the Court's ruling in this motion will affect other pending motions, the Court must decide whether the PLRA applies to the case at hand.


The PLRA, which amended Title 18 U.S.C. section 3626 on appropriate remedies with respect to prison conditions, requires that

[p]rospective relief in any civil action with respect to prison conditions shall extend no further than necessary to correct the violation of the Federal right of a particular plaintiff or plaintiffs. The court shall not grant or approve any prospective relief unless the court finds that such relief is narrowly drawn, extends no further than necessary to correct a violation of the Federal right, and is the least intrusive means necessary to correct the violation of the Federal right. The court shall give substantial weight to any adverse impact on public safety or the operation of a criminal justice system caused by the relief.

18 U.S.C. § 3626(a)(1)(A). Congress stated explicitly that the amendment shall apply to all prospective relief even if originally granted before the enactment of the Act. See 18 U.S.C. § 3626

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note on effective date. Defendants can ask the courts to apply the Act to older cases through section 3626(b) which provides for

[i]mmediate termination of prospective relief--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.

18 U.S.C. § 3622(b)(2). The next section provides the following limitation to immediate termination:

Prospective relief shall not terminate if the court makes written findings based on the record that prospective relief remains necessary to correct a current or ongoing violation of the Federal right, extends no further than necessary to correct the violation of the Federal right, and that the prospective relief is narrowly drawn and the least intrusive means to correct the violation.

18 U.S.C. § 3626(b)(3). Prospective relief refers to "all relief other than compensatory money damages," 18 U.S.C. § 3626(g)(7), and it includes relief awarded through consent decrees. 18 U.S.C. §§ 3626(c)(1), 3626(g)(9).

The Defendants in this case ask the Court to terminate the consent decree and judgment order pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3626(b). Plaintiffs respond that section 3626(b) is unconstitutional.

The courts that have interpreted section 3626(b) have reached different conclusions as to their constitutionality. See Plyler v. Moore, 100 F.3d 365 (4th Cir. 1996) (finding section 3626(b) constitutional); Benjamin v. Jacobson, 935 F.Supp. 332 (S.D.N.Y.1996) (same); but see Hadix v. Johnson, 947 F.Supp. 1100 (E.D.Mich.1996) (holding section 3626(b) unconstitutional); Gavin v. Ray, No. 4-78CV70062, 1996 WL 622556 (S.D.Iowa, Sept. 18, 1996) (same); see also Hadix v. Johnson, 933 F.Supp. 1360 (E.D.Mich.1996) (finding section 3626(e)(2) unconstitutional); Hadix v. Johnson, 933 F.Supp. 1362 (W.D.Mich.1996) (same). 1 Another court applied the section narrowly by terminating only the specific enforcement of prospective relief. See Inmates of Suffolk Cty. Jail v. Sheriff of Suffolk Cty, No. Civ. A. 71-162, 1997 WL 2474 (D.Mass. January 2, 1997) (stating that the court found this section constitutional only if it applied a section in such a narrow way). Most, if not all, of the rulings by the district courts have been appealed.

The Court now evaluates the constitutionality of section 3626(b) only and it expresses no opinion as to the constitutionality of other sections in the PLRA, including the automatic stay provision, section 3626(e)(2). Neither will the Court address other possible statutory or constitutional attacks against this section which the Plaintiffs did not raise in their briefs. The Court concludes that section 3626(b) is constitutional as it applies in this case.

A. Separation of Powers

The Plaintiffs first argue that the section is unconstitutional because it constitutes an invasion by Congress into the powers of the judiciary in contravention with the separation-of-powers doctrine. Plaintiffs argue that through the PLRA Congress directs the reopening of a final judgment and that the Act deprives the Court of the power to supervise compliance with an order of the Court. The Defendants, on the other hand, argue that the separation-of-powers doctrine does not apply because the consent decree and judgment order are executory, not final, judgments.

The Constitution assigns separate spheres of powers to separate branches. Article III of the Constitution assigns to the

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federal judiciary the power to rule on and decide cases. Plaut v. Spendthrift Farm, Inc., 514 U.S. 211, 218-19, 115 S.Ct. 1447, 1453, 131 L.Ed.2d 328 (1995). If Congress passes a law that assigns to a different branch of government the powers of the judiciary, so that the authority and the independence of the judiciary are undermined, such act is unconstitutional. Hadix, 933 F.Supp. at 1366 (W.D.Mich.). "While Congress maintains authority to determine the jurisdiction of the courts it has established, and to establish rules regarding the practice and procedure of the federal courts, the interpretation and application of the laws and the ultimate resolution of case and controversies are solely within the province of the Judiciary." Id.

"Once the Article III court issues a final judgment...

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