965 F.Supp. 1190 (N.D.Ind. 1997), S 73-5, James v. Lash

Docket Nº:S 73-5
Citation:965 F.Supp. 1190
Party Name:James v. Lash
Case Date:May 15, 1997
Court:United States District Courts, 7th Circuit, Northern District of Indiana
 
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Page 1190

965 F.Supp. 1190 (N.D.Ind. 1997)

Sterling L. JAMES, et al., Plaintiffs,

v.

Russell E. LASH, et al., Defendants.

HERMAN X. (Walker), et al., Plaintiffs,

v.

Ward LANE, Warden, Defendant.

Nos. S 73-5 AS, 3687.

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division.

May 15, 1997

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Ivan E. Bodensteiner, Valparaiso, IN, for Sterling X. James.

Sterling X. James, Michigan City, IN, pro se.

Raymond X. Stone, Michigan City, IN, pro se.

John X. Tinsley, Michigan City, IN, pro se.

Anthony W. Overholt, Office of Indiana Attorney General, Indianapolis, IN, for Russell E. Lash, Charles E. Moore, James DeVero, Robert Heyne.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

ALLEN SHARP, Chief Judge.

This matter is before the court on a motion for relief from order filed by the plaintiffs on January 21, 1997. The plaintiffs move for relief from this court's order of December 13, 1996, terminating the consent decree previously entered in this case pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3626(b)(2). The defendants responded to the motion, and the plaintiffs have replied. In accordance with the following discussion, the court denies the plaintiffs' motion.

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Section 802 of the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"), Pub.L. 104-134, 110 Stat. 1321 (1996), amends 18 U.S.C. § 3626, governing remedies in prison condition cases. Under § 3626(b)(2), defendants are entitled to "immediate termination of any prospective relief" that has been granted in a prison conditions case "if the relief was approved or granted in the absence of a finding by the court that the relief is narrowly draw, 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." Where the requisite findings were not made, the plaintiffs are nonetheless protected by § 3626(b)(3), which provides that prospective relief shall not terminate if the court finds that the relief "remains necessary to correct a current or ongoing violation of the Federal right, and that the prospective relief is narrowly drawn and the least intrusive means to correct the violation."

Relying on § 3262(b)(2), the defendants moved to terminate the previously entered consent decree directing the defendants to recognize the American Muslim Mission as a legitimate religious group, and afford this religious group with the same rights as other religious groups at the Indiana State Prison. Both parties agreed that the findings mandated by § 3262(b)(2) were not made before entering the consent decree, but the plaintiffs argued that if the consent decree were terminated the defendants might make changes that would substantially alter the plaintiffs' right to freely exercise their religion. The court construed § 3626(b)(3) as requiring a finding of a "current or ongoing" violation, and concluded that an unsupported assertion that the defendants might make changes resulting in a constitutional violation was simply too speculative to satisfy § 3626(b)(3). The court accordingly granted the defendants' motion and the consent decree was terminated.

The court noted in its memorandum that in several cases where defendants had filed a § 3626(b)(2) motion, the plaintiffs contended that this provision of the PLRA was unconstitutional. Because the plaintiffs in this action made no such argument, the court did not address the constitutional issues. The plaintiffs now ask the court to reconsider its decision, find the PLRA unconstitutional, and vacate the order terminating the consent decree. While the plaintiffs acknowledge that they could have raised the constitutional issues in response to the defendants' original motion, they maintain that the court should now address the issue to "accomplish justice." The defendants oppose the plaintiffs' motion, arguing that: (1) Rule 60(b) is not a vehicle to raise issues that were not raised in response to the original motion to terminate, (2) the constitutional issue should not be addressed because the court found that the defendants would have been successful in setting aside the judgment under Rule 60(b), and finally, (3) section 3626(b)(2) is not unconstitutional.

The plaintiffs bring their present motion under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b). The defendants contend that the plaintiffs' failure to raise Constitutional issues that could have been raised in response to defendants' original motion does not justify presenting new arguments at this time. Quoting Nelson v. City Colleges of Chicago, 962 F.2d 754, 755 (7th Cir. 1992), the defendants argue that " 'Rule 60(b) is not designed to allow Plaintiffs and their counsel the opportunity to relitigate this case merely because they failed to raise a particular legal argument.' " The plaintiffs respond that because the constitutionality of the PLRA is in question, the court should address this issue to "accomplish justice."

Rule 60 provides that the court may relieve a party from a final judgment or order for five specific reasons as well as "any other reason justifying relief from the operation of the judgment." Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b)(6). Rule 60(b)(6) is essentially an equitable provision that is available where the specific reasons found in subsections (1) through (5) are inapplicable, and equitable action is appropriate to accomplish justice. Ackermann v. United States, 340 U.S. 193, 71 S.Ct. 209, 95 L.Ed. 207 (1950); Klapprott v. United States, 335 U.S. 601, 614-615, 69 S.Ct. 384, 390-91, 93 L.Ed. 1099 (1949). Its application is limited to situations presenting "extraordinary circumstances" that create a substantial

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danger of an unjust result. Ackermann, 340 U.S. at 202, 71 S.Ct. at 213-14; Margoles v. Johns, 798 F.2d 1069, 1073 (7th Cir. 1986).

It is not the purpose of Rule 60(b)(6) to provide an avenue of relief from free, calculated, deliberate choices. Ackermann, 340 U.S. at 197-198, 71 S.Ct. at 211-12. Moreover, because a litigant is generally bound by his lawyer's acts, Johnson v. Gudmundsson, 35 F.3d 1104, 1117 (7th Cir. 1994), the carelessness of an attorney is not a basis for relief under Rule 60(b)(6), Helm v. Resolution Trust Corp., 84 F.3d 874, 879 (7th Cir. 1996), including the failure to raise all available issues in the first instance. E.g., Lee v. Village of River Forest, 936 F.2d 976, 979-980 (7th Cir. 1991). The plaintiffs' attorney could easily have raised the Constitutional issue in response to the defendants' original motion, and in fact, offers no explanation why the issue was not raised. With the above principles in mind, the court, nonetheless, concludes that the plaintiffs' motion should be addressed.

The order from which the plaintiffs seek relief deprived the plaintiffs of conditions agreed upon and approved by this court to cure a violation of their Constitutional rights. Because of the substantial rights implicated here, the court concludes that it would be manifestly unjust to effect this deprivation by enforcing a statute that itself may be unconstitutional.

RULE 60(b)

As a point of clarification, the defendants are incorrect that the court found they would have been successful had they brought a motion under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b): The court noted that the need to find a current or ongoing violation under § 3626(b)(3) was consistent with considerations in deciding motions to modify or terminate consent judgments under Rule 60(b). The defendants are, however, correct that Rule 60(b) provides an alternate, independent source of authority for terminating the prospective relief granted, but the defendants have not filed a Rule 60(b) motion. Thus, the court did not address the consent decree under the Rule 60(b) standard, nor, without a pending motion, may it do so now.

SEPARATION OF POWER

The plaintiffs claim that by enacting § 3626(b), Congress exceeded its authority under the separation of powers doctrine. Citing Plaut v. Spendthrift Farm, Inc., 514 U.S. 211, 239-40, 115 S.Ct. 1447, 1463, 131 L.Ed.2d 328 (1995), they argue that the consent decree entered on June 2, 1982, is a final judgment, and a federal statute "is unconstitutional to the extent that it requires federal courts to reopen final judgments entered before its enactment." The defendants contend that § 3626 does not require the opening of final...

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