Groseclose v. Dutton

Decision Date24 May 1985
Docket NumberNo. 3-84-0579.,3-84-0579.
Citation609 F. Supp. 1432
PartiesWilliam GROSECLOSE, et al. v. Michael DUTTON, et al.
CourtU.S. District Court — Middle District of Tennessee

Larry Woods, Jinx Woods, William J. Marett, Jr., and Irwin Venick of Woods, Bryan, Woods & Watson, Nashville, Tenn., for plaintiffs.

Bill Redick, Richard McGee, Nashville, Tenn., and Hal Hardin, Guardian ad Litem, Nashville, Tenn., for Harries.

William M. Leech, Jr., Atty. Gen., State of Tenn., John Southworth, Robert Grunow, Robin J. Mitchell, Asst. Attys. Gen., Nashville, Tenn., for State of Tenn.


JOHN T. NIXON, District Judge.

This is a bifurcated case that was originally filed as a next friend action by William Groseclose, Reverend Joseph Ingle, the Southern Coalition on Jails and Prisons, and the Tennessee Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, individually, and on behalf of Ronald Harries. Groseclose and Harries are prisoners who are confined to Unit VI at the Tennessee State Penitentiary and have been sentenced to death. Although Mr. Harries had avenues open to appeal his sentence of death, he announced he would forego those appeals because of the adverse conditions of his confinement. Subsequently, the plaintiffs brought this action as next friends on his behalf. On June 7, 1984, this Court stayed Mr. Harries' execution in order to determine his competency to act in his own behalf. The Court also ordered the defendants to cease administering antianxiety drugs to Mr. Harries. On June 8, 1984, Hal D. Hardin, Esq., was appointed as guardian ad litem to represent the interests of Mr. Harries.1 On June 11, 1984, the Court further ordered (1) the removal of Mr. Harries from death watch, (2) the extension of the stay of execution pending further orders of the Court, and (3) the setting of an evidentiary hearing. On June 22, 1984, Mr. Harries sought permissive joinder to act in his own behalf. A hearing was held on July 12, 13, and 16, 1984. At the hearing, the Court granted Mr. Harries' motion to join, and the parties presented evidence that included all allegations raised affecting Mr. Harries' decision to forego further judicial review of his conviction. These included the issue of competency and the issue of lack of voluntariness due to adverse prison conditions. On August 17, 1984, the Court issued a Memorandum and Order, which concluded that as a matter of law Mr. Harries was incompetent and that plaintiffs, therefore, had standing to challenge his decision to forego his appeals. The Court also stayed his execution pending final disposition of this proceeding. See Groseclose v. Dutton, 594 F.Supp. 949, 962 (M.D.Tenn.1984). Although the Court found that conditions in Unit VI had caused Mr. Harries to waive his rights of appeal involuntarily, the Court made no finding as to the constitutionality of the conditions in Unit VI. Id. at 961-62.

On November 9 and 13, 1984, the Court certified a class of those persons who are death sentenced inmates currently residing on death row and those future inmates who will be confined in Unit VI under sentence of death. After a hearing on December 18, 1984, the Court issued a preliminary injunction requiring the defendants to permit the plaintiff class to hold a congregate religious ceremony. Also on December 18, the Court issued an Order bifurcating the civil rights cause of action and the habeas corpus cause of action. The civil rights cause of action came on for trial on January 14, 15, 16, and 18, 1985. The following constitute the Court's findings of fact and conclusions of law pursuant to Rule 52(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

A. Unit VI

Unit VI is a compound located within the confines of the Tennessee State Penitentiary. There are two visitation rooms at the front of the building. There are four walks, two outside walks that permit natural light through translucent glass and two inside walks with no natural light. Each walk contains fluorescent lighting that remains on twenty-four hours a day. Many inmates have fashioned cardboard shades in order to block the light while sleeping. There are two death watch cells that are separate from the walks and immediately adjacent to the death chamber. In order to enter the cellblock area, it is necessary to pass through one locked door and then through the locked door for each walk. Each cell is also individually locked. Outside the walks, but inside the cellblock, is a small room known as the law library. The defendants acknowledge that the room is merely a meeting room with some old law books in it. Between the walks are ventilation chambers, which also contain some of the plumbing for the cells. Immediately behind the facility is a small exercise yard with a steel mesh sheet overhead. The yard is approximately twenty feet in width and sixty feet in length. At one end of the yard is a covered passageway leading to a larger exercise yard, which contains basketball facilities. The large exercise yard is shared with Unit I.

B. The Cells

Nine cells in Unit VI are approximately thirty-five square feet, and the remaining thirty-nine cells are approximately forty-four square feet. Although only one inmate is housed in each cell, each cell contains a double bunk. With the space taken up by the bunk, an inmate has enough room to take approximately three paces, turn around and take three paces back. Each cell contains a combination toilet and wash basin, and some cells have old-fashioned concrete toilets. Although replacement commodes made of stainless metal have been available for two years, they have not been installed in all cells. Homemade repairs, such as cardboard lids, are used to try to reduce the odor associated with the toilets. The cells do not contain windows. Ventilation and odors have been a serious problem in Unit VI. Often the stale air, laden with cigarette smoke, malodorous emissions from toilets, and paint fumes, make existence in the cells extremely uncomfortable. Insect infestation is a problem for the inmates. Defendants acknowledge that some inmates do not use bug spray in their cells because of the added odor from the insecticides.

There is no natural light on walks 2 and 3 and minimal sunlight on walks 1 and 4. The State provides a single low wattage light bulb that renders reading difficult if not impossible for any prolonged period. Dr. Dorothy O. Lewis, a Professor of Psychiatry at New York University, Bellevue Medical Center, and a clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Yale University Child Study Center, testified that both the cells and the walk on which Mr. Harries was housed were very dark. Dr. Seymour Leon Halleck, a Professor of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina Medical School and Adjunct Professor of Law at the University of North Carolina Law School with extensive experience in criminology, described the walks on Unit VI as giving one a sense of being entombed. The lack of natural lighting has had an adverse impact on the sleep cycle of many, if not all, inmates. Many inmates remain in their bunks twenty hours a day or more.

Inability to regulate indoor temperatures in the summer and winter also presents significant problems for the inmates. The evidence indicates that in the summer temperatures in the mid-eighties and higher are common. Inmates sometimes must remove their clothing because of high temperatures. Dr. Halleck testified that after he spent part of a rainy, cold day inside Unit VI, he left the facility "shivering." Transcript of Proceedings, January 14, 1985, at 39 (hereinafter cited as "Transcript").

Dr. Lewis testified that, based on her tours of death rows in several states, Tennessee had the worst death row that she had seen. She compared it to cages in a zoo. Dr. Halleck testified that of the death rows of which he was aware, it was the worst in the nation in terms of the deprivations, lack of exercise, and lack of human contact. Dr. Harold Jordan, former Commissioner of Mental Health for the State of Tennessee, described the conditions as inhumane, deplorable, and completely lacking any stimuli. Reverend Joe Ingle concluded, based upon his experience as Director of the Southern Coalition on Jails and Prisons, his numerous publications about death rows and death penalty cases, and his visits to every death row in the South, that because of the "extraordinarily long hours that the men are locked down in their cells, the overwhelming idleness of the men ... and the lack of programs available for the men and the absence of diagnostic and classification procedures to identify their respective personalities, traits, and problems , ... the conditions and circumstances under which condemned men are confined on the Tennessee death row fail to afford even minimal levels of basic human decency...." Expert Testimony of the Reverend Joseph B. Ingle pursuant to Local Rule 11, Plaintiffs' Exhibit 205, at 21. Ingle considered only the Louisiana death row worse because of its lack of electricity and "dog runs" for exercising the inmates.

C. Classification

The defendants use no system of classification for the inmates housed in Unit VI. All death sentenced inmates are considered the same in terms of security risk and needs. The only classification they go through is completion of a one page personal data information sheet. Individuals are assigned to Unit VI based entirely on their sentences and, rather than undergoing normal classification procedure, they are automatically assigned the most restrictive classification, "mandatory segregation." That classification is changed to a less restrictive classification only if the sentence of death is lifted. Ronald Bishop, Deputy Commissioner of Corrections, testified that the officials do not normally conduct any psychological or personality testing of the inmates sentenced to death. Although some death sentenced inmates have been classified, that classification has had no impact on their treatment while...

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    • United States
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    ...of confinement of death row prisoners will continue to increase. See Peterkin, 661 F.Supp. at 902-03; see also Groseclose v. Dutton, 609 F.Supp. 1432, 1447 (M.D.Tenn.1985) (average death row inmate spends six to ten years pursuing appeals). 14 Thus, in assessing the constitutionality of the......
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