Imprisoned Citizens Union v. Ridge

Citation169 F.3d 178
Decision Date25 February 1999
Docket NumberNo. 71-,G-8571,E-4517,No. 70-,No. 98-1536,H-2720,70-,71-,98-1536
PartiesIMPRISONED CITIZENS UNION; Herbert Langes; Milton Taylor; Jack Lopinson; Mackey R. Choice; Richard O.J. Mayberry; Frank Patterson; Daniel Delker; Harold A.X. Brooks; Carline Coefield; Thelma Simon; Audrey Mason; Sharon Wiggins; Dominic Codispoti; Philip Householder; James Harbold; Joseph Oliver; Paul Lyons; Robert Brown; James Szulczewski; Gerald Mayo; Wesley Harris, v. Tom RIDGE, Governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; J. Shane Creamer, Attorney General, State Capitol Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Martin F. Horn, Commissioner of the Department of Corrections; Donald Vaughn, Superintendent of Sci-Graterford; David Larkins, Superintendent of Sci-Dallas; Mary Leftridge-Byrd, Superintendent of Sci-Muncy; Frederick Frank, Superintendent of Sci-Huntingdon; Robert Myers, Acting Superintendent of Sci-Rockview; and James Price, Superintendent of Sci-Pittsburgh, United States of America, Intervenor in District Court (D.C.cv-03054). Robert Ray; George Spears; Murry Dicterson; Clarence Reynolds; George Rivers; Albert Johnson; James Goldsborough; Joseph Ligon; Richard Bellamy; Emanuel Johnson; Gene Fuller; James C. Wilson; Carlos Rodriguez; Willie Brooker; Frank Hall, v. Donald Vaughn, Superintendent, State Correctional Institution at Graterford, United States of America, Intervenor in D.C. (D.C.cv-00513). Kenneth W. Owens, Jr.; Guy J. Bicking; James Alan Romberger; Kenneth W. Teater, v. Custodial Employees and "Private Citizens", Listed Below; John Doe Murdock, Box 244 Graterford, PA; John Doe Belloff, Box 244 Graterford, PA; Erskind Dehamus, Box 244 Graterford, PA, United States of America, Intervenor in D.C. (D.C.cv-01006). William Bracey, (), an inmate; James Pickett, (), an inmate; Clarence Samuels, (), an inmate on their own behalf and on behalf of others similarly situated, v. Arthur T. Prasse, Commissioner, Bureau of Corrections of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; Donald Vaughn, Superintendent State Correctional Institution at Graterford; Clarence R. Wolfe, Deputy Su
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)

Stefan Presser (argued), American Civil Liberties, Union of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, for Plaintiffs/Appellants.

D. Michael Fisher, Attorney General, John G. Knorr, III, Chief Deputy Attorney General, Paul A. Tufano, General Counsel, Sarah B. Vandenbraak (argued), Chief Counsel, Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, Camp Hill, PA, for Defendants/Appellees.

Michael R. Stiles, United States Attorney, Barbara L. Herwig, Robert M. Loeb (argued), United States Department of Justice, Washington, D.C., for Intervenor/Appellee United States of America.

Before: SLOVITER, SCIRICA, and ALITO, Circuit Judges.

OPINION OF THE COURT

ALITO, Circuit Judge:

Plaintiffs appeal the District Court's decision to terminate jurisdiction over a consent decree pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act. We affirm.

I.
A. The Consent Decree

In 1970, inmates at Pennsylvania's seven state prisons ("the Inmates") brought a class action lawsuit against various state officials pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The Inmates alleged unconstitutional conditions of confinement. In 1978, the District Court approved a consent decree settling most of the issues raised in the lawsuit. The District Court retained jurisdiction, and subsequently approved several amendments to the decree.

As amended, the decree governs nearly every aspect of prison management. Among other things, the decree (1) specifies the type of misconduct for which prisoners can be punished; (2) limits the punishment that can be imposed for specific acts of misconduct; (3) restricts prison officials' handling of prisoner mail; (4) guarantees prisoner access to outside publications; (5) establishes health care and sanitation standards; 1 (6) imposes restrictive standards for prison officials' use of force, 2 restraints, and mace; 3 (7) prescribes detailed procedures for conducting cell searches; 4 (8) gives prisoners the right to possess civilian clothing; and (9) requires the prisons to provide free postage to prisoners. The Defendants contend that the decree has imposed substantial administrative burdens on the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, and that as a result of the decree prison officials have faced burdensome legal battles, having to defend many of their day-to-day management decisions in federal court.

B. The Termination Provision

Responding to concerns that similar consent decrees were crippling prison systems throughout the country, Congress enacted the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) in 1996. One provision of the PLRA authorizes defendants in prison condition lawsuits to obtain

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. § 3626(b)(2) ("the termination provision"). The supervising court may refuse to terminate jurisdiction only if it makes written findings "that prospective relief remains necessary to correct a current and 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." Id. § 3626(b)(3).

C. The Termination Order

Relying on § 3626(b)(2), Defendants filed a motion to terminate the 1978 consent decree on September 23, 1997. The Inmates argued that the motion was inappropriate and asked the court to hold Defendants in contempt. The Inmates also maintained that the PLRA's termination provision was unconstitutional.

The United States filed a motion to intervene pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2403, seeking the opportunity to defend the constitutionality of the PLRA's termination provision. The District Court granted that motion.

The District Court subsequently issued an opinion and order granting the Defendants' motion to terminate the consent decree, and denying the Inmates' motion that the Defendants be held in contempt. Imprisoned Citizens Union v. Shapp, 11 F.Supp.2d 586 (E.D.Pa.1998). The Inmates promptly filed a motion for reconsideration. The District Court denied that motion. The Inmates then filed the present appeal.

II.

Appellants raise four issues on appeal: (1) whether the PLRA's termination provision violates the constitutional separation-of-powers doctrine, as applied to consent decrees entered before the PLRA's enactment; (2) whether the termination provision violates the equal protection guarantees of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments; (3) whether the District Court abused its discretion by refusing to stay Defendants' motion to terminate; and (4) whether the District Court abused its discretion by refusing to hold Defendants in contempt of court. 5 We will address each issue in turn.

A. Separation-of-Powers

The Inmates argue that the PLRA's termination provision violates the separation-of-powers doctrine in three respects. First, they argue that the provision requires courts to reopen final judgments in violation of the well-established rule that Congress may not interfere with the final judgments of Article III courts. See Plaut v. Spendthrift Farm, Inc., 514 U.S. 211, 218, 115 S.Ct. 1447, 131 L.Ed.2d 328 (1995). Second, they claim that the termination provision "mandate[s] the result in a particular case." United States v. Klein, 80 U.S. (13 Wall.) 128, 146-47, 20 L.Ed. 519 (1871). Third, they maintain that the provision strips the courts of their inherent power to enforce effective remedies in constitutional cases.

We note at the outset that six other circuits have upheld the PLRA against a separation-of-powers challenge. See Hadix v. Johnson, 133 F.3d 940, 943 (6th Cir.), cert. denied --- U.S. ----, 118 S.Ct. 2368, 141 L.Ed.2d 737 (1998); Dougan v. Singletary, 129 F.3d 1424, 1426-27 (11th Cir.1997); Inmates of Suffolk County Jail v. Rouse, 129 F.3d 649, 656-57 (1st Cir.1997); Benjamin v. Jacobson, 124 F.3d 162, 173 (2d Cir.1997); Gavin v. Branstad, 122 F.3d 1081, 1087 (8th Cir.1997) reh'g granted (Dec. 23, 1997); Plyler v. Moore, 100 F.3d 365, 371 (4th Cir.1996). Only the Ninth Circuit has concluded otherwise. Taylor v. United States, 143 F.3d 1178, 1184 (9th Cir.1998) reh'g granted (Nov. 3, 1998).

1. Reopening a Final Judgment

The Inmates contend that § 3626(b)(2) impermissibly reopens a final judgment. Relying on the Supreme Court's opinion in Plaut v. Spendthrift Farm, Inc., 514 U.S. 211, 115 S.Ct. 1447, 131 L.Ed.2d 328 (1995), they argue that the provision violates the separation-of-powers doctrine by allowing Congress to "set aside ... final judgment[s]." Id. at 240, 115 S.Ct. 1447.

In Plaut, the Court declared unconstitutional a federal statute that required courts to reopen certain securities fraud cases that had been dismissed on statute-of-limitations grounds. Plaut, 514 U.S. at 214-15, 115 S.Ct. 1447. The Court concluded that the statute violated the separation-of-powers doctrine by interfering with the "judicial Power ... to render dispositive judgments." Id. at 219, 115 S.Ct. 1447. The Court explained that the separation-of-powers doctrine generally forbids Congress from reversing final judgments in a suit for money damages. Id. At the same time, however, the Court noted that this rule does not apply to legislation that merely "alter[s] the...

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