Laube v. Campbell, 2:02cv957-T.

Decision Date23 August 2004
Docket NumberNo. 2:02cv957-T.,2:02cv957-T.
Citation333 F.Supp.2d 1234
PartiesLinda LAUBE, et al., Plaintiffs, v. Donal CAMPBELL, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Middle District of Alabama

George E. Schulz, Jr., Holland & Knight, Jacksonville, FL, Gretchen Naomi Rohr, Holland & Knight, Atlanta, GA, John A. Russell, III, Aliceville, AL, Lisa Kung, Stephen B. Bright, Atlanta, GA, Tamara S. Caldas, Southern Center for Human Rights, Atlanta, GA, Marion D. Chartoff, Montgomery, AL, for Plaintiffs.

Andrew Weldon Redd, William F. Addison, Alabama Department of Corrections, Legal Division, Ellen Ruth Leonard, Alice Miller Maples, Charles B. Campbell, Montgomery, AL, Giles G. Perkins, James Edward Murrill, Jr., James Arthur Patton, Jr., Miller, Hamilton, Snider & Odom, LLC, Birmingham, AL, Hugh C. Nickson, III, Miller, Hamilton, Snider & Odom, Montgomery, AL, Michael M. Shipper, Miller Hamilton Snider & Odom, Mobile, AL, Edward Andrew Hosp, Maynard, Cooper & Gale, PC, Montgomery, AL, James Victor Doyle, Jr., K. Stephen Jackson PC, Birmingham, AL, Lee Calligaro, Epstein, Becker & Green PC, Washington, DC, Paul Anthony Clark, Balch & Bingham, Montgomery, AL, for Defendants.

OPINION

MYRON H. THOMPSON, District Judge.

In this class-action lawsuit, the plaintiffs (on behalf of themselves and all other women incarcerated by the Alabama Department of Corrections) claim that the defendants (who are various state officials) are deliberately indifferent to the denial of female prisoners' basic human needs, to the denial of their serious medical needs, and to their substantial risk of serious physical violence; the plaintiffs charge the defendants with violations of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution, as made applicable to the States by the Fourteenth Amendment and enforced through 42 U.S.C.A. § 1983. Jurisdiction is proper under 28 U.S.C.A. §§ 1331 and 1343.

This case is now before the court on the parties' joint motion to approve two four-year settlement agreements that will resolve all the claims in the case: the Conditions Settlement Agreement and the Medical Settlement Agreement. Based on a careful consideration of the parties' motion, the proposed settlement agreements and the objections to them, and the representations by counsel, and after a first-hand review of the current conditions of one of the state facilities that house the plaintiffs, the court will approve the proposed settlement agreements and enter a judgment, with the agreements attached.

I. BACKGROUND

The plaintiffs originally filed this lawsuit in August 2002. Broadly speaking, the court would characterize their allegations as follows: that because of conditions at the three state prison facilities that house all female inmates (Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women, the Edwina Mitchell Work Release Center (now known as the Tutwiler Annex), and the Birmingham Work Release Center), female inmates are being denied their basic human needs of adequate living space, ventilation, and personal safety and security; that because of the defendants' failure to provide adequate medical and mental health care, female inmates are at a real and substantial risk of injury, prolonged illness, and premature death; and that the defendants have acted with deliberate indifference to the existence of these conditions. The procedural history of this litigation and a vivid description of the conditions at Tutwiler, the Tutwiler Annex, and the Birmingham facility at the time this case was filed can be found in this court's earlier reported decisions. Laube v. Campbell, 255 F.Supp.2d 1301 (M.D.Ala.2003) (Thompson, J.); Laube v. Haley, 242 F.Supp.2d 1150 (M.D.Ala.2003) (Thompson, J.); Laube v. Haley, 234 F.Supp.2d 1227 (M.D.Ala.2002) (Thompson, J.).

In early 2004, counsel for all parties met informally to discuss settlement, and, in April 2004, formal mediation under the guidance of Chief Magistrate Judge Charles S. Coody began. In June 2004, counsel reached final agreement on all provisions of the proposed agreements, and, on June 25, filed a joint motion asking the court to adopt the agreements, both of which are signed by the following: plaintiffs' counsel; defendants' counsel; and defendants Donal Campbell (Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Corrections), Troy King (Attorney General of Alabama), and Bob Riley (Governor of Alabama). The agreements are intended to settle all the claims contained in the plaintiffs' second amended complaint; they expire in four years.

On July 1, 2004, the court provisionally approved the two settlement agreements and, with the approval of all parties and because of the urgent need for relief, also provisionally enjoined the defendants from failing immediately to carry out their provisions, that is, pending their final court approval. The court further ordered that, "[i]f the settlements are not ultimately approved by the court, then this order shall be vacated," and that "[t]he settlements shall expire, in accordance with their terms, four years from July 1, 2004, the date the agreements were provisionally enforced."

The court further approved the parties' plan for notifying class members of the proposed settlements and for soliciting and receiving class members' feedback. Based on the parties' representations contained in the two agreements, the court also granted the plaintiffs' motion for class certification.

On July 21, 2004, the court held a fairness hearing at Tutwiler Prison on the proposed settlements, during which the court heard testimony from seven class members and Tutwiler Warden Gladys Deese. After the hearing, the court toured the facility as it had done at the outset of this litigation almost two years ago.

II. DISCUSSION

Judicial policy favors voluntary settlement of class-action cases. Cotton v. Hinton, 559 F.2d 1326, 1331 (5th Cir.1977).1 However, "the settlement process is more susceptible than the adversarial process to certain types of abuse and, as a result, a court has a heavy, independent duty to ensure that the settlement is `fair, adequate, and reasonable.' "Paradise v. Wells, 686 F.Supp. 1442, 1444 (M.D.Ala.1988) (Thompson, J.); accord Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(e)(1)(C) ("The court may approve a settlement, voluntary dismissal, or compromise that would bind class members only after a hearing and on finding that the settlement is fair, reasonable, and adequate."). Court review is "essential to assure adequate representation of class members who have not participated in shaping the settlement." Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(e) advisory committee's note. In addition to analyzing the fairness of the proposed settlement, the court must assure that it is not illegal or against public policy. Piambino v. Bailey, 757 F.2d 1112, 1119 (11th Cir.1985); Paradise, 686 F.Supp. at 1448. The court must also determine whether notice to the class was adequate, Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(e), and must examine the class members' comments and objections, Paradise, 686 F.Supp. at 1444, and the judgment of counsel, id. at 1446. Because this case involves a challenge to prison conditions, the court must also determine whether the settlement is subject to the requirements of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), 18 U.S.C.A. § 3626, and, if so, whether those requirements have been met.

A. PLRA

"The PLRA strictly limits the prospective relief a federal court may order in cases concerning prison conditions." Gaddis v. Campbell, 301 F.Supp.2d 1310, 1313 (M.D.Ala.2004) (Thompson, J.). Although "private settlement agreements" are not subject to the statute's limitations, see, e.g., id. at 1313-14, the agreements in this case are subject to judicial enforcement and are thus within the scope of the statute, 18 U.S.C.A. § 3626(c)(2) & (g)(6).

The PLRA provides that a "court shall not grant or approve any prospective relief unless the court finds that such relief [(1)] is narrowly drawn, [(2)] extends no further than necessary to correct the violation of the Federal right, and [(3)] is the least intrusive means necessary to correct the violation of the Federal right." 18 U.S.C.A. § 3626(a)(1)(A). The court must also "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.A. § 3626(a)(1)(B).

In most cases, the court must "engage in a specific, provision-by-provision examination of [a] consent decree[ ], measuring each requirement against the statutory criteria." Cason v. Seckinger, 231 F.3d 777 (11th Cir.2000). However, it is not the case that "the district court must conduct an evidentiary hearing about or enter particularized findings concerning any facts or factors about which there is not dispute." Id. at 785 n. 8. "The parties are free to make any concessions or enter into stipulations they deem appropriate." Id.

Here, all parties concur that the PLRA's requirements are met. The parties agree that the proposed settlement agreements satisfy the statute's three-part "need-narrowness-intrusiveness' requirements. The court finds that the two proposed agreements, in particular the remedial provisions to which the parties have agreed, are based on an informed assessment of the facts and the law and represent the parties" considered judgment as to what is necessary, narrow, and least intrusive with respect to the specific problems presented in this case, with which the parties are intimately familiar. The parties also agree that the two agreements "will not have an adverse impact on public safety or the operation of the criminal justice system." 18 U.S.C.A. § 3626(a)(1)(B).

At the fairness hearing, the court expressed some concern that the provision of the Medical Settlement Agreement creating the healthcare monitor position could implicate the PLRA's requirements with respect to special masters. See 18 U.S.C.A. § 3626(f).2 As described below, an independent healthcare monitor is charged with conducting regular audits to monitor...

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