University of Michigan Law School
Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
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Case Name Hoffer v. Fair PC-MA-0029
Docket / Court SJ-1985-0071 ( State Court )
State/Territory Massachusetts
Case Type(s) Prison Conditions
Special Collection Solitary confinement
Attorney Organization Legal Services/Legal Aid
Case Summary
On February 8, 1985, six prisoners housed at the Massachusetts Correctional Institute-Cedar Junction Department Segregation Unit (DSU) ("10 Block plaintiffs") sent a letter entitled "An Open Letter from Ten Block MCI Walpole" to the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, describing the recent ... read more >
On February 8, 1985, six prisoners housed at the Massachusetts Correctional Institute-Cedar Junction Department Segregation Unit (DSU) ("10 Block plaintiffs") sent a letter entitled "An Open Letter from Ten Block MCI Walpole" to the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, describing the recent death of a fellow DSU inmate. The 10 Block plaintiffs alleged unconstitutional conditions of confinement at the DSU, including inadequate access to exercise and other activities; the denial of medical treatment and of visits from family and attorneys; and the closing of outer steel doors of DSU cells. On Februrary 25, 1985, the Supreme Judicial Court ordered that the letter be treated as a petition and referred the matter to Justice Paul J. Liacos for investigation and recommendation to the full court. The 10 Block plaintiffs eventually retained Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services (MCLS) as counsel.

On April 8, 1985, the Court ordered that MCLS staff attorneys and paralegals be permitted direct access to DSU inmates in order to determine whether any more of them required MCLS services. On June 20, 1985, the Court affirmed MCLS's visitation privileges, enjoining defendants from barring them from DOC facilities without court approval. The Court denied Defendant's motion to terminate these orders and Defendant appealed.

On June 21, 1985, the 10 Block plaintiffs filed an amended class action complaint seeking declaratory and injunctive relief with respect to conditions in segregation units and procedures by which inmates are placed and held there. 397 Mass. 152. On March 20, 1986, the Supreme Judicial Court (Justice Wilkins) affirmed the single justice's ruling, holding that defendant's prior violation of a court order permitting paralegal visitation privileges justified single justice's denial of motion to vacate. Id. On December 23, 1986, the Supreme Judicial Court (Master Linscott) granted the 10 Block plaintiffs motion for class certification.

On September 19, 1989, the Court (Justice Liacos) ordered that defendants promulgate new DSU regulations that comply with an specific minimum requirements regarding the process and standard of referral for transfer to DSU, as well as conditions within the DSU.

Even before all the above began place, one of the 10 Block Plaintiffs, Hoffer, had filed a §1983 suit in the Suffolk Superior Court of Massachusetts against the Massachusetts Commissioner of Corrections and the Superintendent of MCI, alleging violations of his state and federal due process rights. Specifically, Hoffer alleged that defendants illegally retained him in the DSU without setting a conditional release date or conditions of behavior. He sought sought declaratory and injunctive relief, as well as monetary damages. On March 3, 1992, the Suffolk Superior Court awarded plaintiff Hoffer monetary damages on his individual due process claim. Defendants appealed the amount of damages. The Supreme Judicial Court transferred the case from the Appeals Court and consolidated it with the "Open Letter" case. On April 13, 1992, the Supreme Judicial Court (Justice Nolan) held that plaintiff Hoffer was entitled to more than nominal damages regarding his individual due process claim, but only for the days after the first 90 of his commitment.

The parties settled, and the Court issued its final judgment on December 28, 1993, ordering defendants to provide minimum procedures and substantive protections in compliance with DSU regulations provided to DSU officials, staff, and inmates. On September 26, 1995, the Court issued a post-judgment final order, enjoining defendants from repealing the DSU regulations.

Timothy Shoffner - 05/01/2013

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Affected Gender
Constitutional Clause
Cruel and Unusual Punishment
Due Process
Access to lawyers or judicial system
Administrative segregation
Conditions of confinement
Disciplinary segregation
Recreation / Exercise
Solitary confinement/Supermax (conditions or process)
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Type of Facility
Causes of Action State law
42 U.S.C. § 1983
Defendant(s) State of Massachusetts
Plaintiff Description prisoners housed at the Massachusetts Correctional Institute-Cedar Junction Department Segregation Unit
Indexed Lawyer Organizations Legal Services/Legal Aid
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted Yes
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Damages
Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Litigation
Form of Settlement Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree
Order Duration 1989 - n/a
Case Closing Year 1993
Case Ongoing Unknown
Additional Resources
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Case Studies Civil Rights Injunctions Over Time: A Case Study of Jail and Prison Court Orders
N.Y.U. Law Review
By: Margo Schlanger (Washington University)
Citation: 81 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 550 (2006)
[ Detail ] [ PDF ] [ External Link ]

  Judicial Policy Making and the Modern State: How the Courts Reformed America's Prisons
By: Malcolm M. Feeley & Edward Rubin (UC Berkeley Boalt Hall School of Law & Vanderbilt School of Law Faculty)
Citation: (1998)
[ Detail ]

1991-J-0376 (State Court of Appeals) 06/24/1991
PC-MA-0029-9001 PDF | Detail
State Court Website
1991-P-0766 (State Court of Appeals) 11/13/1991
PC-MA-0029-9002 PDF | Detail
State Court Website
SJC-05821 (State Supreme Court) 04/13/1992
PC-MA-0029-9003 PDF | Detail
State Court Website
SJ-1985-0071 (State Supreme Court) 08/28/2007
PC-MA-0029-9000 PDF | Detail
State Court Website
General Documents
Opinion 03/20/1986 (397 Mass. 152)
PC-MA-0029-0001 PDF | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Document Source: Westlaw
Opinion 04/13/1992 (412 Mass. 450)
PC-MA-0029-0002 PDF | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Document Source: Westlaw
Judges Greaney, John M. (State Supreme Court)
Nolan, Joseph R. (State Supreme Court)
Wilkins, Herbert P. (State Supreme Court)
Monitors/Masters None on record
Plaintiff's Lawyers Lewis, Daniel M. (Massachusetts)
PC-MA-0029-9002 | PC-MA-0029-9003
Murphy, Charles G. (Massachusetts)
PC-MA-0029-9001 | PC-MA-0029-9003
Defendant's Lawyers Hanson, Herbert (Massachusetts)
Madden, Veronica (Massachusetts)
Wyzanski, Charles Edward Jr. (Massachusetts)
PC-MA-0029-9001 | PC-MA-0029-9003
Other Lawyers None on record

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