On February 15, 2002, inmates at Wyoming State Prison filed this class action lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming against the director of the Wyoming Department of Correction and prison officers and administrators. The class consisted of all those who were or would be inmates at the Wyoming State Prison. The ACLU and private counsel represented the class. The plaintiffs sought damages and injunctive relief, alleging that the policies and practices at the prison put inmates at the risk of unprovoked assault, and that state and prison failed to safeguard inmates against assaults by other inmates in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.
According to the complaint, the prison's staff did not respond to reports of threats to the safety of inmates, nor did they respond once an assault had taken place. The prison staff either did not observe or did not respond to the entry of inmates into a cell to which they were not assigned. The plaintiff alleged that the prison failed to hire a sufficient number of corrections officers, failed to adequately train corrections staff to ensure inmate safety from assault, failed to take steps after an inmate assault occurred to determine whether staff misconduct had led to the assault, and failed to ensure that corrections staff would adequately report and document threats to the safety of inmates. These failures created a substantial risk to the safety of the inmates.
The District Court (Judge Clarence Brimmer) conditionally certified the class on August 2, 2002. Skinner v. Uphoff, 209 F.R.D. 484 (D. Wyo. 2002). On November 27, 2002, the District Court (Judge Brimmer) granted the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment on behalf of the class. Skinner v. Uphoff, 234 F. Supp. 2d 1208 (D. Wyo. 2002). The court held that prison officials had a duty "to protect prisoners from violence at the hands of other prisoners." The court found that the defendants had failed to adequately train and supervise employees, failed to properly review policy violations, and failed to properly discipline employees, which all led to a risk to the safety of inmates. Both the plaintiff and the defendant were required to submit a proposed remedial plan within twenty-one days of the decision. The purpose of the remedial plans was to promptly and effectively remedy the constitutional violations. The defendants had referred to a "culture" at the prison that made it difficult for administrators to properly supervise and discipline staff; the remedial plans were to include a plan to counter the "culture" that existed.
In May of 2003, the parties reached a settlement agreement regarding the plaintiff's individual claims for damages.
Both the plaintiff and the defendant submitted proposed remedial plans. The District Court (Judge Brimmer) issued a final decree on October 7, 2003, to adopt and incorporate the defendant's second proposed remedial plan with modifications. The goals of the remedial plan were to (1) provide clear guidance to prison staff so that they could respond appropriately to any known threat of harm to an inmate, and to (2) ensure that prison staff involvement in protection from harm was reported, documented, reviewed, and responded to appropriately.
On June 30, 2004, the District Court (Judge Brimmer) granted the plaintiff's motion for attorneys' costs and fees. Skinner v. Uphoff, 324 F. Supp. 2d 1278 (D. Wyo. 2004).
On August 18, 2005, ten class members filed a pro se motion for relief from the judgment in favor of the plaintiff class. The movants asked that the District Court recuse itself, appoint new class counsel, and set aside the grant of summary judgment and reopen the case for litigation on the issue of overcrowding. The District Court denied the motion. The U.S. Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit (Judge David M. Ebel) affirmed. Skinner v. Uphoff, No. 05-8098, 2006 WL 925813 (10th Cir. April 11, 2006).
On January 3, 2006, the defendants moved to terminate the decree.
On January 20, 2006, the District Court (Judge Brimmer) ruled on several motions before the court. Skinner v. Uphoff, 410 F. Supp. 2d 1104 (D. Wyo. 2006). The court held that the defendants were responsible for providing copies of any investigative reports to the public and the media, but the plaintiffs' attorneys were still responsible for providing such reports to the plaintiffs and their families. The court denied the defendants' motion to require the plaintiffs' attorneys to carefully scrutinize any documents for confidential material prior to disseminating them. The court granted the plaintiffs' motion for access to the outside investigator who is responsible for the investigation of suspected premeditated assaults. The court denied in part and granted in part the plaintiffs' motion for declaratory and injunctive relief holding that the defendant's were required to comply with the deadlines set by the Remedial Plan. The court granted the plaintiffs' motion for formal discovery to understand and monitor the defendants' compliance with the Remedial Plan. The court deferred the defendants' motion for termination of the final decree until after formal discovery and an evidentiary hearing.
On August 7, 2006, the Court (Judge Brimmer) denied the defendant's motion to terminate relief. The Court modified relief and granted in part and denied in part the plaintiff's six contempt motions. The Court found two ongoing constitutional violations: First, the failure to Adequately Investigate and Abate Dangerous Conditions, and second, the failure to implement an effective internal review process for the reporting of staff errors, staff misconduct and institutional deficiencies that cause and contribute to inmate assault.
On September 17, 2007, finding that the defendants resolved the two constitutional violations, the Court (Judge Brimmer) granted the defendant's motion to terminate the injunction, closing the case. Kaitlin Corkran - 05/29/2006
Lakshmi Gopal - 03/01/2016