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Case Name Christensen v. Sullivan JC-WI-0008
Docket / Court Case No. 96-CV-001835 ( State Court )
State/Territory Wisconsin
Case Type(s) Jail Conditions
Attorney Organization ACLU Chapters (any)
Legal Services/Legal Aid
Case Summary
In March 1996 the plaintiff, an inmate of the Milwaukee County Jail, filed a pro se complaint in state court alleging that he was confined in dangerous conditions in violation of the Wisconsin State Constitution. Specifically, the Plaintiff claimed that overcrowding in the jail led to needless ... read more >
In March 1996 the plaintiff, an inmate of the Milwaukee County Jail, filed a pro se complaint in state court alleging that he was confined in dangerous conditions in violation of the Wisconsin State Constitution. Specifically, the Plaintiff claimed that overcrowding in the jail led to needless pain and suffering, and posed a serious danger to the physical and mental well-being of inmates. The Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee began representing the plaintiff and sought to represent a class of all present and future inmates of the jail. On October 15, 1996 the county court (Judge Michael Skwierawski) certified the case as a class action.

On June 19, 2001 the court (Judge Thomas Donegan) approved a consent decree that was divided into one part dealing with population controls and another dealing with medical care. It required that the county maintain a population cap in the jail generally and in the booking room specifically. It provided that no inmate would spend more than thirty hours in the booking room and required better staffing and training for staff in that area. In terms of medical care it required that the county provide adequate, well-trained staff and complete screening of inmates for physical and mental health conditions. It further set out requirements for physical examinations, dental care, women's health, sick call, mental health, chronic care, and emergencies. The parties were to agree to a medical monitor to supervise the medical care provisions while the court retained jurisdiction over the population control provisions until the defendant was in full compliance.

In late 2003, plaintiffs' counsel requested an investigation of compliance with the consent decree. In the thirty month period between November 2001 and April 2004 there had been 16,662 violations of the thirty hour maximum waiting period in the booking room. Additionally, the conditions remained substandard and unsanitary in contravention of the consent decree. On September 13, 2004 plaintiffs moved for enforcement of the consent decree. On January 4, 2006 the county court (Judge Clare L. Fiorenza) found that the Milwaukee County Jail had deliberately violated the consent decree and had been in contempt of court, but that sanctions were unavailable because the violations had ceased.

Plaintiffs appealed to the Wisconsin Court of Appeals and on January 29, 2008 the court (Judges Wedemeyer, Fine, and Kessler) reversed on the basis of an intervening decision by the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Milwaukee County appealed to the Supreme Court of Wisconsin and on July 21, 2009 the Supreme Court (Justices Abrahamson, Bradley, Crooks, Gableman, Prosser, Roggensack, and Ziegler) reversed the appeals court by a vote of four to three and held that since the violations of the consent decree had ceased remedial sanctions were unavailable.

Michael Perry - 11/03/2010

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Crowding / caseload
Pre-PLRA Population Cap
Classification / placement
Sanitation / living conditions
Totality of conditions
Medical/Mental Health
Dental care
Medical care, general
Mental health care, general
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Type of Facility
Causes of Action State law
Defendant(s) Milwaukee County Jail
Plaintiff Description Current and future inmates in the Milwaukee County Jail
Indexed Lawyer Organizations ACLU Chapters (any)
Legal Services/Legal Aid
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted Yes
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Settlement
Form of Settlement Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree
Order Duration 2001 - n/a
Case Closing Year n/a
Case Ongoing Yes
Additional Resources
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Case Studies After Decision: Implementation of Judicial Decrees in Correctional Settings
Written: Oct. 01, 1977
By: M. Kay Harris & Dudley P. Spiller (Temple University)
Citation: (1977)
[ Detail ] [ PDF ]

1996-cv-001835 (State Trial Court) 03/12/1996
JC-WI-0008-9000 PDF | Detail
State Court Website
General Documents
Settlement Agreement 06/19/2001
JC-WI-0008-0003 PDF | Detail
Document Source:
Opinion (Reversing the trial court and holding that remedial sanctions are available) 01/29/2008 (746 N.W.2d 553)
JC-WI-0008-0001 PDF | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Brief of Plaintiffs-Appellants 01/29/2008
JC-WI-0008-0004 PDF | Detail
Brief of Petitioners, Certificate of Service 01/29/2008
JC-WI-0008-0005 PDF | Detail
Order(Granting petition for review) 05/13/2008 (754 N.W.2d 849)
JC-WI-0008-0002 PDF | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Opinion (Reversing the Court of Appeals and holding that remedial sanctions are not available) 07/21/2009 (768 N.W.2d 798)
JC-WI-0008-0006 PDF | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Judges Abrahamson, Shirley S. (State Supreme Court)
Bradley, Ann Walsh (State Supreme Court)
Crooks, N. Patrick (State Supreme Court)
Donegan, Thomas (State Trial Court)
JC-WI-0008-0003 | JC-WI-0008-9000
Fine, Ralph Adam (State Appellate Court)
Gableman, Michael J. (State Supreme Court)
Kessler, Joan F. (State Appellate Court)
Prosser, David T. Jr. (State Supreme Court)
Roggensack, Patience Drake (State Supreme Court)
Wedemeyer, Ted E. Jr. (State Appellate Court)
Ziegler, Annette Kingsland (State Supreme Court)
Monitors/Masters None on record
Plaintiff's Lawyers Diaz, Micabel (Wisconsin)
Dupuis, Laurence J. (Wisconsin)
Gundrum, Mary (Wisconsin)
Koneazny, Peter M. (Wisconsin)
Patterson, Patrick O. (Wisconsin)
Defendant's Lawyers Bohl, Charles H. (Wisconsin)
Domina, William J. (Wisconsin)
Jones, Andrew A. (Wisconsin)
Schapekahm, John E. (Wisconsin)
JC-WI-0008-0003 | JC-WI-0008-0005
Other Lawyers None on record

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