On August 10, 1976, prisoners at North Broward Detention Center filed this action, pro se, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. The plaintiffs sued under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Broward County officials. At the time, the county's main jail was in the old courthouse, where 1,200 inmates were packed into cells designed for 275. The Court appointed counsel and the parties went on to litigate the claims.
We have only limited information on the first 18 years of the case; the docket is not digitized. We do know (from the 1994 settlement agreement) that Judge William M. Hoeveler certified the matter as a class action on November 9, 1979 on behalf of all persons who have been, are being, or will be confined in the Broward County corrections and rehabilitation facilities. By agreement of the parties this included any jails that Broward County or the Sheriff of Broward County may in the future operate or contract with a private company to operate.
Judge Hoeveler established caps on the jails’ inmate population and minimum conditions. The county closed the old jail and spent more than $90 million building and renovating three new jails with 3,656 beds. The county also paid $1.9 million in court-ordered fines for exceeding the court-ordered caps. And from 1976 to 1994, the county paid almost $700,000 to inmates' attorneys and court experts. (Sources: Sun Sentinel News Article
and Blog Post
There was also a lot of litigation regarding the award of attorney's fees. To deal with these disputes, one of the plaintiffs' attorneys hired an attorney (the "fee attorney") to litigate the fee dispute for him. The fee attorney successfully litigated the plaintiffs' attorney's application for fees under the Civil Rights Attorneys' Fees Awards Act. As a result, the fee attorney also requested compensation for his own services under the statute. The United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida (Judge William M. Hoeveler) denied the request, and the fee attorney appealed. On April 19, 1985, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals (Judge Vance) held that (1) such representation was compensable under the Act, but (2) the fee attorney lacked standing to file the petition for fees; rather, proper procedure was for the attorney who benefited from the representation to supplement his own fee application to include costs and expenses that he incurred by retaining the fee attorney. Jonas v. Stack, 758 F.2d 567 (11th Cir. 1985).
Implementation of reforms continued to be contested, but in July 1994, the parties entered into a consent decree, which was ratified by the court in January 1995. The consent decree stipulated changes that would be made at the jail in the areas of classification, freedom of religion, use of force, housing conditions, overcrowding, recreation, visitation, programming, medical care, mental health care, dental care, and disciplinary procedures. The plaintiff prisoners were represented by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation's National Prison Project, and the defendants were representatives of Broward County and the North Broward Detention Center. The consent decree contained a provision for monthly payment of the plaintiffs' attorney fees and appointed Howard Messing to be Special Master. (On June 7, 1995, Judge Hoeveler issued an amended Order incorporating the settlement agreement of the parties.)
In January 1996, the Sheriff's Department received full American Correctional
Association ("ACA") accreditation. Defendants then filed a motion to terminate all relief, citing language in the Consent Decree that stated "Defendants' obligations regarding ACA compliance shall terminate upon defendant's achieving ACA accreditation." In the alternative, Defendants sought the end of compliance monitoring. On Feb. 7, 1996, the Court denied the motion, holding that monitoring and the substantive requirements of the Decree were separable, that the substantive requirements were designed to outlast the monitoring, and that in any event, it would be premature to discontinue monitoring, when compliance was still partial. (The Court cited evidence that 100 inmates were still sleeping on the floor in violation of the Consent Decree.)
In August 1996, after enactment of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), the defendants filed anoter motion to terminate the consent decree, this time pursuant to the PLRA's termination provisions, 18 U.S.C. 3626(e). The motion remained pending for many years. On July 19, 2001, new counsel appeared for the plaintiffs, from the ACLU's National Prison Project. Through these new lawyers, the plaintiffs sought court-appointment of experts to review jail conditions and evidentiary hearing. The court granted that motion August 2, 2001.
Arguing that because all prospective relief is automatically stayed by operation of the PLRA, at some point, defendants stopped paying the attorneys' fees covered in the consent decree. On February 15, 2002, the plaintiffs moved to recover those fees. Judge Hoeveler ruled that attorneys' fees are not automatically stayed by operation of the PLRA, but the fees which the plaintiffs can collect must be reasonably incurred in enforcing the relief ordered for the violation. Carruthers v. Jenne, 209 F.Supp.2d 1294 (S.D.Fla. 2002).
In 2002 the three experts the court had appointed in August 2001 filed reports regarding conditions at the jail. The experts identified numerous systemic problems, including unnecessary and excessive force; inadequate reviews of use-of-force incidents; lack of meaningful disciplinary sanctions for serious violations of use-of-force policies; that use of the restraint chair is not properly regulated or documented; that the jail does not provide medical staff with appropriate training; that medical staff do not exercise appropriate medical judgment; and that “many prisoners with serious mental disorders (often associated with active psychotic features) were not receiving adequate mental health treatment.”
A hearing on the years-old termination motion was set for March 2003. But the parties agreed to postpone the hearing while the experts re-inspected the jail. (Source: ACLU Report
The parties agreed several times to postpone adjudication of the pending termination motion and continue with expert reviews of the facility conditions. In January 2004 and January 2005 they entered two stipulations for settlement, which narrowed the scope of continuing monitoring, inspection and judicial oversight of jail operations and conditions to those relating to mental health services, inmate rules and discipline, inmate safety and security, facility capacity, and inmate access to religious publications and services and access to legal materials. The Stipulations also stopped class counsel from engaging in formal discovery. However, the court-appointed experts produced additional reports on conditions and operations at the Jail through mid-2006.
The agreement also established the position of "ombudsperson," who would perform various functions including identification of systemic problems as related to the inmate population and manage the investigation and review of inmate concerns and grievances.
In 2006, the jail was again plagued by serious overcrowding. The plaintiffs urged the Sheriff to contract with the U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Corrections (NIC), to conduct an audit and determine the cause of the overcrowding. The Sheriff agreed, and the NIC completed its audit in April 2007. As a result of the audit, the Sheriff asked the county commission to nearly double the size of the supervised release program.
In 2009, the Sheriff closed one of the five jail facilities, and the daily population climbed through 2010, resulting in overcrowding in the remaining jail buildings. On July 20, 2010, the court granted the plaintiffs' unopposed motion for a status report on the population, jail capacity, and the use of temporary beds at the Broward County Jail, and to produce an impact statement on how the potential closure of 544 beds at BCJ's Rein facility would affect jail conditions and operations.
The plaintiffs filed a motion asking the court to appoint Dr. James Austin, a nationally recognized expert on correctional population management, to conduct a jail and justice system assessment, and make recommendations for criminal justice reforms regarding population management, including alternatives to incarceration. The Court agreed, ordering the appointment on October 4, 2010. A report filed in 2014 explains that Dr. Austin completed the ordered report in 2012, though it does not appear in the docket.
Next, in November 2014, inmates in the jail--not the designated class representatives--alleged that the facilities were overcrowded in violation of the consent decree. They filed pro se motions to replace class representatives and for sanctions against the defendants. The docket notes that Judge Hoeveler was no longer with the court (although Judge Hoeveler had not formally retired or moved, he was 92 by 2014, and had taken senior status in 1991). The matter was reassigned to Judge Donald M. Middlebrooks for all further proceedings.
On August 5, 2015, Judge Middlebrooks issued an order denying the pros se inmates' motions and requiring the parties to show cause as to why the consent decree should not be dissolved or amended. The county responded that it thought the consent decree should
be dissolved, but that it was working through the issues with the plaintiff to try to seek agreement. It filed a new population report by Dr. Austin, which recommended a list of reforms that would, if implemented, reduce population by 20% or more. And it sought relief from ongoing monitoring. The plaintiffs opposed dissolution of the decree, offering information that suggested that constitutional problems remained.
The court heard oral argument regarding the continuing need for the consent decree on March 31, 2016. The court also set an evidentiary hearing for October 10, 2016. Kristen Sagar - 02/19/2006
Jessica Kincaid - 04/21/2016