University of Michigan Law School
Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
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Case Name Nolasco v. Romer PC-CO-0004
Docket / Court 1:90-cv-00340-JRC ( D. Colo. )
State/Territory Colorado
Case Type(s) Prison Conditions
Case Summary
On Feb. 27, 1990, Colorado inmates filed a class action lawsuit under 42 USC 1983 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado. The inmates, represented by the ACLU of Colorado, the ACLU National Prison Project and private counsel, challenged the conditions of confinement, particularly ... read more >
On Feb. 27, 1990, Colorado inmates filed a class action lawsuit under 42 USC 1983 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado. The inmates, represented by the ACLU of Colorado, the ACLU National Prison Project and private counsel, challenged the conditions of confinement, particularly overcrowding, in three Colorado state prisons. The three prisons were not included in the 1979 decision and remedial measures in Ramos v. Lamm (PC-CO-0005) prohibiting overcrowding in three Colorado facilities.

The inmates' complaints alleged that that the totality of conditions at the prisons fell below the standards of human decency, particularly with respect to the overcrowded and unsanitary environment. Plaintiffs sought a declaratory judgment that their constitutional rights were being violated, and a comprehensive remedial order to abate permanently the alleged unconstitutional conditions causing the violations. The plaintiff class of all current and future inmates of the facilities was certified on August 16, 1990 over the objection of the defendants.

According to the docket, the matter was consolidated with Diaz v. Romer, Civil Action No. 77-C-1093 (PC-CO-0001) for purposes of discovery on October 30, 1990. At some point the matter was also consolidated with Arguello v. Romer, Civil Action No. 88-C-1335.

The parties engaged in substantial discovery, including the employment of expert witnesses to assess the conditions of the prisons. After several months of negotiations, they reached a settlement agreement, which the court (Judge Jim R. Carrigan) approved on June 12, 1992. Diaz v. Romer, 801 F.Supp. 405 (D. Colo. 1992). The Tenth Circuit affirmed the District Court's decision on October 21, 1993. Diaz v. Romer, 9 F.3d 116 (10th Cir. 1993).



The agreement specified that in return for final closure of these cases, the defendants would make capital improvements and undertake certain other changes at each of the prisons to insure that conditions of confinement at those facilities met constitutional standards. These improvements included: renovations to the facilities, an end to double bunking for inmates classified in administrative segregation, improvements in sanitation and health care, and expansion of sex offender treatment programs. The agreement also provided for annual peer review by a qualified representative from the American Correctional Association, the National Institute of Corrections, or an independent entity approved by one of those organizations.

The settlement agreement specified that any proceeding to enforce the agreement must be in the form of a new action, and stated the parties' intent that it be enforceable in federal court. The parties stipulated that in the event that no federal jurisdiction existed for a new action, this case could be reopened and the dismissal order vacated for the limited purpose of enforcing the agreement. The agreement also stated that if plaintiffs did not challenge or otherwise object to evidence of compliance with the terms of the agreement by August 31, 1994, the defendants' compliance would be deemed established.

The settlement agreement was approved, and the complaint and amended complaints in Nolasco and Arguello were dismissed with prejudice. The court reasoned that the steps taken by the defendants in the past several years, which included spending of millions of dollars renovating the physical facilities, together with the steps contemplated in the proposed settlement agreement, should ensure that the conditions at the prisons meet constitutional standards.

A pro se appeal by a class member from the district court's order approving a stipulated final settlement of all claims in the Diaz case was denied on October 21, 1993. The court found that the appellant received notice of the settlement agreement, that the district court's settlement of the class action suit does not rise to the required level of a constitutional challenge on the issue of state health standards, and that there is no reason to wait until appellant's state law claims are settled before approving a final settlement in this action.

According to the docket, a stipulation by the plaintiffs and defendants for an order closing the action and terminating its jurisdiction was filed in November 1994, and the judge issued an order closing the action in all respects.

Theresa Spaulding - 04/12/2005


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Crowding
Crowding / caseload
General
Assault/abuse by residents/inmates/students
Counseling
Disciplinary procedures
Fire safety
Food service / nutrition / hydration
Law library access
Personal injury
Protective custody
Recreation / Exercise
Sanitation / living conditions
Staff (number, training, qualifications, wages)
Totality of conditions
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Type of Facility
Government-run
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983
Defendant(s) Buena Vista Correctional Facility
Colorado Women's Correctional Facility
Fremont Correctional Facility
Fremont Correctional Facility
Plaintiff Description prisoners of the Colorado Department of Corrections
Indexed Lawyer Organizations None on record
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 1992 - n/a
Case Closing Year 1993
Case Ongoing No
Case Listing PC-CO-0001 : Diaz v. Romer (D. Colo.)
PC-CO-0005 : Ramos v. Lamm (D. Colo.)
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 ]

Docket(s)
90-C-340 (D. Colo.) 11/08/1994
PC-CO-0004-9000.pdf | Detail
PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Order 06/12/1992 (801 F.Supp. 405) (D. Colo.)
PC-CO-0004-0005.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Document Source: Google Scholar
Judges Carrigan, James R. (D. Colo.)
PC-CO-0004-0005 | PC-CO-0004-9000
Monitors/Masters None on record
Plaintiff's Lawyers Barajas, Johnny C. (Colorado)
PC-CO-0004-9000
Hartley, James Edward (Colorado)
PC-CO-0004-0005 | PC-CO-0004-9000
Jester, Jay S. (Colorado)
PC-CO-0004-9000
Lopez, Mark J. (District of Columbia)
PC-CO-0004-9000
Miller, David H. (Colorado)
PC-CO-0004-9000
Spiller, Dudley P. Jr. (Colorado)
PC-CO-0004-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Higgins, William J. (Colorado)
PC-CO-0004-0005 | PC-CO-0004-0005 | PC-CO-0004-9000
Marquez, Anthony (Colorado)
PC-CO-0004-0005 | PC-CO-0004-9000
Other Lawyers Cherner, Philip Alan (Colorado)
PC-CO-0004-9000

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