On March 11, 1986, a class of 2,800 inmates at Northpoint Training Center, a Kentucky correctional institution, brought a class action lawsuit against prison officials for injunctive relief and damages claiming to have been exposed to potentially dangerous levels of asbestos at the facility. They ...
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On March 11, 1986, a class of 2,800 inmates at Northpoint Training Center, a Kentucky correctional institution, brought a class action lawsuit against prison officials for injunctive relief and damages claiming to have been exposed to potentially dangerous levels of asbestos at the facility. They challenged both the existence of asbestos in prison dormitories and the use of inmate labor to remove it. In 1985, officials at Northpoint began a program to use inmate labor to remove asbestos in old prison buildings. Inmates filed suit shortly thereafter. The US District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky (Judge William O. Bertelsman) issued a temporary restraining order, and later a preliminary injunction, finding that inmates were at risk by the facility's use of prisoners in unsafe conditions to remove asbestos. Postponing discovery and trial on liability and damages, the Court appointed an asbestos-removal expert, Versar, Inc., to oversee compliance with asbestos removal regulations and awarded interim attorneys fees and monitor fees. This fee-award order was appealed by the state, and the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed and remanded in part and dismissed in part. Webster v. Sowders, 846 F.2d 1032 (6th Cir. 1988) (Judge Gilbert S. Merritt, Jr.).
After several years of litigation on the asbestos issue, the parties reached a settlement that was approved by Judge Bertelsman on January 5, 1990 after two hearings. The settlement, which had been approved by the majority of class members, granted the injunctive relief sought by the inmates but dismissed the claims for damages, though it preserved the rights of inmates to seek damages in separate actions. Two inmates who were part of the class filed an appeal, arguing that the court should not have approved the settlement. In an unpublished per curiam opinion on March 26, 2001, the 6th Circuit affirmed the District Court's approval of the settlement, finding no abuse of discretion. Webster v. Sowders, 928 F.2d 1134 (6th Cir. 1991). The U.S. Supreme Court denied the inmates' subsequent petition for a writ of certiorari. Parrott v. Sowders, 502 U.S. 1007 (1991).
After the enactment of the Prison Litigation Reform Act in 1996, the state sought to terminate the prospective relief provisions in the consent decree. After various proceedings, the District Court entered an order terminating the prospective relief provisions but leaving intact the provisions governing accrual of claims for statute of limitations purposes. The precise timing of the termination is unclear. In an unpublished opinion, the 6th Circuit affirmed the District Court's order on August 10, 1998. Webster v. Sowders, 165 F.3d 29 (6th Cir. 1998).Denise Lieberman - 10/23/2005