University of Michigan Law School
Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
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Case Name Heit v. VanOchten PC-MI-0005
Docket / Court 96-CV-800 ( W.D. Mich. )
State/Territory Michigan
Case Type(s) Prison Conditions
Attorney Organization ACLU National (all projects)
ACLU National Prison Project
Case Summary
On October 4, 1996, prisoners of the state of Michigan filed a class action lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Michigan Department of Corrections in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan. The plaintiffs, represented by the National Prison Project of the American ... read more >
On October 4, 1996, prisoners of the state of Michigan filed a class action lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Michigan Department of Corrections in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan. The plaintiffs, represented by the National Prison Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, asked the court for injunctive relief, alleging that their constitutional rights had been violated by unconstitutional state administrative prisoner disciplinary hearing practices and procedures. Specifically, the complaint alleged that the defendants kept statistical records of its wins and losses before administrative law judges (ALJ's), used disciplinary threats against ALJ's to manipulate the conviction rate, and instructed ALJ's to issue not guilty rulings in no more than 10% of the disciplinary cases. In another case raising the same legal issue, Perry v. McGinnis, 209 F.3d 597 (6th Cir. 2000), the court of appeals found that "overwhelming evidence suggests that there was, at the very least, a strong expectation that the not guilty/dismissal rate should not rise above 10%" and stated that "[i]f hearing officers focus on finding 90% of the defendants before them guilty, as the evidence adduced thus far suggests, they cannot possibly be impartial, as is required by Wolff."

On April 27, 2000, the parties reached a settlement, in which the defendants agreed to discontinue the disciplinary procedures in question. On January 8, 2001, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan (Judge Richard Alan Enslen) approved the agreement as a consent decree and temporarily dismissed the case so long as the parties do not commit a material breach of the decree for one year. Heit v. Van Ochten, 126 F.Supp.2d 487 (W.D.Mich. 2001).

The issue of attorneys fees continued to be litigated up until 2003. Moreover, various plaintiffs filed pleadings to the court, which were initially denied. The plaintiffs appealed this decision, and the motion to appeal was granted on December 17, 2008.

The United States Court of Appeals dismissed the case on March 8, 2009 for want of prosecution. On November 17, 2010 affirmed the district court's order.

Kristen Sagar - 09/08/2006


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
General
Disciplinary procedures
Type of Facility
Government-run
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Defendant(s) Michigan Department of Corrections
Plaintiff Description prisoners of the state of Michigan
Indexed Lawyer Organizations ACLU National (all projects)
ACLU National Prison Project
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 Unknown
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)
1:96-cv-00800-RAE (W.D. Mich.) 12/09/2010
PC-MI-0005-9001 PDF | Detail
PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Consent Decree, Order & Judgment 01/01/1998 (W.D. Mich.)
PC-MI-0005-0001 PDF | Detail
Reported Opinion 01/08/2001 (126 F.Supp.2d 487) (W.D. Mich.)
PC-MI-0005-0002 PDF | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Document Source: Google Scholar
Order 01/12/2001 (2001 U.S.Dist.LEXIS 532) (W.D. Mich.)
PC-MI-0005-0009 PDF | LEXIS | Detail
Document Source: LexisNexis
Order Vacating Rejection of Pleadings and Order Denying Objection 09/26/2008 (W.D. Mich.)
PC-MI-0005-0003 PDF | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Notice of Appeal 10/22/2008
PC-MI-0005-0004 PDF | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order Granting Request to Appeal In Forma Pauperis 12/17/2008 (E.D. Mich.)
PC-MI-0005-0005 PDF | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order [Dismissing Cause for Want of Prosecution] 03/04/2009
PC-MI-0005-0006 PDF | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order [Reinstating Case] 03/08/2010
PC-MI-0005-0007 PDF | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order [Affirming District Court's Order] 11/17/2010
PC-MI-0005-0008 PDF | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Judges Cole, Ransey Guy Jr. (Sixth Circuit)
PC-MI-0005-0008
Enslen, Richard Alan (W.D. Mich.)
PC-MI-0005-0001 | PC-MI-0005-0002 | PC-MI-0005-0009 | PC-MI-0005-9001
Keith, Damon Jerome (Sixth Circuit, E.D. Mich.)
PC-MI-0005-0008
Maloney, Paul Lewis (W.D. Mich.)
PC-MI-0005-0003 | PC-MI-0005-0005 | PC-MI-0005-9001
Rowland, Doyle A. (W.D. Mich.) [Magistrate]
PC-MI-0005-0001
Siler, Eugene Edward Jr. (W.D. Ky., Sixth Circuit, E.D. Ky.)
PC-MI-0005-0008
Monitors/Masters None on record
Plaintiff's Lawyers Alexander, Elizabeth R. (District of Columbia)
PC-MI-0005-0001 | PC-MI-0005-0002 | PC-MI-0005-0009 | PC-MI-0005-9001
Streeter, Patricia A. (Michigan)
PC-MI-0005-0001 | PC-MI-0005-0002 | PC-MI-0005-0009 | PC-MI-0005-9001
Defendant's Lawyers Campbell, Christine M. (Michigan)
PC-MI-0005-9001
Friedman, Leo H. (Michigan)
PC-MI-0005-9001
Granholm, Jennifer M. (Michigan)
PC-MI-0005-0002 | PC-MI-0005-0009
Matus, Mark W. (Michigan)
PC-MI-0005-0002 | PC-MI-0005-9001
Olivieri, Linda M. (Michigan)
PC-MI-0005-0009 | PC-MI-0005-9001
Walton, Lamont M. (Michigan)
PC-MI-0005-0001 | PC-MI-0005-9001
Other Lawyers None on record

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