University of Michigan Law School
Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
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Case Name McDonald v. Armontrout PC-MO-0001
Docket / Court 2:85-cv-04422-SOW ( W.D. Mo. )
State/Territory Missouri
Case Type(s) Prison Conditions
Case Summary
On August 19, 1985, death row inmates in the Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City, Missouri (MSP), filed a class action lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against MSP, Missouri Department of Corrections (DOC), and the State of Missouri, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District ... read more >
On August 19, 1985, death row inmates in the Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City, Missouri (MSP), filed a class action lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against MSP, Missouri Department of Corrections (DOC), and the State of Missouri, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri, Central Division. The plaintiffs, represented by private counsel and the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, asked the court for declaratory and injunctive relief, alleging that the conditions of confinement at MSP were intolerable and unlawful in violation of the plaintiffs' First, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Specifically, the plaintiffs contended that they were confined to their cells for 23 hours per day, permitted only three outdoor recreation periods per week, not afforded sufficient use of weight machines, often denied showers and access to common areas, afforded a total floor space of 20 square feet and no windows, provided grossly inadequate sanitation, ventilation, lighting, bedding and drinking water, disciplined unreasonably harshly by seclusion, harassed by guards, denied group dining and frequent meals, denied group religious services, denied access to the law and prison library as well as unfettered access to lawyers, denied adequate medical, mental and dental care, denied employment and education, denied telephone and mail access, and provided with unreasonably hazardous facilities.

On January 15, 1986, the District Court (Judge Scott O. Wright) certified a class comprised of all inmates who were or would be confined under sentence of death by the Missouri Department of Corrections and Human Resources.

The parties apparently began negotiating a settlement agreement shortly after the class was certified, and on January 7, 1987, the District Court (Judge Wright) approved a consent decree. Under the consent decree, DOC agreed to refrain from reading or otherwise mishandling inmates' legal mail and materials, provide a privacy room for religious services, provide a telephone jack between cells and allow use of them, provide medical and mental health services, classify inmates by behavior, expand the staff and improve staff training at the prison, expand recreation time and provide better equipped space, improve plumbing, lighting, bedding, showers, sanitation, ventilation, education, and fire safety conditions, increase visitation privileges, and improve food service. Further, under the consent decree, the plaintiffs retained the right to seek other and further relief from the Court as might be necessary to remedy deficient conditions at the prison.

Thereafter, there was some litigation concerning attorneys' fees. McDonald v. Armontrout, 860 F.2d 1456 (8th Cir. 1988).

On March 13, 1989, the District Court (Judge Wright) allowed DOC to move the capital punishment unit for men from MSP to the Potosi Correctional Center (PCC). On May 10, 1989, the District Court (Judge Wright) modified and approved the defendants' plan to implement the consent decree at PCC. McDonald v. Armontrout, No. 85-4422CVC5, 1989 WL 1128973 (W.D. Mo. May 10, 1989). The plaintiffs appealed.

On July 16, 1990, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals (Judge Pasco Middleton Bowman II) affirmed the District Court's March 13, 1989, ruling. McDonald v. Armontrout, 908 F.2d 388 (8th Cir. 1990). The Court held that DOC's decision to move the capital punishment unit from MSP to PCC constituted a change in circumstance that warranted a modification of the consent decree and that the modifications sufficiently satisfied constitutional requirements.

In 1992, negotiations between the parties resumed through which the state allowed all death row inmates, exclusive of those with conduct violation problems, to be released into the general population at PCC. The state subsequently sought to have the consent decree dismissed, claiming that the changes nullified any need for the Court to continue to police the enforcement of the consent decree.

On September 18, 1995, the District Court (Judge Edward L. Filippine) granted the defendants' motion to vacate, terminating the modified consent decree and the Court's jurisdiction over the matter. McDonald v. Bowersox, No. 89-1086 C(2), 1995 WL 17013058 (E.D. Mo. Sept. 18, 1995). The plaintiffs appealed.

On April 2, 1997, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals (Judge Bowman) affirmed the District Court's September 18, 1995, decision to terminate the lawsuit. McDonald v. Carnahan, 109 F.3d 1319 (8th Cir. 1997). The Court held that the District Court did not abuse its discretion, reasoning that, "once the decree had accomplished its purpose, remedying any conditions of death row that may have fallen short of constitutional standards, the District Court properly could vacate it and bring this case to a close."

On September 17, 1997, one named plaintiff filed a pro se civil rights action challenging provisions of the Missouri Prison Litigation Reform Act and prison locker policy. On September 19, 1997, the District Court (Judge Catherine D. Perry) dismissed the claims as speculative and frivolous, denying the inmate's request for a stay of execution. On appeal, on September 22, 1997, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals (per curiam) dismissed the appeal, affirming the District Court's ruling that the lawsuit was frivolous. McDonald v. Carnahan, 125 F.3d 652 (8th Cir. 1997).

We have no more information on this file.

Josh Altman - 06/21/2006

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Access to lawyers or judicial system
Assault/abuse by staff
Bathing and hygiene
Disciplinary procedures
Food service / nutrition / hydration
Law library access
Library (non-law) access
Recreation / Exercise
Religious programs / policies
Sanitation / living conditions
Totality of conditions
Medical/Mental Health
Dental care
Medical care, general
Mental health care, general
Type of Facility
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Defendant(s) Missouri State Penitentiary
Plaintiff Description All inmates who were or woud be confined under sentence of death by the Missouri Department of Corrections and Human Resources.
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 1987 - 1997
Case Closing Year 1997
Case Ongoing No
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 ]

89-1086 (E.D. Mo.) 05/30/1997
PC-MO-0001-9001 PDF | Detail
PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
85-4422 (W.D. Mo.) 11/30/2001
PC-MO-0001-9000 PDF | Detail
PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Complaint 08/19/1985
PC-MO-0001-0005 PDF | Detail
Consent Decree 05/22/1986 (W.D. Mo.)
PC-MO-0001-0001 PDF | Detail
Reported Opinion 11/09/1988 (860 F.2d 1456)
PC-MO-0001-0013 PDF | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Document Source: Google Scholar
Order, Judgment 05/10/1989 (1989 WL 1128973) (W.D. Mo.)
PC-MO-0001-0015 PDF | WESTLAW | Detail
Judgment Transferring to Missouri, E.D. 05/11/1989 (W.D. Mo.)
PC-MO-0001-0010 PDF | Detail
Reported Opinion 07/16/1990 (908 F.2d 388)
PC-MO-0001-0012 PDF | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Document Source: Google Scholar
Correspondence 07/14/1992
PC-MO-0001-0009 PDF | Detail
Order 09/18/1995 (1995 WL 17013058)
PC-MO-0001-0016 PDF | WESTLAW | Detail
Reported Opinion 04/02/1997 (109 F.3d 1319)
PC-MO-0001-0011 PDF | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Document Source: Google Scholar
Opinion 05/12/1997 (1997 U.S.App.LEXIS 11330)
PC-MO-0001-0017 PDF | LEXIS | Detail
Document Source: LexisNexis
Reported Opinion 09/22/1997 (125 F.3d 652)
PC-MO-0001-0014 PDF | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Document Source: Google Scholar
Judges Bowman, Pasco Middleton II (Eighth Circuit)
PC-MO-0001-0011 | PC-MO-0001-0012 | PC-MO-0001-0013
Filippine, Edward Louis (E.D. Mo.)
PC-MO-0001-0016 | PC-MO-0001-9001
Jones, John Bailey (D.S.D.)
Magill, Frank J. (Eighth Circuit)
McMillian, Theodore (Eighth Circuit)
Murphy, Diana E. (Eighth Circuit, D. Minn.)
Wollman, Roger Leland (Eighth Circuit)
Wright, Scott Olin (W.D. Mo.)
PC-MO-0001-0001 | PC-MO-0001-0010 | PC-MO-0001-0015 | PC-MO-0001-9000
Monitors/Masters None on record
Plaintiff's Lawyers Berger, Joel (New York)
PC-MO-0001-0001 | PC-MO-0001-0005 | PC-MO-0001-9000
Chambers, Julius LeVonne (New York)
PC-MO-0001-0001 | PC-MO-0001-0005
Emmel, Nancy E. (Missouri)
Leritz, Christopher P. (Missouri)
PC-MO-0001-0011 | PC-MO-0001-0016 | PC-MO-0001-9001
Sindel, Richard H. (Missouri)
PC-MO-0001-0001 | PC-MO-0001-0005 | PC-MO-0001-0009 | PC-MO-0001-0012 | PC-MO-0001-0013 | PC-MO-0001-0016 | PC-MO-0001-9000 | PC-MO-0001-9001
Defendant's Lawyers Boresi, Susan D. (Missouri)
PC-MO-0001-0011 | PC-MO-0001-0016 | PC-MO-0001-9001
Hawke, Stephen David (Missouri)
Herschel, Henry Thomas (Missouri)
PC-MO-0001-0001 | PC-MO-0001-0013
Neff, Deborah (Missouri)
PC-MO-0001-0001 | PC-MO-0001-0012
Webster, William L. (Missouri)
Other Lawyers Elvin, Jan (District of Columbia)

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