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