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Case Name Indian Inmates of the Nebraska Penitentiary v. Vitek PC-NE-0002
Docket / Court 72-L-156 ( D. Neb. )
State/Territory Nebraska
Case Type(s) Prison Conditions
Case Summary
In 1972, Indian inmates at the Nebraska Penal and Correctional Complex filed a Section 1983 class action suit, pro se, in the District of Nebraska against officials of the Nebraska Department of Corrections. Plaintiffs claimed deprivations of rights secured to them under the First and Fourteenth ... read more >
In 1972, Indian inmates at the Nebraska Penal and Correctional Complex filed a Section 1983 class action suit, pro se, in the District of Nebraska against officials of the Nebraska Department of Corrections. Plaintiffs claimed deprivations of rights secured to them under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Specifically, plaintiffs claimed that officials refused to permit an Indian Culture Club; that access to Indian religion was denied to them; and that they were discriminated against in the work rehabilitation process.

In October 1974, the parties reached an agreement and the District Court (Judge Warren K. Urbom) approved a consent decree. The consent decree required defendants to meet several of the plaintiffs' religious requests and improve the work and educational opportunities available to the plaintiffs. Specifically, the consent decree required defendants to permit the wearing of traditional Indian hairstyles and to recognize the Indian Culture Club.

In May 1976, a supplemental consent decree was entered and signed by the court; it resolved a dispute over the meaning of paragraph 2 of the original consent decree. The supplemental consent decree recognized a sweat lodge as a ""facility"" for the worship of Indian religion.

In 1987, litigation renewed over the constitutionality of only allowing one official medicine man. The court held that the plaintiff's rights were violated by defendants' policy of hiring an official medicine man from a variant sect of the Sioux tribe who held beliefs contrary to those of the plaintiff. Indian Inmates of the Nebraska Penitentiary v. Gunter, 660 F. Supp. 394 (D. Neb. 1987). Defendants appealed, but the Court of Appeals affirmed. Sapanajin v. Gunter, 857 F.2d 463 (8th Cir. 1988).

Litigation has continued throughout the last three years. Plaintiffs filed a motion for contempt which was denied, but resulted in a new settlement agreement that was approved by Judge Urbom in March 2005. The new settlement agreement includes the Articles and By-Laws of the Native American Club, allows members of the Native American Club to hold two Pow-Wows per year, and establishes a procedure for the Native American Club to acquire food for religious purposes.

The PACER docket for this case contains only entries from July 2003 through March 2005.

Eoghan Keenan - 06/10/2005


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Discrimination-basis
Race discrimination
General
Religious programs / policies
Sanitation / living conditions
Type of Facility
Government-run
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983
Defendant(s) Nebraska Penal and Correctional Center
Plaintiff Description Indian inmates at the Nebraska Penal and Correctional Complex
Indexed Lawyer Organizations None on record
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted Yes
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer No
Nature of Relief Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Settlement
Form of Settlement Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree
Order Duration 1974 - n/a
Case Closing Year n/a
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 ]

Docket(s)
4:72-CV-00156-WKU (D. Neb.) 03/15/2005
PC-NE-0002-9000 PDF | Detail
PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Consent Decree 07/29/1974 (D. Neb.)
PC-NE-0002-0001 PDF | Detail
Supplemental Consent Decree 05/24/1976 (D. Neb.)
PC-NE-0002-0002 PDF | Detail
Memorandum of Decision 05/19/1987 (660 F.Supp. 394) (D. Neb.)
PC-NE-0002-0006 PDF | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Document Source: Google Scholar
Reported Opinion 09/14/1988 (857 F.2d 463)
PC-NE-0002-0005 PDF | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Document Source: Google Scholar
Settlement Agreement 03/15/2005
PC-NE-0002-0003 PDF | Detail
Judgment Denying Motion for Contempt of Order-Judgment Decree, Approving Settlement Agreement, Terminating Consent Decrees and Dismissing Action 03/15/2005 (D. Neb.)
PC-NE-0002-0004 PDF | Detail
Judges Arnold, Richard Sheppard (E.D. Ark., W.D. Ark., Eighth Circuit)
PC-NE-0002-0005
Urbom, Warren Keith (D. Neb.)
PC-NE-0002-0001 | PC-NE-0002-0002 | PC-NE-0002-0004 | PC-NE-0002-0006 | PC-NE-0002-9000
Monitors/Masters None on record
Plaintiff's Lawyers Cohn, Jonathan M. (Nebraska)
PC-NE-0002-0003 | PC-NE-0002-9000
Echo-Hawk, Walter R. (Colorado)
PC-NE-0002-0002
El-Kasaby, Bassel F. (Nebraska)
PC-NE-0002-0003 | PC-NE-0002-9000
Haber, Roy S. (Oregon)
PC-NE-0002-0001
Defendant's Lawyers Kammerlohr, Melvin K. (Nebraska)
PC-NE-0002-0001 | PC-NE-0002-0002
Tomka, Jennifer M. (Nebraska)
PC-NE-0002-0003 | PC-NE-0002-9000
Other Lawyers Baker, Dana V. (Nebraska)
PC-NE-0002-0005 | PC-NE-0002-0006
Moeller, Steven J. (Nebraska)
PC-NE-0002-0005 | PC-NE-0002-0006

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