On March 9, 1978, inmates at the Columbus Correctional Facility (CCF) in Ohio, filed a class action lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio against officials of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, alleging that conditions of confinement at CCF amounted to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. Plaintiffs sought injunctive relief to terminate the defendants' practice of segregating inmates by race and using restraints on prisoners in locked cells. Plaintiffs also sought injunctive relief barring further operation of the facility as a correctional institution, and sought compensatory and punative damages as well.
On September 5, 1978, the court certified a plaintiff class consisting of all persons who were or would be, or were since the time of the filing of the Complaint, inmates at CCF.
On October 10, 1978, the court consolidated into this one an earlier case, (Wilson v. Denton, C 2-76-741), filed on October 19, 1976 by a CCF inmate alleging that CCF had failed to adequately treat his hand injury. The court severed the personal injury claim in that case. The United States was allowed to participate as amicus curiae after October 3, 1978. The American Civil Liberties Union, Ohio State Legal Services Association and Legal Aid Society of Columbus represented the plaintiffs in some capacity during the course of the suit.
The plaintiffs challenged both systematic racial segregation of inmates and disciplinary restraints at CCF. They alleged that prison officials disciplined inmates by placing them in four-point restraints for days at a time. Three inmates testified that they had been strapped to their beds for between five and twenty-seven days and were permitted neither to eat nor use the toilet during the first day of restraint. One inmate testified that he was not given clean clothes after defecating on the bed.
On July 13 1979, the District Court (Judge Robert M. Duncan) issued a preliminary injunction addressing racial segregation and disciplinary restraints. Stewart v. Rhodes, 473 F. Supp. 1185 (S.D. Ohio 1979), appeal dismissed, 661 F.2d 934 (6th Cir. 1981). First, the court held that systematic racial segregation violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because it was not universally necessary to resolve racial tensions. Rather, the court found that racial tensions could be addressed on an individual basis. Second, the court held that punitive four-point restraints were proscribed under the Eighth Amendment as cruel and unusual punishment.
In December of 1979, the parties entered a comprehensive consent decree, our copy of which is unsigned. The decree ordered that CCF be closed after December 1983 and set forth conditions through then. The consent decree addressed almost every aspect of incarceration including (1) overcrowding and double-celling, (2) recreation, (3) educational and vocational programs, (4) meals for inmates in protective custody, (5) pest control, (6) sanitation and personal hygiene, (7) cell plumbing, electricity, and temperatures, (8) fire safety, (9) medical care (10) psychiatric care, (11) new inmate classification, (12) prisoner transfer to maximum security facilities, (13) accessibility of facilities to individuals with physical disabilities, (14) disciplinary procedures, including hearings, (15) access to the courts, (16) mail, (17) visitation policies, (18) religious expression, (19) racial segregation, (20) physical restraints, (21) staff numbers and training, (22) facility inspection, and (23) protection of the named plaintiffs from retaliation. The consent decree also made permanent the court's preliminary injunction of July 13, 1979. The State was given thirty days to submit a compliance plan to the court.
After the decree was entered, plaintiffs were awarded attorneys fees. Defendants appealed, and on August 12, 1981, the Sixth Circuit (Judges George C. Edwards, Damon J. Keith and Paul C. Weick) found that the fee award did not constitute an abuse of discretion. Stewart v. Rhodes, 656 F.2d 1216 (6th Cir. 1981), cert. denied, 455 U.S. 991 (1982). Subsequently, on January 17, 1985, the District Court (Judge Robert M. Duncan) issued an order adopting a Special Master's recommendation that plaintiffs receive over $100,000 in attorneys fees. The defendants appealed, and on January 14, 1986, the Sixth Circuit (Judges Albert J. Engel, Herbert T. Milburn and George E. Woods), affirmed. 785 F.2d 310 (table), No. 85-3151, 1986 WL 16427 (6th Cir.(Ohio) January 14, 1986).
The decree didn't cover the damages claim over the inmate's hand injury. On August 6, 1985, the court granted the defendants' summary judgment on the remaining issue of adequate medical treatment for that plaintiff's injured hand. On October 31, 1986, the Sixth Circuit affirmed the lower court's decision and, on February 23, 1987, the United States Supreme Court denied certiorari. The Complaint was subsequently dismissed. On October 13, 1988, the Sixth Circuit denied the plaintiff's petition for court appointed counsel to appeal the dismissal. Wilson v. Denton, 860 F.2d 1081, 1988 WL 107368 (6th Cir. Oct. 13, 1988), cert. denied, 489 U.S. 1030 (1989).
The plaintiff sought to have judgment amended under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(6), which the court refused on March 31, 1988. The Sixth Circuit affirmed on October 19, 1988, and the Supreme Court denied certiorari on February 21, 1989. On May 17, 1989, the district court denied the plaintiff's second motion for relief from judgment. This time, the court also imposed sanctions. The plaintiff appealed but, on March 20, 1990, the Sixth Circuit affirmed, holding that Rule 11 sanctions were appropriate because they would encourage the plaintiff to file only non-frivolous lawsuits in the future. Wilson v. Denton, 898 F.2d 155, 1990 WL 29324 (6th Cir. March 20, 1990), cert. denied, 495 U.S. 951 (1990). Denise Lieberman - 11/18/2006