University of Michigan Law School
Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
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Case Name Washington v. Penwell PC-OR-0005
Docket / Court Docket No. Not Available ( D. Or. )
State/Territory Oregon
Case Type(s) Prison Conditions
Case Summary
In 1978, indigent Oregon prisoners sued state officials in U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon, alleging that inadequate legal facilities restricted their constitutional right of access to the courts. That suit was settled by consent decree in 1978 requiring accessible law libraries, and ... read more >
In 1978, indigent Oregon prisoners sued state officials in U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon, alleging that inadequate legal facilities restricted their constitutional right of access to the courts. That suit was settled by consent decree in 1978 requiring accessible law libraries, and trained prisoner paralegals. One of the provisions retained jurisdiction for the Court, in order to determine whether the state provided sufficient funds to the plaintiff's counsel, Prisoners' Legal Services of Oregon (PLSO), to insure general legal services to inmates in Oregon.

In 1979, the Court (Judge Robert Clinton Belloni) granted a temporary restraining order, requiring defendants to fund PLSO to the extent necessary to meet the constitutional minimum of legal services needed for the meaningful access to the courts. In 1980, the Court (Judge Belloni) approved a contract between the defendants and PLSO providing for 9 months funding, and cooperation in a study of inmate legal needs by the ABA as well as long-term implementation of provision for these needs. Defendants offered a contract for 1981-83 with PLSO but required legislative approval; PLSO refused the legislative approval stipulation, and defendants withdrew the contract. PLSO then petitioned the Court for enforcement of the consent decree. The Court (Judge Helen Jackson Frye) treated defendant's response as a request for modification of the decree. The Court (Judge Frye) found that the purposes of the decree (constitutionally compliant access to courts) had been accomplished regardless of PLSO's continued service in the area. Judge Frye modified the decrees to include only the libraries and paralegals, and then terminated jurisdiction and dismissed the action.

PLSO appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which found the funding provision ambiguous. On August 20, 1981, the Court (Judge Eugene Allen Wright) remanded to District Court for determination whether there was an undertaking to fund legal services in the consent decree. Washington v. Penwell, 661 F.2d 943 (9th Cir. 1981). On remand, the District Court (Judge Frye) determined there was an undertaking, but the provision requiring such undertaking was unenforceable because the defendants lacked authority to bind the state to such a substantial fiscal obligation. PLSO again appealed to the Ninth Circuit.

On March 3, 1983, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (Judge Wright) affirmed the District Court's opinion. The Court reasoned that the district court had no authority to enter an involuntary decree requiring state officials to do more than the minimum needed to conform to federal (Constitutional) law. Washington v. Penwell, 700 F.2d 570 (9th Cir. 1983). This effectively ended the District Court's jurisdiction over the matter and enforced the dismissal.

Greg Venker - 05/21/2006


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Affected Gender
Male
General
Access to lawyers or judicial system
Law library access
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Type of Facility
Government-run
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983
Defendant(s) Oregon State Prisons
Plaintiff Description Oregon prisoners petitioning for enforcement of a decree requiring state funding of Prisoners' Legal Services of Oregon
Indexed Lawyer Organizations None on record
Class action status sought Unknown
Class action status granted Unknown
Prevailing Party Mixed
Public Int. Lawyer No
Nature of Relief Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Litigation
Settlement
Form of Settlement Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree
Order Duration 1978 - 1983
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)
No docket sheet currently in the collection
General Documents
Opinion 08/20/1981 (661 F.2d 943)
PC-OR-0005-0002 PDF | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Reported Opinion 03/03/1983 (700 F.2d 570)
PC-OR-0005-0001 PDF | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Document Source: Google Scholar
Judges Poole, Cecil F. (N.D. Cal., Ninth Circuit)
PC-OR-0005-0001
Sneed, Joseph Tyree III (Ninth Circuit)
PC-OR-0005-0001
Wright, Eugene Allen (Ninth Circuit)
PC-OR-0005-0001
Monitors/Masters None on record
Plaintiff's Lawyers Sitnick, Stan (Oregon)
PC-OR-0005-0001
Stalker, Robert A. Jr. (Washington)
PC-OR-0005-0001
Defendant's Lawyers Frohnmayer, David B. (Oregon)
PC-OR-0005-0001
Other Lawyers None on record

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