University of Michigan Law School
Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
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Case Name Tillery v. Owens PC-PA-0006
Docket / Court 2:87-cv-01537-MBC ( W.D. Pa. )
State/Territory Pennsylvania
Case Type(s) Prison Conditions
Case Summary
On July 23, 1987, inmates filed a class action lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, challenging the constitutionality of the conditions of confinement at the State Correctional Institution at Pittsburgh ("SCIP") located in ... read more >
On July 23, 1987, inmates filed a class action lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, challenging the constitutionality of the conditions of confinement at the State Correctional Institution at Pittsburgh ("SCIP") located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (also referred to as the "Western Penitentiary"). SCIP was a maximum security walled prison that was built in 1882. The Complaint was amended on December 14, 1987 and sought declaratory and injunctive relief, as well as class certification. Plaintiffs were represented by attorneys of the National Prison Project of the ACLU and the Neighborhood Legal Services Association.

On May 3, 1989, the District Court (Chief Judge Maurice B. Cohill, Jr.) conducted an unannounced four-hour tour of the SCIP facility. A six week bench trial began the next day and lasted from May 4 to June 8, 1989. Evidence presented at trial included the testimony of 42 witnesses and over 600 documents.

Following the trial, the District Court entered a very detailed Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Opinion. Tillery v. Owens, 719 F.Supp. 1256 (W.D.Pa. 1989). Judge Cohill found that nearly every aspect of SCIP that was considered fell way below constitutional standards. The conditions were so severe, that he noted "we might very well order that SCIP be closed immediately; it is an overcrowded, unsanitary, and understaffed fire trap." Specifically, the Court held that defendants had failed to provide constitutionally adequate security, fire protection, sanitation, access to the courts, medical care, mental health care, and dental services. The Court also held that the SCIP was unconstitutionally overcrowded and ordered the elimination of double-celling. The defendants were ordered to submit remediation plans to correct the various deficiencies. In accordance with the Court's order, Lynette Norton was appointed Prison Monitor to oversee compliance by the Defendants. Defendants appealed. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals (Circuit Judge Sloviter) affirmed. Tillery v. Owens, 907 F.2d 418 (3rd Cir. 1990). The remediation phase followed.

As part of its remediation efforts, the SCIP submitted a plan to the Court for upgrades to the SCIP law libraries. The plan submitted proposing the establishment of mini law libraries in administrative segregation units of the SCIP (the RHU and Clinic)to contain the same publications approved for the class of death-sentenced inmates at Pittsburgh in Peterkin v. Jeffes, 1989 WL 140489 (E.D. Pa. November 14, 1989). [See PC-PA-0024 of this collection]. The District Court rejected the plan and by its Order dated July 21, 1992, ordered the Commonwealth officials to purchase additional volumes for the mini law libraries, other than those ordered in Peterkin v. Jeffes. Defendants appealed that order. The Third Circuit affirmed. Tillery v. Owens, 993 F.2d 879 (3rd. Cir. Table 1993).

Remediation continued from 1993 to 1997, during which time the parties filed motions regarding implementation of plans to correct various conditions at the SCIP. According to the PACER docket, the Prison Monitor filed a total of seven reports with the Court. Following the last Monitor report of September 19, 1997, the District Court (Judge Maurice B. Cohill Jr.) denied all pending motions and ordered the case closed. Class member Kenneth Davenport appealed pro se. The Third Circuit dismissed his appeal for lack of legal merit.

No further case activity was noted on the PACER docket.

Dan Dalton - 03/13/2007

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Crowding / caseload
Access to lawyers or judicial system
Assault/abuse by residents/inmates/students
Bathing and hygiene
Fire safety
Law library access
Library (non-law) access
Recreation / Exercise
Sanitation / living conditions
Staff (number, training, qualifications, wages)
Totality of conditions
Medical/Mental Health
Dental care
Medical care, general
Medication, administration of
Mental health care, general
Type of Facility
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Defendant(s) Pennsylvania Department of Corrections
State Correctional Institution at Pittsburgh
Plaintiff Description All inmates confined at the State Correctional Institution at Pittsburgh. (SCIP)
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 Litigation
Form of Settlement None on record
Order Duration 1987 - 1997
Case Closing Year 1999
Case Ongoing No
Case Listing PC-PA-0024 : Peterkin v. Jeffes (E.D. Pa.)
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 ]

87-1537 (W.D. Pa.) 03/18/1999
PC-PA-0006-9000 PDF | Detail
PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Amended Complaint 12/14/1987
PC-PA-0006-0001 PDF | Detail
Order 08/15/1989 (W.D. Pa.)
PC-PA-0006-0002 PDF | Detail
Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Opinion 09/08/1989 (719 F.Supp. 1256) (W.D. Pa.)
PC-PA-0006-0005 PDF | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Opinion of the Court 06/29/1990 (907 F.2d 418)
PC-PA-0006-0004 PDF | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Document Source: Google Scholar
Brief of Appellants (Appeal From the Order Dated July 21, 1992) 11/10/1992
PC-PA-0006-0003 PDF | Detail
USCA Opinion 04/07/1993 (993 F.2d 879)
PC-PA-0006-0007 PDF | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Opinion 04/14/1993 (993 F.2d 879)
PC-PA-0006-0006 PDF | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Judges Cohill, Maurice Blanchard Jr. (W.D. Pa.)
PC-PA-0006-0002 | PC-PA-0006-0005 | PC-PA-0006-9000
Fullam, John Patrick (E.D. Pa.)
Mansmann, Carol Los (Third Circuit, W.D. Pa.)
Sloviter, Dolores Korman (Third Circuit)
Monitors/Masters Norton, Lynette (Pennsylvania)
PC-PA-0006-0002 | PC-PA-0006-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Antol, Michael S. (Pennsylvania)
PC-PA-0006-0001 | PC-PA-0006-0004 | PC-PA-0006-0005 | PC-PA-0006-9000
Bronstein, Alvin J. (District of Columbia)
Driscoll, Donald (Pennsylvania)
PC-PA-0006-0001 | PC-PA-0006-9000
Feinstein, Edward J. (Pennsylvania)
PC-PA-0006-0001 | PC-PA-0006-0004 | PC-PA-0006-0005
Koren, Edward I. (District of Columbia)
PC-PA-0006-0001 | PC-PA-0006-0004 | PC-PA-0006-0005 | PC-PA-0006-9000
Krakoff, Jere (Pennsylvania)
PC-PA-0006-0001 | PC-PA-0006-0002 | PC-PA-0006-0003 | PC-PA-0006-0004 | PC-PA-0006-0005 | PC-PA-0006-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Benson, Kenneth J. (Pennsylvania)
Halloran, Thomas F. (Pennsylvania)
PC-PA-0006-0003 | PC-PA-0006-0004 | PC-PA-0006-9000
Knorr, John G. III (Pennsylvania)
PC-PA-0006-0003 | PC-PA-0006-0004
Koons, Calvin R. (Pennsylvania)
PC-PA-0006-0003 | PC-PA-0006-0004
Preate, Ernest D. Jr. (Pennsylvania)
PC-PA-0006-0003 | PC-PA-0006-0004
Tischuk, Gloria A. (Pennsylvania)
Other Lawyers None on record

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