University of Michigan Law School
Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
new search
page permalink
Case Name McCray v. Sullivan PC-AL-0029
Docket / Court 5620-69-H ( S.D. Ala. )
State/Territory Alabama
Case Type(s) Prison Conditions
Case Summary
In a pro se 18 U.S.C. §1983 action filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama, a black Alabama prisoner sued state officials for civil rights violations. He complained of dangers posed by violent homosexual prisoners that went unaddressed by prison officials, and that ... read more >
In a pro se 18 U.S.C. §1983 action filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama, a black Alabama prisoner sued state officials for civil rights violations. He complained of dangers posed by violent homosexual prisoners that went unaddressed by prison officials, and that the absence of conjugal visits and adequate rehabilitative, exercise and bathing opportunities, together with violations of injunctive relief granted in earlier prison condition cases, constituted cruel and unusual punishment. The district court (District Judge William Brevard Hand) denied relief and plaintiff's appeal, together with a similar appeal by Alabama state prisoners, were decided in a single opinion by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. The prisoners were represented by ACLU National Prison Project attorneys, as well as by private appointed counsel. (The record we have is unclear as to at what point the attorneys began aiding pro se plaintiffs.)

On March 19, 1975, McCray v. Sullivan, 509 F.2d 1332 (1975) (Circuit Judge John C. Godbold) reversed, in part, the dismissal below. Judge Godbold wrote that the district court, on remand, should determine whether failure to segregate violent homosexual prisoners violated the plaintiffs' constitutional rights and, if so, should decide an appropriate remedy. Additionally, the court ruled that punitive isolation conditions in the Atmore prison violated the Eighth Amendment and that mail regulations at the prison required further review. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case. McCray v. Sullivan, 423 U.S. 859 (1975).

Upon remand and further hearing, on August 7, 1975, Judge Hand said that the state had violated constitutional rights of inmates by confining them in overcrowded and understaffed prisons, but gave the Alabama Legislature the opportunity to remedy without federal interference. He noted that violence between passive and aggressive homosexual prisoners, as well as violence by heterosexual prisoners, resulted from the state's failure to provide adequare institutional security. He also granted plaintiff's request that the case be accorded class action status, describing the class as male prisoners in or reasonably expected to be confined in the Alabama Prison System, excluding juvenile facilities. McCray v. Sullivan, 399 F. Supp. 271 (S.D. Ala. 1975).

On August 29, 1975, in a joint order applicable to state prisons in both the Middle and Southern Districts of Alabama, District Court Judges Frank Johnson and William Brevard Hand enjoined the Alabama Board of Corrections from accepting any additional state prisoners into the facilities until inmate population is reduced to the facility's design capacity (joint order issued in McCray v. Sullivan, Civ. Action 5620-69-H; McCray v. Sullivan, Civ. Action 6091-70-H; White v. Commissioner of Alabama Board of Corrections, Civil Action 7094-72-H; Pugh v. Sullivan, Civ. Action 74-57N; and James v. Wallace, Civ. Action 74-203-N).

Because the Alabama legislature failed to address the issue of overcrowded and understaffed prisons in the 1975 legislative session, on February 10, 1976, Judge Hand ordered prison officials to provide a report on present prison conditions and propose recommendations to be presented by the Board of Corrections at the next session of the Alabama Legislature. Supplemental reports were ordered, with the Court retaining jurisdiction. McCray v. Sullivan, 413 F. Supp. 444 (S.D. Ala. 1976).

A later appeal set out that the plaintiff also had contended in the district court that he and other black prisoners were subject to racially discriminatory parole criteria administered by a racially biased parole board, and that he and other prisoners were held in administrative segregation due to officials' racial bias and for filing writs. He further complained of unfit meals and improper medical attention. On behalf of black inmates, as a class, he sought monetary damages and injunctive relief. The District Court dismissed the complaint but, in an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, plaintiff obtained a partial reversal of the lower court's order. McCray v. Sullivan, 559 F.2d 292 (5th Cir. 1977) (per curiam). This September 16, 1977, ruling observed that, while plaintiff's parole-related and administrative segregation claims may be difficult to prove, they nonetheless were ones upon which, if proved, relief can be granted. In remanding the case for further proceedings, the appellate court noted that the plaintiff's parole during the pendency of the appeal may have mooted the request for injunctive relief but not his claim for damages.

We have no post-remand information about this case.

Mike Fagan - 04/09/2008

compress summary

- click to show/hide ALL -
Issues and Causes of Action
click to show/hide detail
Affected Gender
Crowding / caseload
Classification / placement
Type of Facility
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Defendant(s) Alabama State Board of Corrections
Plaintiff Description All male inmates or prisoners confined to or who could reasonably be expected to be confined to any prison or institution within the penal system operation by the State of Alabama, other than juvenile facilities.
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 Litigation
Form of Settlement None on record
Order Duration not on record
Case Closing Year n/a
Case Ongoing No
Additional Resources
click to show/hide detail
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 ]

No docket sheet currently in the collection
General Documents
[Appellate Opinion] 03/19/1975 (509 F.2d 1332)
PC-AL-0029-0003 PDF | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Document Source: Google Scholar
[Appellate Opinion] 08/07/1975 (399 F.Supp. 271) (S.D. Ala.)
PC-AL-0029-0002 PDF | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Document Source: Google Scholar
Order and Jurisdiction 08/29/1975 (N.D. Ala.)
PC-AL-0029-0001 PDF | Detail
Order [Denying Petition for Writ of Certiorari] 10/06/1975 (423 U.S. 859)
PC-AL-0029-0006 PDF | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Document Source: Westlaw
Order 02/10/1976 (413 F.Supp. 444) (S.D. Ala.)
PC-AL-0029-0005 PDF | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Document Source: Google Scholar
Per Curiam [Order] 09/16/1977 (559 F.2d 292)
PC-AL-0029-0004 PDF | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Document Source: Google Scholar
Judges Coleman, James Plemon (Fifth Circuit)
Gee, Thomas Gibbs (Fifth Circuit)
Hand, William Brevard (S.D. Ala.)
PC-AL-0029-0002 | PC-AL-0029-0005
Kunzig, Robert Lowe ()
Monitors/Masters None on record
Plaintiff's Lawyers Lauten, William R. (Alabama)
PC-AL-0029-0002 | PC-AL-0029-0003 | PC-AL-0029-0005
Segall, Robert D. (Alabama)
Defendant's Lawyers Baxley, William J. (Alabama)
Dickert, Don (Alabama)
Henry, Herbert H III (Alabama)
Kendall, Robert Jr. (District of Columbia)
PC-AL-0029-0002 | PC-AL-0029-0005
Newman, Larry R. (Alabama)
PC-AL-0029-0002 | PC-AL-0029-0004 | PC-AL-0029-0005
Other Lawyers None on record

- click to show/hide ALL -

new search
page permalink

- top of page -