Plaintiffs, prisoners in various Florida state prisons, brought suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida against Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) officials operating the prisons on October 28, 1997. In the allegations in the second amended complaint, their 42 U.S.C. § 1983 case alleged that prisoners housed in "Close Management" (CM) status in these prisons suffered cruel and unusual punishment in violation of their Eighth Amendment rights. Plaintiffs, seeking class action status, also sought declaratory and injunctive relief, as well as attorneys' fees. Their attorneys included counsel from the Florida Justice Institute.
According to the plaintiffs, the thousands of Florida prisoners in CM Units are generally there for disciplinary reasons and live with marked restrictions upon, for example, time outside their cells, visitation and library access, religious and recreation opportunities, and communication with fellow prisoners and the outside world. The cells are small, sparse, and poorly ventilated. Although CM status allows for three level of restrictive conditions, the plaintiffs contend all levels result in physical and, particularly, mental harm. The harsh conditions exacerbate pre-existing mental illness in some prisoners and trigger mental illness in others, according to the plaintiffs, with resultant increases in prison violence and anti-social behavior by persons living in these conditions.
On February 2, 1998, District Judge Federico A. Moreno denied the plaintiffs' request for class action status. However, after amended pleadings were filed, Judge Moreno certified the matter as a class action on July 26, 2000.
At various times during this case, the defendants tendered settlement offers of judgment, without admitting liability. These offers included detailed plans for revised operation of the CM program in the Florida prison system. The revisions included consolidation of facilities, improved staff training and mental health services, and levels of access to reading materials, telephones, and media. New state administrative regulations and requests for legislative funding applicable to CM improvements were also part of the offer. On November 11, 2001, plaintiffs filed their notice of acceptance of one of these offers. The settlement required defendants to pay plaintiffs' attorneys' fees and to make periodic reports to plaintiffs' counsel and the court regarding implementation of the improvements to the CM program.
District Judge Paul C. Huck approved the settlement on December 27, 2001, and sent a February 25, 2002, notice to class members that their time to object to the settlement had passed and that grievances, if any, about the CM program were to be sent to the FDOC.
After nearly two years, on January 8, 2004, plaintiffs asked that the court restore the case to its trial docket, alleging that the state had failed to implement the promised reforms and that the CM program continued to operate to deny plaintiffs their Eighth Amendment protections. In support of their request, the plaintiffs submitted reports by experts they had retained who were familiar with the conditions imposed in the CM program.
On March 10, 2004, District Judge Donald L. Graham issued an order transferring the case to the U. S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida. The case continued there and resulted in a bench trial before District Judge Henry Lee Adams, Jr., between September 11 and 21, 2006. The parties submitted proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law on February 27 and 28, 2007, in the case, now styled Osterback v. Secretary, docket number 3:04-cv-00210-HLA-MCR. The case was then reassigned again to Judge James R. Klindt, docket number 3:04-cv-210-J-25JRK. However, shortly thereafter, Judge Adams, terminated the proposed injunctive relief in accordance with the Prison Litigation Reform Act's limitation on the time span of prison reform decrees and the clerk was directed to close the case on March 25, 2008.Mike Fagan - 04/11/2008