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Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
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Case Name James v. Wallace PC-AL-0030
Docket / Court 74-203 ( M.D. Ala. )
State/Territory Alabama
Case Type(s) Prison Conditions
Attorney Organization ACLU National (all projects)
ACLU National Prison Project
Case Summary

On June 21, 1974, a pro se prisoner brought this case under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Alabama and officials responsible for its state prisons, alleging violations of his Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The prisoner's ... read more >

On June 21, 1974, a pro se prisoner brought this case under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Alabama and officials responsible for its state prisons, alleging violations of his Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The prisoner's complaint about prison conditions in the Alabama Correctional Institution System (ACIS) resulted in appointment of private counsel. Seeking declaratory and injunctive relief, on June 29, 1974, counsel filed an amended complaint, successfully making the case a class action. Plaintiff's class consisted of all convicted felons housed in ACIS facilities.

On September 30, 1974, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama (District Judge Frank Johnson) denied a summary judgment motion filed by the defendants. Reviewing the sufficiency of the amended complaint, Judge Johnson first found that assertions of an Eighth Amendment violation based upon some generalized obligation of the state to provide rehabilitative services to all prisoners had not stated a claim upon which relief could be granted; however, the court ruled that certain other claims were sufficient to proceed to trial. These included assertions that Alabama inflicted cruel and unusual punishment by impairing prisoners' efforts at self-rehabilitation and, in violation of due process requirements, engaged in arbitrary and capricious housing assignments of inmates among the few housing units with limited available educational, vocational and health treatment facilities. Claimed state restrictions of visitation rights without due process also withstood the defense motion to dismiss. James v. Wallace, 382 F.Supp.1177 (M.D. Ala. 1977).

The case was consolidated with other similar pending challenges to the state's prison conditions. In addition to plaintiffs' private counsel, the District's U.S. Attorney and ACLU National Prison Project appeared as amici curiae. After a seven-day trial, Judge Johnson issued his findings in favor of the plaintiffs on January 13, 1976. James v. Wallace, 406 F. Supp. 318 (M.D. Ala. 1976), comprehensively directing the state to undertake specific measures meeting "minimum constitutional standards" to address overcrowding, segregation and isolation shortcomings, classification issues, mental health care, protection from violence, living conditions, food service, education/recreation/vocational/work opportunities, physical facilities, correspondence and visitation, and staffing (including staff numbers, training and reductions in racial and cultural disparities). Additionally, Judge Johnson directed appointment of a state-funded Human Rights Committee to oversee and report on the Alabama prison system's progress and compliance with the court's order.

The state appealed to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. On September 16, 1977, Circuit Judge James P. Coleman, writing for a panel of the court, wrote an opinion affirming and modifying the district court's judgment. James v. Wallace, 559 F.2d 283 (5th Cir. 1977). The appellate court approved, generally, of the steps taken by the lower court to insure prisoners reasonably adequate food, clothing, shelter, necessary medical attention and personal safety, observing that many of the steps viewed in isolation may have exceed constitutional mandates but, in sum, were justified by the need to eradicate Eighth Amendment violations. Less intrusive measures than directed by the district court, however, according to Judge Coleman's opinion, sufficed in several areas. The opinion disapproved requiring individual cells or use of design standards as the constitutional standard and, likewise, disapproved of the appointment of a human rights committee with broad oversight powers. As to the latter, Judge Coleman directed the lower court to appoint a separate monitor for each of the state facilities, each monitor having authority to observe that facility's progress and to file reports with the court. Lower court mandates regarding visitor and search policies were also set aside. While the appellate court affirmed that the Eighth Amendment does not require a state to provide rehabilitative, educational, and vocational opportunities, Judge Coleman agreed that, if offered, such programs are to be available impartially and with equal access to prisoners on an objective standard of basic utility to the individual.

Related cases in the Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse database are Pugh v. Locke, PC-AL-10, and McCray v. Sullivan, PC-AL-29. Together, these cases resulted in a per curiam opinion by the U.S. Supreme Court, Alabama v. Pugh, 438 U.S. 781 (1978). That opinion did not question the propriety of the injunctive relief below, but did require dismissal of the state and its board of corrections from the case in light of the Eleventh Amendment's ban on private parties' suits against states and their agencies, absent the state's consent to suit.

Accordingly, the Fifth Circuit entered an order of dismissal as to the state and its correctional agency on August 8, 1978. Newman v. Alabama, 578 F.2d 565 (5th Cir 1978). The lawsuit's injunctive claims against individual officers, in their official capacity, apparently continued. We have no further information on the status of the case.

Mike Fagan - 04/10/2008

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Affected Gender
Classification / placement
Medical/Mental Health
Mental health care, general
Type of Facility
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Defendant(s) Alabama Correctional Institutions System
Plaintiff Description All inmates presently incarcerated in units of the Alabama Correctional Institutions System as a result of felony convictions.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations ACLU National (all projects)
ACLU National Prison Project
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status outcome Granted
Filed Pro Se Yes
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer No
Nature of Relief Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Unknown
Filed 1974
Case Ongoing No
Case Listing PC-AL-0010 : Pugh v. Locke (M.D. Ala.)
PC-AL-0017 : Newman v. Alabama (M.D. Ala.)
Court Docket(s)
No docket sheet currently in the collection
General Documents
M.D. Ala.
Order [Re: Motion to Dismiss Amended Complaint] (382 F.Supp. 1177)
PC-AL-0030-7503.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
M.D. Ala.
Memorandum Opinion (406 F.Supp. 318)
PC-AL-0030-7502.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
U.S. Court of Appeals
Order (559 F.2d 283)
PC-AL-0030-7501.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
U.S. Court of Appeals
Order of Dismissal (578 F.2d 565)
PC-AL-0030-7500.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
show all people docs
Judges Coleman, James Plemon (Fifth Circuit) show/hide docs
PC-AL-0030-7500 | PC-AL-0030-7501
Gee, Thomas Gibbs (Fifth Circuit) show/hide docs
PC-AL-0030-7500 | PC-AL-0030-7501
Johnson, Frank Minis Jr. (M.D. Ala., Fifth Circuit, Eleventh Circuit) show/hide docs
PC-AL-0030-7502 | PC-AL-0030-7503
Kunzig, Robert Lowe () show/hide docs
PC-AL-0030-7500 | PC-AL-0030-7501
Plaintiff's Lawyers Levin, Joseph J. Jr. (Alabama) show/hide docs
PC-AL-0030-7501 | PC-AL-0030-7502
Phelps, Joseph D. (Alabama) show/hide docs
Segall, Robert D. (Alabama) show/hide docs
PC-AL-0030-7501 | PC-AL-0030-7502
Taylor, George Peach (Alabama) show/hide docs
PC-AL-0030-7501 | PC-AL-0030-7502 | PC-AL-0030-7503
Webb, James W. (Alabama) show/hide docs
Defendant's Lawyers Barnes, William Scears Jr. (Alabama) show/hide docs
Baxley, William J. (Alabama) show/hide docs
PC-AL-0030-7501 | PC-AL-0030-7502 | PC-AL-0030-7503
Beck, George (Alabama) show/hide docs
Bowen, William M. (Alabama) show/hide docs
Lamar, Robert S. (Alabama) show/hide docs
PC-AL-0030-7501 | PC-AL-0030-7502
Lawson, Thomas S. Jr. (Alabama) show/hide docs
Martin, William K. (Alabama) show/hide docs
Newman, Larry R. (Alabama) show/hide docs
PC-AL-0030-7501 | PC-AL-0030-7502
Other Lawyers Barnett, Walter W. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
Bronstein, Alvin J. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PC-AL-0030-7501 | PC-AL-0030-7502
DeMent, Ira (Alabama) show/hide docs
Hoyle, John C. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
Knowles, Ralph I. Jr. (Georgia) show/hide docs
Myers, Matthew L. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PC-AL-0030-7501 | PC-AL-0030-7502
Vines, Kenneth E. (Alabama) show/hide docs
Whinston, Stephen A. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs

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