This is one of a collection of § 1983 inmate cases filed in Louisiana federal courts to challenge the operation and conditions of confinement in the Louisiana prison system and in parish and city jails through Louisiana. These cases worked their way through the federal courts for three decades.
This case originated in 1969 and pursuant to that action a class was certified consisting of those persons incarcerated in the facilities for Orleans Parish Prison system.
On June 25, 1970, following a hearing on the plaintiffs' request for a preliminary and permanent injunction, the District Court (Judge Christenberry) entered an order granting injunctive relief to the plaintiffs. The District Court noted that the conditions in the Orleans Parish Prison system were a "shock to the conscious." He detailed the extreme deficiencies which included severe overcrowding in a dilapidated structure that was infestation by rats, mice, roaches and vermin. Hamilton v. Schiro, 338 F.Supp. 1016 (E.D. La. 1970).
We have little information about case activity from 1970 to 1981.
In 1981, the Louisiana Department of Corrections sought a writ of supervisory mandamus to stay all federal court litigation pertaining to unconstitutional conditions of confinement in Louisiana prisons and jails. In response, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ordered that all federal litigation then against state, parish or local prison facilities, relating to inmate population issues, be consolidated in the District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana, in an effort to avoid inconsistent decrees. Hamilton v. Morial, 644 F.2d 351 (5th Cir. 1981). Thereafter, many Louisiana state, parish, and city facilities entered into consent decrees which specified inmate population limits and officer-to-inmate ratios. Since 1981, those facilities were under the judicial oversight of District Judge Frank J. Polozola of the Middle District of Louisiana. Over the years Judge Polozola revised the decrees to adjust population caps and officer-to-prisoner ratios as necessary.
In 1988 new lawsuits were filed and subsequently consolidated with the Hamilton case. In 1991, the parties resolved issues relating to medical care (Phase I of the litigation) and mental health services (Phase II), which were memorialized in judgments approved by the District Court.
On January 22, 1992, the plaintiffs, represented by the National Prison Project of the ACLU, filed an Amended Complaint alleging continuing violations in Orleans Parish Prison system. That part of the litigation was designated as Phase III and was resolved by the entry of an environmental Consent Decree on November 22, 1993.
In March 1994, the State and the Sheriffs executed an agreement entitled "Basic Jail Guidelines" in their effort to ensure that the prison system in Louisiana would operate consistent with the Constitution and laws of the United States and of the State of Louisiana.
In July 1994, a new action, Lambert v. Morial, 94-2502, involving female inmates, was initiated. On December 21, 1994, with the consent of all parties, the Court (1) expanded the class in Hamilton to "any and all inmates housed in the Community Correctional Center, House of Detention, Old Parish Prison, Templeman I, II, and III, and any and all female inmates housed in any facility in the Orleans Parish Prison System," (2) extended consent decrees on the medical issues, psychiatric program, and the environmental consent decree to cover the amended class, and (3) transferred and consolidated the remaining issues in the Lambert case into the Hamilton case -- to be handled as Phase IV of the litigation.
On March 9, 1995, the plaintiffs filed a Second Amended Complaint which sought continued enforcement of certain non-compliance with prior Decrees, as well as relief for Phase IV of the litigation. A partial amended complaint was filed on April 5, 1995 to add allegations to the Second Amended Complaint. On August 10, 1995, the parties filed a Stipulation resolving the issues of Phase IV.
In 1996, the Hamilton plaintiffs sought intervention in the case Williams v. Edwards, pending in the Middle District of Louisiana before Judge Frank J. Polozola to challenge dismissal of population cap consent decrees. After intervention was denied, an appeal was taken but dismissed as untimely. Hamilton plaintiffs v. Williams plaintiffs, 147 F.3d 367 (5th Cir. 1998).
Between 1996 to 2005, the parties litigated numerous motions regarding enforcement of the various consent decree provisions. Magistrate Judge Alma Chasez heard and resolved the various motions and disputes of the parties and was charged with monitoring compliance.
On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, causing massive flooding throughout the city. Reports quickly emerged from the jail deputies, employees, and inmates, that class members were stranded at the jail for days and were only rescued when the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections was called in to assist. Based on these reports, the plaintiffs' counsel sought to interview his clients and obtain records to determine whether any of the consent decree had been violated before, during, or after the storm. The jail denied his requests. The attorney also filed a motion with the Court for a temporary restraining order to preserve evidence and to enter and inspect the jail. The court denied the motion. On June 1, 2006, the court also denied the attorney's motion for access to class members.
On June 15, 2006, the defendant sheriff filed a motion for partial dismissal, without prejudice. The plaintiffs did not oppose this motion. In fact, on July 18, 2006, the plaintiffs filed a motion to dismiss without prejudice the remainder of their civil rights claims in this case. In light of the court's rulings denying him access to his clients, the attorney was no longer able to represent his clients fully and this case served no purpose that advanced the civil rights of the prisoners. Dismissing this class action without prejudice would remove a potential barrier to other cases in which prisoners at the jail could pursue their rights.
On August 23, 2007, the Magistrate Judge (Alma L. Chasez) issued a report and recommendation that the plaintiffs' motion be denied in part and granted in part. The Magistrate Judge recommended dismissing all of the claims without prejudice, but that all consent decrees setting forth economic responsibilities between the Sheriff, the City of New Orleans and the State of Louisiana remain in force and effect until further orders of the Court. The Magistrate Judge also recommended that a notice be posted in the jail to inform class members of the dismissal. 2007 WL 5271891 (E.D. La. Aug. 23, 2007).
The City of New Orleans objected to the recommendation, preferring instead that the case be handled through administrative closure. (That is, that it be put on the inactive docket, though remaining technically open.) The State of Louisiana also objected to the recommendation. The State argued that administrative closure was the proper method for suspending activity in this case case, while maintaining the consent decrees in effect between the parties. The State further opposed the filing of any new separate class action litigation involving the jail without consolidation of those issues with this case.
The plaintiffs objected only to the language of the notice that the Magistrate Judge recommended to inform class members of the dismissal.
On June 20, 2008, the district court (Judge Jay C. Zainey) adopted the magistrate's report and recommendation with the plaintiffs' requested changes to the notice. The court dismissed the remaining claims in the case over the objection of the state and city defendants. The court ordered that 1) all of the plaintiffs' claims, whether the subject of a consent decree or not, be dismissed without prejudice; 2) the plaintiffs' counsel, the ACLU National Prison Project, be discharged as counsel for the plaintiffs; and 3) all consent decrees, judgments, orders, minute entries or settlement agreements entered into the record of this case setting forth or establishing any economic or financial responsibilities or obligation between or among the sheriff, the City of New Orleans and/or the State of Louisiana, as well as the rights of such parties to seek judicial modification thereof, shall remain in full force and effect, in their entirety, until further orders of the court, and the court expressly retained jurisdiction. 2008 WL 2522129 (E.D. La. June 20, 2008).
On November 27, 2012, the court (Judge Zainey) reopened the case so that the Sheriff could pursue an adjustment to the current per diem rates provided by the 2003 Consent Decree. However, no orders were issued modifying any of the consent decrees.
As of March 18, 2016, there have been no new docket entries and the case appears to be dormant.Dan Dalton - 02/10/2007
Jessica Kincaid - 03/26/2016